Business Success in the Age of Activism

Mark R. Kennedy

Columbia University Press


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Pub Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780231180566

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $29.95£24.95

Pub Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780231542784

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $28.99£25.00


Business Success in the Age of Activism

Mark R. Kennedy

Columbia University Press

Today, all it takes is one organizational misstep to sink a company's reputation. Social media can be a strict ethical enforcer, with the power to convince thousands to boycott products and services. Executives are stuck on appeasing stakeholders—shareholders, employees, and consumers—but they ignore shapeholders, regulators, the media, and social and political activists who have no stake in a company but will work hard to curb what they see as bad business practices. And they do so at their own peril.

In Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism, former congressman, Fortune 500 executive, and university president Mark Kennedy argues that shapeholders, as much as stakeholders, have significant power to determine a company's risks and opportunities, if not its survival. Many international, multi-billion-dollar corporations fail to anticipate activism, and they flounder on first contact. Kennedy zeroes in on the different languages that shapeholders and companies speak and their contrasting metrics for what constitutes acceptable business practice. Executives, he argues, must be visionaries who find profitable—and probable—collaborations to diffuse political tensions. Kennedy's decision matrix helps corporations align their business practices with shapeholder interests, anticipate their demands, and assess changing moral standards so that together they can plan a profitable route forward.

Shapeholders offers personal, practical, and thoughtful counsel for businesspeople of today—and definitely of tomorrow. Kennedy wants business leaders to appreciate the larger societal, political, and regulatory context that may determine the success or failure of their businesses—and then he offers seven steps to guide the development and execution of a "profit-plus" strategy. The book is rare in combining an easy-to-read style, useful takeaways, and wise insights about business in America. Shapeholders is a great read for business students, executives and boards, people interested in business and policy, and the many people who wish to influence businesses. This short book packs in a lot of experience, judgment, and direct advice.

Robert B. Zoellick, former president, the World Bank

Today's business leaders struggle to balance competing demands among many groups surrounding their firms' activities—'shapeholders' in the language of this important new book. Drawing on this experience in business, academia, and politics, Kennedy notes that true business engagement of shapeholders magnifies both economic success and social impact. Shapeholders will be appreciated by business people and students of business who want to shape the world around them as they are shaped by it.

Glenn Hubbard, dean and Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers

At a time when public distrust of big business is worryingly high, Mark R. Kennedy sounds a sensible and timely note about how to repair the broken trust and balance the needs of commerce and society. With a background in business followed by service as a congressman, Kennedy is well placed to bridge the divide, and in this insightful book he makes a pragmatic yet passionate case for constructive engagement with the shapeholders who have become every bit as important as shareholders in determining a company's success.

Courtney Fingar, editor-in-chief, fDi Magazine, Financial Times

In a time when social and political activists have growing power to shape the fates of companies, Mark R. Kennedy is here to help, offering guidance on how to engage activists and avoid scandals.

Adam Grant, New York Times best-selling author of Originals and Give and Take

How should a corporation behave in the face of activism? Today shapeholders—social and political activists without a stake in the success of a corporation—have the power to mold corporate outcomes like never before. Kennedy shows how to engage activists and mitigate risks to your business.

Greg Page, former CEO, Cargill

Mark R. Kennedy has thrived in business, politics, and the academics of political communication and strategy. That experience is keenly concentrated in a book that introduces new concepts—shapeholders, carrot and stick activists—to what was thought to be a familiar debate about activism and corporate responsibility. Kennedy's insights suggest the intersection of activism and corporatism need not be zero-sum. Profit can be found for shapeholders, stakeholders, stockholders, and, I submit, readers.

Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent, CBS News

Mark R. Kennedy, a former congressmen and Fortune 500 executive, guides the reader through the new landscape of activism, from protestors to the press to regulators. A must-read for modern executives.

Steve Sanger, former CEO, General Mills

In Shapeholders, Mark Kennedy's no-nonsense approach dissects one of the most vexing problems facing business today—how to engage politicians, regulators, social activists, and the media. Using illuminating examples from a variety of industries, Kennedy redefines the big debates about the role of business in the market economy.

Mauro F. Guillen, Dr. Felix Zandman Professor of International Management, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Shapeholders is an insightful and inspiring guide to how it pays to be a principled leader. Kennedy shows how integrating societal concerns into business strategy gives leaders and organizations the best chance at business success. He shares fascinating examples and stories in making a convincing case. His wealth of experience as a former congressman, a Fortune 500 top executive, and university president provide a unique and captivating perspective.

Chris Porath, author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace

This book provides top-level leaders with a powerful approach to embracing unseen opportunities that lie in what at first appear to be threatening risks. Kennedy's credentials are indisputable—it's clear through the many personal experiences with activists from business and politics provides him the gravitas only real engagement can deliver.

Tim McMahon, Creighton University
Introduction: From the Heart of a Businessman
Who Are the Shapeholders?
1. Shapeholders
2. Social Activists
3. The Media
4. Politicians
5. Regulators
Seven Steps to Shapeholder Success
6. Align with a Purpose
7. Anticipate
8. Assess
9. Avert
10. Acquiesce
11. Advance Common Interests
12. Assemble to Win
13. Pope Francis, a CEO Worth Emulating

About the Author

Mark R. Kennedy is president of the University of North Dakota, founder of the Economic Club of Minnesota, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has served as treasurer of Macy's, a U.S. congressional representative, a presidential trade advisor under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and director of George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management.