Research & Innovation

The Business Case for Doing Good

Stevens School of Business welcomes stakeholder management and strategy expert to develop research projects around companies’ impact on society.

For years in business nomenclature, sustainability meant generating maximum profits for as long as possible and social responsibility connoted a company’s country club membership perks.

Those phrases have much different definitions in 2024.

As consumers and investors have become more aware of business’ impact on the world, companies have had to evaluate how their decisions not only affect their bottom line but also the larger global community.

To further its research base in this area, the Stevens School of Business is hosting Dr. Michael Barnett, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School who focuses on how companies’ stakeholder management practices influence their reputations and financial performance and affect society and the natural environment. His work has resulted in many honors and awards, including the Academy of Management Journal Best Paper Prize, the International Association for Business & Society Best Article Award, and the Emerald Literati Award for Excellence. He is incoming editor-in-chief of Academy of Management Perspectives, a journal that publishes rigorous scholarship that addresses matters of relevance to management practice and policy.

Michael Barnett head and shoulders photo wearing a tan blazer with a light tan and white checkered shirt.Dr. Michael Barnett“Business has been no small part of the problem, creating and worsening a variety of social and environmental problems over decades and centuries, but now business has to be a big part of the solution, and fast,” he said. “It’s much more than simply stopping doing bad things such as polluting and paying poor wages. Businesses have the resources and reach to innovate and implement critical solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.”

Dr. Barnett is on campus developing research partnerships and projects. He discovered Stevens through a recent visit as a 2015-16 Fellow of the American Council on Education, learning more about higher education administration. When he was considering places to spend time during his sabbatical from Rutgers, the “little gem sitting right there in Hoboken” came to mind. He reached out to Dean Gregory Prastacos to make the arrangements and has been working with Jose Tribo, professor and area coordinator of management and marketing, to make connections with doctoral students and faculty about overlapping research opportunities.

“Businesses are in a competitive environment and have a tough enough job just trying to compete against their rivals to turn out marketable products and services on a day-to-day basis,” Dr. Barnett said. “They generally want to do the right thing, but they don't necessarily have the additional skill set to know the most efficient and effective ways to solve society’s problems. As scholars, we can help businesses understand the best ways to achieve social and environmental aims by conducting studies of best practices of how to use a firm’s limited resources for the greatest good. If we, as scholars, can do this, we can make a real difference in our future collective welfare. And if not, well, our sustainability may be in jeopardy.”

Most of Dr. Barnett’s work is done with business leaders, fellow faculty members and doctoral students, but the impetus for the work has come from the younger generation.

“The rising business and business school interest in this important area is student-driven,” he explained. “Firms and faculty generally do not welcome change. But critical social, and especially environmental issues, are coming to a head in the lifetimes of our students, so they have a vested interest in seeing business become more of a force for good. The current generation of business students don't care so much about whether their employer’s stock price is going up so much as they care about whether it’s helping the world be a better place.”

Dr. Barnett’s approach to helping business align their practices with the common good fits right in at a place that is inspired by humanity and powered by technology.

“I don't think we can just hope that we're going to get to Mars and repopulate, or we're going to capture all the carbon with some magical new technology,” he said. “Technology is certainly an important part of it, but the human side of it is still going to be critical to resolving these problems.”