R. Edward Freeman is University Professor and Olsson Professor of Business Administration; Academic Director of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics; and an Academic Director of the Institute for Business in Society at the Darden School, University of Virginia. He is also Adjunct Professor of Stakeholder Management at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, Visiting Professor at Nyenrode Business School (Netherlands), Adjunct Professor of Management at Monash University (Melbourne) and Visiting Professor at the International Center for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University. He has held honorary appointments as the Welling Professor at George Washington University and the Gourlay Professorship at University of Melbourne. Prior to coming to The Darden School Mr. Freeman taught at University of Minnesota and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Freeman is the co-author of several books, including Bridging the Values Gap: How Authentic Organizations Bring Values to Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2015),Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art (Cambridge, 2010) and Managing for Stakeholders(Yale, 2007). He is the author or editor of over twenty volumes and one hundred articles in the areas of stakeholder management, business strategy and business ethics. Freeman is perhaps best known for his award winning book: Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (Cambridge, 2010) , originally published in 1984, where he traced the origins of the stakeholder idea to a number of others and suggested that businesses build their strategy around their relationships with key stakeholders. He was the editor of the Ruffin Series in Business Ethics (15 volumes) published by Oxford. He is co-editor-in-chief with Michelle Greenwood of the Journal of Business Ethics and co-editor with Mette Morsing and Jeremy Moon of the Cambridge Series: Business, Society and Value Creation (11 volumes). Freeman has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Washington University, and a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Duke University.
What do you do best?
I wouldn’t say I’m the best, but my best professional accomplishment is probably my work on stakeholder theory, and trying to show how it solves the problem of the ethics of capitalism. I have also been trying to establish a new narrative about business that puts ethics and responsibility at the core of every company’s decision-making and interactions with its stakeholders.
What makes you the best?
Again, I would not say I am the best, but I have been interested in ethics since working on my PhD in philosophy nearly forty years ago. Once I began to teach in business schools, issues of corporate and business responsibility were areas in which I thought I could make a contribution. I thought it was important to encourage business leaders to ingrain ethics into all facets of their business plan and across all of their various stakeholder groups. My philosophy is that business ethics shouldn't reside only in company manuals or on wall displays; corporate ethics and responsible management should be the underpinnings of every organization's strategy, operations and communications.
I never talk about Social Responsibility, since this idea assumes it is different from "economic" responsibility. I believe it is more useful to talk about a company's responsibility to its stakeholders - customers, employees, suppliers, communities and financiers - and I have worked in this area for the last 30+ years. Stakeholder theory provides a bridge to connect the responsibility of a business to its underlying business model.
On the personal side, perhaps martial arts or music. I am a co-founder and keyboardist in the house band of Red Goat Records, a record label modeled after those pioneers from Motown and Stax who combined great artists with creative songwriters and a high energy house band. Red Goat is bringing the joy of original rhythm and blues and soul music into the 21st Century.
Professionally, probably the publication of my book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach in 1984; and, the realization that there are a number of companies that built on the idea of creating value for its stakeholders.
At the time when I first wrote about stakeholder theory in the mid-80's, the concept was not widely accepted and practiced. However, over the years, it has been very encouraging to see many companies embrace the idea that the interests of their employees, suppliers, customers and community members are just as critical as the needs of shareholders and investors. Companies like Whole Foods, The Container Store, Unilever and many others, who have formed their business with the interests of all stakeholders at the heart of their business model, have made a huge and positive impact upon the business world. It has been great to see these stakeholder-focused companies succeed and be rewarded by having productive and collaborative relationships with each stakeholder group - results that could never be achieved by focusing solely on shareholders alone.
What are your aspirations?
On a personal level, it would be to continue to play, write and record music – to spread the joy that it brings me and to pass that along to others.
As a teacher, I seek to inspire my students to use their ideas and their voices to change business – and the world – for the better. To not be afraid – even if it means being the only voice in the room – to stand up and do the right thing, to consider a decision’s effects upon all stakeholders and to embed ethics throughout every aspect of the company.
Most challenging moment?
Ethical decisions, by definition, are not easy. When a company faces an ethical situation, it is often because the interests of one stakeholder group directly compete with the needs of another. And for a responsible, stakeholder-focused business that is genuinely concerned about all of its stakeholders, this can be daunting and challenging. And because nearly every aspect of a business affects people – from product development, to strategy, operations, communications and beyond – this means that there are going to be ethical challenges throughout the life of a company.
Another challenge for business has to do with the fact that our society is often very focused on short-term results and immediate gratification. This short-termism does not create an ideal environment for ethical and stakeholder-oriented decision-making; some businesses may feel pressure to cut corners or fail to consider the needs of all stakeholders in an atmosphere like this.
However, the actions of stakeholder-oriented companies are driven by their corporate purpose and the interests of stakeholders; they are not motivated by the numbers in their quarterly reports, recent trends or the pressure to drive up stock prices. So they tend to win this battle over the long haul.
"Let’s make some kick ass music together.” This works in professional life and personal life. Working together to do something great is what life is about.
There are so many people who have inspired my work - from thousands of managers and students to particular builders of businesses like John Mackey at Whole Foods and Kip Tindell at the Container Store. I am always inspired by people, organizations and thought leaders that remind companies of their original purpose and what they initially set out to do when they decided to start a business - which is to create value for stakeholders and society. Probably the biggest inspiration is Ruby Andrews my late grandmother, my wife, Maureen Wellen, and my three children, Ben, Emma and Molly.
My recording studio, Japan, the Netherlands and many placed in the U.S. and abroad. Through my work, I have had the opportunity to travel the world, meet many interesting people and experience different cultures, for which I am very grateful.
Music of all genres. My guitar. My keyboards. Song editing software.
Teaching. Songwriting. Music. Theater. Food. Cooking. Martial Arts.
It’s so important to be passionate about your work and to have passions in your personal life. As Ludwig van Beethoven once said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” I couldn’t agree more.