Ep 112. Rebecca Henderson: Reimagining Capitalism
“It’s great to hang out with people who are trying to drive positive change.”
Rebecca Henderson is the John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, where she has a joint appointment at the Harvard Business School. She’s also a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Rebecca is an expert on innovation and organizational change, and her research explores the degree to which the private sector can play a major role in building a more sustainable economy, focusing particularly on the relationships between organizational purpose and innovation and productivity in high performance organizations. She teaches Reimagining Capitalism: Business & the Big Problems at Harvard, a course that has grown from 28 students to over 300, and is under contract for a book tentatively titled “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire.”
In this episode, Stew and Rebecca talk about the ways in which firms have always been values-driven, even if the value was solely profit. Rebecca notes that companies that are actively trying to “make a difference” beyond their bottom line, companies that do not view a social purpose as distinct from their business aims, end up with a more engaged and productive workforce. She observes that society, perhaps led by millennials, is increasingly demanding that companies serve a social purpose that benefits all their stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate. And when firms take this approach, there are benefits for employees in their lives beyond work. She is optimistic, if not hopeful, about the long term, if we can take the long term view and not focus entirely on immediate shareholder returns.