[We’re pleased to welcome author Alan Muller of the University of Groningen. Dr. Muller recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “When Does Corporate Social Performance Pay for International Firms?,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Muller reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
I was inspired to pursue this research because I wanted to better integrate the literature on corporate social performance and internationalization. There is a rich body of research on the link between social performance and financial performance, and an equally rich body of research on the link between internationalization and financial performance. Yet thus far the two had not been connected in any meaningful way. This paper seemed like a great opportunity to link these two streams.
Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?
The financial crisis that began in 2008 had profound consequences for both corporate social performance and internationalization. Society’s demands for greater responsibility grew louder while it became painfully clear that international success should not be taken for granted. In a way, the crisis intensified scrutiny of both realms, and led to increased recognition that we need to attend to both the costs as well as the (highly uncertain) benefits associated with both. I began thinking that the costs and benefits of both are likely mutually contingent and unequally distributed.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?
The challenge is not so much in the empirics as it is in the positioning of the research. Given the split between the social responsibility literature and the international business literature, the question is: to which audience should the paper be aimed at? To be honest, I positioned it initially as a contribution to the international business literature, but in hindsight it fits better as a business and society paper.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
I hope it will function as a bridge between the two bodies of scholarship, and spur more rigorous dialogue with the aim of linking the two more systematically. Because in this day and age, I do not know how the performance effects of social performance and internationalization could be conceptualized in isolation. I also incorporated a few robust analytical techniques that I hope will inspire others.
What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
I initially had a role in mind for firms’ consumer orientation, because I expected that the legitimacy effects of social performance would work differently for consumer-oriented industries. I incorporated consumer orientation as an additional moderator to an already moderated U-shaped curve. My findings indicated that consumer-oriented firms had even more difficulty benefiting from their social performance internationally, which made sense to me. However, all my friendly reviewers told me that a four-way interaction was a bridge too far!
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Follow your passion! But remember that your story, no matter how inspiring to you, will not sell itself. Be clear who is in the audience you are speaking to, and how your story matters for them.
What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?
This is difficult, but probably “The Role of Short-Termism and Uncertainty Avoidance in Organizational Inaction on Climate Change”, by Slawinski, Pinkse, Busch, & Banerjee (Business & Society, 2017): https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0007650315576136.
A close second would be “Do‐no‐harm versus do‐good social responsibility: Attributional thinking and the liability of foreignness”, by Crilly, Na, and Jiang (Strategic Management Journal, 2016): https://doi.org/10.1002/smj.2388