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The virtue matrix. Calculating the return on corporate responsibility.

  • Martin, Roger L
Published Article
Harvard business review
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2002
PMID: 11894384


Executives who want to make their organizations better corporate citizens face many obstacles: If they undertake costly initiatives that their rivals don't embrace, they risk eroding their company's competitive position. If they invite government oversight, they may be hampered by costly regulations. And if they adopt wage scales and working conditions that prevail in the wealthiest democracies, they may drive jobs to countries with less stringent standards. Such dilemmas call for clear, hard thinking. To aid in that undertaking, Roger Martin introduces the virtue matrix--a tool to help executives analyze corporate responsibility by viewing it as a product or service. The author uses real-life examples to explore the forms and degrees of corporate virtue. He cites Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills, a textile company whose plant was destroyed by fire in 1995. Rather than move operations to a lower-wage region, Feuerstein continued to pay his idled workforce and rebuilt the plant. Unlike the typical CEO of a publicly held corporation, who is accountable to hundreds or thousands of shareholders, Feuerstein was free to act so generously because he had only a few family members to answer to. But as Martin points out, corporations don't operate in a universe composed solely of shareholders. They can be subject to pressure from citizens, employees, and political authorities. The virtue matrix provides a way to assess these forces and how they interact. Martin uses it to examine why the public clamor for more responsible corporate conduct never seems to abate. Another issue the author confronts is anxiety over globalization. Finally, Martin applies the virtue matrix to two crucial questions: What are the barriers to increasing the supply of corporate virtue? And what can companies do to remove those barriers?

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