Shapeholders: Business success in the age of activism By Mark R Kennedy, Columbia Business School Publishing, 2017

Published date01 May 2018
Date01 May 2018
AuthorGary Davies
By Mark R Kennedy
Columbia Business School Publishing, 2017
Mark Kennedy's career spans business, politics, and academia, includ-
ing senior managerial experience with the likes of Macy's and
Accenture, being a Republican member of the House of Representa-
tives for 6 years and now the president of the University of North
Dakota. His book focuses on the relevance to business of
shapeholders,the latter meaning stakeholders who have no direct
stake in the success or otherwise of a business, such as the media,
activists, and politicians.
Not surprisingly, the value to the reader of the work stems mainly
from the insights that Kennedy draws from interactions between busi-
ness and their shapeholders, many examples of which come from his
own experience. He segments activists into two categories, those
wielding a stick and those waiving a carrot. Greenpeace is an example
of the first, and he reminds us that they are a substantial organization
with a $100million budget, one that can be fed by the publicity that
their campaigning provokes. Confrontation is then part of their agenda.
Carrottype activists are more likely to offer companies that they might
stand against an incentive to cooperate. The rise of social media has
enabled both types to, for example, weaponize Twitter,and he
reminds readers that the cost of activism is going down.
The anecdotes might be new, but the main message to companies
is perhaps not, the need to engage with one's critics, particularly those
with carrots. Engagement is also the theme of his advice when dealing
with politicians and governments. Businesses have the right to
responsibly engage with governmentis the premise, and the book
contains many useful insights from the land of the lobbyist. Food
companies can be expected to lobby, for example, over the issue of
nutrition, but the complexity of such issues becomes clear when
Kennedy points to the influence of any policy on the content of meals
served to the military and the scheme to provide meals to school
children. How companies approach politicians and their advisors is a
major theme.
A fascinating section of the book is devoted to the scourge of
bribery. I had forgotten that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act dates
from 1977. But much of international trade is still influenced by the
perceived need for smallscale or largescale payment to government
officials and indeed to anyone in a position to frustrate or facilitate
the movement of goods and services. Kennedy's advice includes
patienceand resisting the temptation to pay up as a step towards
the slippery slope of always having to do so.
An adjacent section of the book deals with political contributions,
which are seen generally as acceptable (and, by inference not as bribes)
if they reflect the values of the donors rather than their business inter-
ests. Viewed from this side of the Atlantic, one of the redeeming facets
of President Trump's successful campaign for the White House was
that he sought and accrued far less in donations than his rival. How-
ever, and even if you regard such payments as gifts,any gift is given
in the expectation of influencing the relationship between donor and
Less controversial are the examples of failure by large companies
to influence political decision making and Kennedy's views on why a
lack of attention to the inevitability of political action against large
scale businesses in certain (predictable) circumstances is useful to read.
The book contains a large number of examples and minicase stud-
ies, many of which are UScentric meaning some might be difficult to
contextualize for a nonAmerican audience. Some examples might
have been expanded upon, and, for British readers, this could have
included the way in which BP (once British petroleum) handled the
Deepwater Horizon disaster, both before and after the event itself.
New Orleans District court judge Carl Judge Barbier apportioned
67% of the fault to BP, 30% to Transocean (the owner of the rig),
and 3% to Halliburton (whose cementation product had been used to
seal the well head). The authorities have been criticized for how they
oversaw the rig's operations. Here, the reader is left with the impres-
sion that BP's culture was mainly if not solely to blame. I felt that I
needed to know more detail about why the disaster happened, and
especially more about what could have been done to prevent it beyond
having a different culture.
Readers will not then always agree with the author as to the whys
and wherefores of specific events or how such challenges that they
present might be better managed. Nevertheless, Kennedy manages
to engage the reader throughout and to offer a number of different
ideas relevant to his context. In summary, a useful contribution to
our understanding of public affairs management.
Gary Davies
University of Chester, Chester, UK
Gary Davies, University of Chester, Parkgate Rd, Chester CH1 4BJ, UK.
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1703
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1703.
Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, 1of1

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