The future of business: new research addresses pressing questions

1 Mar 2018

The British Academy has commissioned thirteen new research projects to investigate the future of business and its role in society.

From improving trust to modernising corporate law, regulation and taxation, the projects span the humanities and social sciences and are led by collaborative teams of academics in the UK and around the world.

Addressing key issues facing the world of business in the 21st century, each team will produce a landscape review of the challenges in each area, case studies, and approaches to address them.

The research is part of the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation Programme. This three-year project aims to develop an evidence base to inform how we think about business in the 21st century and how we can build trust between business and society. 

Dr Christopher McKenna and Dr Rowena Olegario at the Saïd Business School will investigate what we can learn from the global history of the corporation – from Middle Eastern trade to powerful eighteenth-century trading companies – and how this can inform its role in society today.

Professor Peter Buckley from the Centre for International Business at the University of Leeds will explore whether corporations contribute to civil society through their own volition, and how this can be encouraged.

Research will be published in autumn 2018 and will inform the second phase of the Future of the Corporation Programme, which will start at the beginning of next year.  

Professor Colin Mayer FBA, leader of the Future of the Corporation Project said: “The future and purpose of business is a debate that goes far beyond the walls of business schools or economics departments. That is why we are pleased to partner with the very best minds from the full breadth of the humanities and social sciences. Drawing on subjects like psychology, law, ethics and history will give us a thorough overview of the issues facing the corporation and will inform recommendations on how business leaders and academics can address these challenges.”

The research projects commissioned addresses ten themes:

  • History: What does history tell us about the role of the corporation in society? Led by Dr Christopher McKenna and Dr Rowena Olegario, Said Business School

  • Corporate Purpose: What is corporate purpose, and why does it matter for society? Led by Professor Nien-hê Hsieh, Harvard Business School and Professor David Rodin, University of Oxford

  • Trust: 

    • Trust and Corporate Governance: Are there particular forms of ownership and corporate governance that can assist with the promotion of trustworthy business? Led by Professor David Vines, University of Oxford, Professor Natalie Gold, King’s College London, Professor John Mellor, Oxford

    • What is trust and trustworthiness in business? Led by Professor Nikolas Kirby, Professor Jonathan Wolff and Professor Karthik Ramanna all at Blavatnik School of Government

  • Corporate Culture: What is corporate culture and how can businesses instil a strong sense of values in their organizations?  What role does leadership have to play in this? Led by Professor Nien-hê Hsieh, Harvard Business School and Professor David Rodin, University of Oxford

  • Corporate Governance: How can businesses make corporate governance fit for purpose? Led by Professor Jeffrey Gordon, Columbia University

  • Technological Change:

    • How institutional innovation transpires, what the drivers of and obstacles to the process are, and thus where the biggest opportunities for further institutional innovation might be. Led by Professor Julian Birkenshaw, London Business School

    • How should businesses adapt to changing technology and scientific opportunities and how will these affect the future of the corporation?  Led byProfessor Yishay Yafeh, Hebrew University, CEPR and ECGI, Professor Sharon Belenzon, Duke University and NBER, Professor Assaf Hamdani, Tel Aviv University and ECGI, Professor Niron Hashai, Hebrew University and IDC and Professor Eugene Kandel, Hebrew University, SNC, CEPR and ECGI

  • Corporate Law, Regulation and Taxation:

    • The role of tax policy in shaping the activities of corporations in the global economy, and how taxation can be modernized in response to a changing global landscape  Led by Professor Mihir Desai, Harvard Law School and Professor Dhammika Dharmapala, University of Chicago Law School

    • The key trends in trade policy, digitalisation, innovation and ownership that shape business priorities; and available solutions in corporate law, competition policy law and regulation Led by Professor John Armour, Professor Luca Enriques, Professor Ariel Ezrachi and Professor John Vella, Oxford Law Faculty

  • Long-term Investment:How can businesses promote long term investment? What can corporations do to harness and promote research and development? Led by Professor Avner Offer, University of Oxford

  • Ownership: What impact does ownership have on building sustainable and responsible businesses? Led by Professor Belén Villalonga, NYU Stern School of Business

  • Social Contribution: What role do businesses have in contributing to society? Led by Professor Peter Buckley, Centre for International Business University of Leeds.

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