In the world of corporate social responsibility, The Tata Group is at once David and Goliath.
Huge in size, the 98-company conglomerate, based in Bombay, India, sees as its strategic mission the formidable task of growing in profitability and operations, while integrating a strong commitment to social good.
Figuring out how to accomplish this mission was the task put before 25 leading business schools worldwide as part of the annual Aspen Institute’s 2010 Business & Society International MBA Case Competition. After an intense and hectic three-round competition, the team from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame won second place for its plan that effectively leveraged sustainability across Tata’s expanding markets.
The Notre Dame team included Kevin Richards (MBA 2011) and MBA 2010 candidates Mathew Ashley, Rachel Reiter and William O’Brien. The final event of the three-round competition took place on April 30 at the W Hotel in New York City.
“We want to do well in every competition we enter, but it is especially gratifying to have done well in the Aspen competition because of its focus and the quality of teams it attracts,” said Edward Conlon, associate dean for Graduate Studies at the Mendoza College of Business. “As the Aspen Competition specifically asks participants to solve a case that combines the economic and social goals of business, we are especially proud and pleased that our team did so well. Educating our graduates about how business can both ‘do well’ and ‘do good’ is at the core of our mission.”
The presentation and award reception were the culmination of a process that began in early April with on-campus competitions at the 25 schools to determine first place campus winners. Their work was then reviewed by a group of academic judges to determine the final five teams.
The five winning schools, starting with first place, were: Case Western Reserve University, the University of Notre Dame, New York University, University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and Northwestern University.
The case more specifically involved creating a 10-year sustainability plan for The Tata Group, which employs more than 350,000 people in 80 countries and reports annual revenue of $70 billion.
The Notre Dame team proposed a three-pronged solution that involved: developing a credo that refined Tata’s internal definition of sustainability; creating a separate subsidiary to coordinate and expand sustainability efforts across every business unit; and adopting a "multi-local" strategy to tailor Tata's sustainability efforts for each individual market and business.
“Rather than a global top-down approach, we aimed to leverage the current corporate culture of Tata,” said Reiter. “We built upon the company’s successful CSR efforts to create a platform to facilitate and reward those successes, while sharing best practices across the organization.”
“I think our solution was pretty thorough,” said O’Brien. “We addressed a lot of the practical issues around balancing sustainability and profit, and also addressed some larger strategic issues around Tata's sustainability messaging and business opportunities outside of India. All four of us put a lot of effort and thought into the final product, and I think that showed.”
The team members said they drew upon the coursework and expertise from several instructors in particular in analyzing the case and creating the proposed solutions. “Viva Bartkus' “Problem Solving” course was a huge, huge help,” said O’Brien. “The frameworks she taught us really helped us break down the problem effectively and organize our work.” They also cited “Sustainable Leadership in the Ethical Enterprise,” taught by Ante Glavas, and the management advise offered by Conlon and Joe Holt, an instructor and director for Executive Ethics at the Mendoza College.
“It was exciting to discuss our recommendations with other MBA students and the judges to gain additional perspective,” said Ashley. “And it was such a pleasure to see an idea that was produced in a small corner of the Mendoza College of Business reach such a wide audience. It was the most gratifying experience of my MBA experience.”
The Aspen Institute case competition, started in 2002, is the largest focusing on social, ethical and environmental issues. This year’s competition, with a record number of participating schools, was sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Humana, ING, Levi Strauss & Co., L’Oréal, Motorola Foundation, NBC Universal and Verizon.
“What current business students learn about the complex relationship of business and society, facilitates the changes we need to grow and thrive as a global community,” says Judith Samuelson, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. “We are inspired by the work presented by these 20 students today. It demonstrates their business schools’ commitment to teaching thoughtful and long-term business strategies that balance the needs of a wide range of stakeholders.”