Rebecca Henderson

Inquire About This Speaker

Global Authority on Sustainable Business Growth; Organizational Change Strategist and Researcher; Author, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” (2020); Professor, Harvard Business School

Biography

Some organizational leaders, particularly CFOs and COOs, may be surprised to learn that focusing on sustainability can drive long-term growth and yield high returns.

Those in doubt need only speak to Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Rebecca Henderson who sees leading energy, pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms already profiting from purpose-driven practices while positioning themselves for long-term growth. Henderson strongly encourages other businesses to follow their lead, not just for the health of their bottom lines but for the health of the planet they rely on now and will rely on tomorrow to support their long-term plans.

In her just-released book, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), Henderson draws on her years of research into organizational change, innovation and disruption to make a case for a new, more balanced form of capitalism.

“Capitalism is one of the great inventions of the human race and over the last hundred years it has generated enormous wealth and freedom,” says Henderson. “But in its current incarnation, it has become radically unbalanced. Too large a percentage of recent gains have gone to the top 1%, we’re at risk of destabilizing the climate and we seem unwilling to address widespread inequality. We need to take a good hard look at the rules that control capitalism and recalibrate.”

Henderson, The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in HBS’s General Management and Strategy Units, has seen firsthand how thinking around sustainability can drive growth by widening a firm’s vision and building trust and engagement among customers, employees and suppliers.

Drawing on examples from a wide range of companies including Walmart, King Arthur Flour and Unilever – firms who have built strong business models around adopting “high road” employment models while tackling our environmental problems – Henderson outlines four areas where companies are gaining a competitive edge while protecting people and the planet:

  • Brand Awareness – Social media can either hurt a company’s reputation or drive positive reviews. Companies focused on sustainability and fair employee practices consistently receive accolades and earn customer loyalty, online and off, and loyalists are often willing to pay a premium for their products and services.
  • Supply Chain – If your company’s products rely on natural materials, its long-term growth is inextricably tied to protecting and regenerating those resources, as well as supporting the people who grow them.
  • Efficiency – Companies that invest in efficient buildings and systems reap high returns, creating a win-win for the environment and the bottom line.
  • Employee Loyalty – Environmentally-conscious companies attract like-minded employees who are more passionate, creative, loyal and invested in long-term success. Treating them fairly and paying them well strengthens that loyalty.

When it comes to driving large scale change, Henderson strongly believes the private sector has the power and must pressure slower-moving governments into developing and enforcing responsible policies. She also sees self-regulation within private sector industries as a healthy way to navigate the changes collectively. Such cooperation gives businesses a voice in developing better practices without hurting their bottom lines, while also creating a collaborative forum for uncovering new opportunities.

Marveling at the fact that 1000 firms control 70% of GDP, Henderson sees a prime opportunity for a handful of smart trailblazers to set an example for the rest.

“If a small percentage of those firms chose carbon-based pricing or opted not to deal with corrupt partners, they would no doubt pull others into the current,” says Henderson. “This is a great moment for businesses to balance power with responsibility, to heal the world while keeping themselves positioned for long-term success. We all have families and friends too, so the investment goes beyond our companies and jobs.”

###

Professor Henderson leads the required MBA course “Leadership & Corporate Accountability” and teaches in HBS’s Executive Education program. She has advised some of the world’s leading companies in the sustainability space. Henderson is a member of the board of IDEXX Laboratories and she served as a member of the board at Amgen Inc from 2009 to 2020. In 2019 the Financial Times named her one of its three directors of the year.

Henderson’s work has been featured in a range of scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, The Quarterly Journal of Economic and the Strategic Management Journal. She speaks frequently to companies and in public forums around the world. Her previous book entitled “Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective” was published by Oxford University Press in March 2015. It centers on how large complex organizations are undertaking changes to become more sustainable. She also contributed to “Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors” (University of Chicago Press, May 2011). Previously, she was the Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she ran the strategy group and taught courses in technology, strategy and sustainability. She received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in business economics from Harvard.

Rebecca Henderson is available for paid speaking engagements – including virtual and in-person keynote speeches, panel discussions, interactive workshops and advisory/consulting services – through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

Reimagining Capitalism In a World on Fire

(Public Affairs, April 2020)

Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective

(Oxford University Press, March 2015)

Accelerating Energy Innovation

(University of Chicago Press, May 2011)

Making the Business Case for Environmental Sustainability

(Harvard Business School, February 2015)

Media

Reimagining Capitalism in the Shadow of the Pandemic

July 28, 2020

6 Experts on How Capitalism Will Emerge After Covid-19

June 11, 2020

Rebecca Henderson on Reimagining Capitalism (Audio)

June 8, 2020

Have We Reached 'the Beginning of the Great Change?' This Professor is Hopeful We Have

May 28, 2020

Linkedin Logo

Rebecca Henderson | HBS Professor on How Investors Can Be Enforcers of Change

May 26, 2020

Harvard Economist Warns the Coronavirus Has Exposed Massive Inequality in the US - and if Business Leaders Don't Step Up It Could Put Capitalism in Crisis

May 21, 2020

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire (Audio)

May 16, 2020

Trend Following Podcast with Michael Covel (Audio)

May 15, 2020

HBS Professor Rebecca Henderson on "Reimagining Capitalism"

May 14, 2020

How Businesses Can Make Positive Change During the Pandemic

May 4, 2020

How a Strong Shared Sense of Purpose Can Help Companies Succeed

May 2, 2020

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

May 1, 2020

The Unlikely Environmentalists: How the Private Sector Can Combat Climate Change

May/June 2020

A Harvard Professor Calling for Us to 'Reimagine Capitalism' Says COVID-19 Has Revealed 3 Fault Lines in Our Economy

April 30, 2020

Fighting Climate Change Requires a New Capitalism

April 30, 2020

The Business of Saving the World

April 28, 2020

Fortune logo

It Doesn't Have To Be Quite So Destructive: A Harvard Business School Professor Reimagines Capitalism

April 28, 2020

Reimagining Capitalism (Audio)

April 13, 2020

Green Dreamer: Sustainability and Regeneration from Ideas to Life (Audio)

April 13, 2020

Organizational Responses to COVID-19 and Climate Change: A Conversation with Rebecca Henderson (Audio)

April 8, 2020

Why Capitalists Need to Save Democracy (Audio)

March 10, 2020

Should a Pension Fund Try to Change the World? (Audio)

August 20, 2019

The hill logo

Harvard Business Professor Rebecca Henderson Discusses New Class Aimed At Reimagining Capitalism (Video)

April 23, 2019

Rebecca Henderson: Reimagining Capitalism (Audio)

February 27, 2019

Is Only Focusing on Shareholder Value Bad For Business

September 4, 2018

What Would it Take to Get Businesses to Focus Less on Shareholder Value?

August 21, 2018

Reimagining Capitalism: Business and the Big Problems (Audio)

April 17, 2018

Minds Worth Meeting

Minds Worth Meeting Episode 16: Reimagining Capitalism: How Business Can Save the World with Rebecca Henderson (Audio)

March 13, 2018

More and More CEOs Are Taking Their Social Responsibility Seriously

February 12, 2018

The Fortune 500 Can’t Go Along with a Rollback on Climate Policy

November 11, 2016

A Partial Defense of Our Obsession with Short-Term Earnings

May 7, 2015

Good Business Needs Bad Lobbyists

February 9, 2015

Do Managers Have a Role to Play in Sustaining the Institutions of Capitalism?

February 9, 2015

Tackling Climate Change Will Cost Less Than We Think

September 24, 2014

We Don’t Have to Ditch Capitalism to Fight Climate Change

September 24, 2014

Management Practices, Relational Contracts, and the Decline of General Motors

February 12, 2014

Relational Contracts and Organizational Capabilities

September - October 2012

Rebecca Henderson: Harvard Portrait

November 2011

The Innovator’s Dilemma as a Problem of Organizational Competence

January 2006

Untangling the Origins of Competitive Advantage

Fall 2000

Biography

Some organizational leaders, particularly CFOs and COOs, may be surprised to learn that focusing on sustainability can drive long-term growth and yield high returns.

Those in doubt need only speak to Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Rebecca Henderson who sees leading energy, pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms already profiting from purpose-driven practices while positioning themselves for long-term growth. Henderson strongly encourages other businesses to follow their lead, not just for the health of their bottom lines but for the health of the planet they rely on now and will rely on tomorrow to support their long-term plans.

In her just-released book, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), Henderson draws on her years of research into organizational change, innovation and disruption to make a case for a new, more balanced form of capitalism.

“Capitalism is one of the great inventions of the human race and over the last hundred years it has generated enormous wealth and freedom,” says Henderson. “But in its current incarnation, it has become radically unbalanced. Too large a percentage of recent gains have gone to the top 1%, we’re at risk of destabilizing the climate and we seem unwilling to address widespread inequality. We need to take a good hard look at the rules that control capitalism and recalibrate.”

Henderson, The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in HBS’s General Management and Strategy Units, has seen firsthand how thinking around sustainability can drive growth by widening a firm’s vision and building trust and engagement among customers, employees and suppliers.

Drawing on examples from a wide range of companies including Walmart, King Arthur Flour and Unilever – firms who have built strong business models around adopting “high road” employment models while tackling our environmental problems – Henderson outlines four areas where companies are gaining a competitive edge while protecting people and the planet:

  • Brand Awareness – Social media can either hurt a company’s reputation or drive positive reviews. Companies focused on sustainability and fair employee practices consistently receive accolades and earn customer loyalty, online and off, and loyalists are often willing to pay a premium for their products and services.
  • Supply Chain – If your company’s products rely on natural materials, its long-term growth is inextricably tied to protecting and regenerating those resources, as well as supporting the people who grow them.
  • Efficiency – Companies that invest in efficient buildings and systems reap high returns, creating a win-win for the environment and the bottom line.
  • Employee Loyalty – Environmentally-conscious companies attract like-minded employees who are more passionate, creative, loyal and invested in long-term success. Treating them fairly and paying them well strengthens that loyalty.

When it comes to driving large scale change, Henderson strongly believes the private sector has the power and must pressure slower-moving governments into developing and enforcing responsible policies. She also sees self-regulation within private sector industries as a healthy way to navigate the changes collectively. Such cooperation gives businesses a voice in developing better practices without hurting their bottom lines, while also creating a collaborative forum for uncovering new opportunities.

Marveling at the fact that 1000 firms control 70% of GDP, Henderson sees a prime opportunity for a handful of smart trailblazers to set an example for the rest.

“If a small percentage of those firms chose carbon-based pricing or opted not to deal with corrupt partners, they would no doubt pull others into the current,” says Henderson. “This is a great moment for businesses to balance power with responsibility, to heal the world while keeping themselves positioned for long-term success. We all have families and friends too, so the investment goes beyond our companies and jobs.”

###

Professor Henderson leads the required MBA course “Leadership & Corporate Accountability” and teaches in HBS’s Executive Education program. She has advised some of the world’s leading companies in the sustainability space. Henderson is a member of the board of IDEXX Laboratories and she served as a member of the board at Amgen Inc from 2009 to 2020. In 2019 the Financial Times named her one of its three directors of the year.

Henderson’s work has been featured in a range of scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, The Quarterly Journal of Economic and the Strategic Management Journal. She speaks frequently to companies and in public forums around the world. Her previous book entitled “Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective” was published by Oxford University Press in March 2015. It centers on how large complex organizations are undertaking changes to become more sustainable. She also contributed to “Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors” (University of Chicago Press, May 2011). Previously, she was the Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she ran the strategy group and taught courses in technology, strategy and sustainability. She received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in business economics from Harvard.

Rebecca Henderson is available for paid speaking engagements – including virtual and in-person keynote speeches, panel discussions, interactive workshops and advisory/consulting services – through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

The emergence of capitalism as the primary system for organizing economies and generating prosperity has taken root across the globe. But can it be a force for tackling the biggest challenges our burgeoning population faces, namely the threats posed by global climate change and finite resources on the planet? Rebecca Henderson believes that not only does capitalism have a role to play, but it is uniquely qualified to harness the enormous intellectual, technological, financial and motivational resources that humankind can bring to bear on these challenges. However, the framework of private enterprise, along with enlightened state and intergovernmental factors, require a fundamental re-imagination. Professor Henderson illuminates how this important debate is unfolding and its impact on the future of sustainable business.

Sustainability as a Fulcrum for Corporate Innovation

Driving innovation for organic growth is always challenging for companies, says Rebecca Henderson. But it is especially hard when new markets often look less profitable than existing ones and all organizations become increasingly comfortable with the status quo. Yet, leading companies are finding that the immense challenges posed by climate change and the need to use resources more efficiently provide the essential stimulus to focus and act in new ways. Professor Henderson explains how business’ commitment to solving “big problems” can unlock not only tremendous enthusiasm amongst employees, but also exactly the kind of creative thinking and commitment to work across organizational boundaries that is at the root of most significant innovation. She shares stories of companies such as Unilever that are getting it right—often using a big overarching game plan, like becoming a leader in creating sustainable solutions—to catapult the company into a new direction.

Coaxing Organizations to Do New Things

Throughout her career, Rebecca Henderson has been fascinated by the difficulties that large, well-established companies encounter as they attempt to leverage technological innovation to reinvent themselves. In many industries, incumbents have seen new entrants come in, either entrepreneurial firms or established players from other industries, and yet they cannot respond effectively to these disruptors. Professor Henderson digs deep to uncover why it is so hard, examining the strategic, organizational and behavioral shifts that can help managers create the right conditions for discontinuous change to occur.

Media

Array

Books & Research

Array

Recommendations

Praise for “Reimagining Capitalism”

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire…should encourage a new era of co-operation & collaboration between government, business & communities of individuals.”

– Andrew Hill, Financial Times

“The COVID-19 pandemic has given the ideas in… ‘Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire’a perverse timeliness, making these issues not only relevant, but even appealing, to people who previously may not have touched them with a 10-foot pole.”

– Katherine Dunn, Fortune

“In engaging and refreshingly candid writing, Henderson sets out her vision of equitable and sustainable capitalism and enumerates the changes needed to get us there….Her blueprint may sound impossible, yet Henderson’s optimism is founded on deep expertise as a scholar who has worked closely with corporate leaders.”

– Mark Kramer, Stanford Social Innovation Review

“Coupling detailed accounts from companies taking strides toward redefining capitalism with her own rich understanding of the potential of modern businesses, Henderson makes a compelling argument that capitalism as we know it is a missed opportunity, and builds the framework for business to prosper while complying with environmental factors and championing social justice.”

– WBUR.org The ARTery

“[A] lucid and optimistic manifesto…. [Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire] accessible and richly detailed call to action offers a clear vision for policymakers and business executives who agree with Henderson that the private sector has an obligation to tackle the world’s biggest problems.”

– Publishers Weekly

 

Social Media

Similar Speakers

Array

A-Z Name

Henderson, Rebecca