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Sinyi role at Cambridge Judge Business School for Chris Marquis





The new Sinyi professor of Chinese management, Chris Marquis, is now in situ at the Cambridge Judge Business School where he is unpacking his focus on creating a more resilient and sustainable capitalism for a European perspective.

Chris Marquis, Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management, at Cambridge Judge Business School. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chris Marquis, Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management, at Cambridge Judge Business School. Picture: Keith Heppell

The author of the recent award-winning Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism, Prof Marquis is over from Cornell University where he has been SC Johnson professor in sustainable global enterprise since 2015.

He is the author of more than 20 peer-reviewed academic articles and 50 Harvard business cases on topics related to social innovation, sustainable business and doing business in China – a country in which he has spent about four of the last 10 years.

He was attracted to the Cambridge role partly because he hasn’t spent much time in Europe but also because “the school has one of the best collections of sustainability experts for business in the world”.

He notes: “That includes Jennifer Howard-Grenville [Diageo professor in organisation studies], Matthew Grimes [professor of innovation and organisation], and many other faculty members, and the school also houses a Centre for Social Innovation. All of that was a huge draw. Also the UK and Europe is much more advanced in the sustainability discussion.”

Prof Marquis’ work in sustainability will continue and, though the B Corp movement may not have much traction in Cambridge just now, that could be about to change.

“It was founded in 2006 by three Americans from for-profit companies, frustrated at how the system is set up to make it very hard for them to have positive social impact,” he says. “It’s a movement to create systems that allow business to have a broader purview than just shareholder value.

“It’s a certification that companies can get for ESG [environmental, social and corporate] governance and it’s catching on in the UK. It’s basically a set of open-source tools for all companies to become better in these dimensions. Companies may want to be more focused on ESG but how to implement those ideas may not be immediately obvious.”

Shanghai
Shanghai

There are currently 4,000 certified B Corporations in 70 countries and 150 industries, including Innocent Drinks, Jamie Oliver and Body Shop in the UK.

The certification is carried out by B Lab, a non-profit “transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet” by verifying high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. B Lab UK is based in London. Prof Marquis notes the UK is leading the world in introducing legislation – the Better Business Act – that changes the default company setting in the UK to be focused on ESG accountability.

The B Corp movement is one of three strands Prof Marquis is seeking to leverage in his time in Cambridge and is the foundation for a new book he aims to publish in 2023.

Better Business was very much about how companies can be more accountable to society, but this new one – the working title is Businesses’ Free Lunch – is a little bit more of a darker framing around how companies, and especially larger companies, are exploiting ‘externalities’ – the societal and economic effects that ‘spill over’ from their production. For instance pollution, which has negative costs to the community – but companies don’t pay for that.

“Then there’s the fact that I’ve done a lot of research on entrepreneurship in China in the last 10 years. Based on that, in the fall of 2022 I will publish Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise which looks at how the early policies of People’s Republic of China founder chairman Mao Zedong have a lasting effect on Chinese business. Up to the 1970s there was no private ownership in China and since then there’s a flourishing of state-owned enterprises and de novo companies such as Alibaba and others.”

Chris Marquis, Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at Cambridge Judge Business School. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chris Marquis, Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at Cambridge Judge Business School. Picture: Keith Heppell

And some of what’s been happening as part of this opening-up process has had troubling consequences?

“After 1978 when China opened up its market Deng Xiaoping said: ‘Some people will get rich first’ and the wealth in China is incredible to see, it’s astounding. Also astounding is the level of poverty.”

Thirdly, the academic side will see Prof Marquis teaching in Cambridge and Shenzhen where CJBS will be opening a new programme in 2023, as well as publishing work in academic journals focused on “how and why understanding the legacy of the past is important for organisations and their leaders”.

Describing himself as “very upbeat and very positive” about his new role, Prof Marquis paid tribute to former CJBS dean Christoph Loch.

“He did an amazing job, and I’m very grateful to him. He hired me for the role. And I am also excited to be involved in contributing to the school with the new dean, Mauro Guillén. I’ve known Mauro since 2005 and he is an incredible leader.”

So has he been to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Kettle’s Yard?

“No, but I’ll definitely check it out.”

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