Ed Freeman is University Professor and the Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and the nation’s foremost scholar on stakeholder theory and business ethics. He is one of the giants of conscious capitalism and one of the founders of the field. From his original Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, first published in 1984, and the many books and hundred articles he has produced onward, Freeman is the socially responsible capitalist opposite to the more free-wheeling neoliberalism of Milton Friedman.
Among Freeman’s twenty plus volumes are also Managing for Stakeholders, published in 2007, and Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art, published in 2010. These works have joined the canon of the field and make the compelling case that successful business and ethics requires companies to address and provide value for all of their stakeholders. As he explained during one interview, “…I was amazed at the dominant story about business that says business ethics is a contradiction. For me, business and ethics have to go together. And I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to craft a story about business, a way to think about business that puts business and ethics together… that sees business as how we create value for stakeholders not just shareholders… We need to make our businesses places our children want to live in or we’ve set the bar too low.”
Additionally, Freeman has written on how corporations can also influence stakeholders rather than the other way around by “shaking” them out of complacency on important environmental or social issues so that action is taken to help others while protecting the future bottom line. This important idea that these relationships with stakeholders are a two-way street and that each stakeholder and the corporation all have responsibilities and ethical obligations to each other is an important foundation for understanding the evolution of capitalism.
One of the reasons why Freeman loves what he does is that he also gets to travel, give lectures, and help educate others through his specialized courses such as Purpose Driven Leadership. That unit tries to impart that “[l]eadership methodologies focused solely on profit are no longer viable in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Instead, sustainable success can be achieved by creating value for your organization’s stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, communities, etc.) through commitment to a shared vision. Lay the groundwork for long-term influence, tapping into your values so you can inspire your team to work toward common goals.”
Finally, Freeman is also the Academic Director of the Darden School Institute for Business in Society and Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics, where he continues his work on conscious capitalism. He is has received many teaching awards, including the Outstanding Faculty Award by the Darden student body in 1993, the 2001 Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement by the World Resources Institute and the Aspen Institute, and the 2005 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Virginia State Council on Higher Education. All this for realizing the simple truth that “Stakeholders are actual people.”