Business and Society Program
Business and Society Program
History of CVSG
The Corporate Values Strategy Group (CVSG) was created in late 2003 to reevaluate business practices leading to malfeasance and short sighted decision-making in business. Gaining inspiration from the Conference Board’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprise’s “Restoring Trust” report, the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society program identified market “short-termism”—the increasing trend of businesses to pursue quarterly profit-making without giving adequate consideration to the long-term consequences of their decisions—as a symptom of irresponsible corporate management and unsustainable business practices.
Where we have been: From 2003 to 2007, our first stage of dialogue defined the problem and the second stage produced the common ground to guide market participants on three distinct areas: how to set long-term metrics, how to build communications between long-term oriented companies and investors, and how to reward and provide incentives for managers.
During 2003 - 2004, Aspen Institute and The Conference Board co-hosted breakfast roundtables and a day and a half long conference in Aspen, Colorado, bringing together business and investor leaders to discuss issue of short-termism, diagnose the problem, and brainstorm collective solutions. During the 2004 Aspen convening, William McDonough, then Chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), presented a challenge that has significantly shaped the direction of CVSG's work: if 20 companies with sufficient market heft coalesced around a set of practices, could they infect the market and help to rebalance the short and long-term focus of companies and markets, and thus secure a bright future for U.S. capitalism?
In response to this challenge, the Aspen Institute held three successful summits discussing best practices of businesses as well as external incentives in the policy environment.
In 2006 CVSG regularly convened CEO-level executives of Fortune 500 companies and institutional investors and created active working groups in the issue areas of Earnings Guidance, Corporate Metrics, Executive Compensation, and Boards. In addition:
- June 2006: The CVSG met in New York for a two-day summit exploring specific activities in the policy, regulatory, business, and investment practice arenas that could rebalance time horizons. Outcome: A detailed literature search, which provides strong evidence of the current short-term focus in corporate and investment decision making, and the document, "Short-Termism and U.S. Capital Markets: A Compelling Case for Change" emerged from this meeting and was updated again in 2010.
- December 2006: Held a consultation with long-term oriented institutional investors, focused on practices and policies that amplify the voice of long-term oriented investors. Outcome: This dialogue laid the foundation for subsequent meetings of institutional investors and corporations.
In 2007 the CVSG was determined to move the dialogue from a semi-private realm to the public by issuing a series of Principles. The Aspen Principles for Long-term Value Creation were released in June 2007 with the input and collaboration of public companies, business associations, professional services firms, large institutional investors, labor union representation, and corporate governance experts. It is this coalition that will pave the way for more policy-oriented dialogue—and action in 2008 and beyond.
2008 saw continued outreach around The Aspen Principles, including presentations and presence at events including the Yale Governance Forum, Aspen Ideas Festival, the EABIS Annual Colloquium, Council of Institutional Investor's Autumn meeting, and the BSR annual conference. We received press coverage in a number of publications including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and were featured in a cover story in Directors & Boards. New signatories to the Principles included Duke Energy, the US Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 3 million businesses worldwide, and compensation advisor, Frederic W. Cook & Co., Inc. Visit Archived Events to see more details on other 2008 activities.
Our 2009 was devoted to the drafting of a set of public policy ideas for creating a more enabling environment for long-term value creation that could be embraced by a diverse set of market actors. Participants at the CVSG 2008 summit identified key issues that might merit action in the public policy realm. Aspen CVSG began to engage with a small group of business, investor, and labor representatives to refine these ideas from October 2008 - March 2009. In early summer 2009, Aspen brought together individual thought leaders interested in these issues to draft a coherent set of ideas; three key leverage points for addressing market short-termism were endorsed initially by 28 individuals with deep experience in business, investment, government, academia, and the labor movement. This statement, “Overcoming Short-Termism,” was published on September 9, 2009 and additional signatories continued to be added. Press coverage was significant and related articles abound.
- On April 23, 2010 CVSG partnered with the schools of law and business at UCLA and the Fink Center at UCLA to host an academic-practitioner roundtable. The topic of the event was "Short-Termism: Leverage Points for Encouraging a Longer-Term Focus in Capital Markets."
- Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a congressional hearing on short-termism as chairman of the economic policy sub-committee of Senate Banking; originally scheduled for March 24, it was re-scheduled for April 29 due to the introduction of Senator Dodd’s financial reform legislation.
- An off-the-record dialogue was held June 9-11 in Aspen, CO focused on strategies for sustaining purpose and mission.
- We hosted our 2nd annual Business & Society Forum in NYC on October 26-27. This year we focused on the question of “How to Measure Success.” More on the Forum can be found here.
- On January 19, 2011 Aspen Institute, the Committee for Economic Development (CED), and the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at Yale SOM convened a small roundtable of academics and practitioners focused on research questions related to the role of institutional investors in the current corporate governance context. Based on this roundtable, the Millstein Center and CED published in October a working paper titled, Are Institutional Investors Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?
- We held an off-the-record summit July 11-12 that focused on operating in the real versus the expectations market drawing upon Roger Martin’s recently published book. A list of participants and reflective summary from the summit are available.
- In late September 2011, we held an academic-practitioner roundtable with the UCLA School of Law on “Rethinking 'Shareholder Value' & Purpose of the Firm.” This became our unofficial launch of our focus on the Purpose of the Corporation. For more information about this work, please visit our Purpose of the Corporation page here.
- On January 19, Aspen Institute CVSG, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance at Yale SOM held a follow-up roundtable of academics and practitioners focused on the role of institutional investors in the current corporate context and based upon the working paper, Are Institutional Investors Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?, published in October 2011. A list of participants can be found here.
- Our by-invitation-only academic-practitioner roundtable series, "Rethinking 'Shareholder Value & Purpose(s) of the Firm" continued at NYU-Stern (March 1-2) and the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (November 1-2).
- On May 1, we began design of a prize competition to promote fresh thinking on "future mindedness in capital markets". The project has planning support from the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more at aspeninstitute.org/prizethefuture.
- In early June, we began Phase 1 of a project inspired by the Aspen Principles and Generation Investment Management's "Sustainable Capitalism" whitepaper. The goal is business leadership to model and drive change to promote practices and protocols that result in longer-term value creation and sustainable capitalism. As part of this project, focus groups were held in London on November 9 and New York City on December 3 with heads of investor relations from public companies (like Marks & Spencer, J&J, and PepsiCo) and senior staff from large institutional investors (like CalPERS, Ontario Teachers' Pension, USS Ltd., and Wellcome Trust).
- We continued our focus on “Purpose of the Corporation” (which seeks to introduce more nuanced conceptions than the firm as a profit-maximizing entity), co-organizing a March 2013 roundtable with the Kellogg School of Management and drafting a whitepaper for business faculty on the topic – to be released in 2014.
- The Business Leaders Dialogue, a two day summit, was held in August 2013 with senior executives, corporate directors, and business school deans addressing the future of capitalism. Follow the links for the event summary and participant list.
- We completed design for the “Prize the Future” competition with seed capital from the Templeton Foundation.
- Further, the Aspen Institute Board approved the new Financial Leaders Fellowship to become part of the larger Aspen Global Leaders Network, a program we had nurtured since February 2012.
- As part of celebrating the Business & Society Program’s 15th anniversary, several invitation-only salons were held on topics related to the long-term health of society with Roger Martin in conversation with Andrew Ross Sorkin on February 20, Marjorie Kelly on March 18, and Dr. Robert Shiller on May 22.
1. Elevated dialogue about Long-term Value Creation
- In January, we co-organized a meeting with the Brookings Institution on the future of capitalism in America and the role of enabling public policy and business/investor practice (agenda / participant list). The #21stCenturyCapitalism tweets captured the essence of the meeting in real-time.
- In February, we co-organized with the Kellogg School of Management, a 1.5 day conference (Filling the Governance Gap: Aligning Enterprise and Advocacy) to explore corporate purpose and business-NGO collaboration in global commerce and the implications for business education.
- In September, we launched the “Reinventing the CFO + Long-Term Investor Conversation” pilot group with public company CFOs and long-term oriented investors to help companies communicate and balance long term value creation to multiple constituents with short-term delivery of results.
- In October, we convened a quiet dinner with Board Directors from several prominent Fortune 200 companies allowing us to test messages in advance of potential dialogue about incentives and executive compensation.
2. Increased visibility of Aspen’s thought leadership and engaged new audiences and partners
- Organized a UK meeting of 15+ private, charitable US and EU foundations on “sustainable finance.”
- Went public on corporate purpose:
- Published “Unrealized Potential” brief for business faculty; engaged deans and faculty to consider classroom experimentation
- Released “Unpacking Corporate Purpose” research in collaboration with Keller-Fay
- Co-organized panels, public events and a private dinner at the Aspen Ideas Festival
- Articles written, blogs published and numerous media hits (Forbes, Time.com, Huffington Post, the Guardian, etc.) – produced over 30,000 views
- Our work was profiled in the inaugural edition of “The Aspen Journal of Ideas”
- Cambridge Handbook of Institutional Investment & Fiduciary Duty invited and published our chapter on the “Fiduciary duty at the intersection of business and society”
- Continued to build partnerships to amplify our corporate purpose inquiry with the Drucker Institute, the Conference Board, Brookings Institution, Kellogg School of Management, Frank Bold (EU), and the Berle Center at Seattle University
3. Deepened dialogue to move toward action
- Developed design principles for our February 2015 “Making Purpose Work” convening and began planning in earnest for this friends of Aspen meeting that focused on operationalizing a higher purpose across the firm, with emphasis on innovation and the company narrative
Want to know more?
Those who have been involved with the CVSG over the years.
The future of the CVSG.