Corporate Culture: The Interview Evidence

43 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2016 Last revised: 30 Aug 2018

John R. Graham

Duke University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jillian Grennan

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Campbell R. Harvey

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Shivaram Rajgopal

Columbia Business School

Date Written: October 10, 2016

Abstract

We conduct in-depth interviews of senior executives representing over 20% of the market capitalization of the U.S. equity market to understand: (i) the importance, antecedents and consequences of corporate culture; (ii) the mechanisms that underlie the creation and effectiveness of corporate culture; as well as (iii) the factors that deter a firm from achieving its aspirational culture. Our interviews provide the following insights. First, executives characterize culture as “a beliefs system,” “a coordination mechanism,” and “an invisible hand.” Second, most executives view culture as one of the top three factors that affect their firm’s value. Cultural fit in M&A deals is so important that most executives would walk away from a target that is a cultural misalignment. Third, culture is primarily set by the current CEO. Fourth, boards do not directly choose the firm’s culture; instead, they influence the choice of culture by picking the CEO and through their influence on specific policies like incentive compensation, hiring, firing, and promotion decisions, and the values the finance function embraces. Fifth, executives emphasize that for a firm’s culture to be effective, the firm’s espoused values must be backed up by actual behavior and norms. Sixth, an effective culture improves firm value and profitability by (i) fostering creativity and encouraging productivity; (ii) promoting more risk tolerance; (iii) mitigating myopic behavior; (iv) creating a climate for suggesting critiques and for allowing ideas to germinate organically; and (v) by compensating for mistakes in ways that the firm’s assets cannot. In addition to the above, executives suggest several sources of publicly available data to measure corporate culture.

See our related paper Corporate Culture: Evidence from the Field.

Keywords: Corporate culture, Valuation, Finance, Cultural values, Social norms, Leadership, Corporate governance, Incentive compensation, Finance function, Intangible Assets, Risk-taking, Short-termism, Myopia, Innovation, Firm value, Productivity, M&A valuation, Integrity, Trust, Ethics, Compliance, Earnings

JEL Classification: G3, Z1, D23, G23, G30, K22, M14, O16

Suggested Citation

Graham, John Robert and Grennan, Jillian and Harvey, Campbell R. and Rajgopal, Shivaram, Corporate Culture: The Interview Evidence (October 10, 2016). Duke I&E Research Paper No. 2016-42; Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 16-70. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2842823 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2842823

John Robert Graham

Duke University ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
919-660-7857 (Phone)
919-660-8030 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jillian Grennan

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative ( email )

215 Morris St., Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
United States

Campbell R. Harvey (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
919-660-7768 (Phone)
919-660-8030 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative ( email )

215 Morris St., Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
United States

Shivaram Rajgopal

Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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