Saturday, August, 05, 2017
Category: News & Updates
Anita M. McGahan deliverd the Presidential Address at the 77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Atlanta, Georgia. August 2017.
Here we reproduce her speech:
Thank you, Vice President Kulik, Executive Director Nancy Urbanowicz, Headquarters team, Distinguished Guests, Governors, members of the task force on public policy, and all of you, the Academy’s members and my friends. Thanks to my partner, Professor Sarah Kaplan, and to our hosts, the people of Atlanta, and especially to the fine staff of the hotels and conference center who are caring for us during our time here.
I have come here this morning to talk with you not on behalf of the Academy, but as myself: As a New Yorker who left this country and has returned home; as a member of this Academy furious and heartbroken that some of our friends and colleagues from six countries in the Middle East cannot be here. I am here in their names – in the name of my co-author, Professor Keyvan Vakili, stuck in London – and in the name of every other member whose movements have been restricted not just here in the US but anywhere in the world.
I invite you to join me here in their names, and I invite you, as a management scholar, in taking on something of Atlanta’s identity while you are here and in a way that I’ll try to explain over the next few minutes.
What does it mean to be in Atlanta? Now Atlantans are as diverse as in any city, but one thing they share is an inclination toward the hard, gritty work of securing freedom. I know this because my family of origin – my mother and two brothers – moved here 41 years ago. They immigrated here seeking the same things that immigrants everywhere seek: economic opportunity, peace, and prosperity. They came seeking a chance for a better future, and they found it.
This story of immigration to Atlanta for economic opportunity and freedom is a not just their story. Atlanta and the state of Georgia are thriving across sectors, and particularly in high technology. This success draws immigrants. The Census Bureau estimates that Georgia has attracted inbound immigration over the last fifty years of more people relative to its size than any other state in the nation. My mother, Ann English, who sits in the front row, was one of them. She built a life here as a knowledge worker – and, having arrived, fought to make this place fairer and better for others. I believe that she may have been the first woman in the State of Georgia to take out a mortgage in her own name and without a guarantee on the loan from any man – neither a husband nor a father nor a son. You can ask her later how many banks she had to go to before one accepted her application. But she persevered and now, if you are qualified, you can get a mortgage as a woman in Atlanta without too much more trouble than as a man.
I have another Atlantan as a guest today. Please meet her husband and partner of 34 years, Colonel James Neely, retired from a long career of distinguished service in the United States Army. Pacifist as a Commander of troops, he is dedicated to preserving the natural environment. Here’s the kind of thing that Jim says: “Did you know that two studies came out last week in the journal Nature showing that average temperatures will rise by more than 3.6 degrees by the end of this century, threatening human life on this planet? What are you doing about this, Anita?” Talk like this has earned Jim the nickname of “disaster man” in our family, and believe me, he is the best thing that has ever happened to us.
Next, my youngest brother, Martin, a nearly lifelong Atlantan, lives here as a CEO of two healthcare companies. He was named after yet another Atlantan, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., who put forth in 1963 his dream that we would be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. Our parents were inspired by that speech not only to name their son after Dr King, but also to move our family to Jackson, Mississippi, for the summer of 1966 to be part of the transformation of the American South. My brother likely does not remember this experience as he was only an infant, but I remember terrifying poverty and the profound graciousness of people I met in Jackson that summer. I remember my anger about the arrogant, oppressive privilege that I saw. I remember the constraints on the freedom of good people, and the privilege of bad people. Given my brother Martin’s young age, he cannot possibly remember Jackson, but he understands these things in his bones, for it is Martin who has the steely resolve to challenge privilege in the companies that he leads. It would make your blood boil to witness the battles that he must fight in the name of good jobs and affordable healthcare. He can tell you: Digital innovation is trench warfare; and this is because innovation in companies – like most kinds of significant change -- threatens power, privilege and status.
My last guest is my brother, Bill. Among other accomplishments, Bill is a retired investment banker, and now a social entrepreneur. He founded and leads an organization called Georgia Works, which is located about a mile southwest of here next to the Atlanta City Detention Center, which most folks call the City Jail. Georgia Works offers housing to men, many upon release from that jail. Here’s the deal that Georgia Works offers: If you are prepared to renounce drugs and alcohol, take responsibility for your past actions, and seek self-sufficiency, then, for a year, Georgia Works will house you, support you, train you, and get you a job. A good job. A secure job. The mission is to end homelessness, criminal recidivism, and dependency. Like Martin, Bill holds an MBA, and he brings those skills to Georgia Works, where he manages each case with the solidarity of a brother, the street smarts of an investment banker, and the network of someone who has lived in this city for a long time. As a manager, Bill must be both demanding and forgiving. He lives with these men at that interface between hope and regret to settle the past and chart out a better future. 328 men have graduated from Georgia Works over the past three years into jobs around this city, and another group will graduate in a few weeks in a ceremony at which the keynote speaker will be Atlanta’s Mayor, the Honorable Shirley Franklin.
These are four Atlantans; all managers. All immigrants to this place. Theirs is the Atlanta that I want to be a part of with you as management scholars over the next few days. It is a place where, through enterprise and commitment and organization, immigrants strive to improve the lives of those around them. And like them, we’ve got a lot of work to do. If you walk the streets of this neighborhood, you will immediately see that the prosperity that has arisen in Atlanta has not benefitted everyone equally. Walk around this neighborhood, and you’ll see signs of deep-seated suffering from poverty, inequality, racial injustice, and drug abuse. You’ll see signs of inadequate healthcare, particularly for people of color, women, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, and those recently released from jail and prison. Look again and you’ll see signs of inadequate sanitation, nutrition, and social support. Walk around outside, and you will experience oppressive heat – intensified by climate change. So while it’s clear that Atlanta’s and Georgia’s successes have been significant, it’s also clear that many in this city and state still suffer. The prosperity of Atlanta – built on management ideas and management teaching of the last half century – is deeply connected to and entwined with the problems here.
Now before I go further, I want to say three things right away: The first is that Atlanta’s successes and problems are those of every society in the world. This relationship between prosperity and freedom – between privilege and oppression – between what works and what does not work -- is nuanced and complex, but you can find it in one form or another anywhere you look.
The second thing is that the achievements of places such as Atlanta are in jeopardy whenever freedom is constrained: freedom to immigrate; freedom to discern the truth through science; freedom to speak that truth. Atlantans run deep in their understanding of freedom. Constrain the freedom of scientists, and science suffers. Discriminate to prevent workers from work, and productivity and prosperity suffer. Restrict immigration, and you stop progress. But an Atlantan would tell you that, at the interface of jobs and freedom; of liberty and prosperity; of immigration and responsibility; of freedom to organize, and of the movement that we need to save this planet; that among all these reasons to preserve freedom, one stands out. The strongest case for freedom is freedom itself. Freedom must come first, and not because freedom leads to jobs and prosperity, but because it is right. Because it is about the actualization of human potential when the doors of any organization, city, or country – are closed in ways that are unfree, and unjust, and unprincipled, then poison infiltrates the place. We must fight this poison. We cannot take for granted what we have. This is what Atlanta stands for: The fight for freedom because it is right.
The third thing that I want to say without taking another breath: The problems of Atlanta, and of the US, and of the world, are our problems as management scholars. That search for a better life – that striving for a good job and for economic opportunity – that striving for a real conversation about climate change -- is a search whose success depends on effective organization.
It is great management that breaks the tradeoff between prosperity and inequality – between winners and losers. It is great management that pulls us together with solidarity to achieve solutions to the most pressing problems on these streets and in our climate. It is bad management that exploits the vulnerable to enrich and empower a few. It is bad management that divides us and crushes creativity, and oppresses human actualization, and pulls us apart.
As scholars, you of course study the difference between good and bad management. This is not an Academy of Business. This is the Academy of Management. Here at this meeting, I am happy to report that there are sessions on climate and poverty and healthcare and the other issues on this agenda. We will talk about management of all types of organizations: companies, yes, but also city governments, schools, jails, charities, hospitals, NGOs, partnerships, federal governments, and intergovernmental agencies. But I would like to suggest that we double down even more intently on the management of organizations designed to address the most important problems of our time. These problems should be our central focus, because the problems on the street outside and at our borders and in the world around us are our problems. The problems of the vulnerable everywhere are our problems. Climate is our problem. These are our problems because bad management is complicit in their genesis, and because the only chance at their resolution is in the assembly of free people in organizations.
You know, this promise of our field is sometimes clearer to those outside it than it is to those of us within it. I often think about how, 11 years ago, I ran into my co-author, Dr. Paul Farmer, the physician founder of Partners In Health with whom I worked in Rwanda for a short time. PIH has revolutionized the provision of healthcare to the poor first in Haiti and then in other countries around the world, including in Peru, Russia, and Rwanda. When I told Paul that I sometimes wished I had become a doctor like him, he responded: What are you talking about, Anita? All my problems are management problems. What he meant was that, in his clinical practice, he struggles with resource allocation, people development, human resources, financing, and efficiency. You could say the same thing about the organizations that seek to transform healthcare; and homelessness; to elevate the disenfranchised, to fight human trafficking, to advance opportunities for women and transgender people and vulnerable immigrants. The most important problems of our time require the insights of scholars of management and organization -- both for the amelioration of the problems and for the development of solutions.
So how do we take on the world’s most pressing problems as our central challenge in the Academy? What can we do, imprinted by the identity of this city of Atlanta?
First, I invite you to free yourself to work only on things that are both important in the world and that have meaning for you personally. Say no to everything else. Be ambitious; address problems deeply and comprehensively in broad research programs. Make each paper and teaching assignment a piece of a bigger puzzle on how organizations can meaningfully improve lives. This means that we have to expand our thinking about data and methods and theory. In the version of this speech that I will write for the Academy of Management Review, I will lay out a theoretical, methodological and empirical agenda on this front. Accomplishing this agenda will be hard, but it will be worth it.
Second, I invite you to stand with strength on your success. Please worry less about failure. Find sustenance in knowing that your work can change lives. The truth is that you have an enormous impact not only through what you write but also through what you teach. So please reflect on whether you are dealing comprehensively with the phenomena that you study. Make sure that, at the end of your career, you can look back with satisfaction that you’ve stood against suffering, inequality, and impoverishment – that you’ve stood for freedom, sustainability, and creativity -- that you’ve used the prosperity that you enjoy to make the world better.
Third, I invite you to be generous and forgiving as a judge of others’ work in the interests of promoting solutions to the world’s pressing problems. When you issue a grade, or write a review, or edit a paper, or write a tenure letter, please ask whether and how the work you are examining advances enfranchisement in prosperity as well as prosperity itself. We need to support scholars that are dealing with difficult, intractable problems, even if the theory is imperfect and the data is incomplete and the methods are messy. It is the support, the friendships, the relationships, the connections between us that make us strong, and that define us as an Academy. Everything significant that we do, we do together. Please be generous.
Fourth, I invite you to own your standing as a public intellectual. Blog and tweet and silly gif about what you believe to be true based on the results of your research. Talk to the media. I appreciate that it is part of our culture as management academics to be precise; to be humble about what we know; to speak with authority only when we truly have expertise on a particular topic. But speak we must. Isn’t it true that you know more about the implications of your findings – and of the findings of others who are working in your domain – than your readers and students? The world needs science – the construction of facts – the truth -- about great management that creates jobs, supports freedom, transforms vulnerabilities into strengths, stops climate change, and creates prosperity for everyone. And the world equally needs facts and truth about bad management in organizations of all types – the kind that is exploitative and destructive and poisonous to freedom, prosperity, and the environment. Please take up opportunities to bring your ideas into the public domain.
Fifth, I invite you to double down on your commitment to the Academy of Management as an institution of science. We come to Atlanta as scientists; to speak the truth; to develop facts; these are the foundations on which we stand. There is as much to do in the Academy to improve lives as there is outside these walls. We can and must strengthen this institution, and we have started. The Board of Governors with the help of a special task force has changed our approach to taking stands on public policy, and is considering an Annual Meeting location outside North America. But there is much more to do. We have 12% fewer attendees with affiliations at Middle Eastern Universities this year. Some members have not come because they are concerned about problems that could occur at the border: Being hassled, for example. I know of at least one Iranian scholar who is here but cannot leave after the meeting for fear of being unable to return to the United States in the future. If these fine scholars were judged by the content of their character, then they would be sitting in the front row too. Restrictions on their freedom hurt us all not only because they prevent scientific progress but because they are wrong.
In the tradition of the great people of Atlanta, let us resolve to do our work this week in the names of these members, and in the names of everyone who is oppressed and made vulnerable by abuse of privilege and power. Let us work for real, sustainable prosperity. We must come to terms with the privileges that we enjoy and the responsibilities we hold in this profession. As social scientists, we can lead the world in taking on inequities and discrimination and injustice and bad leadership and bad organizational practice; it is us who can stand on our field’s diversity and multi-disciplinary breadth to offer solutions to the problems around us; it us who can reject false prosperity in favor of a secure future on this planet. Let us secure and then speak the truth – in public and with the integrity of our scholarly processes at our backs – about the organizations on the street outside, and at our borders, and around the world, and in all the places that we go every day.
Thank you very much.
And now, please allow me to step into my role as President of this Academy. My final duty is to pass this gavel to yet another immigrant to Atlanta, although one who eventually left this city. You all know Professor Mary Ann Glynn for her pioneering scholarship, service and teaching. In serving with her on the Board of Governors, I have come to know her as a leader, and I can tell you that the Academy could not be in better hands. Please join me in welcoming to the presidency, my incomparable friend, the Joseph F. Cotter Professor of Management and Organization at Boston College, Professor Mary Ann Glynn.