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- April 2015: Hungry for France by Alexander Lobrano '77
- March 2015: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber '93
- February 2015: The Cottoncrest Curse by Michael Rubin '72
- January 2015: Race Horse Men by Katherine Mooney '04
- December 2014: Gruesome Spectacles by Austin Sarat
- November 2014: All I Love and Know by Judith Frank
- October 2014: Catching Lightning in a Bottle: How Merrill Lynch Revolutionized the Financial World by Winthrop H. Smith, Jr. '71
- September 2014: When Paris Went Dark: : The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ron Rosbottom
- August 2014: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian '82
- July 2014: The Economy of You by Kimberly Palmer '01
- June 2014: Collecting Shakespeare:The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
- May 2014: The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil
- April 2014: Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor '91
- March 2014: Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
- February 2014: Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age
- January 2014: Full Upright and Locked Position by Mark Gerchick '73, P'13
- December 2013: This Indian Country by Fred Hoxie '69
- November 2013: The Partner Track by Helen Wan '95
- October 2013: The Forage House by Tess Taylor '99
- September 2013: Inferno by Dan Brown '86
- August 2013: Six Years by Harlan Coben '84, P'16
- July 2013: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein '88
- June 2013 - Brothers Emanuel by Ezekiel Emanuel '79
- May 2013 - Cadaver by Jonah Ansell '03
- April 2013 - Masters of Disaster by Chris Lehane '90
- March 2013 - Schroder by Amity Gaige
- February 2013: El Iluminado by Ilan Stavans
- January 2013: Everything Under the Sun by David Suzuki '58
- December 2012: Arcadia by Lauren Groff
- November 2012: The Hidden Europe by Francis Tapon '92
- October 2012: The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz '64
- September 2012: Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum '99
- August 2012: Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski '69
- July 2012: Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach '93
- June 2012: Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount '92
- May 2012: God's Jury by Cullen Murphy '74
- April 2012: Big Birthday by Kate Hosford '88
- March 2012: EyeMinded by Kellie Jones '81
- February 2012: 1493 by Charles Mann '76
- December 2011: The Vices by Lawrence Douglas
- November 2011: Don't Cross Your Eyes by Aaron Carroll '94
- October 2011: Come On All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder '89
- September 2011: The Pale King by David Foster Wallace '85
- August 2011: Scoundrels in Law by Cait Murphy '83
- July 2011: Terror and Wonder by Blair Kamin '79
- June 2011: What Should I Do? by Professor Alex George
- May 2011: Model Nazi by Professor Catherine Epstein
- April 2011: A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei '99
- March 2011: Unlikely Allies by Joel Paul '77
- February 2011: Secret Historian by Justin Spring '84
- December 2010: The Best of Foxtrot by Bill Amend '84
- November 2010: Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker '51
- October 2010: Routes of Man by Ted Conover '80
- September 2010: The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick '75
- August 2010: Innocent by Scott Turow '70
- July 2010: Simple Fresh Southern by Matt and Ted Lee '93
- June 2010: Ballet's Magic Kingdom by Professor Stanely Rabinowitz
- May 2010: Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman '68
- April 2010: Andean Express by Adrian Althoff '04
- March 2010: Freefall by Joseph Stiglitz '64
- February 2010: Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl '89
- December 2009: What to Read When by Pam Allyn '84
- November 2009: On Poets and Poetry by William H. Pritchard '53
- October 2009: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell '95
- September 2009: Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey
- August 2009: The End of Overeating by David Kessler '73
- July 2009: The Mirror Effect by Dr. Drew Pinsky '80
- June 2009: Art and Politics of Science by Harold Varmus '61
- May 2009: Hold Tight by Harlan Coben '84
- April 2009: Passing Strange by Marni Sandweiss
- March 2009: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian '82
- February 2009: Loneliness as a Way of Life by Tom Dumm
- January 2009: Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein '88
- December 2008: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff '01
- November 2008: The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate '89
- October 2008: The Thing Itself by Dick Todd '62
- September 2008: Are We Rome by Cullen Murphy '74
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Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: Reviews
Making Business Better
A former BP employee says companies can--and must--help solve the greatest problems facing the world.
Reviewed by Paul Statt '78
CSR is an acronym for "corporate social responsibility." It's the way a business entity regulates itself in areas such as health, environment, human rights and other externals to its primary mission.
BP is a big oil company, and not an acronym for anything. Founded in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Co., it changed its name to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. in 1935, to British Petroleum in 1954 and, finally, to BP in 2001. In 1999 Christine Bader '93 went to work for this nonagenarian corporation, and by her own admission, she fell in love.
The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil is the story of that romance, and it's not exactly happily-ever-after.
The honeymoon was sweet. Bader went to Indonesia, where BP was overseeing the extraction of natural gas from the Tangguh gas field, one of those risky energy sources that high prices have made potentially profitable. BP knew the risks included environmental damage, political unrest and local economic disruption.
By most accounts, including her own, Bader and BP did well with their Corporate Social Responsibility in Tangguh. Bader moved on to China, where BP was collaborating with a Chinese corporation. The work seemed more frustrating and less successful.
Back at corporate headquarters in London, the company was so pleased with Bader that it even paid her to work part-time as an adviser to the United Nations special representative for business and human rights. Bader is justifiably proud of the results of this work, the "Ruggie Principles," which protect and respect human rights in business. She started full-time at the UN in 2008, yet her heart belonged to BP.
If this is a love story, then in April 2010 Bader found her lover in bed with the babysitter.
In the Gulf of Mexico, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes. Workers die. Crude oil leaks. BP backpedals. No need to tell the whole story of how bad BP looked, but at a 2010 hearing Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) summed it up: "There is a complete contradiction between BP's words and deeds."
Bader can't disagree and suffers a crisis of confidence. After a chat with a friend--also a Corporate Idealist, one of the sad ones "so marginalized that they don't even know" they have no power in the corporation, Bader asks a probing self-critical question:
"Am I that deluded as well? Do I sound just as ridiculous, talking about the great things BP has done on human rights on a few projects in far-flung corners of the world, when the company's behavior much closer to home appears to have been the opposite of exemplary? ... Perhaps."
This is brave writing, because this reader can only reply, "Well, yes. You sound like a lover betrayed, but trying to believe."
Now a visiting scholar and lecturer at Columbia and a consultant, Bader believes Corporate Idealists can "nudge our companies toward a vision of a better future." Nudge is also the title of an important 2008 book whose authors argued for a "libertarian paternalism" to offset the false assumption that most people make choices that are in their best interests. If economists realize this is true for consumers, perhaps it also applies to corporations--which are, after all, our fellow citizens, for better or worse.
Bader extends her metaphor this way: "The honeymoon is over. ... It is time to settle in for the long haul, recognizing that my partner isn't perfect and loving him all the more for it. Despite the failings of big business, I find myself still optimistic about its ability to make a positive difference in the world."
It's cause for some optimism that Bader, and others like her, are struggling to maintain the corporate conscience of companies like BP. It's not enough to make me trust the company, but it helps.
The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist is no chronicle of natural selection. Bader was not a young person passionate about oil drilling who evolved an ideal view of the industry; she went in as an idealist who wanted to make business more responsible.
That's the paradox of the Corporate Idealist. Milton Friedman, the godfather of neoliberalism, wrote that, within the law, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business--to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits." The Corporate Idealist is no more engaged in those activities than the army chaplain is in fighting the war. What's the difference between a Corporate Idealist and a Military Chaplain? In the daily battles of business, there are no believers in the foxholes.
Paul Statt '78 is a Philadelphia-based writer.