Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism

Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism

by Mark Kennedy


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


Today, all it takes is one organizational misstep to sink a company's reputation. Social media can be a strict ethical enforcer, with the power to convince thousands to boycott products and services. Executives are stuck on appeasing stakeholders—shareholders, employees, and consumers—but they ignore shapeholders, regulators, the media, and social and political activists who have no stake in a company but will work hard to curb what they see as bad business practices. And they do so at their own peril.

In Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism, former congressman, Fortune 500 executive, and university president Mark Kennedy argues that shapeholders, as much as stakeholders, have significant power to determine a company's risks and opportunities, if not its survival. Many international, multi-billion-dollar corporations fail to anticipate activism, and they flounder on first contact. Kennedy zeroes in on the different languages that shapeholders and companies speak and their contrasting metrics for what constitutes acceptable business practice. Executives, he argues, must be visionaries who find profitable—and probable—collaborations to diffuse political tensions. Kennedy's decision matrix helps corporations align their business practices with shapeholder interests, anticipate their demands, and assess changing moral standards so that together they can plan a profitable route forward.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Business success is not just about the money anymore, says Kennedy, a former congressman and the president of the University of North Dakota, in this energetic guide to winning in the court of public opinion. Twenty years ago, he writes, business leaders only had to worry about shareholders, but in the more political current climate, there is a new group of influencers not financially beholden to the companies they seek to change. These titular “shapeholders”—activists, media outlets, politicians, and regulators—have been challenging companies to be more ecologically friendly, politically aware, and socially active. Thus, successful businesses must address a whole spectrum of voices, from the stakeholders who provide the capital and expect a return, to the shapeholders who provide the direction and expect a resulting change in behavior. In Kennedy’s view, Whole Foods has done it right, as has Google. He addresses managing the media, building credibility, working productively with politicians, and understanding regulators. It’s not easy, Kennedy cautions; you’ll need to stay on your toes, and stay connected. This is an easy, well-organized read, if a bit padded; it’s a thought-provoking, if not groundbreaking, way to frame the new responsibilities of the business world. (May)

Chris Porath

Shapeholders is an insightful and inspiring guide to how it pays to be a principled leader. Kennedy shows how integrating societal concerns into business strategy gives leaders and organizations the best chance at business success. He shares fascinating examples and stories in making a convincing case. His wealth of experience as a former congressman, a Fortune 500 top executive, and university president provide a unique and captivating perspective.

Major Garrett

Mark R. Kennedy has thrived in business, politics, and the academics of political communication and strategy. That experience is keenly concentrated in a book that introduces new concepts—shapeholders, carrot and stick activists—to what was thought to be a familiar debate about activism and corporate responsibility. Kennedy's insights suggest the intersection of activism and corporatism need not be zero-sum. Profit can be found for shapeholders, stakeholders, stockholders, and, I submit, readers.

Glenn Hubbard

Today's business leaders struggle to balance competing demands among many groups surrounding their firms' activities—'shapeholders' in the language of this important new book. Drawing on this experience in business, academia, and politics, Kennedy notes that true business engagement of shapeholders magnifies both economic success and social impact. Shapeholders will be appreciated by business people and students of business who want to shape the world around them as they are shaped by it.

UND Review

I highly recommend this book to both the business and higher education communities as a way to inoculate your organization to very real disruptive threats that exist in everyday life.

Forbes - Daniel Runde

A well written book, and a first primer on a topic that is a permanent part of the landscape for business leaders and policy makers.

Tim McMahon

This book provides top-level leaders with a powerful approach to embracing unseen opportunities that lie in what at first appear to be threatening risks. Kennedy's credentials are indisputable—it's clear through the many personal experiences with activists from business and politics provides him the gravitas only real engagement can deliver.

Greg Page

How should a corporation behave in the face of activism? Today shapeholders—social and political activists without a stake in the success of a corporation—have the power to mold corporate outcomes like never before. Kennedy shows how to engage activists and mitigate risks to your business.

Adam Grant

In a time when social and political activists have growing power to shape the fates of companies, Mark R. Kennedy is here to help, offering guidance on how to engage activists and avoid scandals.


Highly recommended as an excellent, up-to-date contribution to the literature of corporate social responsibility and management communication.

Robert B. Zoellick

Shapeholders offers personal, practical, and thoughtful counsel for businesspeople of today—and definitely of tomorrow. Kennedy wants business leaders to appreciate the larger societal, political, and regulatory context that may determine the success or failure of their businesses—and then he offers seven steps to guide the development and execution of a "profit-plus" strategy. The book is rare in combining an easy-to-read style, useful takeaways, and wise insights about business in America. Shapeholders is a great read for business students, executives and boards, people interested in business and policy, and the many people who wish to influence businesses. This short book packs in a lot of experience, judgment, and direct advice.

Courtney Fingar

At a time when public distrust of big business is worryingly high, Mark R. Kennedy sounds a sensible and timely note about how to repair the broken trust and balance the needs of commerce and society. With a background in business followed by service as a congressman, Kennedy is well placed to bridge the divide, and in this insightful book he makes a pragmatic yet passionate case for constructive engagement with the shapeholders who have become every bit as important as shareholders in determining a company's success.

Steve Sanger

Mark R. Kennedy, a former congressmen and Fortune 500 executive, guides the reader through the new landscape of activism, from protestors to the press to regulators. A must-read for modern executives.

Mauro F. Guillen

In Shapeholders, Mark Kennedy's no-nonsense approach dissects one of the most vexing problems facing business today—how to engage politicians, regulators, social activists, and the media. Using illuminating examples from a variety of industries, Kennedy redefines the big debates about the role of business in the market economy.

Library Journal

Kennedy's credentials include: president, University of North Dakota; senior vice president and treasurer, Macy's; member of the Council on Foreign Relations; member of Congress; and director, George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, all providing substantial background for his thoughts and reflections on shapeholders. Kennedy came up with this term and expanded the concept to include political, regulatory, and activist elements that interact to help determine the success of a firm. While shapeholders are different from stakeholders, they can have significant impact on a company's success or failure. Kennedy feels that today's businesses must realize that their bottom line is affected by many factors and that ignoring any of them can lead to diminished returns. Extensive notes are included. VERDICT Kennedy's efforts deserve consideration in determining business policy and strategy. Recommended for most business collections.—Littleton Maxwell, Robins Sch. of Business, Univ. of Richmond

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231180566
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 05/09/2017
Series: Columbia Business School Publishing
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

Customer Reviews