The Olsson Center for Applied Ethics

The Olsson Center - Research


As a leader in the field of business ethics for more than 40 years, the Olsson Center has produced a large body of distinguished research aimed at scholars, students and business leaders.

Current Research

  • Stakeholder Value Creation
  • Ethical Leadership
  • Conscious Capitalism
  • Stakeholder Responsibility
  • Values-Based Leadership
  • Public Trust in Business
  • Ethics and Sustainability

Stakeholder Theory: A Brief History

For more than three decades, scholars have developed the idea that a business has stakeholders, or groups and individuals who have a stake in the success or failure of a business. Stakeholder Theory was further outlined by R. Edward Freeman in his award-winning 1984 book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, in which he suggests that businesses build their strategy around their relationships with key stakeholders. Stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers, financiers and communities, are vital to a firm’s success.

Stakeholder Theory


  • Bridging the Values Gap: How Authentic Organizations Bring Values to Life

    R. Edward Freeman and Ellen Auster

    Berrett-Koehler Publishers, August 2015

    Business has a values problem. It’s not just spectacular public scandals like Enron (which, incidentally, had a great corporate values statement). Many companies fail to live up to the standards they set for themselves, alienating the public and leaving employees cynical and disengaged — resulting in lower productivity, less innovation and sometimes outright corruption.

    The reason, argue top scholars and consultants Edward Freeman and Ellen Auster, is that most companies’ values are just handed down from on high, with no employee input or discussion and little connection of any kind to the organization — they’re just well-intentioned words that sound nice together. This practically invites disconnects between intention and reality.

    To bridge this values gap, Freeman and Auster provide a process through which organizations can collectively surface deeply held values that truly resonate with everyone, from top to bottom. By developing values through discussions — casual or formal, one-on-one or in groups — businesses can ensure that values are dynamic and evolving, not static words on a wall or a website. In Bridging the Values Gap, Freeman and Auster offer advice, real-world examples and sample questions to help business leaders create values that are authentic and embraced because they are rooted in the lived experience of the organization.

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Public Trust in Business

    Jared D. HarrisBrian T. Moriarty and Andrew C. Wicks  

    Cambridge University Press, July 2014

    Public trust in business is one of the most important but least understood issues for business leaders, public officials, employees and other key stakeholders. A new book, edited by University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professors Jared D. Harris, Brian T. Moriarty and Andrew C. Wicks, seeks to close the knowledge gap in our understanding of how public trust in business works. Public Trust in Business draws on the expertise of an international array of experts from academic disciplines including business, sociology, political science and philosophy. Each chapter begins with an executive summary that identifies key lessons for managers seeking to build and maintain public trust in their companies.

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art

    R. Edward Freeman, Jeffrey S. Harrison, Andrew C. WicksBidhan L. Parmar and Simone de Colle

    Cambridge University Press, 2010

    "The book is a great tool for those who want to have a deep understanding of different perspectives of stakeholder theory. It draws together research of over 30 years as it has been applied in a number of business contexts, in a way that allows readers to understand the evolution of theory, how it has been applied and what future avenues need exploration." — Michael Jay Polonsky, Deakin University, Melbourne

    "Ed Freeman and his colleagues have produced an erudite, subtle, vigorously argued account of stakeholder theory. Their provocative book will not be the last word on the subject, but it is the best contribution so far to an extraordinarily important conversation." — Edwin Hartman, New York University

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Managing for Stakeholders: Survival, Reputation and Success

    R. Edward Freeman, Jeffrey S. Harrison and Andrew C. Wicks

    Yale University Press, 2007

    “This book breaks the mold for the ‘management success’ literature. Forget what you’ve read in previous management books. Stop assuming that you have to trade off the interests of employees and customers for those of stockholders. Freeman, Harrison and Wicks show why smart managers succeed by adding value everywhere.” — Tom Donaldson, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach

    R. Edward Freeman

    Cambridge University Press, 1984

    First published in 1984 as a part of the Pitman series in Business and Public Policy, its publication proved to be a landmark moment in the development of stakeholder theory. Widely acknowledged as a world leader in business ethics and strategic management, R. Edward Freeman's foundational work continues to inspire scholars and students concerned with a more practical view of how business and capitalism actually work.

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Business Ethics: A Managerial Approach

    Andrew C. WicksR. Edward FreemanPatricia H. Werhane and Kirsten Martin

    Prentice Hall, 2010

    The ethical training future managers need to be successful in today’s challenging business world. For readers interested in an in-depth introduction of business ethics that emphasizes the role of ethics as a critical part to management success.

    To learn more, check out the link.

  • Business, Value Creation and Society

    R. Edward Freeman, Mette Morsing, Jeremy Moon, editors

    Cambridge University Press

    This series currently includes seven volumes: 

    • Business and Public Policy
    • Stakeholders Matter
    • Business, Integrity and Peace
    • Business Ethics as Practice
    • Entrepreneurs and Democracy
    • NGOs and Corporations
    • Corporations and Citizenship

    To learn more, check out the link.