Robert G. Eccles

Professor of Management Practice

Robert G. Eccles first joined the faculty in 1979 and received tenure in 1989. He left in 1993 to work in the private sector and rejoined the faculty in 2007. Right after receiving tenure, Professor Eccles started doing research on corporate reporting, a topic which remains of great interest to him from a research, managerial practice, and public policy perspective. He has written three books on this subject, The ValueReporting Revolution: Moving Beyond the Earnings Game (with Robert H. Herz, E. Mary Keegan and David M. H. Phillips), Building Public Trust: The Future of Corporate Reporting (with Samuel A. DiPiazza Jr.), and One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy (with Michael P. Krzus), which is the first book on this subject. One Report was the winner of the 2010 PROSE award in the category of Business, Finance, & Management. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the International Integrated Reporting Committee (http://www.integratedreporting.org/) and the Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)( www.sasb.org). Dr. Eccles is the co-founder, with Professor George Serafeim of Harvard Business School, of the Innovating for Sustainability social movement (https://www.facebook.com/innovatingforsustainability), and a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Sustainable Value Creation (https://www.conference-board.org).

Professor Eccles continues his active research program on integrated reporting. Within the past few years a new trend has begun for “integrated reporting” in which a company combines its financial and non-financial reports into “One Report” with varying degrees of integration. Examples of companies practicing integrated reporting in the United States are Southwest Airlines, American Electric Power, and United Technologies Corporation. Examples of companies in other countries include Philips in the Netherlands, BASF in Germany, Novo Nordisk in Denmark and Natura in Brazil. Of course, One Report doesn’t mean only One Report since the Internet can also be used to provide more detailed information and analytical tools of particular interest to different stakeholder groups. Importantly, integrated reporting is about more than a company’s external communications. It also involves leveraging the Internet to improve dialogue and engagement with all stakeholders.

In collaboration with Professor George Serafeim, Dr. Eccles teaches the MBA elective field course “Innovating for Sustainability” as well as the executive education program of the same name and the new executive education program “Building Client Management Capabilities in Professional Service Firms.” “Innovating for Sustainability” is focused on innovations in processes, products, and business models by both corporations and investors in order to improve both financial and sustainability (defined in terms of environmental, social, and governance issues) performance. Eccles and Serafeim also teach a doctoral seminar called “The Role of the Corporation in Society.”  Together they have a broad and multimethod research program on how companies can create more sustainable strategies that contribute to a more sustainable society.

In collaboration with Professor Das Narayandas of Harvard Business School Dr. Eccles is also working on a book about professional service firms with the working title of Building Capabilities: Ensuring Long-Term Success in a Professional Service Firm. The key idea is that professional service firms need to balance short-term capacity utilization with long-term capability building. The latter is done at the individual and organizational level by properly managing the talent market and the client market in an integrated way.

In 2011, Dr. Eccles was selected as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior - 2012 for his extensive, positive contribution to building trust in business.

Dr. Eccles received an S.B. in Mathematics and an S.B. in Humanities and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1973) and an A.M. (1975) and Ph.D. in Sociology (1979) from Harvard University.

  1. Overview

    Keywords: sustainability; innovation;

  2. Integrated Reporting

    All public companies are required to publish a financial report.  An increasing number of companies are now publishing a corporate social responsibility or sustainability report on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.  These reports on so-called "non-financial performance" are, with the exceptions of a few countries, done on a strictly voluntary basis although the number of companies doing this has been growing rapidly.  Within the past few years a new trend has begun for "integrated reporting" in which a company combines its financial and non-financial reports into "One Report" with varying degrees of integration.  Of course, One Report doesn't mean only One Report since the Internet can also be used to provide more detailed information and analytical tools of particular interest to different stakeholder groups.  Examples of companies practicing integrated reporting in the United States are Southwest Airlines, American Electric Power, and United Technologies Corporation.  Examples of companies in other countries include Philips in the Netherlands, BASF in Germany, Novo Nordisk in Denmark and Natura in Brazil.  As of June 1, 2010 every company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange must file an integrated report. Professor Eccles has written the first book on this emerging phenomenon, One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy.  In it he argues that a sustainable society requires that all of its companies be pursuing sustainable strategies that are based on a long-term focus in value creation for shareholders and all other stakeholders.  Integrated reporting is the best way to communicate the results of such strategies; it is also a useful process for instilling the necessary internal discipline to make sure a sustainable strategy exists.  Importantly, integrated reporting is about more than a company's external communications.  It also involves leveraging the Internet to improve dialogue and engagement with all stakeholders.  In addition to an active research program on integrated reporting, Professor Eccles is also working to help spread the rapid and broad adoption of the practice integrated reporting,  He is a member of the Steering Committee of the International Integrated Reporting Committee (www.integratedreporting.org) and is involved with groups all over the world helping to launch the integrated reporting movement.  
  3. Innovative Business Models for Sustainable Urbanization

    The world is experiencing two inexorable trends that are in conflict with each other: urbanization and sustainability.  As the world's economy evolves, rural areas are less and less able to support the populations that live in them and so a massive wave of urbanization is happening that will continue for at least the next 50 years.  At the same time, public consciousness about the need for sustainability--defined in economic, social, environmental and governance terms--is growing rapidly.  If current cities grow and need cities are created in the same way that urbanization has happened in the past, the result will not be sustainable.  Thus new models must be found for achieving urbanization in a sustainable way and cities will need to provided integrated reports of their economic, environmental, social and governance performance (http://www.integratedreporting.org).  Here a number of different "natural experiments" are taking place, such as new cities being built in Masdar, Abu Dhabi and Dongtan, China.  Large companies such as Accenture, Cisco, IBM and Siemens are also developing products and services to help built "Smart" cities.  One especially interesting experiment is taking place in the Municipality of Paredes, about 20 minutes outside Porto, Portugal.  Here a start-up company called Living PlanIT, S.A. is building a green field research city called PlanIT Valley on 1,700 hectares of land in Paredes.  This ambitious and innovative business model combines elements of innovation clusters, real estate development and professional services utilizing a "partner" model that involves a large number of major companies addressing the sustainable urbanization market.  This includes both new cities and the "retrofit" of existing ones.  If this model is successful, Living PlanIT and its partners plan to replicate this model all over the world.  In collaboration with Professor Amy Edmondson, Dr. Eccles is studying this initiative on a real time basis with the full support of company and partner company executives, as well as all levels of the Portuguese government.  Eccles and Edmondson will supplement this in depth research case study with studies of other "smart" and "eco" cities and major real estate developments, as well as other initiatives to create research and innovation clusters.  This research project includes a large number of MBA and doctoral students and includes collaborations with faculty and students in other schools at Harvard University, including the Graduate School of Design and the Harvard Kennedy School.  Their ultimate objective is to write a book on business models for sustainable urbanization.
  4. Building Capabilities in Professional Service Firms

    One of the most distinctive aspects of professional service firms is that the vast majority of the people who work in them are directly involved in serving clients.  Long-term success in a professional service firm requires obtaining and developing the right professionals (managing the talent market), obtaining and developing the right clients (managing the client market), and matching clients' needs with the professionals in the firm who have the appropriate capabilities.  Another distinctive aspect of professional service firms is the extent to which working for clients is the basis upon which both its individual professionals and the firm itself builds capabilities in order to satisfy new needs of existing clients and the needs of new clients.  This can occur in relatively modest and incremental ways, such as when a young associate is put on a project in an industry she hasn't worked in before. It can also occur in very major ways, such as when a client has a problem that has never been solved before and in helping the client solve this problem, the firm develops a major innovation that leads to a new service offering, not only for the firm but for the entire profession in which it operates.  In collaboration with Professor Das Narayandas in the Marketing Unit, Dr. Eccles is using the insights gained from a number of new cases developed for the MBA elective course on "Leading Professional Service Firms" and the Executive Education program "Building Client Management Capabilities in Professional Service Firms, along with supplementary research, to develop the concept of "building capabilities" as a core principle for ensuring long-term success in a professional services firm.