Christopher Marquis

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Chris Marquis is an Associate Professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at the Harvard Business School and is affiliated with the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative and Harvard University Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations.  He teaches the MBA elective Social Entrepreneurship in the Business Sector and a doctoral course on Organizational Theory. He has previously taught Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) in the required MBA curriculum, and in a number of executive education programs.

Professor Marquis' current research is focused on how business can have a positive impact on society and in particular how historical processes and community relations have shaped firms' and entrepreneurs' social strategies and activities. He is currently pursuing several streams of research. The first seeks to assess how organizations can be designed to maximize both business and social value. Questions that drive his inquires include: How can companies grow in reach and profit, while staying true to a social mission and maintaining their quality of services or products? And, should social entrepreneurs focus their efforts on leading change of the broader system in which they operate, or should they focus on achieving impact within the existing system? The second explores how environmental sustainability initiatives have developed in China. This research investigates questions such as: What are the implications of transitioning to greener technology when government and business are structurally intertwined? These research projects build on Marquis' earlier work that analyzed how firm behavior is shaped by broader contexts such as embeddedness in geographic communities and how environmental conditions during founding periods leave a lasting imprint on organizations. In particular, Marquis' prior research examined the effects of these processes in the contexts of community-based social networks and the evolution of the US banking industry.

Marquis' research has won a number of national awards including the 2006 William H. Newman Award for best dissertation across the entire the Academy of Management, the 2006 Louis R. Pondy award for best dissertation in organizational theory from the Academy of Management, the 2003 James D. Thompson Award for best graduate student paper from the American Sociological Association and the 2005 State Farm Doctoral Dissertation Award. He was a finalist for the 2010 Aspen Institute Faculty Pioneer Award, a runner-up in the Academy of Management's Best Published Paper in Organization and Management Theory in 2009 and a finalist in the 2004 INFORMS/Organization Science Dissertation Proposal Competition. He has published in Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, American Sociological ReviewOrganization Science, and Strategic Management Journal as well as a number of edited collections. He is a member of the editorial boards of Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science and Strategic Organization. 

Marquis received a BA in History from Notre Dame, MA in History and MBA in Finance from Pitt, and MA and PhD in Sociology from Michigan. Prior to his academic career, he worked for 6 years in the financial services industry, most recently as Vice President and Technology Manager for a business unit of Bank One Corporation (now J.P. Morgan Chase).

  1. Imprinting: Toward A Multilevel Theory

    The concept of imprinting has attracted considerable interest in numerous fields—including organizational ecology, institutional theory, network analysis, and career research—and has been applied at several levels of analysis, from the industry to the individual. This article offers a critical review of this rich yet disparate literature and guides research toward a multilevel theory of imprinting. We start with a definition that captures the general features of imprinting across levels of analysis but is precise enough to remain distinct from seemingly similar concepts, such as path dependence and cohort effects. We then provide a framework to order and unite the splintered field of imprinting research at different levels of analysis. In doing so, we identify economic, technological, institutional, and individual influences that lead to imprints at the level of (a) organizational collectives, (b) single organizations, (c) organizational building blocks, and (d) individuals. Building on this framework, we develop a general model that points to major avenues for future research and charts new directions toward a multilevel theory of imprinting. This theory provides a distinct lens for organizational research that takes history seriously.

  2. Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting in China: Symbol or Substance?

    This study focuses on how and why firms strategically respond to government signals regarding appropriate corporate activity. We integrate institutional theory with research on corporate political strategy to develop a political dependence model that explains (a) how different types of dependency on the government lead firms to issue corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and (b) how the risk of governmental monitoring affects the extent to which CSR reports are symbolic or substantive. First, we examine how firm characteristics reflecting dependence on the government—including private versus state ownership, executives serving on political councils, political legacy, and financial resources—affect the likelihood of firms issuing CSR reports. Second, we focus on the symbolic nature of CSR reporting and how variance in the risk of government monitoring through channels such as bureaucratic embeddedness and regional government institutional development influences the extent to which CSR communications are symbolically decoupled from substantive CSR activities. Our database includes all CSR reports issued by the approximately 1,600 publicly listed Chinese firms between 2006 and 2009. Our hypotheses are generally supported. The political perspective we develop contributes to organizational theory by showing that (a) government signaling is an important mechanism of political influence, (b) different types of dependency on the government expose firms to different types of legitimacy pressure, and (c) firms face a decoupling risk which leads them to be more likely to enact substantive CSR actions in situations in which they are likely to be monitored.
  3. Punctuated Generosity: How Mega-events and Natural Disasters Affect Corporate Philanthropy in U.S. Communities

    This article focuses on geographic communities as fields in which human-made and natural events occasionally disrupt the lives of organizations. We develop an institutional perspective to unpack how and why major events within communities affect organizations in the context of corporate philanthropy. To test this framework, we examine how different types of mega-events (the Olympics, the Super Bowl, political conventions) and natural disasters (such as floods and hurricanes) affected the philanthropic spending of locally headquartered Fortune 1000 firms between 1980 and 2006. Results show that philanthropic spending fluctuated dramatically as mega-events generally led to a punctuated increase in otherwise relatively stable patterns of giving by local corporations. The impact of natural disasters depended on the severity of damage: while major disasters had a negative effect, smaller scale disasters had a positive impact. Firms’ philanthropic history and communities’ intercorporate network cohesion moderated some of these effects. This study extends the institutional and community literatures by illuminating the geographic distribution of punctuating events as a central mechanism for community influences on organizations, shedding new light on the temporal dynamics of both endogenous and exogenous punctuating events and providing a more nuanced understanding of corporate-community relations.
  4. Regulatory Uncertainty and Corporate Responses to Environmental Protection in China

    This article analyzes the closing gap between regulation and enforcement of environmental protection in China and explores its implications for doing business there. It identifies three major dimensions that characterize change in regulatory systems: priorities and incentives, bureaucratic alignment, and transparency and monitoring. Using these dimensions, it describes the mechanisms that characterized China’s prior period where enforcement of environmental protection was decoupled from regulation. Regulation and  enforcement are becoming re-aligned. This is due to a change in national  development strategy, reorganization of the bureaucracy, and increasing monitoring from both the government and general public. To address these changes, firms need to embrace environmental innovation and integrate local and global standards. They should also be more transparent and compete on reputation.
  5. Golfing Alone? Corporations, Elites, and Nonprofit Growth in 100 American Communities

    We examine the link between corporations and community by showing how corporate density interacts with the local social and cultural infrastructure to affect the growth and decline of the number of local nonprofits between 1987 and 2002. We focus on two subpopulations of nonprofits in 100 American cities: (1) elite-oriented cultural and educational institutions and (2) social welfare-oriented organizations. We find that corporate density enhances the growth of both types of nonprofits, as does location in the northeast United States and a long-established business community, but corporate density is especially potent for the growth of elite-oriented nonprofits—but not social welfare nonprofits—when local networks and cultural norms support elite mobilization. We conclude that despite globalizing trends, the local geographic community continues to be an important unit of analysis for unpacking multisector organizational processes among corporations and nonprofits.

  6. When Do Firms Greenwash? Corporate Visibility, Civil Society Scrutiny, and Environmental Disclosure

    Under increased pressure to report environmental impacts, some firms selectively disclose relatively benign impacts, creating an impression of transparency while masking their true performance; other firms’ disclosures, in contrast, are more representative of their environmental performance. What deters selective disclosure? We hypothesize that selective disclosure, a novel symbolic strategy firms use to manage stakeholder perceptions, is mitigated by two forms of organizational visibility. Firms with greater domain-specific visibility are especially vulnerable to stakeholder criticism and therefore less prone to selective disclosure. In contrast, more generically visible firms are less prone to selective disclosure only when subjected to civil society scrutiny that activates these firms’ latent vulnerability. We test our hypotheses using a novel panel dataset of 4,484 public companies in many industries, headquartered in 38 countries, during 2005-2008, when environmental disclosure increased among global corporations. We find that domain-specific visibility mitigates selective disclosure, that it mitigates selective disclosure more so than generic visibility, and that generic visibility mitigates selective disclosure only in the presence of civil society scrutiny. This research contributes to understanding how corporations manage the symbolic use of information and how corporate behavior is influenced by civil society scrutiny embedded in institutional processes.