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Fuqua Faculty Conversations

John Graham on Corporate Culture

October 20, 2016

Discussion Video

John Graham

Join us for our October 2016 Fuqua Faculty Conversation as John Graham, D. Richard Mead, Jr. Family Professor of Finance, presents:

Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is often blamed for massive business failures and given credit for huge successes. We talked to nearly 2,000 executives to learn their views on corporate culture. We use this information to discern whether culture deserves all this credit and blame. (It does). In our research project, we provide a framework that helps us explore just what corporate culture is, what parts of a company culture affects and how, and what a company should do to improve its culture.

You can learn more about this research into corporate culture through the two papers published by John Graham, Campbell R. Harvey (J. Paul Sticht Professor of International Business at Fuqua), Jill Popadak (Assistant Professor of Finance at Fuqua) and Shivaram Rajgopal (Professor at Columbia Business School) as a result of this study:

Join the conversation in the comments below or in the Fuqua alumni LinkedIn group.

Questions? Write to conversations@fuqua.duke.edu.

View John Graham’s Bio


  1. Bill Corley, yeah that’s bs how’s the leader of wells fargo blamed the culture of the employees and being the problem. After all did’t the boss hire those employees. So its goes to show that its up to the boss to set the standard and enforce it.

  2. Great article, thanks for sharing it . I can now understand better how important corporate culture is. The importance of the leader setting the tone.

  3. corporate culture is not such bad…even though it gets blamed for failure …culture is only thing which should be blamed for failure…thanks for raising this topic

  4. Darek Wieczorek

    As stated in the video, formally defined values can be found in almost every US company, and they all sound alike. It is the norms and daily practices that can make the values and the culture meaningful, meaningless or plain harmful.

    When the norms and values are in sync, the company can withstand many different kinds of internal and external challenges, because everyone is aiming to row together and everyone knows how the boat should work. Any glitches are quickly and effectively corrected, improvements continuously made.

    When there is some limited mismatch of temporary nature (external challenges, new strong personalities within the management, etc.), the crew becomes skeptical, but, even if the motivation weakens a bit, it is still functional and the desired state can be recovered, albeit with extraordinary effort from the leadership.

    When the crew decides that the mismatch is a permanent state, people become truly cynical, the boat stalls and eventually sinks.

    It would be interesting to see the distribution of these three possible outcomes. My guess is that the numbers would be about 10-70-20 (full alignment vs. limited but serious challenges vs. disarray).

    And the ultimate question is whether any practical mechanism can be devised to ensure or at least seriously help the chances of achieving and maintaining the alignment..

  5. Konstantinos Roumeliotis

    A very interesting study which sums up in a concise manner the importance of values + norms functioning well in any corporation.

    From my perspective and experience I view this as a bi-polar application: on one hand at a corporate/board level (e.g. with governance, values and norms resulting in decisions such as the VW emissions case). On the other hand, at senior management all the way down to regular employee level.

    In the latter case, the effect inadequate or malpracticed norms have on the motivation and morale of any employee can be absolutely detrimental, not only to the company itself but also temporarily to hers/his long-term career build-up prospects. Having been part of a senior management team at an international organization, and having left them because of exactly this reason (very poor values and norms) I can ascertain that the very first and most important thing in a company is “culture” – practically meaning values + norms and how these are shared, promoted or lived up to by all.

  6. Shell has recently merged with BG Gas and corporate culture – most of the leadership at BG came from Shell – has been part of the equation of the fit of both companies. As we work towards integration we indeed see part of the culture variables, the values and governance, being almost identical to the point one can almost simply use the FIND and REPLACE function to update governance documents.

    But more broadly, big oil may be at the very beginnings of an energy change so what would a long term investors look for as clues to the capabilities/culture to minimize this risk of becoming obsolete? Is there a measure of resilience (as part of culture) that can be a predictor of how well a company can adapt to changes – e.g. Kodak vs IBM

    Very intrigued by research method and how a soft topic such as culture could be quantified in meaningful way. I especially appreciated the highlight around the norms as a key driver to culture as this affirms the importance of leadership to facilitate change.

  7. Hope you saw the recent op-ed in the WSJ by Gerstner about the Wells Fargo crisis and the CEO blaming it on the employees’ culture.

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