Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are crucial for brands. Consumers and stakeholders expect it, and brands must deliver it.
What exactly is socially responsible corporate behavior? Karen Anne Wallach 07MBA 21PhD believes it is an authentic commitment on the part of corporations to reduce their negative impact on the world—to function more sustainably—while also being profitable and successful. The key to helping reach that goal, she contends, lies in her research.
Wallach’s dissertation “adds novel insights to the academic literature and proposes actionable recommendations for marketers, with the hope that products that better serve society and our planet will flourish,” she explains. “My results aim to provide evidence to better understand consumer sentiments that help overcome challenges that brands may encounter with sustainability efforts.”
“Some students might question if the sole responsibility of business is making money,” but Wallach’s findings show consumers expect more. “This is where the magic of research comes into play. Numbers and data prove my point – consumers expect brands to be more than focused on profits, to behave responsibly with meaningful commitments and transparent communications.”
Because brands are so recognizable and concrete to students today- the golden arches, for example—it is the place where she tries to make the “real world relevant to what’s happening in academia.” Wallach aims to conduct research that backs up and supports these ideas, or as she describes it, research that “finds ways to industrialize less harmfully.” That sweet spot lies at the intersection of brands and sustainability.
In hindsight it is easy to see Wallach’s evolution, a series of steps toward a comprehensive theoretical position that encompasses real-world solutions, along with a moral outlook, to address business problems that desperately need to be solved. “Corporations don’t automatically eschew responsibility for their actions by taking advantage of customers and abusing the public trust,” she says. “I truly believe that businesses can benefit people, and my research involves matching people to brands along with helping corporations find the right consumers for their products and services.”
Shaping a Future from Goizueta MBA to Goizueta PhD
One Goizueta class where reality meets the theoretical is the Goizueta Marketing Strategy Competition (MSC) in which a specific class is appointed a client – an actual company, with a problem to solve. Classes compete to determine who best solved the problem at hand. For students, this competition provides real experience in the real business world. For Wallach, the class was a highlight of her own MBA program, bringing abstract thinking to bear on concrete issues.
“I love research,” says Wallach. The fifth year PhD candidate at Goizueta Business School also loves teaching and seeing how her classes can enlighten students, much as one of her mentors, Jag Sheth did for her. By helping Wallach discover the possibilities of socially responsible business practices, “He literally changed my life,” she says. She feels lucky to have been surrounded by so many brilliant minds at Goizueta – professors like Sandy Jap and Wes Longhofer. “This experience has evolved my thinking on how business, education and society can work together.”
Back in the academic world after more than a decade in corporate environments, Wallach loves research and teaching. As a marketing guru, she worked for several Fortune 500 companies in brand management and product development, but found the role not quite as fulfilling as she’d hoped. For Wallach, “Just climbing titles and salary ladders wasn’t the way,” she says. The result was a pivot in her path that would provide more personal satisfaction. Already equipped with an MBA from Goizueta, she returned to her alma mater to earn her PhD. When she graduates in May, she will embark on a tenure-track role at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Wallach’s teaching philosophy and research boil down to one central theme that defines her career goals. As she puts it, “I want to make a difference in the world.”
Learn more about The Roberto C. Goizueta Business & Society Institute, newly formed to reimagine business to solve society’s biggest problems.