Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Mary Crossan


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategic issue. Yet, research in this area has primarily focused on establishing a link between CSR and financial performance, with significantly less attention given to the antecedents of CSR at the individual, firm or industry levels. Notably, despite popular anecdotal examples that link the personal values, beliefs or characteristics of business leaders to the socially responsible nature of their companies, very little is actually known empirically about the relationship between executive orientation and the corporate social strategy pursued by the firm.

The empirical research study presented in this dissertation is designed to fill this important gap. First, I synthesize the vast literature in the general CSR domain into a new typology of corporate social strategy (CSS) that distinguishes a firm’s approach to CSR along its breadth and depth dimensions. Then, using an upper echelon framework based in the strategic choice and strategic decision-making literatures, I examine the relationship between executive orientation and variances observed in firm responses to social and environmental issues over time. I argue specifically that an open executive orientation, as reflected in a CEO’s worldview, and variables such as functional background, educational specialization and international experience affect the selective perception, interpretation and therefore choice of the breadth and depth of a firm’s CSS. Furthermore, institutional theory is used to argue that the level of managerial discretion at the industry level as well as general industry norms will attenuate theses relationships. In so doing, I develop a longitudinal, multi-level, mixed determinant model of the relationship between executive orientation and CSS.

Random coefficient modeling (RCM) is then used to test the CEO effect on CSS over time, by modeling the individual CSS growth trajectories of 349 firms from 1991-2009 using HLM6 software. With 19 years of data, over 1,000 CEOs and 6,334 firm-year observations, this thesis represents the first longitudinal study to explicitly model the rate of adoption of aggregate corporate social strategy (ACSS), breadth of corporate social strategy (BCSS) and depth of corporate social strategy (DCSS) over the last two decades.

This analysis yielded three important results at the CEO, firm and industry levels. First, the CEO effect on CSS ranges between 3-14% and evidence supports that some aspects of an open executive orientation are indeed important determinants of initial levels and rates of adoption of CSS over time. The findings also reveal that the overall level of CSS has not grown substantively over the last two decades, with most firms in 2009 still engaging in a Derivative (shallow/narrow) CSS. Furthermore, unlike previous studies that confound negative and positive CSR, this dissertation demonstrates that industry membership is not an important determinant of the strategic choice of positive CSS, nor are institutional pressures moderating factors in the executive orientation – CSS relationship. This thesis thus makes significant theoretical and methodological contributions to research in the upper echelons, CSR and institutional theory domains, as well as has important implications for practice.