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PhD Program

PhD Dissertation Defense, Debtanu Lahiri, Strategy and Business Policy

Congratulations to Dr Debtanu Lahiri, Strategy and Business Policy specialization, who successfully defended his Doctoral Dissertation at HEC Paris, on June 7, 2022. Dr Lahiri has accepted a position at Nova School of Business and Economics as assistant professor, starting September, 2022.

I truly think that it is impossible to overstate the intellectual support I received from the strategy department. In my mind, it is the best place to be as a PhD student. Could not have asked for more. Seriously.

Debtanu Lahiri, HEC PhD Strategy and Business Policy, 2022


Specialization: Strategy and Business Policy

Corporate Politics, Social Activism, and Corporate Social Performance : Three essays underscoring firms’ complex relationships with non-market stakeholders. 


Bertrand Quelin, Professor of Strategy, HEC Paris, Supervisor,

Goncalo Pacheco de Almeida, Professor of Strategy & Negotiation, HEC Paris, Co-Supervisor

Jury Members:

  • Jordan Siegel, Professor of Strategy, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan 
  • Jean-Philippe Bonardi, Professor of Strategy, HEC Lausanne, University of Lausanne 
  • Jiao Luo Examinateur, Professor of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
  • Olivier Chatain, Associate Professor of Strategy HEC Paris 
  • Bertrand Quelin, Professor of Strategy HEC Paris, supervisor
  • Goncalo Pacheco de Almeida, Professor of Strategy & Negotiation HEC Paris, Co-supervisor

This dissertation investigates the consequences of the complex relationships between firms and various non-market stakeholders. The first essay examines if corporate political activity (CPA) helps sustain competitive benefits. Prior literature does not address this question, only whether CPA increases profits – with mixed results over short timescales. We theorize about how political capital affects the regression-to-the-mean of profits through firm and industry persistence mechanisms. Using data on over 6,000 firms from 14 democratic countries, we estimate time-varying, firm-specific performance persistence coefficients with random-coefficient models - and profit volatility measures. Triangulation over various identification methods suggests that the half-life of political capital is shorter than expected, and also compared with other strategy interventions. Political connections are marginally effective at sustaining performance and reducing volatility, delaying profit convergence by only 0.180 years – and with no effect beyond seven years. These modest CPA benefits are further curbed by legislative constraints and political stability. The second essay highlights the tradeoffs involved in the firms’ relationship with two non-market stakeholders: politicians and social activists. This study argues that the presence of board political connections increases the susceptibility of the firm to activist actions – owing to, i. the conflicting objectives of these two non-market actors, and ii. the perceived higher sensitivity of connected firms to societal expectations. Furthermore, using a simple analytical model, I demonstrate that this effect is strongly contingent on the firms’ level of ESG (employee, social and governance policies) adoption – such that, at higher levels of ESG adoption, the liability of connectedness dissipates (or diminishes considerably). Both propositions find adequate support in the empirical analysis.Theoretically, by revealing a firm-specific determinant of activist actions, this study takes us a step closer towards defining the ‘corporate opportunity structure’ for activism, while also better characterizing the complex trade-offs involved in the firms’ relationship with various stakeholders. Finally, the third essay examines firms’ motivations for adopting CSR (corporate social responsibility) practices. I adopt the ‘risk-insurance’ view of firms’ CSR engagement to argue that when faced with an abrupt change in the institutional landscape leading to considerable muting of the rules and regulations pertaining to sustainability, firms would be keen to proactively improve corporate social performance (CSP) in order to neutralize the liability associated with being embedded in a low CSRemphasis regime. The study uses Trump’s win in the 2016 US Presidential election as an exogenous event that resulted in a marked reduction in the US govt’s emphasis on sustainability related policies. Diff-in-diff analysis on a matched sample of US and non-US firms suggest that, on average, US firms improved their sustainability footprint after Trump’s election. Considerable heterogeneity was observed based on firms’ ideological proclivities: non-partisan firms reported a significantly lower magnitude of improvement compared to their partisan counterparts.

Keywords: Corporate politics, Social activism, Corporate social performance.

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