The Unknown Stakeholder


For my analysis of a company, I wanted to examine a company that I have a personal interest in researching. One of the concerns I have had with this company that I am interested in is whether they believe the things they advertise about their company. I am talking about the world’s leading supplier of oil and gas; (also one of the largest companies in the world), ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil has been coming to Bucknell’s Career Fair for many years, and in the past two years I have talked to Bucknell Alumni representatives about their experience with the company.

What have I come to find? Well, ExxonMobil definitely has a very impressive list of employee benefits, community service opportunities, and they encourage growth through continued education, and a balanced work lifestyle. Although I’m sure that ExxonMobil has these opportunities as well as many others, I am also aware that ExxonMobil’s work environment can be described by many as “competitive” and could easily dominate one’s life. I decided that I would look to a few sources to verify information regarding the inner workings and how it affects ExxonMobil’s stakeholders

I started by searching through the 460 Reviews of ExxonMobil on http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/ExxonMobil-Reviews-E237.htm. After reading only a few pages of reviews I noticed a reoccuring theme. Many of the reviews of the company openly criticize the competitive “ranking” system that Exxon uses to determine which workers are allowed more freedom to move and grow within the company. Overall, I was surprised that many ratings were very high despite mentioning how hard it can be to achieve a good work-life balance, etc. There were also many positive reviews about a range of the positive things that I had mentioned earlier. After reading various perspectives on the employee stakeholder group I have concluded that ExxonMobil is managed in a very organized, hierarchical structure that can appeal to those who want a competitive lifestyle with the rewards being great career opportunities, benefits, and the ability to make a huge impact. I am personally unsure if the lifestyle is right for me, but it is evident that those who enjoy the internship experience go on to working very long careers at ExxonMobil and enjoying it very much. “Does having beanbags and cafeterias and ping-pong tables for employees lead to better stakeholder outcomes?” No, of course not. I think that each stakeholder group is different and ExxonMobil knows its employees and treats them how they would like to be treated. I also believe that Ed Freeman’s technique of “understanding your stakeholders” could offer valuable insight into what it does take to encourage stakeholders to reach better outcomes.

The second stakeholder concern I have with ExxonMobil is the policy they currently have regarding the environment. During their info session last week they discussed their corporate strategy on tackling environment issues. It was made clear that they have no intention of becoming a leader of spurring a change towards renewable energy sources; not a big surprise considering a majority of their profits comes from their oil and gas production. However, they have made it clear that they are following the energy industry closely (probably closer than any other company in the world), and have very detailed plans for how they will adapt to the dynamic industry. They have projected to have larger investments into renewable energy sources than the industry average, but somehow this does not seem like enough. In the position of power that ExxonMobil is in they could make a huge change, but I don’t see that happening. It seems that they plan on continuing to be the industry leader by leading the current leading energy sources. I can’t say they aren’t ethical though, because they are very transparent about their strategy and it just does not put the environment at the top of its priority list. From a bulletpoint found on their website’s Environment tab….

  • Let market prices drive the selection of solutions
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12 thoughts on “The Unknown Stakeholder”

  1. I am struck by your comment, “I can’t say they aren’t ethical though, because they are very transparent about their strategy and it just does not put the environment at the top of its priority list.”
    Is transparency the only criteria for ethics? Transparent, yet immoral business practices, I would argue, still constitute an unethical company. I’m unsure if not prioritizing environmental sustainability is truly unethical, but the idea of letting market prices drive the solutions makes me uneasy. I recognize the environment as a stakeholder in any company, and especially this one. Consumers tend to pick the short-term reward option, which could have long term detrimental effects for many different stakeholders.

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    1. Ethical or unethical may be too restrictive. We probably should start labeling ethical stances. Maybe ExxonMobil is avowedly imperial. Its ethics concentrate power on itself while also weakening or ignoring other stakeholder’s interests.

      Just testing language here.

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    2. Liz, I agree with your criticism of the idea of transparency as sole criteria of a company’s ethics. I think we live in an age where transparency is taken from granted, and consumers have access to the ‘strategies’ (to use Matt’s terms) of most any company in the world. I do see value and admire companies that offer full transparency, as there are certainly organizations who hide unethical business practices. However there is an important distinction we as consumers, must make. A company opening their windows is not enough in itself, it is up to us to make the judgements. This is seen in the fact that both you and Matt made separate judgments of ExonnMobil’s ethics from access to the same information.

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      1. Jack, I hope you weren’t led to believe that transparency is the sole criteria of a company’s ethics. However, I believe that a lot can be said about a company that is transparent and upholds a positive public opinion. In many cases I think transparency could destroy unethical companies, but not in Exxon’s case. However, I am sure that ExxonMobil receives a lot of criticism from the public. Maybe, like Jordi pointed out, Exxon is too powerful to be moved by the public or even a whole nation.
        Is it ethical to allow companies to become more powerful than countries in the first place? Does this undermine the global structure of nations? (possible teaser for my globalization talk after Fall Break)

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    3. I don’t think transparency is the only criteria for ethics but in this case ExxonMobil is doing more than the bare minimum to reduce waste and move towards renewable energies. I think being transparent tends to mean that they have nothing to hide for the sake of their public image, which for most companies under close public scrutiny means upholding a certain level of ethical decisions.
      Personally, I feel I hold companies to a higher standard regarding the environment as a stakeholder, but I also understand ExxonMobil’s position in the industry. To move towards renewable energy means taking away demand for oil and gas; not to mention it is not a field that workers are accustomed to. Their corporate structure makes them slow to change and overall, it would be very risky. I wish they’d take the risk though.

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  2. I just bought this weekend this book by Steven Coll, a very gifted and through journalist and researcher: Private Empire.

    I read first chapter so far and by empire Coll means, so far, that ExxonMobil is like a sovereign state: it pursues its own interests which at times mesh with US interests and at other times diverge. At the same time, it is an empire in the sense that its power is immense.

    Are all empires “evil”? Can you have an empire that benefits all those it rules?

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    1. That article has definitely convinced me that not only does ExxonMobil produce more revenue than many governments, but it also acts in a way that a government does. It has a defining culture. It can choose which countries it wants to trade with. It has the power to lobby with some countries’ governments and to trump other countries’ decisions. Do you think that the book you mentioned could be relevant to what I talk about for my “Globalization from Below” reading/lecture?

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  3. From the review i linked above: “If revenue were counted as gross domestic product, the corporation would rank among the top 30 countries.”

    Such a massive entity is being duplicitous when it acts as if “markets reflect prices of solutions.” ExxonMobil is bigger than markets, bigger than the institutions that shape markets, bigger than most countries.

    Does a mega-firm invite mega-ethics?

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  4. While Jack said “I think we live in an age where transparency is taken from granted”, I would argue the opposite. I think we live in an age where transparency is demanded, and companies sometimes lie or create a incomplete insight of their operations/supply chain/ethics to demanding consumers in order to please this yearn.

    “It was made clear that they have no intention of becoming a leader of spurring a change towards renewable energy sources; not a big surprise considering a majority of their profits comes from their oil and gas production.” At least Exxon was being honest, right? I remember a few years ago they said they were pouring $100 million into algae biofuels, arguably in pursuit of the recently trendy CSR fluffiness, but it never actualized because there was no real intention. Let market prices drive the selection of solutions, right? Maybe Exxon can never truly move to a stakeholder management approach because its ties with shareholder value management is too deep set?

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    1. I am sorry that I do not know more about their efforts to pour money into algae biofuels, but I do remember hearing about that. I think that they did end up spending $100 million but haven’t had large scale success. I think that the shareholder management style is set in pretty deep and probably won’t change any time soon, but I do think that being transparent forces them to be responsive, which allowed $100 million to be put towards research. $100 million is a less than 1% of their yearly revenue, but to have a global power willing to invest even that amount is really valuable for society.

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