The Center for Responsible Business is thrilled to announce the upcoming arrival of our new Executive Director, Robert Strand, PhD. We took a moment to ask Robert some questions for you to get to know why he’s excited to come to Haas. Join us in giving him a warm welcome to Haas when he starts on 8/18!
1) Tell us about yourself.
My wife Sarah and I have been living in Copenhagen, Denmark for the better part of the past 5 years. Our family recently grew where we now have a beautiful 11 month old boy Mikkel Gavin Bly-Strand. Originally, I am from Fountain City, Wisconsin which is a little town nestled in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. My parents still live there as do a number of my friends I have known since I was wearing E.T. underoos.
My professional background involves a blend of industry and academia. I spent a decade in industry with IBM and Boston Scientific in a range of roles that include manufacturing, supply chain, marketing, strategy, and investor relations. I have a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin, MBA from the University of Minnesota completed while on exchange with HEC-Paris, and Ph.D. from the Copenhagen Business School focused in corporate social responsibility (CSR). After my MBA, I was fortunate to have received a Fulbright scholarship to Norway to explore CSR and sustainability issues across Scandinavia. I would argue, along with many others, that Scandinavia is the leading region of the world for strong CSR and sustainability activities and performances.
Most recently I have been Assistant Professor of Leadership & Sustainability with the Copenhagen Business School based at their Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR). It is from this position that I come to Haas to assume the role of Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business.
2) When did you become interested in this position and how did the move come about?
Earlier this year I had the good fortune to be a visiting scholar to Haas thanks to the kind invitation of colleagues at Haas and a generous grant from the Carlsberg Foundation in Denmark. During that time, I learned about the potential of this position. I was interested from the very moment I heard about it.
3) Why did you choose Haas?
Ever since I can remember I have had the utmost reverence for UC-Berkeley. I feel that the legacy of UC-Berkeley provides for such a solid foundation from which to promote responsible business practices. I personally love the Haas defining principles to “question the status quo” and “confidence without attitude.” These principles speak to me and I feel such a great fit here at Haas.
Furthermore, I did not want to be at a stale business school. There are plenty of those out there. At best they are boring and at worst many of them perpetrate the dominant narrative that business is, and should be, solely about self-interest maximization where everyone is out to get theirs.
I firmly believe that pressing sustainability challenges demand a new narrative where I believe that Haas has the opportunity to take a global leadership position to radically redefine the dominant narrative of business. As an elite business school within a university with a legacy for social change that is located within a region renowned for disrupting how business is done, I feel that Haas is uniquely positioned to legitimize a new narrative in which sustainable and responsible business is the mainstream. I see this as Haas’ definitive opportunity as an institution to question the status quo of business. And I want to play a part in this!
4) Do you have any initial goals in your first few months here?
During my first few months I will focus on achieving an in-depth understanding of the CRB, Haas, UC-Berkeley and the surrounding context including companies and other relevant organizations. So my initial goals are really focused on listening and getting to know the key stakeholders for the CRB with an eye toward engaging with these stakeholders to later help establish CRB strategy objectives.
5) Did you become interested in sustainability as a Fulbright scholar or prior?
My year as a Fulbright scholar certainly expanded my knowledge and interest in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. But my interest came earlier.
My first job after my undergraduate was as an industrial engineer with IBM in which I was a labor and capacity planner for a large IBM factory. My focus was on efficiency, efficiency, and efficiency. I came to have a real crisis of conscious during that period of my life given that I felt as if we were treating people merely as inputs into a process with little difference to that of equipment. This bothered me greatly but I did not know what to do about it.
All of this changed for me when I took an MBA course on this strange topic called “corporate social responsibility” taught by Professor Norm Bowie. Norm was one of the pioneers in establishing the field of business ethics and that course resulted in my applying for the Fulbright to dig into the topics even deeper. All of this changed the trajectory of my life as I was beginning to realize my passion to work to help encourage business to better serve the interests of real people. I strongly believe that corporations exist to serve the needs of society, not the other way around. And I think corporations are far more successful when the people within them embrace this ideal.
6) What drew you to come back to the states?
I am quite certain that my wife Sarah and I are the only people in the history of the world to leave Scandinavia after having a baby. Scandinavia provides an incredibly supportive environment for children and their parents. I actually feel that these sorts of caring, humanistic, long-term aspects are major influencers in the region’s strong CSR and sustainability performances and I will work to connect Haas with Scandinavian CSR and sustainability leaders to encourage the adoption of these progressive practices in the U.S.
Moreover, the friendly environment at the Copenhagen Business School and my wonderful friends and colleagues there made for one of the best situations one could ever hope to be part of – professionally and personally. So this was not a decision that we took lightly. Simply put, it was this position with the CRB and the incredible opportunities it represents that drew us back to the U.S. I am so incredibly excited to be part of the CRB, Haas, and UC-Berkeley and I cannot wait to get started.