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Sarah Kaplan

Stakeholder trade-offs are an opportunity for business transformation.

Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman School of Management | Author of The 360° Corporation

Contact Sarah For Booking
Sarah Kaplan | Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman School of Management | Author of The 360° Corporation
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Today’s businesses have to answer to more than just shareholder demands. Stakeholder pressures have companies pulled in many different directions, from employees who want meaningful work; to consumers who want sustainable products; to activists monitoring companies’ social and environmental footprint. In talks, as well as her book The 360° Corporation, Rotman professor Sarah Kaplan shows us how the trade-offs we make to fulfill these pressures—along with shareholder demands—can be an opportunity for innovation, organizational resilience, and business transformation. 

“As business leaders, we evaluate and make trade-offs every day. Sarah Kaplan has prepared a cogent guidebook to help turn these events into strategic opportunities to capture value.”

— Dave Stangis, VP of Corporate Responsibility, Campbell Soup Company

In her book The 360° Corporation, Sarah Kaplan addresses the challenges that arise when stakeholder needs conflict with the corporate bottom line. In the past, corporate social responsibility has been treated as an add-on or a nice-to-have, rather than a crucial component of business. But today, the public expectations of a company are greater than ever. In addition to financial performance, companies now need to make a positive contribution to society to be considered successful. Even the Business Roundtable—a lobbying group of executives in over 200 large U.S. corporations—announced that it was renouncing shareholder primacy in favour of the commitment to “deliver value” to all stakeholders. Kaplan concentrates on not only how we can deliver such value, but how we can use the trade-offs as a catalyst for powerful change. “We need to think of stakeholder trade-offs as innovation challenges,” Kaplan writes in The Financial Times.


Yet for all the eager commitments that came out of the Business Roundtable—even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos signed—the coronavirus has revealed how far we still have left to go. From the glaring inequalities between workers, to the continued degradation of the planet, the virus has laid bare the enormous fractures still present in our economy—and they’re only getting bigger. Solving this crisis is not a matter of recovering what’s been lost, says Kaplan, but an opportunity for us to “build back better.” In her brilliant article for Fast Company, Kaplan makes a compelling case: the socially responsible approach to business is actually the more resilient approach, and the one we need to take. From redesigning the workforce, to overhauling corporate strategy and governance, she shows us how taking care of stakeholders is not only possible, with real innovation and transformation, but also absolutely necessary.


Kaplan is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman school, as well as the founding Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE). Her previous research has covered how organizations participate in and respond to the emergence of new fields and technologies in fiber optics, biotechnology, financial services, nanotechnology and most recently, the field emerging at the intersection of gender and finance. Prior to The 360° Corporation, Kaplan co-authored the bestselling book Creative Destruction as well as Survive and Thrive: Winning Against Strategic Threats to Your Business. Formerly a professor at the Wharton School (where she remains a Senior Fellow), Kaplan also has nearly a decade of consulting and innovation experience at McKinsey & Company. She completed her doctoral research at the Sloan School of Management at MIT,  and holds a BA with honors in Political Science from UCLA, and an MA in International Relations and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University. 

Speech Topics

Change Management
Build Back Better Redesigning Business in a Post-Pandemic Future
COVID-19 is offering us a chance to build a different—and better—reality. “While companies are thinking about survival, they are also imagining new futures,” writes business professor Sarah Kaplan in Fast Company. Even before the pandemic hit, there was an urgent need for business reform, evident from the rallying cries for better work conditions and ethical products, as well as the potential disruptions stemming from climate change and political instability. The pandemic has just magnified those issues ten-fold, making it clear that transformation can’t wait a moment longer. In this rousing business keynote, Kaplan lays out a plan for “building back better” after COVID-19.
The first pillar lies with reimagining work. The virus has revealed that the most essential workers in our economy are also the lowest-paid and least secure. It’s also shed light on the fact that working from home is both possible and desirable; that childcare is full-time, intensive work; and how a lack of access to it has siphoned women out of the workforce and killed diversity in many institutions. Redesigning the workforce for the 21st century will require radical upheaval, says Kaplan, including making diversity and inclusion a central component of decision-making. The second and third pillars of this transformation have to do with purpose in corporate strategy and governance. Aligning with purpose requires commitment. The world will undoubtedly be watching how companies follow through on their promises as the economy begins to reopen. Companies not only have to identify and communicate values, but also implement a board of directors that will actually hold them accountable and create a new standard for operating procedures.
Drawing from her book The 360 Corporation, Kaplan shows us how the socially responsible approach is the only approach for us to take in this moment. We treat innovation as an investment, says Kaplan, as something difficult that we do regardless of the risk or possibility of  failure. The same now has to be said for corporate social responsibility. This talk shows us how we can turn these complex problems as an opportunity for innovation, and more importantly, resilience.
The 360° Corporation From Stakeholder Trade-Offs to Transformation
In addition to shareholder expectations, companies today are facing pressure from “clicktivists,” socially conscious consumers, and a new generation of investors focused on environmental and social integrity. But how can companies cope when the interests of the shareholder and those of stakeholders such as communities, workers, consumers, suppliers, and the environment conflict irreconcilably? Sometimes there will be a win-win solution, but more often than not, there will be trade-offs.
In her book The 360° Corporation, Distinguished Professor Sarah Kaplan shows how organizations can address the tensions head-on in order to spur innovation, develop resilience, and complete total business transformation. Using case studies from companies like Nike and Wal-Mart, she encourages us to look through the lenses of different stakeholders—taking a 360° view—and see new ways of doing business. Her powerful lessons offer managers, CEOs, and innovators a chance to reinvent themselves and their businesses, without succumbing to the burn-out that commonly emerges from being pulled in so many different directions.
Women & Leadership
Gender Equality as an Innovation Challenge How to Address Diversity in Business and Leadership
Our quest for gender equality in the economy has plateaued. In an attempt to reignite progress, many organizations are making an economic argument for diversity, suggesting that hiring more women is good for business. But Sarah Kaplan—a University of Toronto Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy—argues that the “business case” may actually be doing more harm than good. It sends signals that women need to be better than men in order to be included in corporate leadership. In this talk, Kaplan busts the myth of meritocracy, showing us how it unintentionally reinforces privilege and actually stagnates progress toward gender equality. Instead of making a business-minded argument, she explains how treating the diversity challenge as an innovation problem will net bigger rewards.