Can corporations be compassionate? Rice University researchers are figuring that out. Pexels

Since the early 2000s, the business of doing business has changed its looks markedly. As corporations gain power and reach, many in the public are subjecting them to increasingly insistent questions about their impact on the lives of workers, the environment and society at large.

At the same time, academics have focused more attention on compassion in management and business organizations. Today, considerable research parses the way corporate conduct affects employees, laid-off workers and the well-being of society as a whole. A considerable segment of this academic literature advocates for what once seemed like an oxymoron: compassion in corporate management.

Most of the recent research on compassion focuses on individuals and the group. Most management research, meanwhile, centers on economic performance and efficiency. In an editorial for Journal of Management, though, Rice Business Mary Gibbs Jones Professor Emeritus of ManagementJennifer George argues that compassion research can actually be a jumping-off point for focus on social problems, well-being and identifying the conditions under which organizations do the least harm.

But what is compassion in business, exactly? According to George, it's the practice of setting up organizations so that they respond to the vulnerable groups in their orbit. To do this, George says, companies should reconsider the concept of "American Corporate Capitalism (ACC)," which operates when corporations, workers and consumers pursue self-interest. ACC follows the laws of supply and demand, and is founded on the bedrock principles of respect for private property, an emphasis on economic growth and using profits as the measuring stick for making business decision.

Make no mistake, George adds: "ACC is an ideology." A host of institutions provide the underpinnings that allow ACC to flourish, among them the legal system, governmental agencies, stock markets, media and advertising and trade organizations.

But, notes George, the rewards from American Corporate Capitalism are narrowing sharply. ACC, she contends, now concentrates benefits upon fewer and fewer people. One article she cites suggests that outsized CEO salaries and compensation, coupled with large income inequality within a company, may result in organizations that do harm to their workers.

In fact, "the tenets of ACC seem to downplay the importance of compassionate organizing," says George. Harm done by corporations, such as laying off employees, may occur unintentionally, but those decisions still cause suffering. ACC, she says, "has the potential to create conditions under which compassion is much less likely to occur."

As a result, it's crucial to closely examine the tensions and contradictions between ACC and compassion. A focus on compassion would "identify the conditions under which organizations inflict the least harm and alleviate the most suffering," George writes.

She proposes a wide-ranging agenda to achieve this. First, researchers should look at organizational decision-making to track the influence of ACC values and whether criteria such as dominance or hierarchy override harmony and egalitarianism. Identifying the factors that spur organizations to favor only shareholders and customers over employees and neighboring communities could offer insights for management. Other research, George suggests, ought to examine a range of companies operating in the same sector, tracing which cause more damage and which are more successful at reducing suffering.

Finally, George says, academics should develop case studies of organizations that successfully pursue policies such as employing the disabled – policies designed to promote the well-being of vulnerable groups inside and outside the company.

Because corporations wield such vast influence, the harm they do can reach wide swaths of the population. It's time, George writes, for researchers to examine the disconnects between prevailing corporate culture and compassion. Effectively done, she says, such research could vault over the ivory battlements into the heart of everyday life.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom in 2019.

Based on research from Jennifer M. George, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor Emeritus of Management in Organizational Behavior at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.
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Houston Innovation Awards names prestigious panel of judges for 2023 awards

meet the decision makers

Ten Houstonians are in the hot seat for deciding the best companies and individuals in Houston's innovation ecosystem.

InnovationMap has announced its 2023 Houston Innovation Awards judging panel, which includes startup founders, nonprofit leaders, investors, corporate innovators, and more.

The 10 selected judges will evaluate applications from the nearly 400 nominations that were submitted this year. The judges will be using their expertise to evaluate the nominees' applications, which are due to InnovationMap by midnight on October 4.

Read about this year's judges below, and don't forget to secure your tickets to the November 8 event to see who the panel selects as the winners for the annual celebration of Houston innovation.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential was founded to amplify and support the city's innovation ecosystem, and Natara Branch has been leading this initiative since appointed as CEO last year. For the second year, HX is partnering with InnovationMap on the Houston Innovation Awards.

Born in Germany and raised all around Texas, Branch — a University of Houston alumna — previously was the first African American woman to hold a vice president position at the NFL. Based in New York, she oversaw operations in various leadership roles at the NFL for over 18 years.

Barbara J. Burger, former Trailblazer Award recipient

Barbara J. Burger, former vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was the inaugural recipient of the Trailblazer Award at the 2021 Houston Innovation Awards, which was previously called the InnovationMap Awards.

A self-proclaimed “graduate” from Chevron, she is senior adviser to Lazard, a member of the Greentown Labs Board of Directors, adviser to Syzygy Plasmonics, Epicore Biosystems, and Sparkz Inc., and several other energy transition and philanthropic roles. Burger holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Rochester, a doctoral degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, and an academic honor MBA in finance from the University of California, Berkeley.

Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at TMC Innovation

As head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory, Devin Dunn works hands on with startups — specifically to help them refine their business models and plan to scale — every day.

Prior to joining TMCi, Dunn was an early employee at a London-based digital health startup. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Basis of Behavior and Healthcare Management from the University of Pennsylvania and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Noah Fons, senior coordinator of regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership

Working within regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, Noah Fons has the pulse on companies expanding to Houston. Previously, he worked at Houston Exponential, so he also understands Houston's evolving innovation ecosystem. He studied economics at Rice University.

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury Fund

As managing director at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, Aziz Gilani focuses on investments in enterprise SaaS, Cloud, and data science startups. He's worked at the firm for over 15 years.

A Kauffman Fellows Program graduate, he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Gilani also serves in advisory roles for the Mayor of Houston’s Tech and Innovation Council, Seed Accelerator Rankings, and SXSW Interactive and is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business where he teaches a course on venture capital.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

For the third year, Natalie Harms will represent InnovationMap on the annual awards judging panel as the founding editor of InnovationMap the host of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Recently named the editor of EnergyCapitalHTX, a newly launched sister site to InnovationMap focused on Houston's role within the energy transition, she reports on innovation, technology, energy transition — and their impact on the city of Houston. A Houston native, she's worked as a business journalist for almost a decade and has a degree in journalism from the University of Houston and a certificate in publishing from New York University.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi and his co-founder and sister, Tara Karimi, were honored at last year's Houston Innovation Awards as the winners of the Green Impact Business award. Cemvita Factory, their fast-growing startup, uses biotech to sustainably create materials to lower its customers carbon footprints.

Prior to launching Cemvita in 2018, Karimi held leadership roles at Weatherford and Biota Technology. He serves as a board member for CleanTX and adviser to Houston-based ComboCurve Inc.

Margarita Kelrikh, associate at Latham & Watkins

As associate in the Emerging Companies group at Latham & Watkins in Houston, Margarita Kelrikh has supported the firm's growing startup companies since her appointment last year. Prior to joining the firm, she held in-house counsel positions at a few companies, including WeWork.

She received her bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago and her law degree at Columbia School of Law.

Brad Rossacci, creative director at Accenture

Brad Rossacci is creative director at Accenture, where he's worked since 2018. He also co-founded and co-hosts the Curiosity Podcast. A Texas A&M University alumnus and self-proclaimed "rebellious optimist," Rossacci is passionate about Houston and innovation.

Maggie Segrich, co-founder of Sesh Coworking

As co-founder and CFO of inclusive coworking company, Sesh Coworking, Maggie Segrich is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. Last year, Sesh Coworking won the Female-Founded Business category for the Houston Innovation Awards.

She serves as board member for Midtown Management District, where Sesh is located, and board chair for nonprofit, Magpies & Peacocks.

Space tech startup opens new $40M HQ at Houston Spaceport

ready for takeoff

Houston aerospace company Intuitive Machines has moved into its new $40 million headquarters at the Houston Spaceport.

Intuitive Machines’ new home supports NASA’s $93 billion Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and eventually send humans to Mars. Eighteen astronauts are assigned to the program. Houston’s Johnson Space Center is playing a key role in Artemis.

The company’s 105,572-square-foot Lunar Production and Operations Center serves as the hub for its lunar program, including the manufacturing of lunar landers and spacecraft. The facility features manufacturing and production spaces, 3D printing areas, machine shops, R&D labs, cleanrooms, and spacecraft assembly areas, along with offices, meeting rooms, and conference rooms.

“Unique to the facility are mission control rooms to track and manage lunar missions, and a propulsion test facility to assess lunar lander engine capabilities,” Intuitive Machines says in a news release.

The propulsion test facility consists of a 3,800-square-foot reinforced concrete chamber surrounded by a 25-foot-high perimeter wall that encloses an additional 6,500-square-foot yard.

Intuitive Machines says its first mission lunar lander, Nova-C, will soon be shipped from its new facility ahead of the lander’s upcoming launch. The mission to deliver NASA and commercial payloads to the moon’s south pole marks the first U.S. attempt of a soft lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The moon “is no longer a distant dream; it’s a destination within our grasp, and this facility is our lunar gateway — a national asset,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Construction on the site began in June 2021, with the now-completed facility ready to support each of Intuitive Machines’ three NASA-awarded missions.

Intuitive Machines joins Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace as the third anchor tenant at the Houston Spaceport.

“Houston has always been a city that reaches for the stars, and with Intuitive Machines operating at the Houston Spaceport, our city is poised to shine even brighter in the cosmos,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In August, the publicly traded company announced it received a $20 million equity investment from an unidentified institutional investor.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

hou to know

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from femtech to edtech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Pedro Silva, CEO and co-founder of Milkify

Pedro Silva of Milkify join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the impact of their successful Shark Tank experience. Photo courtesy of Milkify

While Milkify's founders — husband and wife team Pedro Silva and Berkley Luck — secured partners on a popular business pitch and investment show, the entire experience almost didn't happen.

Silva and Luck, who got her PhD in molecular and biomedical s at Baylor College of Medicine, founded the company to provide breast milk freeze drying as a service to Houston-area families. Now, Milkify has customers across the country, but the duo didn't know if going through the process would be worth the investment and publicity, or if it would just be a distraction.

"The competitor in me wanted to be the first breast milk company to go on the show and to tell our story to the world — to show the world what my wife came up with that we thought was so great," Silva says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was probably the scariest 45 minutes of my life."Read more.

Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax

OpenStax, founded out of Rice University, has continued its growth, adding new partners and textbooks. Photo via openstax.org

In an effort to combat the hefty price tag of assigned texts, OpenStax, a nonprofit education startup out of Rice University, which is on a mission to increase educational access for all, seeks to democratize high-quality education by offering free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for students and knowledge seekers across the globe.

This month, OpenStax will add to its 57 open education resources, or OER, titles with a full version of John McMurry's popular pre-med textbook, Organic Chemistry, under an open license to honor his late son, Peter, who passed away in 2019 after losing his battle with cystic fibrosis.

“Before the nursing books, we were doing business books,” Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax, tells InnovationMap. “Murry’s book builds out our science offerings, so we're thinking about the different areas that students take that can be barriers for them to move up in education and succeed. From there, we’ll continue to think about how a free textbook can help students through that process.” Read more.

Brad Deutser, founder and CEO of Deutser

In his new book, Houstonian Brad Deutser explores how increasingly important a sense of belonging is in the workplace. Photo courtesy

Last week, Houstonian and business consultant Brad Deutser published his book, BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Deutser writes of the importance of belonging in the workplace with his colleague Isabel Bilotta, managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.

"Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance," the article reads. "It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance." Read more.