New Documentary From UVA Darden Faculty Explodes Myths on the Purpose of a Corporation

25 October 2019

By Dave Hendrick

Are corporations inherently greedy? Can business play a role in addressing income inequality and closing a yawning wealth gap? Is American capitalism doomed?

A new feature-length documentary produced by University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Bobby Parmar and Senior Researcher Jenny Mead considers these questions and more, exploring the many faces of modern capitalism, from toxic corporate cultures and rapacious greed to corporations large and small representing purpose-driven business at its best.

Fishing With Dynamite, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner and supported by Darden’s Institute for Business in Society, explores competing narratives at the heart of American capitalism: on one hand, the notion that the purpose of the corporation is to maximize profits and shareholder value; on the other, a stakeholder approach, in which corporate leaders run a business with a mandate to benefit customers, suppliers, employees, investors and the community. The documentary reflects the seminal work on stakeholder management led by Darden Professor Ed Freeman and colleagues over several decades.

The title refers to the practice of blast fishing, a wildly irresponsible way to fish that destroys the surrounding habitat supporting marine life.

“The idea for a feature documentary on leading with a stakeholder mentality stemmed from a desire to take critical ideas that have strong currency in the academy and in many top companies and bring them to a wider audience,” said Parmar. “With Fishing With Dynamite, we aim to present issues of critical importance to the future of American business in an engaging and entertaining manner.”

The documentary explores the discontents that have stemmed from the corporate embrace of shareholder maximization, from runaway CEO pay to environmental degradation. The result is an environment in which “big business” is a reliable villain — from popular culture to the campaign trail.

It wasn’t always this way and it doesn’t have to be the future, the film argues, spotlighting academics and experts from across the ideological spectrum discussing the consequences of maximizing shareholder value above all else. The film also features practitioners and companies that embody a stakeholder mindset, from multibillion industrial conglomerates to startup food service businesses.

“We’ve always felt that the subject of the film is deeply consequential, that it affects all Americans every day,” said Wagner. “It’s our hope that Fishing With Dynamite explodes preconceptions and helps rewrite the rules for how corporations and capitalism must work if we want to establish justice and prosperity.”

Since filming began, the calls for leading with a stakeholder mentality have come from an increasingly diverse set of voices, culminating in the 2019 statement from Business Roundtable — an organization of CEOs representing some of the world’s largest companies — that argues corporations should commit to serve all stakeholders in equal measure.

Fishing With Dynamite will premiere at the Virginia Film Festival on 27 October at the Violet Crown movie theater in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Following the premiere, CFA Institute President and CEO Margaret Franklin will moderate a discussion with Wagner, Freeman, Mead and Parmar.

Additional opportunities to view the film and distribution agreements will be announced at a later date.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Molly Mitchell
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia