The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) has appointed strategy and political economy expert David Bach (above, center) to a new Rio Tinto Chair in Stakeholder Engagement. The Chair aims to equip business leaders with the insights and skills needed to engage with a diverse set of stakeholders as they drive positive change for society and the planet.

Across diverse industries, business leaders have recognized that fostering strong, trust-based relationships with communities, nongovernmental organizations (NGO), regulators, and policymakers is critically important, said Bach. “Business is called upon to lead on key global issues, from climate change to economic inequality,” he added, “and with the rise of social media and technology, many stakeholders now have the tools to scrutinize business operations and to hold companies accountable.” He cited a recent IMD survey among CEOs which found that 80% said their businesses are dedicating significant resources to understand evolving stakeholder expectations. “Separating signal from noise is key and we hope research supported by the Chair will provide leaders with practical new tools in this respect.”

The case for effective stakeholder engagement goes beyond fostering greater understanding of mutual expectations and needs, however. “To effectively contribute to solving pressing global problems, companies must join forces with other actors, including critics and even competitors, to tap new knowledge, align, and mobilize for sustained collective action,” said Bach, who is also Dean of Innovation and Programs at IMD.

From left to right, Julia Binder, Director of IMD's new Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business, James Martin, Rio Tinto's Chief People Officer, Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy and International Management at IMD, David Bach, Professor of Strategy and Political Economy and Dean of Innovation and Programs at IMD, Louis Leclezio, Chief Digital & Customer Experience Officer at IMD, Anand Narasimhan, Dean of Research at IMD, and Natalia Olynec, Head of Sustainability at IMD.

As Rio Tinto Chair, Bach will expand upon his research at the nexus of business and society. The goal is to bring together leading practitioners and scholars to generate new knowledge on this important topic, including scholarly articles and case studies for use in MBA and executive education programs.

Rio Tinto’s Chief People Officer, James Martin, said “Rio Tinto is proud to support this work. Large corporations, including Rio Tinto, touch the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. With that there is a growing responsibility to listen to – and hear – diverse stakeholder views and take account of their interests.”

Kellie Parker, Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive of Australia, said: “Really seeking out, listening to and respecting the voices of our stakeholders is critical.  As a company we have learned hard lessons when this hasn’t been done well and it’s why we recognise how critical it is to enhance these skills for ourselves and for future generations of business leaders.”

The Chair will benefit from a five-member Advisory Board comprised of Martin, Parker, IMD Dean of Research Anand Narasimhan, as well as University of Michigan professor Andy Hoffman and Etelle Higonnet, a prominent sustainability and human rights activist.

Rio Tinto is linked to the origins of IMD, which last year celebrated its 75th anniversary, thanks to its 2007 acquisition of Canadian producer Alcan. In 1946, Alcan set up the Centre Études Industrielles (CEI) in Geneva to train young executives in the ways of international business. Renamed the International Management Institute (IMI), it later merged with the Institut pour l'Etude des Méthodes de Direction de l'Entreprise (IMEDE), established by Nestlé, to create IMD in 1990.

The Rio Tinto Chair will contribute to school-wide efforts anchored by IMD’s new Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business. It complements ongoing work by the elea Chair for Social Innovation, held by Professor Vanina Farber, and feeds into the school’s new Leading Sustainable Business Transformation program. Other notable initiatives in the area of sustainability include IMD’s contributions to Business Schools for Climate Leadership (B4CL), a collaboration of eight leading European business schools to accelerate the business community’s response to climate change, as well as the Enterprise For Society (E4S) Center, which IMD jointly runs with EPFL and the University of Lausanne.

Bach completed his undergraduate studies at Yale and earned a PhD in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined IMD in 2020 from the Yale School of Management, where he served as Deputy Dean. His course “The End of Globalization?” won the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Worth Teaching Award in 2018.