Professor Josef Wieland, Director of the Leadership Excellence Institut Zeppelin (LEIZ) at Zeppelin University, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, European Business Ethics Network Deutschland (DNWE), and speaker on integrating relational values into business sustainability strategies during the recent seminar Cooperating in Value-Creating Networks, is interviewed by Professor Adrian Zicari, ESSEC Business School and the Council on Business & Society.
Cooperating in Value-Creating Networks: A relational view by Josef Wieland and Adrian Zicari. Edited by Tom Gamble.
Adrian Zicari: What are the basic ideas of the relational view of economics?
Josef Wieland: Relational economics is a political economy that is interested in the conditions and possibilities of private and public, economic and social value creation. Its core idea is that this value creation happens through the cooperation of stakeholders and their resources and interests in and with companies.
Unlike in standard economics, therefore, the focus of research is not on the market, but on the economic organisation, especially companies, and their transactions. Successful cooperation and its continuation without friction is an essential source of value creation in modern societies.
Adrian Zicari: What research topics are you particularly interested in?
Josef Wieland: The management of intersectoral stakeholder relationships in companies is central, and relational leadership concepts are of course related to this. The resilience and innovative capacity of regio-global production networks are another topic and the related challenges of cultural complexity and communication.
Economically, it is about the formation and nature of the corresponding individual and collective productive assets and their relational costs.
Adrian Zicari: What does that mean in practical terms?
Josef Wieland: Stakeholder and value management, relational business models and innovation, integrity and compliance management, the strategic and operational management of the SDGs, shared value creation and sustainability accounting, transcultural management and leadership in networks are some of the fields of application.
What we are experiencing today is the permanent docking of ethical and social logics to formerly purely economic products and processes. The production of goods in global value chains, the production and composition of food and clothing, the sustainability of individual and public transport concepts, to name just a few, are all no longer simple exchange transactions but relational transactions.
Adrian Zicari: Are Relational Economics a completely new approach?
Josef Wieland: The Relational View approach has been around for many years, especially in sociology, psychology, education and economic geography. There has also been research on relational contracting and relational rents in the Economics of Governance, Organizational Economics and in the resource based and dynamic capabilities Theory of the Firm.
My book on this topic was published in German in 2018 and in English in 2020. We organised the first conference on this in Friedrichshafen in 2019 and this year it has taken place with a PhD workshop together with ESSEC Business School in Cergy.
Value-creating networks, cooperation, and…trust
Adrian Zicari: What role does trust play in Relational Economics and in value creating networks?
Josef Wieland: Trust is fundamental, but it is not an event, it is the result of a process of interaction. Trust is a capital of cooperation; it is built slowly but can be destroyed very quickly.
Adrian Zicari: The CoBS (Council on Business & Society) addresses business ecosystems, stakeholder theory and business ethics, among others. How are these topics connected to the relational approach?
Josef Wieland: If you understand the firm as a nexus of stakeholder resources and interests, these topics are integral parts of Relational Economics. From this perspective, however, it is not about stakeholder management in the conventional sense, but about the productive and value-creating interaction of regional and global stakeholder resources and interests.
From an economic perspective stakeholders are investors of material and non-material resources in a collaborative project and naturally they expect a material or non-material return. It is the governance of relational and cross-sectoral organizations and transactions and the related innovation of new products and processes that are of interest.
Globalization isn’t – and cannot be – over
Adrian Zicari: While in many societies some people call for Deglobalization, you seem to be a proponent of globalisation.
Josef Wieland: Deglobalization can mean many things, but from the perspective of Relational Economics it goes hand in hand with massive welfare losses. This is confirmed by macroeconomic research on international trade and global value chains. Europe’s economies are deeply integrated into the global economy.
Deglobalization means the reduction of the corridor of cooperation accessible to all and of the potential incomes and rents associated with it. What this means in practice is being demonstrated to us every day. Deglobalization, as demanded by a few populists, is a path to poverty for both developed and developing countries. What we need are more resilient and innovative governance structures for regional-global value creating networks.
The transcultural caravan project at Zeppelin University
Adrian Zicari: Can you explain what your Transcultural Caravan project means in this context?
Josef Wieland: This is a form of a COIL (Cooperative International Learning) that we at LEIZ organise together in an international alliance with universities from a whole range of countries. We want our students to understand and to deal productively with cultural difference through cooperative international learning. Essentially, it is about the ability to discover or generate new cultural commonalities in collaborative projects.
To this end, we annually invite applications for student research projects in which students from all over the world conduct joint research on the transcultural challenges of the global world. We have been doing this since 2016 and the topics so far have included best practices in civil society cooperation and hybridity in Asia, transcultural communities in sub-Saharan Africa, transcultural learning in Brazil and the experience of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative in various European countries.
The students conduct joint empirical projects in the respective countries, then discuss them from interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives and publish the resulting articles in a book project. This is the relational view in action and we bring this into teaching at Zeppelin University.
Adrian Zicari: That sounds great. Who is funding this initiative?
Josef Wieland: In the beginning, in 2015, there was just the idea and a lot of commitment. We then raised funds for it from large, but also medium-sized companies. We also got support from Zeppelin University and the ZUG e.V. (Society of the Friends of Zeppelin University). It is mainly about accommodation and travel costs and the costs for the conferences, which take place virtually but also in person. This year, we also received a major grant from a state foundation, which will help us to organise the next 3 years.
For the students, this programme is very attractive. For me, besides education and training, it is above all a theoretical and practical exercise in the capacity for peaceful and mutually beneficial global cooperation. The economic and geopolitical turbulence we are experiencing today underline the fundamental relevance of this project.
With thanks to Silke Rinkenburger, Lukas Belser, Jean Müβgens, Dr. Josef Wieland at Zeppelin University.
- Read a related CoBS Insights article: Sweeping with the Enemy: Coopetition as a strategy for a better world
- Discover Zeppelin University and the Leadership Excellence Instituts Zeppelin (LEIZ)
- Browse the Springer book series Relation Economics and Organizational Governance.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.