First Look

November 18, 2008

While the economic news is depressing, personal happiness can still be cultivated. New research shows that steady, regular doses of exercise and even attending religious services can have a cumulative, positive effect on health and peace of mind. That's the message of "Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill, One Step at a Time: The Impact of Regular Religious Practice and Exercise on Well-Being," coauthored by Harvard Business School's Michael I. Norton. Drawing conclusions from two studies, "we suggest that shifting focus from the impact of major life changes on well-being to the impact of seemingly minor repeated behaviors is crucial for understanding how best to improve well-being," they write. Case studies announced this week look at, among other topics, the impact of perceived excessive executive compensation and severance packages on the current credit crisis, and at Intel's trial-and-error effort to launch new businesses.
— Martha Lagace

Working Papers

An Exploration of the Japanese Slowdown during the 1990s

No abstract is available at this time.

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(When) Are Religious People Nicer? Religious Salience and the 'Sunday Effect' on Pro-social Behavior


Prior research has found mixed evidence for the long-theorized link between religiosity and pro-social behavior. To help overcome this divergence, we hypothesize that pro-social behavior is linked not to religiosity per se, but rather to the salience of religion and religious norms. We report on a field experiment that examines when auction participants will respond to an appeal to continue bidding for secular charitable causes. The results reveal that religious individuals are more likely than non-religious individuals to respond to an appeal "for charity" only on days that they visit their place of worship; on other days of the week, religiosity has no effect. Notably, the result persists after controlling for a host of factors that may influence bidding, but disappears when the appeal "for charity" is replaced by an appeal to bid for other reasons. Implications for the link between religion and pro-social behavior are discussed.

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Cases & Course Materials

Executive Pay and the Credit Crisis of 2008

Harvard Business School Case 109-036

The credit crisis of 2008 placed compensation practices at publicly traded firms in the United States under scrutiny. This case examines perceived excessive pay and severance packages at several firms implicated in the credit crisis of 2008, the executive compensation provisions in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and discusses the implications for compensation committees at public companies.

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Hearts on Fire—Brand Development Manager

Harvard Business School Case 709-436

Hearts on Fire, a successful branded diamond producer, established the position of Brand Development Manager (BDM) to build the company's presence, sales, and relationships with its retail customers. After one year, the CEO, CFO and President must evaluate the impact of the BDM on retail customers, the type of person required to be successful in this position, internal coordination issues with the company's sales force, and the financial returns versus other uses of capital for the company. The case raises issues in aligning business strategy and sales management systems, motivating and managing resellers, people selection, and financial analysis of alternatives.

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Infosys' Relationship Scorecard: Measuring Transformational Partnerships

Harvard Business School Case 109-006

This case analyzes Infosys' innovative approach to measuring performance in client relations. Infosys' strategy is evolving to build transformational partnerships from its original position as an outsourcer of end-to-end IT projects. A transformational partner helps clients to devise and implement strategies that will allow them to achieve a competitive advantage. The traditional paradigm of service-level agreements (SLAs), while sufficient for Infosys' needs early on, is not able to achieve the level of understanding that transformational partnerships require. Infosys applies the principles of the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) to produce a feedback mechanism that allows the partnership to grow to the benefit of both parties.

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Intel NBI: Intel Corporation's New Business Initiatives

Harvard Business School Case 609-043

For Intel Corporation, the processes and priorities that have made it so successful are difficult to overcome as the company tries to diversify away from its core. The case examines the history and evolution of the New Business Initiatives (NBI) group, as the leader grapples with the questions surrounding why so few of the unit's start-ups actually become significant businesses within Intel's existing divisional structure. While a handful have successfully "graduated" and continue to show high levels of promise, these ventures did not represent truly new and distinct businesses for Intel. Rather they were strongly tied to existing businesses, raising the question of whether NBI had simply become a way for existing divisions to off-load budgetary risk. The case examines what worked, and what didn't, and the challenges posed by transitioning new ventures into the mainstream of the company.

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New Century Financial Corporation

Harvard Business School Case 109-034

After years of rapid growth and stock price appreciation, New Century Financial Corporation, one of the largest subprime loan originators in the U.S., reported accounting problems in early 2007. The resulting liquidity crisis forced the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to the Bankruptcy Examiner assigned to investigate New Century, the company's troubles "were an early contributor to the subprime meltdown" which fueled a financial crisis in the U.S. and beyond. The case study examines New Century's business model and accounting practices and focuses on the role of management, audit committee, and external auditors in the problems at New Century based on the findings of the Bankruptcy Examiner.

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Attracting Flows by Attracting Big Clients


We explore a new channel for attracting inflows using a unique dataset of corporate 401(k) retirement plans and their mutual fund family trustees. Families secure substantial inflows by being named the trustee of a 401(k) plan. We find that family trustees significantly overweight their 401(k) client firm's stock. Trustee overweighting is more pronounced when the relationship is more valuable to the trustee family, and it is concentrated in those funds that receive the greatest benefit from the inflows. When other mutual funds are selling the client firm's stock, the trustee does the opposite and significantly increases its holdings of the client. This overweighting is not explained by superior information. We also quantify the flow benefit to the trustee mutual funds of being included in the client firm's 401(k) plan and find that this inclusion has an economically and statistically large, positive effect on inflows.

Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill, One Step at a Time: The Impact of Regular Religious Practice and Exercise on Well-Being


Many studies have shown that few events in life have a lasting impact on subjective well-being because of people's tendency to adapt quickly; worse, those events that do have a lasting impact tend to be negative. We suggest that while major events may not provide lasting increases in well-being, certain seemingly minor events—such as attending religious services or exercising—may do so by providing small but frequent boosts: if people engage in such behaviors with sufficient frequency, they may cumulatively experience enough boosts to attain higher well-being. In Study 1, we surveyed places of worship for 12 religions and found that people did receive positive boosts for attending services and that these boosts appeared to be cumulative: the more they reported attending, the happier they were. In Study 2, we generalized these effects to other regular activities, demonstrating that people received boosts for exercise and yoga, and that these boosts, too, had a cumulative positive impact on well-being. We suggest that shifting focus from the impact of major life changes on well-being to the impact of seemingly minor repeated behaviors is crucial for understanding how best to improve well-being.

Laws versus Contracts: Legal Origins, Shareholder Protections, and Ownership Concentration in Brazil, 1890-1950


This article examines some of the institutional conditions that facilitated the development of equity markets in Brazil. A critical factor was the addition of protections for investors to corporate bylaws, which enabled relatively large corporations in Brazil to attract investors in large numbers. By availing themselves of this strategy, the firms generated a relatively low concentration of ownership before 1910. Archival evidence, such as company statutes and shareholder lists, reveals that the addition of voting rights to their bylaws, particularly maximum vote provisions and graduated voting scales (which stipulated that less-than-proportional votes increase in parallel with shareholdings), allowed many Brazilian corporations to balance the relative voting power of their small and large investors. In companies that made such arrangements, the concentration of ownership and control was sharply lower than in the average company. Judging by the Brazilian companies examined for this article, it also appears that the concentration of control was significantly lower before 1910 than it is today.

Observing Other's Behavior and Risk Taking in Decisions from Experience


This paper examines how observing other people's behavior affects risk taking in repeated decision tasks. In Study 1, 100 participants performed experience-based decision tasks either alone or in pairs, with the two members being exposed to each others' choices and outcomes. The tasks involved either equiprobable gains and losses or frequent small gains and rare large losses. The results indicated that, in both risk types, the social exposure increased the proportion of risky selection, but its effect was stronger in the rare-loss condition. In Study 2, the rare-loss task was administered to 32 study participants, with a target individual observing the choices of a paired individual. The results showed that observing others, rather than being observed, led to the pattern of increased risk taking. The findings of the two studies indicate the importance of distinguishing different types of risky situations and shed light on contradictory findings in the literature.

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