Adam Cobb

Adam Cobb
  • Assistant Professor of Management

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    2027 SH-DH
    3620 Locust Walk
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: corporate ownership, corporations and society, human resources, income inequality, labor history, retirement, welfare privatization, work and employment

Links: CV


Adam Cobb’s research examines the historical development and reconfiguration of the employment relation. He is currently examining how corporate-financed welfare benefit plans help structure and support the relationship between workers in firms, how those structures have changed, and the ways in which individuals understand and respond to the changing nature of work. A second focus is on the role corporate disaggregation has played in rising income inequality in the U.S. over time. An over-arching theme in Adam’s research is examining the ways in which organizations can serve as promulgators of social change.

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  • Adam Cobb (2017), Managing the Conflicting Interests of Workers and Shareholders: Evidence from Pension Assumption Manipulations, ILR Review, Forthcoming.

  • Richard Benton and Adam Cobb (Under Review), Eyes on the Horizon? Fragmented Elites and Short-term focus of the American Corporation.

    Abstract: The idea that shareholder value norms encourage corporate short-termism has become a durable criticism of the American shareholder value movement. One prominent line of research argues that corporations adopt short-term approaches to strategy and investment, harming their long-term competitiveness in order to meet quarterly earnings expectations and please investors. This paper examines how corporate short-termism has been shaped by the dissolution of the American corporate elite network. In particular, we argue that the corporate board interlock network traditionally served as an important collective resource that helped corporate elites preserve their autonomy and control, mitigating short-termism. In recent years, changing board appointment practices have fractured the board network, undermining its usefulness as a platform for collective action and exposing corporate leaders to short-term pressures. We develop and apply a cohesion metric for network managerialism derived from theory and evidence in social network scholarship. We argue for a structural basis of managerial short-termism that links external network based resources to managers’ decisions using six indicators that capture short-termism in investment, value extraction, and earnings management. The results highlight the benefits of the corporate elite network and also illustrate unforeseen consequences of the network’s dissolution.

  • Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Adam Cobb (Under Review), Take a Stand or Keep your Seat: Independent Director Exit after Social Activist Challenges.

    Abstract: Outside directors play a major role in modern corporate governance by providing firms with valuable human and social capital as well as serving as the primary monitors of managers. Given their influence, researchers have been increasingly interested in understanding what motivates these individuals to exit their positions. We add to this line of inquiry by exploring director departure after social activist challenges. Drawing on impression management and identity theory, we argue that the effect of negative claims on an individual director will depend intimately on the whether the claims substantively conflict with the director’s personal values and identity.  The results of our study support our claims by showing that board turnover is significantly higher in the years after a boycott in comparison to matched-samples of non-boycotted firms. At the director level, our results reveal that an ideological match between a board member and the activist challengers predicts subsequent director exit. This positive interaction effect is significantly stronger among directors who are likely to be most sensitive to the social performance of the firms with which they are affiliated, due to their functional background or identity characteristics. We discuss the implications of our results for research on corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, and social movements.  

  • Adam Cobb and Ken-Hou Lin (2017), Growing Apart: The Declining Firm-size Wage premium and its Inequality Consequences, Organization Science, 28 (3), pp. 429-446.

  • Adam Cobb and Flannery G. Stevens (2017), These Unequal States: Corporate Organization and Income Inequality in the United States, Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (2), pp. 304-340.

  • Marc Lavine, Adam Cobb, Christopher Roussin (2017), When Saying Less is Something New: Social Movements and Frame Contraction Processes, Mobilization, 22 (3), pp. 275-292.

  • Adam Cobb (2016), How Firms Shape Income Inequality: A Rejoinder to Zardkoohi and Bierman, Academy of Management Review, 41 (4), pp. 749-754. doi:10.5465/amr.2015.0364

  • Adam Cobb and JR Keller (Under Review), The Effects of Pay Dispersion and Demographic Similarity on Employee Turnover.

  • Adam Cobb, Tyler Wry, Eric Zhao (2016), Funding Financial Inclusion: Institutional Logics and the Contextual Contingency of Funding for Microfinance Organizations, Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), pp. 2103-2131.

  • Adam Cobb (2016), How Firms Shape Income Inequality: Stakeholder Power, Executive Decision-making, and the Structuring of Employment Relationships, Academy of Management Review, 41 (2), pp. 324-348.



MGMT 104:  Industrial Relations & Human Resource Management

The focus of Management 104 is the economic and institutional constraints on organizations in the formulation and implementation of human resources management policies and strategies in the United States and, as appropriate, internationally. The specific constraints discussed are labor markets (external and internal), labor laws (governing employment policies and employee relations), and labor unions (and the threat thereof). Particular attention is paid to the relationship of these constraints to the competitiveness of American enterprise in the global economy.

Past Courses


    This undergraduate core course introduces students to a combination of basic concepts and timely topics around work and employment. As such, it is divided into two main sections and two quarters within each of those. The first main section deals with micro-level work issues, while the second main section deals with macro-level work issues. Within each of those sections, the first quarter focuses on basic concepts, while the quarter section deals with more applied topics.

Awards and Honors

In the News

Knowledge @ Wharton


Latest Research

Adam Cobb (2017), Managing the Conflicting Interests of Workers and Shareholders: Evidence from Pension Assumption Manipulations, ILR Review, Forthcoming.
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In the News

Is the Rise of Contract Workers Killing Upward Mobility?

The use of contract workers is a rising trend among private companies and public entities. Although the practice is intended to save money, organizations may suffer other costs.

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2017/10/2
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Awards and Honors

Winner, Best Article Award, Academy of Management Review 2017
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