Michael Useem

Michael Useem
  • William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management
  • Professor of Management
  • Director, Center for Leadership and Change Management
  • Editor, Wharton Leadership Digest

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    2103 SH-DH
    3620 Locust Walk
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: catastrophic and enterprise risk management., corporate change and restructuring, leadership, decision making, and governance

Links: Personal Website



PhD, Harvard University; MA, Harvard University; BS, University of Michigan.

Academic Appointment:

William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management, 1997-. Director, Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management, 1996-.

Recent Consulting:

Numerous programs on leadership, decision making, governance, and change with companies and organizations in the private, public, and non-profit sectors in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, including Abbott, American Express, Cargill, CEO Academy, Cisco, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Estee Lauder, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Morgan Stanley, New York Fire Department, Northrop Grumman, Petrobras, Pew Charitable Trusts, Samsung, Sprint, 3M, The New York Times, Toyota, Verizon, United Nations, U.S. Government, and World Economic Forum.



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  • Howard Kunreuther and Michael Useem, Mastering Catastrophic Risk: How Companies Cope with Disruption (Oxford University Press, 2019)

  • Michael Useem, Dennis Carey, Brian Dumaine, Rodney Zemmel, Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-Term Strategy (Wharton Digital Press, 2018)

  • Luis Ballesteros, Michael Useem, Tyler Wry (2017), Masters of disasters: An empirical analysis of how societies benefit from corporate disaster giving, Academy of Management Journal, Forthcoming.

    Abstract: Corporations are increasingly influential within societies worldwide, while the relative capacity of national governments to meet large social needs has waned. Consequentially, firms face social pressures to adopt responsibilities that have traditionally fallen to governments, aid agencies, and other types of organizations. There are questions, though, about whether this is beneficial for society. We study this in the context of disaster relief and recovery, in which companies account for a growing share of aid, as compared to traditional providers. Drawing on the dynamic capabilities literature, we argue that firms are more able than other types of organizations to sense areas of need following a disaster, seize response opportunities, and reconfigure resources for fast, effective relief efforts. As such, we predict that, while traditional aid providers remain important for disaster recovery, relief will arrive faster and nations will recover more fully when locally active firms account for a larger share of disaster aid. We test our predictions with a proprietary data set comprising information on every natural disaster and reported aid donation worldwide from 2003 to 2013. Using a novel, quasi-experimental technique known as the “synthetic control method,” our analysis shows that nations benefit greatly from corporate involvement when disaster strikes

  • Howard Kunreuther, Erwann Michel-Kerjan, Michael Useem, Rethinking Catastrophic Risk: How Corporate America Copes with Disruption (Oxford University Press, 2016)

  • Luis Ballesteros and Michael Useem, “Corporate Activity for Dealing with Societal Risks”. In, edited by, (2016)

  • Luis Ballesteros and Michael Useem (Working), Local versus Global Institutional Pressures: Organizational Imitation and Multinationality.

    Abstract: The management literature has emphasized the role that imitation plays on corporate strategy. Firms tend to align to the social norms observed by reference peers. A widely invoked argument is that the community where firms are originally headquartered imprints them with a longstanding influence toward similar patterns of behavior. In this paper, I suggest that this argument is not easily generalizable once the organization internationalizes. Using the context of philanthropic responses in the aftermath of natural disasters, I show that the non-market activity of multinational firms that share the metropolitan area as headquarters may be significantly different. I find that firms tend to mimic the characteristics of the response of peers from the same industry despite that such organizations have different countries of origin. Furthermore, organizations that share metropolitan region as headquarters show dissimilar responses in a frequency that is not explained by chance. This study extends the global strategy and community literatures by proposing that the influence of geographic location on organizational behavior is less stable than institutional scholars tend to suggest. The systems of social norms and beliefs that firms join as they internationalize become more salient for organizational decision making than those learned in their communities of origin. The study also provides a more nuanced awareness of the role of the non-market activity of multinational enterprises in the context of geographically located systemic shocks. 

  • Michael Useem (2015), “From Classwide Coherence to Company-Focused Management and Director Engagement,”, Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 43.

  • Luis Ballesteros and Michael Useem, How They Did It (Private Giving, Insurance Payouts for Recovery, Execution and Expectations. In Leadership Dispatches: Chile’s Extraordinary Comeback from Disaster, edited by Michael Useem and Howard Kunreuther, (2015), pp. 47-165

  • Michael Useem and Howard Kunreuther, Leadership Dispatches: Chile’s Extraordinary Comeback from Disaster (2015)

  • Michael Useem, Howard Kunreuther, Erwann Michel-Kerjan, Leadership Dispatches: Chile’s Extraordinary Comeback from Disaster (Stanford University Press) (Stanford Business Books, 2015)


Past Courses


    Technology has allowed firms to fundamentally change how they connect with their customers. Rather than having occasional, episodic interactions--where customers realize they have an unmet need and then look for ways to fill it--firms are striving to be continuously connected to their customers, providing services and products as the needs arise, even before customers become aware of them. There is probably no other industry for which this development will be as transformative as in health care delivery. Wearable devices, smart pill bottles, and digestible sensors--all of these technologies, and many more, are associated with the promise of improving the quality of care while also making efficient use of resources. This course explores the impact of connected strategies in general, and in particular the opportunities associated with them in health care delivery.


    This is a pairing of two 3-week course topics. In "From Health Disparities to Health Equity: Policy Implications," you will review the causes of and policy approaches for health disparities, and relate them to the specific discipline and interest of each student. We will explore health equity within the context of population health while examining some strategies for improving health equity through case studies and policy analysis. Understanding the role social determinants of health play in improving health status for populations is critical for health equity policies and will be examined in the course. Upon completion of this course, you will be able to identify health disparities and social determinants of health that adversely affect populations' health due to their social, economic, and environmental conditions, and apply strategies for improving health equity and creating opportunities for all populations to live up to their full health potential. In "Health Care Leadership in an Era of Patient Empowerment," you will focus on concepts, experience, and skills for leading organizational development and change in hospitals, health centers, medical practices, and other health-care groups, administrations, and agencies. It draws on writings, cases, exercises, and your own experience to explore the foundations and techniques for organizational leadership. Upon completion of the course, you will be better able to exercise leadership in your work and community, apply leadership concepts in building teams and teams of teams, lead through crisis, design reward systems for motivating individuals and teams, and develop a high-performance architecture and culture.


    MGMT 610 is the first core course in the MBA Program and it cannot be waived. The first week of the fall term (in August) is dedicated to this formative and foundational experience. This course focuses on developing students' knowledge and skill set for teamwork and leadership. It is meant to be an intense immersion experience that draws strongly on the pedagogy of the Wharton Teamwork and Leadership Simulation, a team-based, highly interactive simulation that was custom-designed specifically to allow students to experience the core concepts they learn in this class. The three goals of this course are for students to learn: 1. Leadership behaviors: how to enact the skills that contribute to a team's effective performance. 2. Team dynamics: how to be an effective team member, as well as how to best design work teams; 3. Organizational awareness: understanding organizational culture. Format: A custom-designed Wharton-only simulation is paired with course sessions to deliver a unique learning experience. Classes will include experiental learning combined with debriefings, lectures, readings, class discussion and personal and group performance feedback. This course reflects the realities that informal leadership occurs in teams on an ongoing basis, that being a good team player is a part of leadership, and that many of one's early experiences with leadership will occur while working on teams. Because of the team-based nature of this course, and time intensive nature of this experience, attendance is mandatory for ALL five sessions of this class. NOTE: Credit-bearing, core coursework begins with the MGMT610: Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership course.


    This course is about managing large enterprises that face the strategic challenge of being the incumbent in the market and the organizational challenge of needing to balance the forces of inertia and change. The firms of interest in this course tend to operate in a wide range of markets and segments, frequently on a global basis, and need to constantly deploy their resources to fend off challenges from new entrants and technologies that threaten their established positions. The class is organized around three distinct but related topics that managers of established firms must consider: strategy, human and social capital, and global strategy.


    Epidemics and natural disasters are exogenous shocks that create many challenges for companies, financial markets, and political systems. This class draws on the expertise of 12 Wharton faculty members to provide a deep understanding of how global business and financial uncertainty can be managed in the wake of such dramatic events. The topics include: leading in uncertain times, the reaction of the financial markets to the coronavirus, disaster risk and asset returns, the significance of borders in an integrated world, emotional contagion and epidemics, the evolving U.S./China relationship in the context of trade wars and the pandemic, and the disruption of trade and global supply chains. Students may take this class in person or online. Requirements include participation (in the classroom or in a class blog), daily multiple-choice tests, and a short team paper to be peer-graded.


    Business success is increasingly driven by a firm's ability to create and capture value through innovation. Thus, the processes used by firms to develop innovations, the choices they make regarding how to commercialize their innovations, the changes they make to their business models to adapt to the dynamic environment, and the strategies they use to position and build a dominate competitive position are important issues facing firms. In MGMT. 892, you will learn to address these issues through an action learning approach. MGMT. 892 is a 1.0-credit course conducted in the spirit of an independent study. By working on consulting projects for leading global companies, you will develop and then apply your knowledge about innovation management and help these firms better understand the challenges and opportunities posed by emerging technologies and markets.



    Sociology provides a unique way to look at human behavior and social interaction. Sociology is the systematic study of the groups and societies in which people live. In this introductory course, we analyze how social structures and cultures are created, maintained, and changed, and how they affect the lives of individuals. We will consider what theory and research can tell us about our social world.


    Directed readings and research in areas of sociology. Permission of instructor needed.


    This is the second part of the Thesis Workshop course. Prerequisite: SOCI 300. Permission must be granted by the department.


    For advanced students who work with individual instructors upon permission. Intended to go beyond existing graduate courses in the study of specific problems or theories or to provide work opportunities in areas not covered by existing courses.


    Primarily for advanced students who work with individual instructors upon permission. Intended to go beyond existing graduate courses in the study of specific problems or theories or to provide work opportunities in areas not covered by existing courses.

Awards and Honors

  • Core teaching Award WEMBA East, 2011
  • Core teaching Award WEMBA West, 2011
  • Graduate Division Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2004
  • MBA Core Teaching Award, 2003-2009
  • MBA for Executives Program Teaching Award, 2003-2011
  • MBA for Executives Program Teaching Award, 2000-2001
  • MBA Core Teaching Award, 1993-2000
  • Helen Kardon Moss Anvil Award for Teaching Excellence in the Graduate Division, 1992
  • Graduate Division Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1992-2001

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Latest Research

Howard Kunreuther and Michael Useem, Mastering Catastrophic Risk: How Companies Cope with Disruption (Oxford University Press, 2019)
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In the News

Navigating a Crisis: Why Company Culture Is Key

Amway CEO Milind Pant discusses the importance of “leading from the heart” and the lessons he’s learned during the coronavirus pandemic.

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2020/06/23
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Awards and Honors

Core teaching Award WEMBA East 2011
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