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Cases Publications

Succession at Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Institutionalizing the “BK Way” and Protecting BK Values for Future Success



Many for-profit enterprises with a strong social or environmental mission, as well as businesses with a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, struggle with the issue of keeping their social or environmental mission alive as the companies grow larger, bring in new investors, deal with mergers and acquisitions, and change leadership. There have been many failures chronicled as various founders dealt with this issue. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the case materials that speaks to this issue. This case helps to address that gap.


The Berrett-Koehler (BK) case highlights the efforts of a competitively successful, mission-driven, socially responsible publishing company to preserve its values, culture and practices while ensuring continued future success.  BK’s stated mission is “Creating a World that Works for All.” In pursuit of this mission, BK published 35-40 titles per year, each of which focused on fundamental transformation at the individual, organizational or societal level. The wide array of efforts pursued in protecting its mission include innovative approaches, such as consideration of Benefit Corporation status and adoption of a constitution.  The case provides an opportunity to cover corporate governance topics such as:  ownership structures, shareholder relations, CEO and organizational succession planning, and board roles and responsibilities.


This case takes place just prior to and immediately following Berrett-Koehler’s July 2012 Annual Shareholder Meeting and 20th Anniversary celebration.  The case highlights BK CEO, Steve Piersanti, and the Board of Directors in their efforts to institutionalize the “BK Way” through a variety of legal and operational methods.  BK is a socially responsible and mission-driven business working to protect the values, practices and culture it considers to be a critical component of its fundamental success.  BK has outperformed rivals from a financial standpoint in the intensely competitive publishing industry, and is well-known for its integrity and unique procedures.  Specifically, CEO Steve Piersanti and the BK board consider several specific and different options for embedding the BK values in the organization’s operating and ownership structures.



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