Hello!

Welcome! I’m Mark. I study organizational politics as a Kelso Fellow with the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, teach political science at Southern Methodist University, and consult to mission-driven companies through MPA Global Advisors. Here are some of the research projects I’m working on now that I’ve completed my dissertation on political campaign teams:

Evaluating Emerging Ownership Alternatives for Family Businesses
With Peter Boumgarden; in preparation

Family businesses considering intergenerational transfer of ownership have four basic options: Sell out, go public, hand it down, or close shop. In a 1990 article in Family Business Review, Dirk Dreux identifies seven nonpublic alternatives, puts forward four sets of questions for business owners to ask as they consider those alternatives, and identifies three fundamental issues underpinning those questions: control, liquidity, and the capital needs of the business. 

This paper revisits the question of ownership alternatives available to family businesses. In the last thirty years, the range of financing options available to private firms has exploded, ESG and impact investing have gone mainstream, fewer companies are listing on public markets, and a global pandemic has accelerated the planned retirement of an increasing number of family business owners. We put forward the current range of options available to family businesses and review what is known about each. We then present a reimagined version of Dreux’s original evaluation of ownership alternatives, organized around the views of multiple stakeholders and incorporating the question of purpose, a fundamental issue for many family businesses.

The Devil You Know: Human Capital Selection in Temporary Organizations
With Sekou Bermiss; under review for presentation at the 15th Annual People & Organizations Conference

Contemporary markets have seen a marked increase in the frequency and influence of temporary organizing, which entails the behaviors and actions taken by collectives of interdependent actors to pursue an agreed upon task within a predetermined time frame (Bakker, 2016). Research in this context has focused on topics related to firm-level dynamics such as inter-organizational contracting, knowledge transfer, and institutional change. Despite the growing prominence of temporary organizations, the research in this area principally conceptualizes temporary organizations as a collective, with little attention paid to the human capital dynamics that temporary organizations must manage to accomplish their given tasks. Unlike permanent organizations, temporary organizations face high levels of labor market uncertainty due in part to pre-determined organizational dissolution.

In this paper, we aim to fill this void by examining the hiring patterns of temporary organizations and their outcomes on organizational performance. The context for this study is U.S. congressional campaigns, which are temporary organizations reconstituted every two years from extended political party networks. Our analysis includes a comprehensive novel dataset of all congressional campaigns from 2003 to 2016, which comprises the hiring of 132,113 campaign staff members and consultants.  We examine how the variance in campaign hiring practices (e.g., hiring employees based on previous individual experience and hiring employees based on shared collective experience) predicts campaign performance measured as candidate’s vote share relative to expected vote share, and total campaign funds raised relative to that of their competitor.

Our preliminary results suggest congressional campaigns that hire more experienced personnel are not any more likely to experience higher levels of organizational performance than firms that hire inexperienced personnel. However, campaigns that hire employees with more experience working together perform better in regards to votes and fundraising. These results suggest that for temporary organizations, shared work experience among acquired human capital is a stronger predictor of firm success than individual work experience.

We compliment these archival data with qualitative data collected from four dozen interviews with candidates, staff, and consultants during the 2020 election cycle. Those interviews suggest that the presence of an ongoing relationship between two team members is more than just simple reference checking. If two staffers demonstrate the capacity to work together and the desire to work together again, that suggests a lower likelihood of distracting intra-team conflict. Given the temporary nature of campaigns, which are dominated by uncertainty about which tasks lead to which outcomes, this may be the effective hiring strategy for temporary organizations.

Policy Narrators in Crisis: A micro-level analysis of the sourcing, synthesizing, and sharing of policy narratives in rural Texas
With Megan Morris and Varun Rai; under review for publication in Policy Studies Journal

How do leaders help others make sense of a crisis and enact policy in its wake? The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) answers this question by focusing first on the contest over rival policy narratives that demarcate what policy solutions are considered. This paper builds on NPF scholarship by focusing on the individuals constructing those policy narratives, conceptualizing them as policy narrators. To explore who policy narrators are, what they do, and what factors enable or constrain them, we build seven case studies of rural counties located in a major oil and gas formation in Texas. In early 2020, these counties faced a “double bust”: the plunging price of oil and the onset of a global pandemic.

Building on prior work from NPF and narratology scholars, we leverage these case studies to explore four sets of propositions about how policy narrators source, synthesize, and share their policy narratives. Among the eight interviewees we classify as policy narrators, we find that while the policy narratives they tell vary widely, the way they tell those narratives is similar. Their work backgrounds shape where they source policy narrative elements from, and they tell stories with different levels of “breach” from the status quo depending on how much action (or inaction) they want to inspire. They tend to avoid casting other local leaders as villains, place their audience as the hero, and situate themselves as either supporting or a member of that audience, stressing their common ties. From these findings, we put forward a working definition of policy narrators, identify how they might be included as a central element within the NPF, and discuss how they relate to other types of policy actors, including policy entrepreneurs.

Predicting Firm Growth in Rural Texas: A multi-method machine learning approach to a complex policy problem
With Vivek Shastry and Varun Rai; under review for publication in PLOS ONE. Working draft available on SSRN.

What factors predict higher or lower rates of entrepreneurship in rural America? Policymakers looking for an answer to this question face two serious obstacles. First, existing research on firm creation is by and large focused on the growth of high-tech firms based in urban areas. Second, academic work on rates of firm creation is housed across multiple disciplines, often using econometric methods whose aim is to identify the effect of a specific variable (such as ease of doing business, or access to finance) on firm creation rather than compare the likely importance of all the variables advocates claim will lead a policymakers’ desired outcome.

In this paper, we combine multiple machine learning methods (linear regression, subset selection, lasso and random forests) to a novel dataset in order to answer the question of what social and economic factors are predictive of firm growth in rural Texas counties from 2008-2018. Our results suggest that some of the factors commonly discussed in association with promoting entrepreneurship (access to broadband and patents) may not be as predictive as other population-level variables (age distribution, ethnic diversity, social capital, and migration patterns). We also find that the strength of specific industries (oil, wind, and healthcare) is predictive of firm growth, as is the number of local banks. Most of the factors predictive of firm growth in rural counties are distinct from those predictive in urban counties, providing support for arguments that rural entrepreneurship is a distinct phenomenon worthy of greater, and distinct, focus. We use these results as a demonstration how this approach can serve policymakers looking for high-level guidance about what factors to focus on given a desired policy outcome.

No One Can Whistle a Symphony: Essays on Congressional Campaign Teams and Talent
Dissertation; available on ResearchGate.

Political power is gathered, fashioned, and tested inside campaign organizations. Here, future legislators learn the political ropes, political coalitions and agendas form, and many Americans participate in politics for the first time. Yet while U.S. elections are closely studied, largely absent from this research is an investigation of campaign organizations themselves or the people they comprise. This dissertation examines how campaign teams form, and their impact on U.S. elections and policy. I argue that campaigns are most usefully understood as project networks, a type of temporary organization studied by management scholars. They are time-bounded structures operating on fixed-length projects inside of a larger network of permanent organizations that includes political action committees, consulting firms, and candidate support organizations.

Through case studies of eight U.S. House campaigns during the 2020 campaign cycle, I find tensions between temporary campaigns and permanent organizations shape every facet of the campaign, including the distinct ways Democratic and Republican candidates structure their campaigns. At the center of the Democratic campaign network are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a small number of political action committees. At the heart of the Republican network are large, privately owned consulting shops. How do these tensions shape political campaign team formation? I find that while campaigns report hiring for professional experience, personal networks and ad hoc decision-making drive team formation in political campaigns. One result of this network-driven hiring is that campaigns tend to hire candidates that come from similar groups and backgrounds, to the exclusion of other groups, including women and people of color.

To take a closer look at campaign team experience and prior shared work experience, I build a database of all campaign personnel 2003-2016 from publicly available data on campaign expenditures. I find that hiring personnel based on shared prior experience mostly served U.S. House candidates well in elections from 2012-2016, earning them more votes and—at least for Republican candidates—more money. Hiring more experienced personnel, by contrast, was not associated with greater vote share or more money raised except in the case of Republican incumbents hiring Republican consultants. What happens to these teams after the election? Conventional wisdom holds that political hacks make bad policy wonks. I combine the data on campaign personnel with existing data on legislative staff and find the opposite: From 2005-2016, representatives who hired campaign staff into their congressional offices were no less effective as legislators and did no worse at the ballot box in subsequent elections. These findings advance our understanding of U.S. elections, legislative staff, and teams and organizations in politics. They contribute to our understanding of temporary organizations by extending the theory to a new, non-market setting. Most importantly, these findings help us understand an important component of the U.S. political system: the teams that work to determine who governs, and whose work shapes the attention of the electorate and the priorities of legislators.