Abstract: Out of Many, One: The Divergent Social Vision of William Norris in the Minneapolis Business Community, 1967–1986

Laura Singleton


Corporate social responsibility practices often take on a character shaped by norms of the local business community. The pressure for businesses to build legitimacy for actions usually perceived as being in tension with economic goals means that community expectations, reinforced through peer networks, have been an important source of creating conformity. Most prominently, Minneapolis has been the subject of numerous studies and articles for its development of a shared corporate culture of philanthropy in the community, through the leadership of local businesses such as Dayton Hudson. Alongside the area's well-known charitable traditions, however, a distinctive formulation of corporate social action developed in a similar time period. William Norris, founder of Control Data Corporation, became widely known for affirming "social needs as business opportunities," stressing the duty of corporations to take on the project of solving social ills as part of their profit-making activities even as he openly criticized the practice of corporate philanthropy so widely lauded in his community. I trace the development of Norris' ideas in parallel to the better-known Minneapolis actors, identifying processes behind his divergence and the differing reactions to the parties' distinctive messages over time.