Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Corporations and Potential Liability

14 12 2014

By Mark Ellis, Ph.D. | Alumnus – Loyola University Chicago School of Law

This brief article will examine the sole proprietorship, partnerships, corporations and potential liability. Of course, there are quite a number of other business structures that do exist, (such as LLCs, LLP’s ect), but for the sake of brevity, these common structures will be presented. Moreover, we will also look at the benefits of each. Importantly, we will also examine the potential liability that exists regardless of the organization’s structure. It should be noted that although business organizations take on a variety of forms, each form has its own strengths and vulnerabilities. As such, will examine these strengths and potential vulnerabilities in light of tort law and further examine some of the most common legal issues that occur particularly under the principle of agency theory.

Sole Proprietorship

The simplest form of a business organization is what is known as the sole proprietorship.[1] Due to the fact that a sole proprietorship is completely owned by one person it may seem a bit odd to use the term business organization when discussing issues related to the sole proprietorship.[2] Importantly, although a business entity considered a sole proprietorship will most certainly have a degree of psychological and social identity separate from the individual.[3] In other words, if someone decides to open a landscaping business and gives the business and names such as “West Coast Landscaping” there is a clear distinction made between the business and the sole proprietor. Moreover, business records will oftentimes be kept separate from personal records such as common accounting and bookkeeping. Depending on the size and scope of the business, the sole proprietor may also hire managers, salespeople, or workers who are employed by the business.

As the name infers, sole proprietorship is completely owned by an individual person. The business owner is the single and only agent of the sole proprietorship.[4] As such, the individual who owns the business has complete discretion and decision-making power in the day-to-day operations and long-term objectives of the business.

What may seem to be appealing to this form of business organization is the unlimited freedom that the business owner has when making such decisions. In other words, there are no partners to agree or disagree with. Nor are there boards or committees to confer with and gain permission to make a strategic decision based on a majority vote. As such, the sole proprietor is able to make decisions at a moments notice and has the unlimited power of discretion when making such decisions.[5] Another benefit to the sole proprietorship is that the business owner is able to benefit individually by all of the profits gained by the business. There are no shares to pay out to shareholders, no percentages awarded to other individuals as in partnerships or limited liability entities. That said, the sole proprietor keeps all of the business profits.

The disadvantage of the sole proprietorship is that the owner of the business has virtually no protections.[6] Any debts that are owed can be levied in leaned against the individual owner of the business entity. Further, tax liability may be imposed against the sole proprietor and if the sole proprietor is unable to pay those taxes than the IRS can certainly levy and lean against any personal assets owned by the business owner. Further, in the event of litigation, any judgments awarded to plaintiffs against the business owner can also seek collection from the personal property of the individual named as the sole proprietor. This obviously leaves the business owner incredibly vulnerable and unshielded from legal actions or collection of debts.[7]

Consider for instance if the owner of the previously mentioned the West Coast Landscaping business finds itself in a tort action for negligence. One of the employees who was out in the field and was planting flowers for client had accidentally severed the power supply to a row of condominiums. Because of the lack of power many thousands of dollars worth of damages were incurred and a lawsuit is filed against West Coast Landscaping and its owner. For whatever reason, the owner did not have insurance to cover the damages in the claim and the jury decided for the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Unfortunately, because the sole proprietor assumes complete liability for any tort claims as such, the plaintiff is able to lean and/or levy the assets in order to satisfy the judgment.[8] Based on this scenario alone, it is easy to see that although sole proprietorships do have some advantages as discussed above; it also has disadvantages as the sole proprietor has little or no protection in the event of an unfortunate circumstance as mentioned here.


Another common business entity is a general partnership. As of 2008, there were 670,000 general partnerships in the United States with an average of four partners each.[9] At the outset it is important to note that partnerships fall into several categories. Some of most common are general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and limited liability limited partnerships.[10] In the United States the revised uniform partnership act of 1997 clearly states that a partnership regardless of the category is a particular entity that is distinct from his partners.[11]

Interestingly, the revised uniform partnership act of 1997 (also known as RUPA) is clearly distinct from the uniform partnership act of 1917, which at the time did not recognize partnerships as a legal personality distinct from the partners. However, over the process of time, such a view was modified through precedent and other legal changes, which varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.[12] For instance, RUPA in contrast to UPA the first entity status on partnerships. RUPA 101 like UPA six, defines a partnership as an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners of business for profit. However, RUPA 201 then provides that a partnership is an entity – a clear distinction of the entity identified in and of itself as opposed to a mere identification of a set of partners.[13]

Unlike the sole proprietorship where a particular individual has unlimited decision-making power and position of the assets and profits of the business, by default a partnership will allow for each general partner to have equal right to participate in the various decisions of the business and share in the financial profits.[14] Usually, decisions will be made in the ordinary course of business will be decided by the majority of the partnership. For instance, if a partnership has between five partners, and three of the five partners decide to make a particular business decision, the other two partners will generally concede to the majority decision.

Some of the advantages of the partnership is that partners can leverage their particular assets and gain a higher level of credit lines, have greater access to financial resources, and also may mitigate some of the liability incurred by the business itself. Further, a partnership has the potential to gain dominance in a particular market share depending on the business and short and long-term objectives of the business partners. A disadvantage of a partnership may also be liability as well.

Although liability may be proportionate to each partner in the business organization, there is still a substantial amount of liability against each partner of the business entity by way of debts, or a tort action brought against the company. For instance, under Section 5 of the Revised Uniform Partnership Act, liability for partnership obligations may be incurred. For instance, at common law if an obligation is joint and several, the obligors can be sued either jointly or separately. [15]

The Corporation

One of the most well-known business structures is the Corporation.[16] Like any business entity, the Corporation has both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages of the corporation are tax benefits, protection from liability by the corporation’s officers and shareholders, the ability to leverage assets and extend credit opportunities.[17]

However, it should be noted that corporations may have a few disadvantages and are certainly not a cure-all for personal liability based on the misconduct, tortious, or even criminal behavior of corporate officers. Further, if in the event that certain legal requirements are not met, plaintiffs who have been injured due to the conduct of responsible parties may be held personally liable without the protection that is generally offered by a legitimately established and operated by the corporation’s management personnel and governing board.

Although we are primarily discussing tort liability and the business entity, it should be noted that criminal behavior is never shielded from the protections afforded by the Corporation. In fact, criminal prosecution against entire boards, managing officers, vice presidents and CEOs have faced severe criminal penalties due to criminal behavior.[18] One of the most obvious examples of criminal behavior and prosecution is the infamous Enron scandal that took place at the beginning of the 21st-century.[19] Prosecutors were able to bring formal prosecution against Enron’s key players who were responsible for one of the most prominent criminal cases in modern history.

Piercing the Corporate Veil

According to Roszkowski (2011)[20] Plaintiffs may disregard corporate existence also known as piercing the corporate veil. As such, Roszkowski suggests that the primary purpose of the corporation is to create limited personal liability for shareholders recognizing the Corporation as a separate legal existence. As such, corporations that incur debt or become the defendant in a lawsuit creditors or plaintiffs will have to collect from the corporate entity itself rather than individuals who would be considered stakeholders in the organization. However, under certain limited circumstances plaintiffs may disregard the Corporation in part or in its entirety and pierce the corporate veil in order to impose personal liability upon shareholders for corporate obligations. Of course, such laying aside of protections afforded in a Corporation must be under certain legal conditions.

In the case Kvassay v. Murray[21] where a plaintiff attempted to hold an individual liable for a corporate obligation the rationale behind the case was to determine whether or not the defendant could be held liable based on the fact that the individual who owned the Corporation frequently wrote personal checks, which were returned for insufficient funds. Moreover, the defendant had owned other corporations, which failed to file appropriate incorporation papers. Further yet, the corporations that were owned by the defendants all had the same address in Wichita Kansas.[22]

The trial court held, and the appellate court affirmed that because of the way the business of the corporation was conducted, the plaintiff was able to pierce the corporate veil and hold individuals responsible for the debts of the corporation.[23] Again, this is an issue where corporations are not functioning as required by law or are simply being used for the purposes of unjust business practices or even fraud.

It is very important to know that businesses structured as a corporation should function as a corporation with all of the required corporate documents filed in their particular state and also operate in accordance with requirements expected of a Corporation. Failure to file the appropriate documents with government entities and failing to function as expected under law creates a substantial amount of liability against owners of a given corporation if plaintiffs can successfully pierce the corporate veil.

Regardless of your business structure, it is very important understand it’s strengths, weaknesses, benefits, and potential liability. Too often, individuals who function within a given structure fail to understand that even a properly formed business organization is not a cure-all, nor is it a shield which provides complete and total immunity for its stakeholders, shareholders, governing body, or individual owner / operator. As such, a proper understanding of potential liability will be critical as we move ahead in our ever-expanding global economy.

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary 10th edition (2014) Thomas – Reuters.

[2] Eisenberg and Cox. Corporations and other Business Organizations – Cases and Materials. (2011) p. 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Black’s Law Dictionary 10th edition (2014) Thomas – Reuters.

[5] Eisenberg and Cox. Corporations and other Business Organizations – Cases and Materials. (2011)

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Eisenberg and Cox. Corporations and other Business Organizations – Cases and Materials. (2011) p. 1

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] There has been an ongoing evolution of recognizing business entities as legal “persons.” Although this view is simply a product of the ever-changing business environment, it has not gone without extensive public scrutiny and criticism.

[13] Eisenberg and Cox. Corporations and other Business Organizations – Cases and Materials. (2011).

[14] Black’s Law Dictionary 10th edition (2014) Thomas – Reuters.

[15] Ibid

[16] Eisenberg and Cox. Corporations and other Business Organizations – Cases and Materials. (2011)

[17] Ibid

[18] Enron: the real scandal. January 17, 2002. The Economist

[19] Behind the Enron Scandal: Guilty of obstruction – Arthur Andersen. 2002 Time Magazine.

[20] Roszkowski, Mark, E. (2011) Business Law – Principles, Cases, and Policy

[21] Kvassay v. Murray 808P .2d 896 (Kansas app. 1991)

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid


Banking Regulation: An Overview of the Banking Act of 1933, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010

2 12 2014

Mark Ellis, Ph.D. Alumnus – Loyola University Chicago School of Law


This article will provide a brief overview of banking regulation, which has transpired since the 20th century. As such, an overview of the Banking Act of 1933[1], the establishment of the consumer financial protection Bureau, and the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and consumer protection reform act will be presented. Such legislation and regulatory bodies have been enacted in reaction to the overwhelming financial crisis that has transpired in the United States[2]. These reforms will be examined in light of the current economic and political landscape in the United States. Further, some of the major criticisms of the regulations and enforcement agencies will be presented.

The Banking Act of 1933

Congress enacted the Banking Act of 1933 in order to impose banking reforms[3]. The rationale behind the act was to regulated banking activities and to prevent practices such as undo diversion of funds, provide safer use of the assets of banks and regulate interbank control.[4] In this act, there was the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation also known as the FDIC, which is a Corporation in the United States and operates independently so as to guarantee the safety of depositor accounts.[5] Over the process of time the amount of deposit guarantees have risen to $250,000 and remains the maximum amount as of 2014[6].

Of note, The Banking Act of 1933 is often referred to as the Glass-Steagall Act. This legislation prohibited banks from trading securities with client deposits creating unnecessary risk. Moreover, limitations were set on banking and investment activities which would allow for up to 10% of the capital in banks service but only 5% of their capital and small business investment companies. Under this act, substantial limitations were put in place regarding purchasing and selling securities. Interestingly, despite the safety mechanisms were put in place under this act, much of the act has been repealed over the years. The rationale behind the repeal is that some of the legislation was among other issues, too inhibiting.[7]

However, there are quite a number of provisions that are still in effect which require banks to provide its district Federal Reserve Bank and Federal Reserve Board and national banks to provide the Comptroller of currency a series of reports on their affiliates.[8] Further, there are also old revisions that remain in place which will establish criminal penalties for misconduct by any directors or officers of the Federal Reserve system member banks and gives power to the Federal Reserve to remove them if such officers or directors are found only liable for such conduct.[9] Moreover, the legislation mandated restriction affiliation between commercial and investment banks. Further, no entity or person could engage in business of issuing, underwriting, selling, or distributing securities and deposits.[10]

Although varying components of this legislation has been repealed, much of the legislation still exists today. Interestingly, criticisms of the repeal purport that portions of legislation that were repealed can be directly linked to the financial collapse of 2007 and 2008. As such, in reaction to the financial collapse that rocked the global economy further legislation was enacted in order to help prevent such a crisis again.

The Dodd Frank Act of 2010

The financial meltdown of 2007 and 2008 is often coined as the Global Financial Crisis. Due to the threat of collapse of large financial institutions, it is considered by quite a number of economists that such was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Although the crisis was not considered a Depression, it is often referred to as “The Great Recession.”[11] As such, the Dodd Frank Act of 2010 is considered major legislation, and establishes regulations as not seen since the Great Depression.[12] The Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act contain what is known as the Volcker Rule 619 (12 USC 1851) which limits speculative activity by banks which some hold that such activity played a key role in the financial crisis of 2007 through 2010.[13] Much of what has been repealed in the banking act of 1933 has been directly replaced with current legislation under Dodd Frank. This relatively recent piece of legislation prohibits banks from engaging in speculative investments that created not only high risk but also did not benefit their customers. Essentially, it is a ban on proprietary trading by commercial banks where deposits are used. As previously mentioned, quite a number of legal experts and analysts purport that much of Dodd Frank fills in the gaps that were created by the repeal of earlier legislation.[14] As such, federal law and regulatory bodies have been put in place in order to protect the financial sector of the United States and seek to help provide stability and avoid the financial calamity that have disrupted the financial markets.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

On July 21, 2011, an independent agency named the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed and established under the Consumer Protection Act and Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform.[15] Yet again, in reaction to the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, this agency was created to protect the consumer and the financial market. It gives direct oversight to lending agencies, debt collectors, banks, and other financial institutions that exist in the United States under the jurisdiction of the federal government.[16] As with a number of other federal laws designed to protect consumers and the financial sector, lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the formation and operation of such an institution.[17] As with many of the previous regulatory actions enacted by Congress, questions as to whether or not such legislation and regulatory bodies are actually constitutional seem to be an ongoing argument against such protections.[18] Nevertheless, the majority of the laws and regulatory operations exist with the sole purpose of providing stability, transparency, integrity, and protection to the financial sector are the aims of these Federal laws and governmental agencies.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau seeks to promote fairness and transparency for financial services, products, mortgages, credit practices, that directly impact the American people. Because of these federal laws and regulatory agencies, the United States government can better ensure that the American people will not be harmed to the level and capacity as they were in years past. Many of these laws, no doubt, will be repealed, modified, or revised. As such, the consumer financial protection Bureau that gives oversight of the financial sector will no doubt assist in bringing about a higher level of integrity in the financial markets by protecting the American people.


As the financial markets are volatile by their very nature, there are certain levels of risk that exist no matter how many laws are passed, or regulatory bodies are established. As such, any potential financial threats in the future can only be speculative at this point. The ongoing cycle of financial prosperity and economic collapse is certainly nothing new to the United States. Nevertheless, as lawmakers and regulators seek to better protect the American people by establishing appropriate laws and regulations, the harmful practices in years past can be mitigated or altogether eliminated as much as possible. Whether the laws are revised, modified, or repealed; such legislation and regulation has been established as very necessary in order to prevent the same mistakes of the past.


[1] Berle, Jr., Adolf A. (1934), “Banking Reform”, in Wilcox, Clair; Fraser, Herbert F.; Malin, Patrick Murphy, America’s Recovery Program, London; New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Burns, Helen M. (1974), The American Banking Community and New Deal Banking Reforms, 1933-1935, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,

[3] Garten, Helen (1991), Why Bank Regulation Failed : Designing a Bank Regulatory Strategy for the 1990s, New York: Quorum Books

[4] Oftentimes the Banking Act of 1933 is referred to as the Glass-Steagall Act which played a key role in the separation of commercial and investment banking.

[5] FDIC. “FDIC: Who is the FDIC?” Retrieved 3/24/2014

[6] Ibid.

[7] Barth, James R.; Brumbaugh Jr., R. Dan; Wilcox, James A. (2000), “The Repeal of Glass–Steagall and the Advent of Broad Banking”, Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (2): 191–204

[8] Alper, Carl E. (1934), “The Banking Act of 1933 in Operation and the Contemplated Modification”

[9] “Regulation of Holding Companies”) and 30. “The Glass–Steagall Act of 1933”, Harvard Law Review, Legislation 47 (2), December 1933: 328.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Although still debatable, several top economists purport that the 2009 fiasco was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and also warned of potential risks if proper steps are not taken so as to prevent further calamity. Retrieved from:

[12] Paletta, Damian; Lucchetti, Aaron (July 16, 2010). “Senate Passes Sweeping Finance Overhaul”. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 22, 2014.

[13] “Former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Endorse Volcker Rule”, WSJ, retrieved March 23, 2014.

[14] Paletta, Damian; Lucchetti, Aaron (July 16, 2010). “Senate Passes Sweeping Finance Overhaul”. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 26, 2014.

[15] “Learn About the Bureau”. United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Retrieved March 24, 2014.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Hall, Christine. “Dodd-Frank Unconstitutional Power-Grab, Says New Lawsuit.” Competitive Enterprise Institute. Competitive Enterprise Institute.

[18] Ibid.

The Ethical Dilemmas of Groupthink

13 10 2014

By Mark Ellis, Ph.D.




The purpose of this brief discussion is to examine ethical leadership within a group setting. Much of what has been previously discussed has been focused on the leader’s character and behaviors in a conventional organizational setting. As such, we will examine a few issues regarding common ethical dilemmas that may exist in smaller groups and are less prevalent in larger previously mentioned conventional organizations.

There has been a constant trend in various organizations toward smaller groups or the team environment (Whetten & Cameron, 2007). As such, team leadership skills and competencies have been required in order to facilitate followers in a group environment (Chen & Kyaw-Phyo, 2012). Whether the leader be transactional or transformational in their approach to leadership, research indicates that leading groups or teams call for particular competencies conducive to the group environment (2012).

According to Johnson (2011), groups meet for various purposes. Whether it be to coordinate activities, pass along information, clarify misunderstandings, or build relationships, Johnson focuses on the role of groups in making ethical decisions by addressing key issues, which differ substantially from the lone decision-maker (p.274). Further, Johnson also presents challenges to successful decision-making outcomes particularly in the area of groupthink (2011). Further, as posited by social psychologist Irving Janis, cohesion is the greatest obstacle faced by groups charged with making effective and ethical decisions. As such, Irving Janis developed the label “Groupthink” to describe groups that put unanimous agreement ahead of recent problem-solving (p. 280).


One of the many dangers of groupthink is the mentality of “going along to get along” at the expense of making appropriate ethical decisions so as to yield desirable ethical end results. It should be noted that a group or team assigned the task of decision-making, should examine all options and present ideas which may challenge the basic premise of the group.  While decision-making through a consensus approach is certainly a viable method, it is important to note that individuals within a group should not only challenge the process, but also challenge the basic premise of group decision.

In our organization, we encourage group and team members to play “devil’s advocate” and invite opposing viewpoints before arriving at a final decision. Can groupthink create ethical dilemmas? Of course it can. As noted by Johnson (2011) there have been devastating results when key leaders who are major decision-makers fail to address or even ignore potential dangers that have even changed the course of history (p. 280).

As noted by Johnson, although accountability on the part of individual members of various groups, it is important for leaders to help the group as a whole resist the destructive force of groupthink and false agreement (2011). I think we have all been a part of the team or group where we had been afraid to speak up. Much of this fear of speaking up is due to an anticipation of subtle or overt retaliation of a leader or even key members of the group. Nevertheless, groupthink is certainly a destructive force as it fails to consider alternatives, gather additional information, re-examine a course of action when it’s not working, carefully weigh the risks, work at contingency plans, or discuss important moral issues (Johnson, p. 280).

Whether we be organizational leaders, members of a given task force in a for-profit organization, or have been given the charge of influencing a group to make key decisions, we must create an atmosphere whereby members of the group are not afraid to speak up and voice their well-informed opinion. It is also important to keep in mind that the entire rationale behind the group is not to simply gain a consensus, but it is to pull together ideas and formulate various strategies to help bring about desired outcomes (Zhang, Lowry, Zhou, & Fu, 2007). The writer posits that insecure leaders are hesitant to receive any feedback from others. On the other hand, secure leaders are open to suggestions and appreciate and affirm the thoughts and ideas of others.


There is no doubt that many of us will be assigned a task to lead in a group setting. While it may be true that many of us will be leading larger organizations, we will still be faced with the challenge of smaller groups, which will have a direct impact on the direction of such larger organizations. As an ethical and competent leader, it is absolutely critical to create an ethical environment whereby members of a given group can voice their informed opinion, suggest alternatives, retrieve and present appropriate data, or even play “devil’s advocate” for the sake of challenging the group to think, and rethink their position on a decision which will have a direct impact on organizational outcomes.


Chen, J., & Kyaw-Phyo, L. (2012). User satisfaction with group decision making process and outcome. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 52(4), 30-39.

Johnson, Craig E. (2011). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership (5th edit.) Los Angeles: Sage.

Whetten, D., & Cameron, K. (2007). Developing management skills (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River: NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

Zhang, D. S., Lowry, P. B., Zhou, L., & Fu, X. L. (2007, Spring). The impact of individualism–collectivism, social presence, and group diversity on group decision making under majority influence. Journal of Management Information Systems, 23(4), 53-80.

The Global Minded MBA: Functioning Cross-Culturally. By Mark Ellis, Ph.D.

31 10 2013


15 to 20 years ago, executives could get away with thinking, planning, and strategizing with a national mindset. This, however, is no longer an option if a company is to be successful in the global marketplace. Especially in light of the global economic challenges that has not only affected America, but the entire world. Moreover, with the flattening of organizations and the decentralization of companies, a global mindset is crucial for the MBA of the 21st century. Many MBA programs are now incorporating foreign language requirements, multinational and cross-cultural training courses into their MBA programs to better prepare graduates for the cross-cultural context where they will conduct business.

As global organizations are springing up all over the world, MBA students need to prepare themselves to think not only locally, but globally and cross culturally. To be able to conduct business in an effective manner requires a whole new level of skill and thinking than what was required just a short time ago.

As a result of the new demands in the business world today, business schools have had to take on a substantially different approach to an MBA education. For instance, in the 20th century, an MBA student could expect to take a class in marketing that dealt primarily with the “Four P’s” of the marketing mix. This marketing mix consists of product, price, place, and promotion. Because of the rapidly changing global marketplace, some marketing strategists have arguably suggested that the “Four P’s” are no longer sufficient and present a “Five P” marketing mix instead. This important addition changes the marketing mix to product, price, place, promotion, and very importantly — People. The value your people bring to your business by providing service to your customers and clients is a vitally important component of the marketing mix.

The “Fifth P” of the marketing mix has given companies strong incentive to recruit MBAs that have a clear understanding of the value and importance of the people factor. From a marketing and economic standpoint, meeting the needs and wants of the target market is one thing. Meeting the needs, wants, and demands of the diverse global culture is something else entirely. The Fifth P plays an increasingly important role in the success of any global organization. You cannot have a strong corporate image without the people; good people to listen to your customers, and good people to communicate those comments, concerns, and needs to your entire organization.

No longer can companies be concerned with the bottom line or task oriented objectives alone when reaching out to the international market. Many cultures and people groups do not share the same values as Americans. As a result, companies need to aggressively change the way they think and conduct business in order to be able to facilitate the demands of international and cross-cultural clientele.

As a result of these current and important rapid changes, global organizations are now looking for MBAs who are able to think globally, function cross culturally, and conduct business internationally in ways that will not only improve the bottom line for the organization, but gain customers and customer loyalty that is much more diverse than the American marketplace.

The following is an Interview with Harvard Business School’s David Garvin. The interview discusses critical issues regarding the rethinking of the MBA in order to meet the challenges of today’s global economic landscape.

The Basic Structure of the Dissertation – by Mark Ellis, Ph.D.

29 10 2013

This article will discuss the major components of the dissertation. Further, it will  describe the necessary phases that the doctoral student will have to successfully complete before becoming the recipient of a doctoral degree. Keep in mind that the following components of the dissertation are critical in order to present a viable study in the student’s particular area of interest.

Be aware that a dissertation is not a book report, an academic paper that would be submitted as a deliverable in a class, or a conglomerate of factual data. A dissertation is the crown jewel of the doctoral program. Further, the doctoral student should understand that there are important phases that are necessary in order to present and defend a viable proposal. Although there may be a slight variance from program to program, the overall requirements are essentially the same. Before being conferred the doctoral degree it is critical that the doctoral student understand the all-important fundamental phases of the dissertation proposal, proposal defense, completion, and final defense.

While each institution has its own unique dissertation requirements the overall concept and fundamental components are basically quite similar. Often times the dissertation is thought of as a relatively straightforward document consisting of Chapters 1-5 as outlined below:


  • Chapter 1 – Introduction
  • Chapter 2 – The Literature Review
  • Chapter 3 – Methodology and Research Design
  • Chapter 4 – Results
  • Chapter 5 – Discussion, Implications and Recommendations for Future Research.


Note that the dissertation will certainly consist of many steps and components, which possibly may overlap. Research questions usually move forward into the literature review, which in turn lead to the methodology and methodological framework. From there, the data is collected and analyzed all which conclude with displaying, describing, and discussing the results and ultimately the final defense. Breaking down these chapters, or components of the dissertation may give the appearance of a very simplistic, doable, analogical process. 

The completed document may appear to be simple enough. However, starting from the ground up a doctoral student quickly understands that the dissertation is much more iterative and often times complex. Keep in mind that the dissertation is not written within a week or two. Sometimes completing a viable dissertation can take many months and often times the dissertation can take years depending on the complexity of the study and the commitment of the doctoral student to completing the task.

Generally, completing a dissertation should require three major and distinctive steps from start to finish: Step number one is preparation. Step number two is research and step number three is completion. Each one of these steps should be completed in sequential order. In fact, the stages are oftentimes considered as unidirectional. Moreover, the steps are not something that you can go back and arbitrarily change once you have set the ball in motion. One small variance in the previous step may certainly have a direct impact on one or more subsequent steps. This is why it is important to understand that the initial step (the preparation stage) is critical to the rest of the process.

Often, the doctoral student will find themselves at an impasse, or in a precarious dilemma of frustration largely due to a lack of appropriate concentration in one or more of the stages. It cannot be over emphasized that preparation is absolutely critical and cannot be disregarded as inconsequential to the outcomes of the rest of the process. It would be safe to say that building an appropriate foundation to support a superstructure takes time, effort, and careful planning. In fact, the greater the superstructure, the deeper and wider the foundation must be. Keep in mind that your dissertation could be considered a superstructure. Do not waste your time laying a foundation for an outhouse. The reality is, the higher the building the more sure the foundation must be.

Spending time identifying a narrowly defined topic will take on number of attempts. So will framing research questions. Being able to identify the dependent and independent variables will be an important endeavor in the beginning stage. Begin thinking early on what factors would determine your hypothesis. What factors may create a null hypothesis? Will your study be quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology? How will you deal with issues of bias that may exist in self-report measures (if used)? How will your study contribute to the current body of knowledge, and how will you build on previously established research? These are all some relatively straightforward questions and issues that will need to be addressed.

Keep in mind that crafting a viable dissertation proposal and successfully defending does not happen overnight. Oftentimes, it is a lengthy and time consuming process. However, if you think ahead, plan ahead, and remain proactive with your dissertation committee you may be in a better position to not only survive the process, but also thrive through the process and tackle each phase of the rigorous task. Keep in mind that only 1% of 1% of humanity actually has a legitimately earned doctorate. Be determined to be the 1% of 1%.



About the Author |  Dr. Mark Ellis is a doctorate level professor and has served as dissertation chair of numerous dissertation committees. Dr. Ellis specializes in quantitative, qualitative as well as mixed methodologies. He has also served as content expert in his specialized field. He resides with his one and only wife of 24 years and three children. An athlete and physical fitness enthusiast, Dr. Ellis is also a competitive lifter.

Approaching Chapter Two – The Literature Review.

28 10 2013

By Mark Ellis, Ph.D. – Doctoral Studies Professor | Content Expert | Dissertation Committee Chair


Simply stated, the Literature Review is a critical evaluation of peer-reviewed literature that has already been published. As such, the student who is writing the dissertation should organize, integrate, and evaluate previously established literature and present the literature in a way so as to consider the progress of current research toward clarifying the stated problem in the study. The literature review should be interconnected in a way that examines concepts or theories that are similar or are in alignment with the current study. Moreover, there should be methodological similarities and in the historical development of the field that is under examination.

The literature review ties in with the remainder of the dissertation as it defines and clarifies the problem. Further, it also summarizes the wide array of previous inquiries, empirical studies or investigations in order to inform the reader of the current status (or stage) of the research. Moreover, the evaluation and synthesis of the literature review should also identify relations, point out inconsistencies, identify gaps or contradictions and then proceed to suggest the next step (or variety of steps) toward solving the problem that is currently under investigation.

Crafting a literature review is certainly not something that is done overnight. Nor is it done in a few hours, days, or even weeks. Crafting a viable literature review can take a number of months. In reality, a doctoral student should begin doing preliminary research allowing at least a year to pull together the literature in order to lay an appropriate foundation for the review. Of course, this can be done at the very beginning of the doctoral program.

I think I’ve mentioned this before however, the content of what is being presented in the literature review is vital. I cringe when I see an excessive amount of textbooks, magazine articles, or newspaper articles as references. Such sources may be “okay” in a limited sense depending on what the researcher is trying to establish, however, the majority of the material contained in the literature review should be just – that the literature. Not just any literature, but peer-reviewed literature. The validity and credibility of the information being presented in the literature review cannot be over emphasized.

The peer review process is a lengthy process whereby various experts in a given field carefully and meticulously review and provide required changes in a given study in order to ensure that the research presented to the academic community is indeed accurate. Also, as a rule, as the writer progresses through the literature review the majority of what is being presented should be literature that has been published within the last five years (or so) except for the historical section, of course. Nevertheless, as the literature review takes on the appropriate form, current research should almost always be evident in the literature review as it progresses. Previous studies can become obsolete in a very short period of time. As such, keeping the sources current within the last five years keeps the dissertation from becoming obsolete or even erroneous in some of the conclusions that are presented.

Finally, the literature review should be narrowed and focused. At the beginning stages of crafting a literature review oftentimes doctoral students will take a “shotgun approach” and try to overwhelm the reader with a wide array of previous studies. This is almost always a showstopper.

“Narrow, narrow, narrow and focus, focus, focus.”  These terms cannot be over-emphasized in crafting a viable literature review.

I wanted to share this link that is presented by University of Southern California (Go USC Trojans!) that gives a tremendous amount of information regarding academic writing, dissertations, and the literature review. Of course, USC is a world-class institution and has a wide array of resources available to individuals who are in pursuit of crafting, proposing, and defending the dissertation.

Here is the link:


Below is an excellent overview of the literature review presented by Candace Schaeffer of Texas A&M’s University Writing Center. It is a clear, concise, and comprehensive presentation.

Enjoy. Dr. Mark Ellis

Dissertation Tool Chest – The AQR and DT | By Mark Ellis, Ph.D.

25 02 2012


This article will discuss the similarities and differences of the Dissertation Template and the AQR Dissertation Checklists used in most doctoral programs in the United States and Canada.  It will be further discuss how students can use these documents to better prepare them for success by using them during the dissertation process.  While it is absolutely vital that doctoral learners have mastered the skills of thinking critically (Chaffee, 2009) they must also be able to demonstrate to the committee that they are able to present and defend a viable proposal and ultimately present the completed dissertation (Grover, 2007).

The Dissertation Template

The dissertation template serves as a skeletal outline of the required ingredients to be included in the completed dissertation.  Moreover, the template consists of appropriate formatting, cover sheet, abstract area, introduction, and sections of chapters one through five required for the completed document.  This template will help guide the student as they navigate their way through both the proposal and completed study.

The dissertation template will begin by presenting a cover sheet which will include the name of the dissertation, the name of the student, the committee members, dissertation chair and academic dean of the university.  Chapters one through five will consist of an introduction, literature review, methodology, data collection and analysis and finally summary, conclusion, and recommendations for further study.

Using the dissertation template, the students will have a very clear-cut and concise roadmap at their disposal as they navigate their way through this phase of their program.  The dissertation template can help the student think ahead and also strategically manage the entire process.  One of the major strengths of the dissertation template is that students will be able to assess if their study will be viable with respect to the goals and objectives of what they’re proposing to accomplish.  Getting the chapters to align and connect can be a daunting task. Moreover, it will be crucial that the student be able to align their dissertation topic in accordance with an appropriate methodology (Creswell, 2009).  The template, can assist through this tedious process.

AQR Dissertation Checklist

This checklist also serves as a roadmap to help determine whether not the student is on the right track.  Although the AQR Dissertation Checklist will be used by evaluators to return to the student giving them feedback, it can also serve as a very useful tool to the student as they will have the ability to measure the content of their dissertation documents against the AQR Dissertation Checklist.  This checklist will be returned to the student with comments and feedback provided by the appropriate committee members in the form of a scoring system as well as detailed comments.  Such comments may be acknowledging the strengths of the dissertation while others may identify the weaknesses and recommendations for future improvement.  Unlike the dissertation template itself, this checklist will not become a part of the final draft of the dissertation but is simply a form used by the committee to communicate with the student regarding the content of the dissertation.

Three Similarities

  • Identifies required content.
  • Provides a framework for navigation.
  • Assists the doctoral learner to measure dissertation outcomes.

Three Differences

  • AQR utilizes a scoring system as opposed to the dissertation template which provides none.
  • Unlike the template, the AQR is an internal form not incorporated into final dissertation document.
  • The AQR provides areas for distinct feedback regarding content, corrections, and recommendations from the committee.  While committee members have the option to mark up the dissertation through the rubric, the AQR has its own distinct features.

I would recommend that students regularly consult both of these forms early in the dissertation phase in order to become very familiar with what is actually required.  Having a solid understanding of the requirements will save the student a tremendous amount of headache later on down the road.  Both of these important documents can serve as useful tools for the doctoral learner and should be used as a reference throughout the dissertation process.  It should be noted that both the dissertation template and the AQR checklist should be used concurrently throughout the entire process.  The dissertation template may lack important information at the checklist does provide.  Likewise, the AQR checklist lacks the overall structure set forth by the dissertation template.  As such, both documents utilized by the student will provide all the student needs to ensure that their dissertation is meeting appropriate doctorate level quality standards and will also ensure that all the necessary elements exist in the final dissertation document.


Both the dissertation template and the AQR checklist are useful documents that will greatly aid the student in successfully completing their dissertation.  These useful tools will certainly assist the student in developing a mind of map for the entire dissertation process, but will also ensure that the student’s dissertation needs the basic criteria in accordance with the quality standards of the University.  Used in collaboration, the student will certainly have a better chance of proposing, defending, completing and presenting their final document known as the dissertation.

mark ellis (c) 2011-2012 all rights reserved


Chaffee, J. (2009). Thinking critically. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage Publications.

Grover, V. (2007). Successfully navigating the stages of doctoral study. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 2, 9-21.