The Role of Corporate Culture in Bad Times: Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kai Li, Xing Liu, Feng Mai, and Tengfei Zhang

After fitting a topic model to 40,927 COVID-19-related paragraphs in 3,581 earnings calls over the period January 22 to April 30, 2020, we obtain firm-level measures of exposure and response related to COVID-19 for 2,894 U.S. firms. We show that despite the large negative impact of COVID-19 on their operations, firms with a strong corporate culture outperform their peers without a strong culture. Moreover, these firms are more likely to support their community, embrace digital transformation, and develop new products than those peers. We conclude that corporate culture is an intangible asset designed to meet unforeseen contingencies as they arise.