My article, Radical Shareholder Primacy, written for a symposium on the history of corporate social responsibility, seeks to make sense of the surprising disagreement within the corporate law academy on the foundational legal question of corporate purpose: does the law require shareholder primacy or not? I argue that disagreement on this question is due to an unappreciated ambiguity in the shareholder primacy idea. I identify two models of shareholder primacy, the “radical” and the “traditional.” Radical shareholder primacy makes strong claims about both shareholder governance rights, conceiving of management as the shareholders’ agent, and also about corporate purpose, insisting that corporate law mandates shareholder wealth maximization. Because there is no legal basis for either of these claims, those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law are correct at least as to this model. However, the traditional version of shareholder primacy accords to shareholders a special place in the corporation’s governance structure vis-à-vis the corporation’s nonshareholder stakeholders, for example, with respect to voting rights and the right to bring derivative suits. Beyond this privileged position in the horizontal dimension, there is no maximization mandate and corporate law does very little to provide shareholders with the tools necessary to exercise governance powers; there is no primacy in the vertical dimension or on the question of corporate purpose. Nevertheless, this conception of shareholder primacy—modest as it is—is enshrined in corporate law. Those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law need to acknowledge this fact, but once it is understood that traditional shareholder primacy has little in common with the radical version there is no reason to be reluctant to do so.
Archive for the ‘Comparative Corporate Governance & Regulation’ Category
The competition by states for incorporations has long been the subject of extensive scholarship. Views of this competition differ radically. While some commentators regard it as “The Genius of American Corporate Law,” others believe it leads to a “Race to the Bottom” and yet others have taken the position that it barely exists. Despite this lack of consensus among corporate law scholars, scholars in other fields have treated state competition for incorporations as a paradigm case of regulatory competition.
Academic literature has typically analyzed corporate governance from an agency perspective, sometimes referred to as separation of ownership and control between investors and managers. This reflects the view in the US, UK and many other Anglo-Saxon countries, where the law clearly specifies that shareholders are the owners of the firm and managers have a fiduciary duty to act in their interests. However, firms’ objectives vary across other countries, and often deviate significantly from the paradigm of shareholder value maximization. A salient example is Germany, where the system of co-determination requires large firms to have an equal number of seats for employees and shareholders in the supervisory board in order to pursue the interests of all parties (see Rieckers and Spindler, 2004, and Schmidt, 2004). Similarly, stakeholders’ interests are pursued through direct or indirect representation of employees in companies’ boards in countries like Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and France (Wymeersch, 1998, and Ginglinger, Megginson, and Waxin, 2009), or through other arrangements and social norms in countries like China and Japan (Wang and Huang, 2006, Dore, 2000, Jackson and Miyajima, 2007, and Milhaupt 2001).
In our paper, Military CEOs, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine the effect of military service of CEOs and managerial decisions, corporate policies, and corporate outcomes. Service in the military may alter the behavior of servicemen and women in various ways that could affect their actions when they become CEOs later in life. Militaries have organized, sequential training programs that combine education with on-the-job experience and are designed to develop command skills. Evidence from sociology and organizational behavior research suggests that individuals may acquire hands-on leadership experience through military service that is difficult to learn otherwise and that they may be better at making decisions under pressure or in a crisis (Duffy, 2006). It is possible, therefore, that military CEOs may be more prepared to make difficult decisions during periods of industry distress. Moreover, military service emphasizes duty, dedication, and self-sacrifice. The military may thus inculcate a value system that encourages CEOs to make ethical decisions and to be more dedicated and loyal to the companies they run rather than pursue their own self-interest (Franke, 2001).
Corporate governance politics display a peculiar feature: while the rhetoric is often heated, the material stakes are often low. Consider, for example, shareholder resolutions requesting boards to redeem poison pills. Anti-pill resolutions were the most common type of shareholder proposal from 1987–2004, received significant shareholder support, and led many companies to dismantle their pills. Yet, because pills can be reinstated at any time, dismantling a pill has no impact on a company’s ability to resist a hostile bid. Although shareholder activists may claim that these proposals vindicate shareholder power against entrenched managers, we are struck by the fact that these same activists have not made any serious efforts to impose effective constraints on boards, for example, by pushing for restrictions on the use of pills in the certificate of incorporation. Other contested governance issues, such as proxy access and majority voting, exhibit a similar pattern: much ado about largely symbolic change.
The legal rules governing businesses’ organizational choices have varied across nations along two main dimensions: the number of different forms that firms could adopt; and the extent to which firms had the contractual freedom to modify the available forms to suit their needs. Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, businesses in the U.S. had a narrower range of forms from which to choose than their counterparts in most other countries and also much less ability to modify the basic forms contractually. In the recent NBER Working Paper, Revisiting American Exceptionalism: Democracy and the Regulation of Corporate Governance in Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania, I explore the exceptional character of the U.S. legal rules by focusing on the different structure of U.S. and British general incorporation laws.
While innovation is crucial for businesses to gain strategic advantage over competitors, financing innovation tends to be difficult because of uncertainty and information asymmetry associated with innovative activities (Hall and Lerner (2010)). Firms with innovative opportunities often lack capital. Stock markets can provide various benefits as a source of external capital by reducing asymmetric information, lowering the cost of capital, as well as enabling innovation in firms (Rajan (2012)). Given the increasing dependence of young firms on public equity to finance their R&D (Brown et al. (2009)), understanding the relation between innovation and a firm’s financial dependence is a vital but under-explored research question. In our paper, Financial Dependence and Innovation: The Case of Public versus Private Firms, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we fill this gap in the literature by investigating how innovation depends on the access to stock market financing and the need for external capital.
In the European Union insider trading has been regulated much more recently than in the United States, and it can be argued that, at least traditionally, it has been more aggressively and successfully enforced in the United States than in the European Union. Several different explanations have been offered for this difference in enforcement attitudes, focusing in particular on resources of regulators devoted to contrasting this practice, but also diverging cultural attitudes toward insiders. This situation has evolved, however, and the prohibition of insider trading has gained traction also in Europe. Few studies have focused on the substantive differences in the regulation of the phenomenon on the two sides of the Atlantic.
Capitalism is abundant in contradictions that result in the production of crises. During such crises capital goes through devaluations that give rise to unemployment, bankruptcies and income inequality. The ability of a nation to resist the forces of devaluation depends on the array of institutional or spatio-temporal fixes it possesses, which can buffer the effects of the crisis, switch the crisis to other nations or defer its effects to the future. Corporate governance configurations in a given social order can function as institutional or spatio-temporal fixes provided they are positioned within an appropriate institutional environment that can give rise to beneficial complementarities.
Amid the recent uptick in U.S. IPO transactions to levels not seen since the heady days of 1999 and 2000, Davis Polk’s pipeline of deals remains robust, leading us to believe that strength in the U.S. IPO market will continue in the near future. With ongoing pressure on companies that are past the IPO stage to update or modify their corporate governance practices to align with the views of some shareholders and proxy advisory groups, we thought this would be a good time to review corporate governance practices of newly public companies to see if they have also shifted in recent years. Our survey is an update of our October 2011 survey and focuses on corporate governance at the time of the IPO for the 100 largest U.S. IPOs from September 2011 through October 2013. Results are presented separately for controlled companies and non-controlled companies in recognition of their different governance profiles.