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    This Article investigates the time of COVID-19 to test the claims of supporters of stakeholder capitalism (“stakeholderism”). Such supporters advocate encouraging and relying on corporate leaders to use their discretion to serve stakeholders such as employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and the environment. The pandemic followed and was accompanied by peak support for stakeholderism and broad expressions of commitment to it from corporate leaders. Nonetheless, and even though the pandemic heightened risks to stakeholders, we document that corporate leaders negotiating deal terms failed to look after stakeholder interests. Some supporters of stakeholder capitalism argue that corporate leaders should and do give weight to stakeholder interests because delivering value to stakeholders is a major element of corporate purpose. Other supporters maintain that corporate leaders considering a sale of the company should and do seek to benefit stakeholders, because fulfilling implicit promises to do so serves shareholders’ ex ante interest in inducing stakeholder cooperation, arguably essential to corporate success. We find that the evidence is inconsistent with the claims of both views. We conduct a detailed examination of all the $1B+ acquisitions of public companies that were announced during the COVID pandemic, totaling more than 100 acquisitions with an aggregate consideration exceeding $700 billion. We find that deal terms provided large gains for the shareholders of target companies, as well as substantial private benefits for corporate leaders. However, although many transactions were viewed at the time of the deal as posing significant post-deal risks for employees, corporate leaders largely did not obtain any employee protections, including payments to employees who would be laid off post-deal. Similarly, we find that corporate leaders failed to negotiate for protections for customers, suppliers, communities, the environment, and other stakeholders. After conducting various tests to examine whether this pattern could have been driven by other factors, we conclude that it is likely to have been driven by corporate leaders’ incentives to benefit stakeholders only to the extent needed to serve shareholders’ interests. While we focus on decisions in the acquisition context, we explain why our findings also have implications for ongoing-concern decisions, and we discuss and respond to potential objections to our conclusions. Overall, our findings cast substantial doubt on the claims made by supporters of stakeholder capitalism. Those who seriously care about corporations’ external effects on shareholders should not harbor illusory hopes that corporate leaders would protect stakeholder interests on their own. Instead, they should concentrate their efforts on securing governmental interventions (such as carbon taxes and employee protection policies) that could truly protect stakeholders.

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    Unlike shareholder value maximization (SV), which merely calls on corporate leaders to maximize shareholder value, enlightened shareholder value (ESV) combines this prescription with guidance to consider stakeholder interests in the pursuit of long-term shareholder value maximization. ESV is being increasingly embraced by many actors: it was adopted by the U.K. Companies Act, is being considered for inclusion in the Restatement of Corporate Governance Law, and is broadly supported by both corporate leaders and institutional investors. This article examines whether replacing SV with ESV can be expected to benefit stakeholders or society. We begin by arguing that the appeal of ESV and the enthusiasm for it among supporters is grounded in a misperception about how frequent "win-win situations" are. In reality, corporate leaders often face significant trade-offs between shareholder and stakeholder interests, and such situations are exactly those for which the specification of corporate purpose is important. Furthermore, we explain that, under certain standard assumptions, SV and ESV are always operationally equivalent and prescribe exactly the same corporate choices. We then relax these assumptions and consider arguments that using ESV is beneficial in order to (i) counter the tendency of corporate leaders to be excessively focused on short-term effects, (ii) educate corporate leaders to give appropriate weight to stakeholder effects, (iii) provide cover to corporate leaders who wish to serve stakeholders, and/or (iv) protect capitalism from a backlash and deflect pressures to adopt stakeholder-protecting regulation. We show that each of these arguments is flawed. We conclude that, at best, replacing SV with ESV would create neither value nor harm. However, to the extent that ESV would give the false impression that corporate leaders can be relied on to protect stakeholders, the switch from SV to ESV would be detrimental for stakeholders and could impede or delay reforms that could truly protect them. This paper is part of a larger research project of the Harvard Law School Corporate Governance on stakeholder capitalism and stakeholderism. Other parts of this research project include The Illusory Promise of Stakeholder Governance by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita, Will Corporations Deliver Value to All Stakeholders? by by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita, For Whom Corporate Leaders Bargain by Lucian A. Bebchuk, Kobi Kastiel, and Roberto Tallarita, Stakeholder Capitalism in the Time of COVID by Lucian A. Bebchuk, Kobi Kastiel, and Roberto Tallarita, and The Perils and Questionable Promise of ESG-Based Compensation by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita.

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    Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, corporate leaders pledged to look after all stakeholders, not just deliver value to shareholders. Did they live up to these promises? A new empirical study examines more than 100 major public company acquisitions that were announced during the pandemic and shows that corporate leaders failed to look after stakeholder interests.

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    In this Article, we use hand-collected data to shed light on a troubling development in bankruptcy practice. We show that distressed companies, especially those controlled by private-equity sponsors, often now prepare for a Chapter 11 filing by appointing bankruptcy experts to their boards of directors and giving them the board’s power to make key bankruptcy decisions. These directors often seek to wrest control of self-dealing claims against shareholders from creditors. We call these directors “bankruptcy directors” and conduct the first empirical study of their rise as key players in corporate bankruptcies. While these directors claim to be neutral experts that act to maximize value for the benefit of creditors, we argue that they suffer from a structural bias because they often receive their appointment from a small community of repeat private-equity sponsors and law firms. Securing future directorships may require pleasing this clientele at the expense of creditors. Indeed, we find that unsecured creditors recover on average 20% less when the company appoints a bankruptcy director. While other explanations are possible, this finding shifts the burden of proof to those claiming that bankruptcy directors improve the governance of distressed companies. Our policy recommendation, however, does not require a resolution of this controversy: we propose that the court regard bankruptcy directors as independent only if an overwhelming majority of creditors whose claims are at risk supports their appointment, making them accountable to all sides of the bankruptcy dispute.

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    At the center of a fundamental and heated debate about the purpose that corporations should serve, an increasingly influential “stakeholderism” view advocates giving corporate leaders the discretionary power to serve all stakeholders and not just shareholders. Supporters of stakeholderism argue that its application would address growing concerns about the impact of corporations on society and the environment. By contrast, critics of stakeholderism object that corporate leaders should not be expected to use expanded discretion to benefit stakeholders. This Article presents novel empirical evidence that can contribute to resolving this key debate. During the hostile takeover era of the 1980s, stakeholderist arguments contributed to the adoption of constituency statutes by more than thirty states. These statutes authorize corporate leaders to give weight to stakeholder interests when considering a sale of their company. We study how corporate leaders in fact used the power awarded to them by these statutes in the past two decades. In particular, using hand-collected data, we analyze in detail more than a hundred cases governed by constituency statutes in which corporate leaders negotiated a sale of their company to a private equity buyer. We find that corporate leaders have used their bargaining power to obtain gains for shareholders, executives, and directors. However, despite the risks that private equity acquisitions posed for stakeholders, corporate leaders made very little use of their power to negotiate for stakeholder protections. Furthermore, in cases in which some protections were included, they were practically inconsequential or cosmetic. We conclude that constituency statutes failed to deliver the benefits to stakeholders that they were supposed to produce. Beyond their implications for the long-standing debate on constituency statutes, our findings also provide important lessons for the ongoing debate on stakeholderism. At a minimum, stakeholderists should identify the causes for the failure of constituency statutes and examine whether the adoption of their proposals would not suffer a similar fate. After examining several possible explanations for the failure of constituency statutes, we conclude that the most plausible explanation is that corporate leaders have incentives not to protect stakeholders beyond what would serve shareholder value. The evidence we present indicates that stakeholderism should be expected to fail to deliver, as have constituency statutes. Stakeholderism therefore should not be supported, even by those who deeply care about stakeholders. This paper is part of a larger research project of the Harvard Law School Corporate Governance on stakeholder capitalism and stakeholderism. Another part of this research project is The Illusory Promise of Stakeholder Governance by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita.

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    This Article contributes to the long-standing and heated debate over dual-class companies by placing a spotlight on a significant set of dual-class companies whose structures raise especially severe governance concerns: those with controllers holding a small minority of the company’s equity capital. Such small-minority controllers dominate some of the country’s largest companies, and we show that their numbers can be expected to grow. We begin by analyzing the perils of small-minority controllers, explaining how they generate considerable governance costs and risks and showing how these costs can be expected to escalate as the controller’s stake decreases. We then identify the mechanisms that enable such controllers to retain their power despite holding a small or even a tiny minority of the company’s equity capital. Based on a hand-collected analysis of governance documents of these companies, we present novel empirical evidence on the current incidence and potential growth of small-minority and tiny-minority controllers. Among other things, we show that governance arrangements at a substantial majority of dual-class companies enable the controller to reduce his equity stake to below 10% and still retain a lock on control, and a sizable fraction of such companies enable retaining control with less than a 5% stake. Finally, we examine the considerable policy implications that arise from recognizing the perils of small-minority controllers. We first discuss disclosures necessary to make transparent to investors the extent to which arrangements enable controllers to reduce their stake without forgoing control. We then identify and examine measures that public officials or institutional investors could take to ensure that controllers maintain a minimum fraction of equity capital; to provide public investors with extra protections in the presence of small-minority controllers; or to screen midstream changes that can introduce or increase the costs of small-minority controllers.

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    This academic presentation, based on our joint work on dual-class structures, was delivered by Lucian Bebchuk as his keynote address to the December 2018 ECGI-BIU conference on differential voting structures. The presentation focuses on the lifecycle theory of dual-class structure introduced in Bebchuk and Kastiel, The Untenable Case for Perpetual Dual-Class Stock, 2017 (https://ssrn.com/abstract=2954630). The presentation begins with discussion of precursor works to, and the motivation for developing, the lifecycle theory. The presentation then proceeds to describing the elements of the theory. In particular, it explains the reasons for expecting the efficiency benefits of dual-class structures to decline over time; for the efficiency costs to increase over time; and for controllers to choose to retain a dual-class structure even when it ceases to be efficient. The presentation also discusses a number of cases that vividly illustrate arguments advanced by the lifecycle theory. Among cases discussed are dual-class companies Viacom, CBS, and Facebook, as well as single-class companies Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo!. We also explain that time-based sunsets can address the identified problems, and we discuss the design of, and objections to, such sunsets. Finally, we discuss the influence that our lifecycle theory has had on subsequent policy discourse and on empirical work testing the theory’s predictions. The presentation concludes that the lifecycle theory has solid theoretical foundations and is confirmed by recent empirical testing. We hope that the lifecycle theory that we introduced will continue to prove useful for researchers and policymakers and to contribute to the adoption of dual-class sunsets.

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    Dell Technologies Inc. (“Dell”) is planning a “backdoor-IPO” transaction that would bring it back to the public market with a multiclass structure. Dell’s return to the public market is expected to make it one of the ten largest multiclass companies with an aggregate capitalization substantially exceeding $50 billion. Building on our earlier work on multiclass structures, this Article identifies and analyzes three governance risks and costs that Dell’s IPO structure would create for public investors holding Dell’s low-voting stock: • Lifetime entrenchment of Michael Dell (“MD”): He would be able to retain control indefinitely even after he ceases to be a fitting leader and even if he becomes disabled or incompetent. • Small-minority controller: Although MD would initially hold a majority of the equity capital, Dell’s structure would enable him to unload most of his shares and still retain control even with a small equity stake, and his status as small-minority controller would be expected to produce substantial governance risks and costs. • Midstream changes: Dell’s governance structure would enable MD to adopt subsequent changes in governance arrangements, without any support from public investors, which would increase Dell's governance risks beyond the risks associated with a small-minority controller. Each of these governance risks can be expected to both (i) decrease the expected future value of Dell by increasing agency costs and distortions, and (ii) increase the discount to a per-share value of Dell at which low-voting shares of Dell can be expected to trade. Both types of effects would operate to reduce the value at which the low-voting shares of public investors would trade and therefore should be taken into account in assessing the risks to such investors posed by Dell’s planned structure.

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    The desirability of a dual-class structure, which enables founders of public companies to retain a lock on control while holding a minority of the company's equity capital, has long been the subject of a heated debate. This debate has focused on whether dual-class stock is an efficient capital structure that should be permitted at the time of initial public offering ("IPO"). By contrast, we focus on how the passage of time since the IPO can be expected to affect the efficiency of such a structure. Our analysis demonstrates that the potential advantages of dual-class structures (such as those resulting from founders' superior leadership skills) tend to recede, and the potential costs tend to rise, as time passes from the IPO. Furthermore, we show that controllers have perverse incentives to retain dual-class structures even when those structures become inefficient over time. Accordingly, even those who believe that dual-class structures are in many cases efficient at the time of the IPO should recognize the substantial risk that their efficiency may decline and disappear over time. Going forward, the debate should focus on the permissibility of finite-term dual-class structures -- that is, structures that sunset after a fixed period of time (such as ten or fifteen years) unless their extension is approved by shareholders unaffiliated with the controller. We provide a framework for designing dual-class sunsets and address potential objections to their use. We also discuss the significant implications of our analysis for public officials, institutional investors, and researchers.

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    The desirability of a dual-class structure, which enables founders of public companies to retain a lock on control while holding a minority of the company’s equity capital, has long been the subject of a heated debate. This debate has focused on whether dual-class stock is an efficient capital structure that should be permitted at the time of initial public offering (“IPO”). By contrast, we focus on how the passage of time since the IPO can be expected to affect the efficiency of such a structure. Our analysis demonstrates that the potential advantages of dual-class structures (such as those resulting from founders’ superior leadership skills) tend to recede, and the potential costs tend to rise, as time passes from the IPO. Furthermore, we show that controllers have perverse incentives to retain dual-class structures even when those structures become inefficient over time. Accordingly, even those who believe that dual-class structures are in many cases efficient at the time of the IPO should recognize the substantial risk that their efficiency may decline and disappear over time. Going forward, the debate should focus on the permissibility of finite-term dual-class structures — that is, structures that sunset after a fixed period of time (such as ten or fifteen years) unless their extension is approved by shareholders unaffiliated with the controller. We provide a framework for designing dual-class sunsets and address potential objections to their use. We also discuss the significant implications of our analysis for public officials, institutional investors, and researchers.