by Claudine Gartenberg and - George Serafeim - August 20, 2019
On August 19 the Business Roundtable issued an open letter titled “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.”
One of the preeminent business lobbies in the United States, the Business Roundtable (BR) includes the CEOs of leading U.S. companies from Apple to Walmart. Sandwiched between the spare title and 181 signatures was a one-page declaration that ended as follows: “Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”
On its own, this sentence is indistinguishable from the anodyne commentary that fills the annual reports of many Business Roundtable members. For those actively following this topic, however, it represents a very public rebuke of the Milton Friedman worldview that guides business decisions behind closed doors. Friedman, the renowned University of Chicago economics professor, penned a famous 1970 New York Times essay, “The Social Responsibility Of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” that helped launch a half century of “shareholder capitalism.” In this worldview, the business of business is business, and the sole focus of the CEO is to maximize the profits of that business.
The new statement by the Business Roundtable explicitly counters this view. Corporations are, according to the statement, accountable to five constituencies, of which shareholders are only one (customers, employees, suppliers, and communities are the others). In that sense it is a classic articulation of “stakeholder capitalism,” prevalent in Europe today and in the U.S. during the immediate postwar period. So while the statement itself is not notable, that it has the backing of CEOs representing nearly 30% of total U.S. market capitalization is.
The primary criticism of stakeholder capitalism is that any purpose other than shareholder profits results in a lack of focus and, ultimately, corruption. This critique logically follows from the view that CEOs can be self-serving arbiters of social value and would, if given the opportunity, divert resources to their own enrichment under the guise of “purpose.” In his 2019 letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, disagreed with this assumption, stating in bold lettering: “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose — in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.”
This debate — whether purpose and profits work together or are fundamentally at odds with each other — can be informed by empirical research. And the findings of our ongoing research initiative on corporate purpose support the views of Larry Fink and now of the Business Roundtable: Purpose and profit tend to go together. Using more than 1.5 million employee-level observations across thousands of companies, we quantified purpose as the aggregate sense of meaning and impact felt by employees of a corporation. If the company has a strong corporate purpose, our research shows, its employees will feel greater meaning and impact in their jobs. This view reflects the opening sentence in the BR report: “Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity” (emphasis ours).
In our data we find that companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5%–7% per year, on par with companies with best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities. They also grow faster and have higher profitability. However, the link between purpose and profitability is present only if senior management has been successful in diffusing that sense of purpose further down in the organization, especially in middle management, and in providing strategic clarity throughout the organization on how to achieve that purpose.
Our work also could help explain the obstacles companies face in moving away from such an exclusively shareholder-focused perspective. A company’s listing status and investor base is one such hurdle. We find lower levels of purpose in publicly listed companies, relative to private firms. Importantly, this pattern is driven by public companies with concentrated or activist shareholders. One may think we are picking up on a reverse effect, that activist shareholders choose underperforming companies that also have lower purpose, but this is not what is going on in our data. Instead, activist shareholders acquire large stakes of public companies, and then purpose subsequently declines among hourly and middle-ranked employees. To us this indicates the importance of firms’ strategically managing their shareholder bases and aligning their long-term strategies with the types of investors that would be supportive of it.
Incentives are another factor. We find that purpose declines when there is a larger gap between the pay of CEOs and median workers and between the performance-based pay of middle- and lower-level workers. Both can result from employees’ feeling that value creation is allocated unfairly within the firm.
Leadership is yet another one. We find that firms where the CEOs were promoted internally have a higher sense of purpose. Rising through the ranks seems to be an important variable when considering preserving the purpose of the organization. Finally, strategic choices, such as mergers and acquisitions, are also an important factor. We find that M&A tends to cause a decrease in sense of purpose, consistent with the idea that most M&A activity does not include enough due diligence on how it will affect employees and firm culture.
All these patterns are important to the discussion of the role of purpose in corporations and society. We live in an age where production is increasingly concentrated among large companies and large capital providers. With this greater market power comes expectations of a larger social role, whether that role is the choice of the CEOs or not.
What the impact of this one letter from the Business Roundtable will be is hard to know. On the one hand, it might be a cynical response to election-year rhetoric and policy proposals that worry the member companies of this powerful lobbying group. On the other hand, it may reflect a deeper response of national leaders to the falling social mobility, toxic polarization, and reduced trust in traditional institutions that we are grappling with today. Societal shifts seldom come suddenly. They often manifest as the gradual erosion of support for one worldview and the rise in support of another. And with this letter, we may be seeing incremental steps in that direction.
The authors would like to acknowledge their partnership with the Great Places to Work Institute on this research initiative, and specifically the support of Ed Frauenheim and Marcus Erb at the Institute.
Claudine Gartenberg is an Assistant Professor of Management at Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania. She has consulted to Fortune 500 companies in energy, retail and banking on change management and technology. Follow her on twitter @cmgartenberg.
George Serafeim is the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a cofounder of KKS Advisors, and the chairman of Greece’s National Corporate Governance Council. He is an internationally recognized authority on ESG investing. Follow him on Twitter @georgeserafeim.
This article is about SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY Follow This Topic
NORDIC NEWS - av Nils Petter Tanderøi - 1. september 2020
Nordens Nyheter avdekker idag uenighet mellom NBIM`s viktigste samarbeidspartner , det amerikanske investeringsselskapet BlackRock, om veien videre i synet på aksjonærene i selskapene det investeres i fremover . NBIM stemte mot «Report on the Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation» 21. mai i år, samtidig som Black Rock inngikk en «Roundtable agreement» med en gruppe globale selskaper. Black Rock og Oljefondet ser ifølge vedlegget i denne artikkelen, ulikt på «Report on the Statement of the Corporation». Uenigheten omhandler hensynet til alle aksjonærene.
Two Bulls locking Horns?
The bottom line is for the people to regain their original, moral principles, which have intentionally been watered out over the past generations by our press, TV, and other media owned by the Illuminati/Bilderberger Group, corrupting our morals by making misbehaviour acceptable to our society. Only in this way shall we conquer this oncoming wave of evil.
All articles contained in Human-Synthesis are freely available and collected from the Internet. The interpretation of the contents is left to the readers and do not necessarily represent the views of the Administrator. Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Human-Synthesis will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article. Human-Synthesis grants permission to cross-post original Human-Synthesis articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified.
The source and the author's copyright must be displayed. For publication of Human-Synthesis articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites. Human-Synthesis contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.