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The Rise and Fall of “Shareholder Supremacy”: A Business History Perspective  

Steven Toms

With shareholder supremacy, the board is accountable to all shareholders, including minorities, enforced by restrictions on managerial opportunism. The market for corporate control and scrutiny of diversified institutional investors provide the mechanisms for disciplining managers to act in shareholders’ interests. Along with legal protections for minorities, these mechanisms ensure the supremacy of shareholders as a stakeholder group. Shareholder value maximization, as a theory and a set of financial techniques, provides quantitative outputs that drive managerial behavior. From a historical perspective, shareholder supremacy is a late twentieth-century phenomenon according to these definitional characteristics. History also reveals that shareholders have exercised dominance in other ways and that their power as a stakeholder group has waxed and waned over time as the governance role of investors has changed. Shareholder supremacy can be asserted in a number of ways. Shareholder activism and transparent structures of accountability are sufficient conditions in some circumstances. The suitability of this model is dependent on market structure and favored where there are local monopolies or businesses that have a narrow scope of activities. Alternatively, shareholders as active institutional investors can play a dominant role utilizing the market for corporate control. Collaboration with board insiders committed to expansion by takeover and merger is crucial to the success of this model. Finally, and most recently, the complementary presence of the market for corporate control, diversified institutional investors, and minority protection underpins present-day shareholder supremacy. In this model, the use of a common valuation technique is crucial. History reveals differing routes to shareholder supremacy, which have followed from developments in the institutional structure of regulation and changes in shareholding patterns.

Article

Business Groups as an Organizational Model  

Asli M. Colpan and Alvaro Cuervo-Cazurra

Business groups are an organizational model in which collections of legally independent firms bounded together with formal and informal ties use collaborative arrangements to enhance their collective welfare. Among the different varieties of business groups, diversified business groups that exhibit unrelated product diversification under central control, and often containing chains of publicly listed firms, are the most-studied type in the management literature. The reason is that they challenge two traditionally held assumptions. First, broad and especially unrelated diversification have a negative impact on performance, and thus business groups should focus on a narrow scope of related businesses. Second, such diversification is only sustainable in emerging economies in which market and institutional underdevelopment are more common and where business groups can provide a solution to such imperfections. However, a historical perspective indicates that diversified business groups are a long-lived organizational model and are present in emerging and advanced economies, illustrating how business groups adapt to different market and institutional settings. This evolutionary approach also highlights the importance of going beyond diversification when studying business groups and redirecting studies toward the evolution of the group structure, their internal administrative mechanisms, and other strategic actions beyond diversification such as internationalization.