Monday, 16 March 2009

Latest entry to the sacred cow abattoir...

... is the shareholder value movement. According to Jack Welch, who used to be rather keen on the concept, shareholder value is "the dumbest idea in the world", and companies should be more concerned with their customers and employees. The FT has a good leader on the topic today, arguing that making shareholder value an operational goal is self-destructive. And certainly we can all make the case that focusing undue attention on short-term results, or share prices, at the expense of the long-term health of the business and its 'human capital' (I hate that term, but...) can do a lot of damage.

But by 'we' I meant lefties, NGOs, advocates of a more stakeholder-style approach to governance. We've been making this type of argument for years, only to be told that shareholder value - very literally and narrowly interpreted - was a vital discipline for company management, to stop them peeing shareholders' money away on CSR initiatives for example. Now it turns out that even corporate leaders are less sure that this is such a great idea.

I am actually surprised at the rapid deterioration of ideas that used to be so central to the debates about companies and markets, especially when the recanting is being done by people who used to extol the ideas now being trashed. Some day soon someone on the corporate side is surely going to come out with something that I think it is a bit too radical ;-)

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