Saturday, April 4, 2009


Today's Profile in Contradiction comes to you from the foremost guru of management, Peter Drucker. Since I'm going to be joining the ranks of the management academe, I felt I should educate myself as to the musings of the great Drucker. And so, perusing his Concept of the Corporation, I came across this excerpt:
Though we have largely abandoned it in legal and political practice, the old crude fiction still lingers on which regards the corporation as nothing but the sum of the property rights of the individual shareholders. Thus, for instance, the president of a company will report to the shareholders on the state of "their" company. In this conventional formula the corporation is seen as transitory and as existing only by virtue of a legal fiction while the shareholder is regarded as permanent and actual. In the social reality of today, however, shareholders are but one of several groups of people who stand in a special relationship to the corporation. The corporation is permanent, the shareholder is transitory. It might even be said without much exaggeration that the corporation is really socially and politically a priori whereas the shareholder's position is derivative and exists only in contemplation of law.
He doesn't ever really say what makes the shareholder view "crude," but then who ever does? This "stakeholder" theory of business is old news today, and is typically paid lip service in any business ethics context. Thankfully, most of business academia is still focused on maximizing shareholder value. Which is good, because how exactly does a business exist without owners? Providing capital and getting return on investment is an indispensable element of capitalism.

Now, Drucker's not perfect, but he understands a few basic points. For one thing, he isn't exactly a stakeholder theorist in the way many closet Marxists are. He's more of a corporation theorist, basically holding that the corporation is an end in itself and all effort should be directed toward the betterment of the firm. (Incidentally, one wonders what this means if not maximizing shareholder value.) So, I feel I should present a more present quote of his from the preceding page:
Survival as an organization is the first law of the corporation as of any institution; and ability to performs its own purpose, to produce goods with the maximum economic return, is its first yardstick of achievement.
Sounds like maximizing shareholder value to me, but hell, what do I know?

1 comment:

  1. Careful now, these people don't want to make too much sense.