Columbia Law School Symposium on Corporate Governance “Counter-Narratives”: On Corporate Purpose and Shareholder Value(s) III

Photo: SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson

Session III: Securities Law in Twenty-First Century America:
A Conversation with SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson

SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson comments on three major issues the Commission has been investigating: (1) the concentration of ownership among American stock exchanges; (2) the extent of common ownership of, and potential for undue influence over, U.S. corporations by large institutional shareholders; and (3) the role of corporate boards in promoting and protecting stakeholder interests as well as shareholder interests.

In the first of the three areas, Jackson argues that the ownership of 12 of the 13 U.S. stock exchanges by just three financial conglomerates suggests a competitiveness problem—one that, despite the significant reductions in trading costs during the last 15 years, should receive further investigation. To the concerns raised by the common and increasingly concentrated ownership of U.S. public companies by institutional shareholders, the Commissioner’s main response is to note that whatever culpability corporate America is forced to assume for our large and growing environmental and social problems must be shared with the largest U.S. institutional shareholders, whose collective resources and influence confer a responsibility to help guide companies when responding to such problems. Finally, on the issue of stakeholder theory and ESG, Jackson insists that asking corporate boards to put the interests of all stakeholders on a par with their shareholders’ when making strategic business decisions would be a mistake. Besides creating a major accountability problem, the adoption of stakeholder theory in place of “the clear, single-minded objective function of increasing long-run shareholder value” would deprive boards of their principal guide “when making the difficult tradeoffs among stakeholders that effective oversight and management of public companies require.”