Business Roundtable, organisationen for administrerende direktører i store amerikanske virksomheder, fik en masse opmærksomhed i sidste måned med sin reviderede ” Erklæring om et selskabs formål.” Men erklæringen rejser også en række spørgsmål til hvad Roundtable-erklæringen ikke fortæller os, skriver Alfred Rappaport, der er professor emeritus ved Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, på Bloomberg.com.
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The statement does not tell us, for example, how companies should allocate resources when they face the inevitable trade-offs between the interests of different stakeholders. Incorporating the interests of stakeholders is indispensable for delivering long-term shareholder value, but it is impossible to satisfy all stakeholders simultaneously. Further, it is nearly impossible to hold CEOs accountable for their decisions in the absence of consistent and transparent guidelines for making them.
Consider the basic decision of setting the price for a product. In the short run, lower prices benefit customers (better value) and suppliers (increased demand), but could be costly for employees (less wage growth) and shareholders (lower profit). Higher prices may be good for employees and shareholders in the short run, but bad for customers and suppliers. Companies that charge too much will lose customers. Companies that charge too little will have happy customers today but may be unable to afford the investments necessary to serve the customers of tomorrow. A company puts its long-term viability at risk if any one stakeholder receives too much, or too little, for an extended period.
The challenge for management is to find the sweet spot that delivers value for both shareholders and other stakeholders. This is precisely the job of the approach to allocating resources that I introduced in the 1980s, first in the Harvard Business Review and then in my book “Creating Shareholder Value.” In a nutshell, a company creates shareholder value when the present value of the cash flows it generates over time exceeds the dollars it invests to produce those cash flows. If this is the criterion by which the Roundtable expects companies to “generate long-term value for shareholders,” then its statement would simply be an endorsement of this economically sound approach to long-term value creation.
Suppose the Roundtable statement instead intends to commit its CEOs to invest only in socially-motivated initiatives that promise long-term value creation. In that case, we can best describe the Roundtable’s shift as away from a focus on Wall Street quarterly earnings expectations toward a commitment to create long-term shareholder value through the support of all of the firm’s stakeholders. But again, the Roundtable’s CEOs don’t tell us.