Je vous propose la lecture d’un essai sur les principaux courants de pensées en gouvernance des sociétés au cours des soixante dernières années. Ce document, écrit par Douglas M. Branson de l’École de Droit de l’Université de Pittsburgh et paru dans le Social Science Research Network (SSRN), représente certainement l’un des points de vue les plus articulés sur la recherche d’une explication valable à la thèse de Berle et Means concernant la séparation de la propriété de celle du contrôle des firmes.
Bien que l’essai soit rédigé dans un style assez provocateur, il est fascinant à lire, pour peu que l’on soit familier avec la langue de Shakespeare et que l’on s’accommode des accents grinçants de l’auteur.
Je recommande fortement la lecture de ce texte à tout étudiant de la gouvernance; c’est un must pour comprendre le champ d’étude ! J’ai obtenu l’autorisation de Douglas Branson pour la traduction de ce document.
Voici les points saillants de l’essai de Branson (en anglais, à ce stade-ci) :
- In 1932, Adolph Berle and Gardiner Means documented the widespread dispersion of corporate shareholders, and the atomization of corporate shareholdings. They noted that in the then modern corporation “ownership has become depersonalized”. The result was that a new form of property had come into being. The person who owned the property no longer controlled it, as the farmer who owned the horse had to feed it, teach it pull the plow, and bury it when it died. “In the corporate system, the ‘owner’ of industrial wealth is left with a mere symbol of ownership while the power, the responsibility and the substance which have been an integral part of ownership in the past are being transferred to a separate group in whose hands lies control.” This was the fabled “separation of ownership from control.”
- In one of the best known of his books (1956), American Capitalism : The Concept of Countervailing Power, Galbraith rhetorically posed a number of solutions to the problem of unchecked corporate power, including the separation of ownership from control, although he generally did not use the Berle & Means terminology. He did not propose nationalization, as the British had done. Instead, he theorized that, indeed, corporations had grown too large, their shareholders no longer controlled them, competitive market forces no longer constrained them, and the potential for abuse was great. That potential would be checked however by the growth of countervailing power inherent in the growth of labor unions, consumer groups and government agencies. Galbraith pointed to the growth and influence of consumer cooperatives which enjoyed great growth in Scandinavia, at least in the post-War years. Essentially, those newly empowered groups would supply the controls historically owners had provided.
- The Corporate Social Responsibility Movement of the Early 70s called for government intervention, as the nationalization movement had, but on discrete fronts rather than on a plenary basis. One scholar urged replacement of the one share one vote standard prevalent in U.S. corporate law with a graduated scale so that with acquisition of addition shares owners, particularly institutional owners who were perceived to be excessively mercenary would receive less and less voting power. A “power to the people” mandate would augment the power of individual owners, who generally held fewer shares but were thought to be more socially conscious. Calls for required installation of public interest directors on publicly held corporations’ boards sometimes included sub-recommendations that legislation also require that the publicly minded be equipped with offices and staffs, at corporate expense. Others proposed requirements for social auditing and for mandatory disclosure of social audit results.
- Toward the second half of the 1970s, The Corporate Accountability Research Group, created and promoted by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, gathered evidence, marshaled arguments, and advocated the other, more drastic reform of the 1970s, federal chartering of large corporations. In certain of its incarnations, chartering advocates expanded the proposal’s reach, from the 500 largest enterprises to the 2000 largest U.S. corporations by revenue, to any corporation which did a significant amount of business with the federal government, and to certain categories of companies whose businesses were thought to be infected with the public interest. Whatever the universe of such corporations, these companies would have to re-register with a new federal entity, the Federal Chartering Agency. In addition, these corporations would no longer have perpetual existence as they had under state law. Instead the new federal statute corporations would have only limited life charters, good for, say, 20 or 25 years limited.
- A Seismic Shift: the Swift Rise of Law and Economics Jurisprudence of the 1980s. Perhaps only once in a lifetime will one see as pronounced a jurisprudential shift as that from the corporate social responsibility and federal chartering movements to the minimalist, non-invasive take of economics on corporate law and corporate governance. Law and economics pointed to a minimalist corporate jurisprudence the core theory of which was that market forces regulated corporate and managerial behavior much better than regulation, laws, or lawsuits ever could.
- An Antidote: The Good Governance Movement. The American Law Institute (ALI) Corporate Governance Project of 1994 constituted an implicit rejection of, and an antidote to, the law and economics movement. Succinctly, the ALI evinced a strong belief that, yes, corporate law does have a role to play. That belief, sometimes characterized as the constitutionalist approach, in contrast to the contractarian approach, underline and buttresses the entire ALI Project. The ALI crafted recommended rules for corporate objectives; structure, including board composition and committee structure; duty of “fair dealing” (duty of loyalty); duty of care and the business judgment rule; roles of directors and shareholders in control transactions and tender offers; and shareholders’remedies, including the derivative action and appraisal remedies.
- The Early 1990s: The Emphasis on Institutional Investor Activism. Traditionally, though, institutional investors followed the “Wall Street Rule,” meaning that if they developed an aversion to a portfolio company’s performance or governance, they simply sold the stock rather than becoming embroiled in a corporate governance issue. Institutions voted with their feet. That is, they did so until portfolio positions had become so large that if an institutional investor liquidated even a sizeable portion of the portfolio’s stake in a company, the institution’s sales alone would push down the stock’s price. Thus, in the modern era, institutional investors are faced with more of a buy and hold strategy than they otherwise might prefer. So was born an opening to push for yet another proposed reform which would fill the vacuum created by the separation of ownership from control, namely, institutional activism, or “agents watching agents.” The case for institutional oversight was that because “product, capital, labor, and corporate control constraints on managerial discretion are imperfect, corporate managers need to be watched by someone, and the institutions are the only institutions available.”
- The Shift to an Emphasis on “Global” Convergence in Corporate Governance. In the second half of the 90s decade, the governance prognosticators did an abrupt about face, abandoning talk about the prospect of institutional shareholder activism in favor of pontification on the prospect of global convergence. The thesis went something like this. Through the process of globalization the world had become a much smaller place. Through use of media such as email and the Internet, governance advocates in Singapore now knew, or knew how to find out, what was happening on the corporate governance front in the United Kingdom and the United States. According to U.S. academics, the global model of good governance would replicate the U.S. model of corporate governance, of course…
- Shift of the Emphasis to the Gatekeepers in 2001. Whatever the U.S. system was, it had a great many defects and it did not do the job for which it had been devised. In addition, of course, no sign existed that the convergence predicted had taken place. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) heads off in varying directions but a careful reader can discern that one of the legislation’s dominant themes is strengthening gatekeepers as a means of enhancing watchfulness over corporations. Thus, for example, SOX requires public corporations to have audit committees composed of independent directors, one or more of whom must be financial experts. Section 307 imposes whistleblowing duties upon attorneys who uncover wrongdoing. To enhance their independence, SOX requires that accountings firms which audit public companies no longer may provide a long list of lucrative consulting services for audit clients.
- Emphasis on Independent Directors and Independent Board Committees. The movement for independent directors gathered steam with the 2002 SOX legislation, which required that SEC reporting companies, that is, most publicly held corporations, have an audit committee comprised exclusively of independent directors. The New York Stock Exchange followed by amendments to its Listing Manual that listed public companies have a majority of directors who are independent, making the 1994 ALI recommendation of good practice into a hard and fast requirement. In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act jumped on the independent director bandwagon with its requirement that exchanges refuse to list the shares of corporations who disclose they do not have a compensation committee comprised of independent directors. Observers who have written about the issue assume that the Dodd-Frank disclosure requirement is a de facto requirement that corporations have compensation committees, albeit a backhanded sort of requirement.
L’extrait que je vous présente vous donnera une bonne idée de la teneur des propos de Branson. Vous pouvez télécharger le document de 25 pages.
Vos commentaires sont grandement appréciés. Bonne lecture.
This article is a retrospective of corporate governance reforms various academics have authored over the last 60 years or so, by the author of the first U.S. legal treatise on the subject of corporate governance (Douglas M. Branson, Corporate Governance (1993)). The first finding is as to periodicity: even casual inspection reveals that the reformer group which controls the « reform » agenda has authored a new and different reform proposal every five years, with clock-like regularity. The second finding flows from the first, namely, that not one of these proposals has made so much as a dent in the problems that are perceived to exist. The third inquiry is to ask why this is so? Possible answers include the top down nature of scholarship and reform proposals in corporate governance; the closed nature of the group controlling the agenda, confined as it is to 8-10 academics at elite institutions; the lack of any attempt rethink or redefine the challenges which governance may or may not face; and the continued adhesion to the problem as the separation of ownership from control as Adolph Berle and Gardiner Means perceived it more than 80 years ago.
* En reprise
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