Thursday, July 30, 2015

Shareholder Centric vs. Stakeholder Centric - Mylan and Teva

So let me ask you a question?  As a person or institution about to invest in common stock, what do you expect of the board and management?  I'll give you my own answer: I expect them to maximize the value of my shares.  If I didn't have that expectation, I'd never invest.

My response reveals a shareholder centric attitude - that management works first and foremost for shareholders.  While such a view is overwhelmingly favored by independent experts in  corporate governance, it is by no means without some legal, management and even some academic dissent.  The alternative view is stakeholder centric - that management must consider the well being of all of its stakeholders when making decisions.  Stakeholders other than shareholders include employees, bondholders, customers, and even the community in which a firm operates.

Stakeholder centric requirements in the United States vary with State Law and Corporate Charters.  Different countries around the world take different viewpoints with some (Ireland) being more shareholder friendly and others (The Netherlands) being more stakeholder centric.

This was borne out with Mylan's recent rejection of a $40 billion takeover by Teva.  (For interesting details, see Mylan). Mylan, formerly a Pennsylvania corporation became dutch based in February as part of an inversion - where companies merge with other companies to change the location of their headquarters.  Typically this is done for more favorable tax treatments but it also has other repercussions for shareholders - in this case enabling management to espouse a stakeholder approach to the takeover and find support under Dutch law.  What are the repercussions of a stakeholder centric view?  I'll mention three:

First, companies that could be run more efficiently under new management are protected under existing management.  It can be cost advantageous - and beneficial to society as a whole to have the company acquired.  In some cases it is beneficial to society as a whole to lay off employees and focus the company in more efficient ways.  Companies protecting employees may resist such change.

To be sure, communities can be harmed when companies close plants, lay off employees and perhaps move their location.  But community or state or country protectionism is harmful in the long run.  Subsidizing inefficient operations may prolong the inevitable, but it avoids the obvious - uncompetitive companies will ultimately die and shareholders and ultimately all stakeholders will suffer.  Protectionism and cross-subsidization will ultimately fail.  The employees,  companies and communities that thrive are those that embrace change and continually adapt - keeping themselves competitive in a global marketplace.

Second, situations that can benefit shareholders - the residual claimants in a company can be rejected.  Not only is this unfair to the owners of a company, it is again ultimately destructive.  Few investors would invest in a company that doesn't look out for their own best interests.

To be clear, stakeholders are important and they deserve every consideration by management.  Even under a shareholder centric view, the best companies are conscious of the needs and obligations of their stakeholders and fulfill these claims in consideration of the competitive marketplace.  Usually the claims of stakeholders are also defended by other means including contracts, union, and laws.  Shareholders are not provided the same contractual certainties that stakeholders enjoy.  They are the residual claimant of a firm's profits.  They are entitled to everything that is left after all other expenses and claims have been paid - if there is anything left.  Shareholders are not guaranteed a profit, but have the benefit of knowing management and the board are looking out for their best interests.

Third, boards that take a stakeholder centric approach are answering to more than one master - not an optimal situation.  It is never clear whose interests should be pursued or which direction to follow.  The typical result is stagnation.

To be sure, laws that permit boards to reject takeovers based on stakeholder theory can also insulate management from needed change.

Thus, Mylan's shareholders have lost the opportunity to sell their shares at a substantial premium.  Share prices fell 14%.

All the best,


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