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Value Maximisation, Stakeholder Theory, and the Corporate Objective Function

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  • Michael Jensen

Abstract

This paper examines the role of the corporate objective function in corporate productivity and efficiency, social welfare, and the accountability of managers and directors. I argue that since it is logically impossible to maximise in more than one dimension, purposeful behaviour requires a single valued objective function. Two hundred years of work in economics and finance implies that in the absence of externalities and monopoly (and when all goods are priced), social welfare is maximised when each firm in an economy maximises its total market value. Total value is not just the value of the equity but also includes the market values of all other financial claims including debt, preferred stock, and warrants. In sharp contrast stakeholder theory, argues that managers should make decisions so as to take account of the interests of all stakeholders in a firm (including not only financial claimants, but also employees, customers, communities, governmental officials and under some interpretations the environment, terrorists and blackmailers). Because the advocates of stakeholder theory refuse to specify how to make the necessary tradeoffs among these competing interests they leave managers with a theory that makes it impossible for them to make purposeful decisions. With no way to keep score, stakeholder theory makes managers unaccountable for their actions. It seems clear that such a theory can be attractive to the self interest of managers and directors. Creating value takes more than acceptance of value maximisation as the organisational objective. As a statement of corporate purpose or vision, value maximisation is not likely to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of employees and managers to create value. Seen in this light, change in long‐term market value becomes the scorecard that managers, directors, and others use to assess success or failure of the organisation. The choice of value maximisation as the corporate scorecard must be complemented by a corporate vision, strategy and tactics that unite participants in the organisation in its struggle for dominance in its competitive arena. A firm cannot maximise value if it ignores the interest of its stakeholders. I offer a proposal to clarify what I believe is the proper relation between value maximisation and stakeholder theory. I call it enlightened value maximisation, and it is identical to what I call enlightened stakeholder theory. Enlightened value maximisation utilises much of the structure of stakeholder theory but accepts maximisation of the long run value of the firm as the criterion for making the requisite tradeoffs among its stakeholders. Managers, directors, strategists, and management scientists can benefit from enlightened stakeholder theory. Enlightened stakeholder theory specifies long‐term value maximisation or value seeking as the firm’s objective and therefore solves the problems that arise from the multiple objectives that accompany traditional stakeholder theory. I also discuss the Balanced Scorecard, the managerial equivalent of stakeholder theory. The same conclusions hold. Balanced Scorecard theory is flawed because it presents managers with a scorecard which gives no score—that is, no single‐valued measure of how they have performed. Thus managers evaluated with such a system (which can easily have two dozen measures and provides no information on the tradeoffs between them) have no way to make principled or purposeful decisions. The solution is to define a true (single dimensional) score for measuring performance for the organisation or division (and it must be consistent with the organisation’s strategy). Given this we then encourage managers to use measures of the drivers of performance to understand better how to maximise their score. And as long as their score is defined properly, (and for lower levels in the organisation it will generally not be value) this will enhance their contribution to the firm.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Jensen, 2001. "Value Maximisation, Stakeholder Theory, and the Corporate Objective Function," European Financial Management, European Financial Management Association, vol. 7(3), pages 297-317, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:eufman:v:7:y:2001:i:3:p:297-317
    DOI: 10.1111/1468-036X.00158
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