Monday, 16 March 2009

Are these the guys we work for ?

We all work for our shareholders. That's what capitalism is all about, isn't it ? All employees are there to maximise returns for the shareholders. If we all work for them, shouldn't we get to know better who these guys are ?

Amongst all stakeholders, the shareholder is the guy we know the least about. If you are an average employee, you'll get to meet customers once in a while. You'll get to meet consumers fairly often. You'll meet employees every day. Ditto, with the community around you. But the shareholder ? Probably never. The Investor Relations guy meets them often and the Chairman and the CFO once every quarter or so, but the others ? Maybe never?

You are an employee in a fairly large global company that's listed in a couple of places in the world. Lets say widely held. Its very probable that the company last issued share capital many decades ago and the original investors of the company are long gone. So the shares are held by all sorts of individuals and institutions who have given nothing directly to the company.

So who are these shareholders. There are all types of them. Lets see some of the usual suspects.

There are the sovereign wealth funds. Rich countries investing their surpluses in companies. Maybe the sovereign wealth funds of Dubai or Singapore. Do you want to work for these governments ? Especially when they create such incredible trouble in granting you a visa even to visit them for business !

Then there are the pension funds. These seem to be good guys - after all they may be paying your pension too when you retire. Along with them come mutual funds,insurance companies, banks, funds, etc etc. These are the aggregators of private savings. Its difficult to love this lot. Just consider the mess they have created globally and we can rest our case. They care two hoots about your company, unless you make them tons of money. They invest in all your competitors as well. They don't care much for the products you make - they might very well be consuming the products of your competitor. They cheer when lots of employees are sacked. They put enormous pressure on you every quarter. They are fair weather friends - they abandon you in a second when the slightest ill wind blows. Do you want to work for them ?

Then there are the speculators. They don't hold your shares really - they come in and out, often many times a day. They absolutely don't care who you are - you might as well be the fly on the window. The only thing they are doing is betting whether you'll open your left eye or the right eye. Do you want to work for them ?

Then there are the old geezers. They have held your shares for 50 years and very probably their fathers were direct investors in your company. Half of them have lost their shares , or whatever slip of paper needed to claim their ownership. The other half have meticulously kept their certificates and come diligently to every AGM - to grab the eats that you lay out and to make a boring, irrelevant, soporific speech under the guise of asking a question. Do you want to work for them ?

Sometimes your shareholder might be a corporate raider. He's wanting to steal your company, break it up into bits , sell them off, get fabulously rich and screw you. Surely you can't want to work for them ?

Or you might be working for yourself. After all employees are shareholders too. But wait. You hold a few measly shares that you invested your hard earned savings in. But the %$@#s who sit on the top floor, rewarded themselves with options, grants and the like and they are the employees who hold the most shares. You already work your backside off for those insensitive %$#@s. You don't want to work "more" for them surely !

Oh yes - I know all the economics. You work for whoever gives you the capital and its none of your business as to whether he is a likeable fellow or not. All very true. The world cannot run if this is not so.

But then, surely something is not exactly right. You can't give your whole life (and most of us do indeed give our whole life to the companies we work for), to make some faceless lot, that you have never seen, and don't very much like, rich. Did somebody say capitalism doesn't have a heart ? Maybe that's why, despite all the good it has done to the world, its not liked very much.


Anonymous said...

Nice, the holy grail of shareholder protection (and the various paraphernelia that goes with it such as SOX/Audits) has been viewed from a different perspective. But, you might not mind working for a bunch of corporate crooks who are possibly held in some degree of check by way of some fear of the mythical beast called the shareholder? I do not have to name the infamous corporate looters of the past (and the present) who managed to hoodwink a hell a lot of 'shareholders', yet this is not necessarily the majority of companies. There is still some fig leaf in the name of shareholder activism that still protects corporate shame. While I may not fully agree to branding every type of shareholder as categorized in your blog, I still think this is a very very different point of view that you have presented so lucidly. Nice blog - every view has more than one point of reference.
Cheers - Kiwibloke

Ramesh said...

Nice comment; thanks kiwi. Yes, as long as any mechanism, good or bad, keeps corporates on the straight line, I suppose that's fine. Still, if "heart" is an important part of our business life, its difficult to get excited by the shareholders we seem to work for.

Follow by Email

Blog Archive

Featured from the archives