Value Maximization, Stakeholder Theory, and the Corporate Objective Function

13 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2010

See all articles by Michael C. Jensen

Michael C. Jensen

Harvard Business School; SSRN; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Harvard University - Accounting & Control Unit


This paper examines the role of the corporate objective function in increasing corporate productivity, social welfare, and the accountability of managers and directors. Because it is logically impossible to maximize in more than one dimension, purposeful behavior requires a “single-valued” objective function. Two hundred years of work in economics and finance implies that, in the absence of externalities and monopoly, social welfare is maximized when each firm in an economy aims to maximize its total market value.

The main contender to value maximization is stakeholder theory, which argues that managers should attempt to balance the interests of all corporate stakeholders, including not only financial claimants, but employees, customers, communities, and governmental officials. By refusing to specify how to make the necessary tradeoffs among these competing interests, the advocates of stakeholder theory leave managers with a theory that makes it impossible for them to make purposeful decisions. With no clear way to keep score, stakeholder theory effectively makes managers unaccountable for their actions (which helps explain the theory’s popularity among many managers).

But if value creation is the overarching corporate goal, the process of creating value involves much more than simply holding up value maximization as the organizational objective. As a statement of corporate purpose or vision, value maximization is not likely to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of employees and managers. Thus, in addition to setting up value maximization as the corporate scorecard, top management must provide a corporate vision, strategy, and tactics that will unite all the firm’s constituencies in its efforts to compete and add value for investors.

Suggested Citation

Jensen, Michael C., Value Maximization, Stakeholder Theory, and the Corporate Objective Function. Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 32-42, Winter 2010. Available at SSRN: or

Michael C. Jensen (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

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European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

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Harvard University - Accounting & Control Unit ( email )

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