The Rising Tension between Shareholder and Director Power in the Common Law World

60 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2010 Last revised: 14 Nov 2010

Jennifer G. Hill

University of Sydney - Faculty of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: March 30, 2010

Abstract

This article explores the rising tension between shareholder and director power in the common law world. First the article analyzes key arguments in the shareholder empowerment debate, and current US reform proposals to grant shareholders stronger rights, from a comparative corporate law perspective, examining how traditional US legal rules diverge from other common law jurisdictions. Secondly, the article discusses power shifts in the opposite direction – namely toward the board – in some parts of the common law world.

The article shows that US shareholders have traditionally had unusually restricted rights compared to their counterparts in common law jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. It challenges a number of arguments supporting the traditional US approach, by showing that the arguments are often US-specific, and are less persuasive from a comparative corporate governance perspective. The article also identifies an important tension between legal rules designed to enhance shareholder power, and commercial practices designed to subvert it. It shows how strategic commercial responses to regulation can affect the operation of legal rules. The existence of commercial pushback of this kind suggests that, even if US shareholder powers are significantly strengthened, that will by no means be the end of the story.

Keywords: corporate governance, comparative corporate governance, “law matters” hypothesis, shareholders, shareholder empowerment, institutional investors, directors, corporate charter amendment, appointment of directors, removal of directors, corporate prenuptial agreements, entrenchment mechanisms

JEL Classification: D70, G30, G32, G34, G38, K22, K33, K40, K42, M14

Suggested Citation

Hill, Jennifer G., The Rising Tension between Shareholder and Director Power in the Common Law World (March 30, 2010). Corporate Governance: An International Review, Vol. 18, pp. 344-359, 2010; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 10/34; Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-11; ECGI - Law Working Paper No. 152/2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1582258

Jennifer G. Hill (Contact Author)

University of Sydney - Faculty of Law ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia
+61 2 9351 0280 (Phone)
+61 2 9351 0200 (Fax)

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

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