The Ethics of Shareholder Value: Duty, Rights & Football

Business Ethics: A European Review, Forthcoming

Westminster Business School Working Paper No. 11-3

25 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2011

Date Written: June 1, 2011


How does a board of directors decide what is right? The contest over this question is frequently framed as a debate between shareholder value and stakeholder rights, between a utilitarian view of the ethics of corporate governance and a deontological one. This paper uses a case study with special circumstances that allow us to examine the conflict between shareholder value and other bases on which a board can act. In the autumn of 2010 the board of Liverpool Football Club sold the company to another investing group against the wishes of the owners. The analysis suggests the board saw more than one type of utility on which to base its decision and that one version resonated with perceived duties to stakeholders. This alignment of outcomes of strategic value with duties contrasted with the utility of shareholder value. While there are reasons to be cautious in generalizing, the case further suggests reasons why boards may reject shareholder value in opposition to mainstream notions of corporate governance, without rejecting utility as a base of their decisions.

Keywords: Corporate governance, Boards, Ethics, Pragmatism, Shareholder value, Liverpool FC

JEL Classification: G30, G34, L21, M14

Suggested Citation

Nordberg, Donald, The Ethics of Shareholder Value: Duty, Rights & Football (June 1, 2011). Business Ethics: A European Review, Forthcoming, Westminster Business School Working Paper No. 11-3, Available at SSRN:

Donald Nordberg (Contact Author)

Bournemouth University ( email )

Executive Business Centre, 89 Holdenhurst Road,
Bournemouth, BH8 8EB
United Kingdom


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