CEOs and Presidents

66 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2014 Last revised: 29 May 2014

See all articles by Tom C. W. Lin

Tom C. W. Lin

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: April 23, 2014


This Article deciphers a long-standing paradigm of power — the President as CEO — and offers an original and better legal understanding of executive governance. This Article presents the first sustained, comparative study of CEOs and presidents, the theoretical ties that bind them in the popular imagination of law and society, and the practical truths that sever their bonds in the real world of politics and business. It argues that this overused but understudied construct of law and society illuminates these two chief executives, but also obscures and distorts them with dangerous consequences. This Article suggests that in better understanding the laws and powers of those who lead and govern, we can learn better ways to be led and governed, as shareholders and citizens alike.

This Article begins with a normative and historical analysis that challenges conventional comprehensions of the President as CEO paradigm. It then charts the parallel promises and perils of power shared by CEOs and presidents. Drawing from constitutional law, corporate law, and organizational theory, it explains how promises of unity, accountability, and effectiveness converge with perils of capture, deference, overconfidence, and aggrandizement. Next, this Article highlights critical divergences between CEOs and presidents in connection with their elections, objectives, and constituents. Because of these divergences, it argues that popular movements to conflate presidents and democracy with CEOs and corporations can undermine American democracy and American corporations. Instead of quixotic conflations, this Article calls for deeper comparative examinations of these chief executives as a way to unlock new insights into corporate democracy, corporate purpose, government privatization, and executive power.

Keywords: corporate governance, corporate law, corporate democracy, executive power, presidential power, separation of powers, unitary executive, election law, corporate social responsibility, law and politics, privatization, shareholder activism, constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Lin, Tom C. W., CEOs and Presidents (April 23, 2014). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 47, 1351, 2014, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-17, Available at SSRN:

Tom C. W. Lin (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

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Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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