The Shareholder Value of Empowered Boards

87 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2015 Last revised: 10 Dec 2015

See all articles by Martijn Cremers

Martijn Cremers

University of Notre Dame

Simone M. Sepe

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law; University of Toulouse 1 - Université Toulouse 1 Capitole; IAST - Fondation Jean-Jacques Laffont - TSE; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: October 1, 2015


In the last decade, the balance of power between shareholders and boards has shifted dramatically. Changes in both the marketplace and the legal landscape governing it have turned the call for empowered shareholders into a new reality. Correspondingly, the authority that boards of directors have historically held in U.S. corporate law has been eroded. Empirical studies associating staggered boards with lower firm value have been interpreted to favor this shift of authority, supporting the view that protecting boards from shareholder pressure is detrimental to shareholder interests.

This Article presents new empirical evidence on staggered boards that not only exposes the limitations of prior empirical studies, but also, and more importantly, suggests the opposite conclusion. Employing a unique and comprehensive dataset covering thirty-four years of board staggering and destaggering decisions — from 1978 to 2011 — we show that staggered boards are associated with a statistically and economically significant increase in firm value. In light of these novel empirical results, we then show theoretically that a corporate model with staggered boards emerges as a rational institutional response to market imperfections that are more complex and more significant than shareholder advocates have realized. Boards that retain their historical authority — empowered boards — benefit, rather than hurt, shareholders. This Article concludes with a normative proposal to revitalize the authority of U.S. boards.

Keywords: staggered boards, destaggering, corporate law, firm value, entrenchment, limited commitment

JEL Classification: G34, G38, K22

Suggested Citation

Cremers, K. J. Martijn and Sepe, Simone M., The Shareholder Value of Empowered Boards (October 1, 2015). Stanford Law Review, Vol. 68, 2016; Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 15-21. Available at SSRN:

K. J. Martijn Cremers (Contact Author)

University of Notre Dame ( email )

P.O. Box 399
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0399
United States

Simone M. Sepe

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

University of Toulouse 1 - Université Toulouse 1 Capitole ( email )

2 Rue du Doyen-Gabriel-Marty
Toulouse, 31042

IAST - Fondation Jean-Jacques Laffont - TSE ( email )

21 allée de Brienne
31015 Toulouse Cedex 6
Toulouse Cedex, F-31042

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

B-1050 Brussels

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