Director Primacy: The Means and Ends of Corporate Governance

71 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2002

See all articles by Stephen M. Bainbridge

Stephen M. Bainbridge

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: February 2002


Any model of corporate governance must answer two basic sets of questions: (1) Who decides? In other words, when push comes to shove, who has ultimate control? (2) Whose interests prevail? When the ultimate decisionmaker is presented with a zero sum game, in which it must prefer the interests of one constituency class over those of all others, whose interests prevail?

On the means question, prior scholarship has almost uniformly favored either shareholder primacy or managerialism. This article argues that control - the power and right to exercise decisionmaking fiat - is vested neither in the shareholders nor the managers, but in the board of directors. According to this "director primacy" model, the corporation is a vehicle by which the board of directors hires various factors of production. The board of directors thus is not a mere agent of the shareholders, but rather is a sui generis body - a sort of Platonic guardian - serving as the nexus of the various contracts making up the corporation. As a positive theory of corporate governance, director primacy thus claims that fiat - centralized decisionmaking - is the essential attribute of efficient corporate governance. As a normative theory of corporate governance, director primacy claims that resolving the resulting tension between authority and accountability is the central problem of corporate law.

On the ends question, prior scholarship has tended to favor either shareholder primacy or various forms of stakeholderism. Again, director primacy rejects both approaches. Although shareholder primacy and the shareholder wealth maximization norm are often conflated, one can have the latter without necessarily endorsing the former. Hence, this article argues that director decisionmaking primacy can be reconciled with a contractual obligation on the board's part to maximize the value of the shareholders' residual claim.

JEL Classification: G30, K22

Suggested Citation

Bainbridge, Stephen Mark, Director Primacy: The Means and Ends of Corporate Governance (February 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Mark Bainbridge (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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