What Enron Means for the Management and Control of the Modern Business Corporation: Some Initial Reflections

18 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2002

See all articles by Jeffrey N. Gordon

Jeffrey N. Gordon

Columbia Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)


The Enron case challenges some of the core beliefs and practices that have underpinned various positions in the debates about corporate law and governance, including mergers and acquisitions, since the 1980s. In particular, Enron raises at least the following problems for the received model of corporate governance:

First, it provides another set of reasons to question the strength of the efficient market hypothesis, here, the company's dizzyingly high stock price despite transparently irrational reliance on its auditors' compromised certification.

Second, it undermines faith in the corporate governance mechanism - the monitoring board - that has been offered as a substitute for unfettered shareholder access to the market for corporate control. In particular, the board's capacity to protect the integrity of financial disclosure has not kept pace with the increasing reliance on stock price performance in measuring and rewarding managerial performance.

Third, it suggests the existence of tradeoffs in the use of stock options in executive compensation because of the potential pathologies of the risk-preferring management team.

Fourth, it shows the poor fit between stock-based employee compensation and employee retirement planning. More generally, it raises questions about the shift in retirement planning towards defined contribution plans, which make employees risk bearers and financial planners, and away from defined benefit plans, which impose some of the risk and fiduciary planning obligations on firms.

Although the disclosure, monitoring and other failures may lead to useful reforms, Enron also reminds us that there is a problem that cannot be solved but can only be contained in the tension between imperfectly fashioned incentives and self-restraint.

Keywords: Enron, corporate governance, efficient market, accountants, directors, stock options, pensions

JEL Classification: G14, G34, K22, L14, M52

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Jeffrey N., What Enron Means for the Management and Control of the Modern Business Corporation: Some Initial Reflections. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=305343 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.305343

Jeffrey N. Gordon (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

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