Corporate Purpose in Public and Private Firms

67 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019 Last revised: 2 Jun 2021

See all articles by Claudine Madras Gartenberg

Claudine Madras Gartenberg

Wharton School, University of Penn

George Serafeim

Harvard Business School

Date Written: August 20, 2019


Analyzing data from approximately 1.5 million employees across 1,108 established public and private US companies, we find that the strength of employee beliefs in purpose is weaker in public companies. Among public companies, purpose is stronger for firms with long-term investors and weaker for firms with high hedge fund ownership. These patterns are most pronounced within the salaried middle and hourly ranks, rather than senior executives. These differences in purpose across firms can be attributed, in part, to differences in the background of the CEOs and reward structures within the companies. Our findings are consistent with higher owner commitment, and the corresponding policies that arise alongside this higher commitment, enabling a stronger sense of purpose inside organizations.

Keywords: Corporate Purpose, Corporate Ownership, Corporate Governance, Investor Type

JEL Classification: M12, M14, M54, G23, G32, G34

Suggested Citation

Gartenberg, Claudine Madras and Serafeim, George, Corporate Purpose in Public and Private Firms (August 20, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Claudine Madras Gartenberg (Contact Author)

Wharton School, University of Penn ( email )

2035 Steinberg-Dietrich Hall
3620 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
2158987755 (Phone)

George Serafeim

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics