Corporate Purpose in Public and Private Firms

45 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019 Last revised: 17 Aug 2020

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 employee beliefs about their firm’s purpose is weaker in public companies. This difference is most pronounced within the salaried middle and hourly ranks, rather than senior executives. Among private firms, purpose is lower in private equity owned firms. Among public companies, purpose is lower for firms with high hedge fund ownership and higher for firms with long-term investors. We interpret our findings as evidence that higher owner commitment is associated with a stronger sense of purpose among employees within the firm.

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 ( email )

The Wharton School
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370
United States
2158987755 (Phone)

George Serafeim

Harvard University - Harvard Business School ( email )

381 Morgan Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States


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