Governance Failures of the Enron Board and the New Information Order of Sarbanes-Oxley

18 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2003

See all articles by Jeffrey N. Gordon

Jeffrey N. Gordon

Columbia Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: March 2003


This paper argues that the principal governance failure of the Enron board was to approve a disclosure policy that made the firm's financial results substantially opaque to public capital markets, despite also approving a compensation strategy that made managerial payoffs highly sensitive to stock price changes and despite its unwillingness to engage in intense monitoring of business results and financial controls. In comparable circumstances of constrained monitoring by public markets, LBO firms and venture capitalists undertake a vigorous monitoring role. Important provisions of the Sarbanes Oxley Act can be seen as correcting for a public board's probable inability to adequately monitor a complex corporate finance strategy, "corrective disclosure." But the Act also seems to contemplate immediate disclosure of material business developments even in circumstances where premature disclosure may well sacrifice shareholder value for very little gain in capital market efficiency. The paper criticizes such "price-perfecting disclosure." A further consequence of the Act's disclosure regime may be to shift governance authority away from management and the board toward shareholders, including in the case of hostile takeovers.

Keywords: corporate governance, Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley, takeover law

JEL Classification: G30, G34, G38, K22

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Jeffrey N., Governance Failures of the Enron Board and the New Information Order of Sarbanes-Oxley (March 2003). Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 216; Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 416. Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey N. Gordon (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
Ctr. for Law and Economic Studies
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2316 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

B-1050 Brussels


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