Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it

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9780199669936: Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it
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The corporation is one of the most important and remarkable institutions in the world. It affects all our lives continuously. It feeds, entertains, houses and, employs us. It generates vast amounts of revenue for those who own it and it invests a substantial proportion of the wealth that we possess. But the corporation is also the cause of immense problems and suffering, a source of poverty and pollution, and its failures are increasing. How is the corporation failing us? Why is it happening? What should we do to restore trust in it? While governments are subject to repeated questioning and scrutiny, the corporation receives relatively little attention.

Firm Commitment provides a lucid and insightful account of the role of the corporation in modern society and explains why its problems are growing. It gives a fresh perspective on the crises in financial markets, developing countries, and the environment. Based on decades of analysis and research, it describes a new approach to thinking about the firm which not only stops it destroying us but turns it into the means of protecting our environment, addressing social problems, and creating new sources of entrepreneurship and innovation. It sets out an agenda for converting the corporation into a twenty-first century organization that we will value and trust. It takes you on a journey that starts in the Galapagos, ends in Ancient Egypt, and in the process brings you to a new level of appreciation of the economic world we inhabit.

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Review:

Q&A with Colin Mayer, author of Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it

Q. What inspired you to write the book?

A. The corporation is the most important institution in our lives but it has had little serious analysis to date and, to the extent that it has, it has been badly misunderstood. In particular, following the financial crisis, I appreciated that many of our economic ills over the past few decades were incorrectly attributed to other factors when in fact the corporation lay at their heart. Having worked for several decades on the subject, it was therefore an opportune moment to write a book that brought my ideas on the corporation together.

Q. What are the primary reasons as to the loss of public trust in firms and why?

A. The loss of trust in the corporation reflects a belief that it exists simply to make money for its owners, its shareholders, and it will do whatever it takes to achieve this. From our point of view as customers, employees and communities we are therefore pawns in a game in which we are manipulated for the benefit of others. The repeated recurrence of scandals only serves to reinforce the belief that the corporation is inherently untrustworthy.

Q. What are the biggest changes a firm can make to regain public trust?

A. The biggest change is to set out precisely how it will uphold the interests of its customers, employees or communities and why they should believe such assertions. How will the corporation compensate us if they fail to abide by their promises? How can we be sure that they will do so even when their financial conditions change or their attractive investment opportunities which lure them off to other markets? Such commitments are credible and thereby instill trust in their customers.

Q. What impact has the attitude about takeovers had on firms? Does this attitude differ in different markets?

A. The threat of a takeover is regarded as an important discipline on management, encouraging it to act in the interests of its shareholders. However, it also means that management is unable to prioritize broader corporate interests in their employees, customers, and communities. There are variations in the extent to which takeover markets operate freely: at one extreme stands the UK with a very liberal takeover market; at the other end is Japan where the hostile acquisition of corporations is prevented by shareholdings controlled by banks and other corporations; in between stands the US with several takeover defenses and states legislating acquisitions.

Q. How does public versus private ownership affect the way a firm is run?

A. Public ownership of corporations is used to align the private interests of corporations with those of society more generally. The concerns include public corporations being subject to political influence that detracts from their commercial performance; those running public corporations have weak incentives to operate them efficiently and productively; and the deep pocket of the state means that they are not subject to the threat of bankruptcy and they are immune to the discipline that comes from the threat of being taken over. Many countries have therefore chosen to privatize their corporations to encourage greater efficiency and less political interference.

About the Author:


Colin Mayer is former Dean of the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. He is an Honorary Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and of St Anne's College, Oxford. He is an Ordinary Member of the Competition Appeal Tribunal and a Fellow of the European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI). He has served on the editorial boards of several leading academic journals and assisted in establishing the prestigious networks of economics, law and finance academics in Europe at the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and ECGI. He was a Harkness Fellow at Harvard University, a Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England, and the first Leo Goldschmidt Visiting Professor of Corporate Governance at the Solvay Business School, Universite de Bruxelles. He was a director of Oxera between 1986 and 2010 and was instrumental in building the firm into what is now one of the largest independent economics consultancies in the UK.

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