This report seeks to explore the topic ‘wealth for wealth sake- the ethical perspective of profit making’, stakeholder theory, agency theory, corporate social responsibility, ethics and if any relationship exist between these concepts and level of company’s returns using British Petroleum Plc as a case study. These issues have sprung up a lot of debates in the last decade, with some of the opinion that the sole aim of an organisation is the maximisation of wealth for its shareholders while others hold the view that organisations should be responsible not just to their shareholders but to stakeholders. In view of this, this report will discuss these issues by examining diverse views and research on these issues and whether the focus of companies should be based solely on maximising shareholder wealth or if companies should pursue other objectives beside wealth maximisation.
SHAREHOLDER WEALTH MAXIMISATION/ LEVELS OF RETURNS
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A business exists to maximise wealth for its shareholders and the manager has a duty to act solely in the interest of the shareholders (Friedman, 1971 in ACCA p1, 2011, p.147). Friedman was of the view that organisation cannot have responsibility and so not accountable to anybody but its shareholders. This view was reiterates by Grant, 2011 who said that organisations are entities that have the right to maximise profit. However, a business though an artificial person in law, has the same rights and responsibilities as human beings and thus accountable for its actions and this invariably bestows its some responsibilities to those groups who are affected by the organisations activities and decisions (ACCA P1, 2011, p.146). The question is then whether organisations should make wealth at the expense of other stakeholders, such as the customers, suppliers, employees, community and society These organisations in question are kept running by communities of people who all share common goals and values and shareholder wealth maximisation is being made possible because of the effort and actions of these group of people despite the fact that the shareholders provides funds for the business. An organisation who fails to recognise its stakeholder is asking for trouble as employees can boycott work or customers can stop buying from them. The implication will be a fall in share price and since shareholder wealth is measured by the value of shares they own in the company, there will be a reduction in shareholder wealth. Studies have shown that businesses that are ethically sound are rewarded with additional customers while those that are unsound are boycotted and employees show more commitment to socially responsible companies (ACCA p1, 2011, p.147). Friedman fails to realise that organisations are first and foremost communities of people working together for a common purpose and the existence of community automatically give rise to mutual responsibilities (Grant, 2011 in (Blank and McGurn, 2004; Gates, 2004; Gini, 2004). Moreover, the market is a network of relationships and it is the working of these various relationships that makes an organisation efficient or inefficient. Bp has a better understanding of the importance of developing relationships with the stakeholders when in April 20, 2010 the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in America Killed eleven workers and left 17 injured in a bid to maximise wealth (Mardell, 2011). The company was charged $20bn as compensation fund (Palmer, 2011). Bp continues to pay dearly for its actions long after the incident with the continuous fall in the share price as evident in the graph below:
Bp Share Chart
April 2010 to April 2011
SOURCE: ADVFN, 2011
Bp had the biggest fall in share price following the spill by more than 6% on opening and ended the day 4.7% down (Merrison, July, 2010).
BP Share Price 1-Day Chart
SOURCE: SKY NEWS, 2010
As at June 9, 2010, two months after the incident, Bp is below book value and trading less than half of its 52-week high, and its worth less than $100 billion. The company which has been paying out a steady 84 cents per share per quarter now has that payment in jeopardy as there is a $4.50 fall in the share price and a dividend of $3.36 is currently being paid on a stock worth $30 (Salmon, 2010). Analysts even went as far as proposing an exit for Bp via a takeover.
STAKEHOLDER AND AGENCY THEORY
Stakeholders are all those agents who are concerned about the growth and development of an organisation (Pesqueux et al, 2005, p.6 in Mercier 1999). They are those individuals, groups or organisations who are interested in and or are affected by the activities of an organisation. (Boddy, 2011, p.637) and (Mallin, 2010, p. 63-67). Mallin identified several stakeholders and the nature of their interests and expectations in the organisation which are:
EMPLOYEES: whose interest is in job security, fairness in promotion and pay and working conditions, personal development among others. Others are environmental groups, communities, customers, suppliers among others (Mallin, 2007, p.51-53).
The law of corporations says that the firm should be run primarily in the interest of shareholders; stakeholder theory does not give preference to any stakeholder. Organisation should seek a balance relationship among all its stakeholders as an imbalance will put the survival of the organisation at stake. Jensen (2001) supported this view when he said that a firm who seek to maximise wealth cannot ignore the interest of its stakeholders. Buttressing the point that stakeholders not just shareholders are paramount to the success and wealth of a stakeholders, Freeman maintained that effective stakeholder management is important to the survival and prosperity of an organisation as opposed to Friedman who argued that the only responsibility of business is to engage in activities design to maximise wealth for the shareholders and anything contrary to this is stealing. However, Friedman opined that in the pursuit of this goal, the business must conform to the basic rules of the society which are embodied in ethical customs, giving credence to the fact that ethics is key to business performance. Mallin 2007, p.72&73 raises concerns as to whether a board can function effectively with multiple objectives and which should take priority over others, not to mention the fact that the enhancement of shareholder wealth is given supremacy in the United Kingdom.
Managers of a firm own a duty to shareholders to make all effort to maximise shareholder wealth by working in their interest. Alternatively, managers are also concern in working for their own best interest giving that economic theory of rational choice maintains that human nature being selfish will engage in activities that benefit them rather than others (Bradburn, 2001, p.4). However, there have been a lot of cases of selfless service in history such as Mother Theresa of old. Agency theory arises thus as a result of the conflicts of interest between management and shareholder due to separation of ownership from control. Studies have shown that managers substituted their interest in place of those of shareholders just like the case of Enron Corporation (ACCA, paper p1, 2010). Agency problem therefore arises as a result of managers making decisions that are contrary to the maximisation of shareholder wealth and possible causes of this are
Separation of ownership and control: shareholders the principal fund the company but appoint agents, management to control the affairs of the company on their behalf.
Differing goals between shareholders and management: Shareholders want high return on investment and thus want managers to take higher risk. However, managers are risk averse and tend to minimise risk by investing in low risk projects as oppose to shareholders who want higher returns on their investment thereby reducing shareholder wealth.
Asymmetry of information: Because management are involve in the day to day running of the company, they have access to all financial and management information which the shareholders have no access to except the annual report of the company that are often times subject to manipulation (Watson and Head, 2007, pp.11-12). This was the case of Enron whose managers engaged in fraudulent creative accounting techniques in a bid to build empires at the expense of shareholders which led to the eventual collapse of the company.
According to Jensen and Meckling, agency problem occurs when managers own less than 100% of the firm. He argued that managers are driven by power and control rather than maximizing shareholders wealth and often times seek to build empires. Thus take decisions that maximise their interest rather than the shareholders such as increase in managerial pay, rewards and job security. As a result of this conflict of interest and in an attempt to ensure that management interests are in line with those of shareholders, agency costs are incurred such as legal cost, cost of managers’ incentives and monitoring among others (ACCA, paper p1, 2010, p.23).
To resolve problems arising from goal congruence between shareholders and management, Measures have been put in place by shareholders to minimise these problems:
Monitoring activities of managers: Here external auditors are put in place to ensure that the financial statements prepare by the directors show a true and fair view of the affairs of the company. However, in the process agency costs are incurred.
Performance related pay:
Executive share option schemes: In an effort to encourage executives to maximise shareholder wealth and reduce managers aversion to risk, share options are introduced which allow senior managers to own certain number of shares in the company at a fixed price. The downside of using share option to check and balance senior executives is the fact increase in share price due to boom in the economy and general market trends will result to executives being rewarded not base on the merits of their performance (SIGLER, 2009, pp. 762-764).
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS
It has become increasing important that organisations become actively responsible and makes ethical business decisions as a result of the recent scandals that have gulfed the business world, from Enron to WorldCom among others. The business world and the community can no longer fold their hands and watch in horror in anticipation of when the next big scandal will rock the world economy. Thus, the need to revisit the role of ethics and corporate social responsibility in today’s business world. Although corporate social responsibility is closely linked to ethics because an outcome of ethical conduct is social responsibility (Dubrin, 1994, P.44), however, Blowfield, 2008, p. 12 & 13 in Davis 1973 explains that corporate social responsibility begins where the law ends. It is the positive impacts companies made on the lives of the community and beyond the society in which they operate outside of their legal obligations. Siegel and Vitaliano (2007) argued that CSR occurs when firms engage in activity that appears to advance a social agenda beyond that which is required by law. There is no doubt that corporate social responsibility is of paramount importance to the performance of a business as evidence have shown that organisations who put social responsibility as top most priority in their agenda will have a strong financial performance (Schermerhorn, 2002, p.159). In a poll in 2005, eighty-one percent of executives said that corporate social responsibility is important to their business. Majority of the executives were of the opinion that the purpose of a business is to be a steward in the society as it has duties to its stakeholders such as the customers, shareholders, employees, community and the environment (Blowfield, 2008, p. 10). In addition, there is little or no reason to believe that organisations cannot maximise wealth for their shareholders while performing other public responsibilities. Svensson et al, 2011,p.29 in Lea 1999 agrees with this when he said that ‘it is the various stakeholders that determine the economic performance of a business and that profit will arise naturally from the performance of their business practices such as being socially responsible’. Similarly, Freeman et al 1988, p.47 stressed further this by saying that financial performance and ethics are the same thing. For an organisation to maximize wealth, it needs to maintain relationships with several stakeholders that affect or are affected by its decisions (Presqueux, 2005, p.8). Business should not only look at the immediate returns, but at the communities who will become their consumers. This indicates that companies need to re-examine the nature of their interactions and the effects on their stakeholders (Gibson, 2007, p.xiv).
Martin 2003, p.87 in an article in Harvard business review maintained that organisations exhibit socially responsible behaviour because it create goodwill among customers and enhances shareholder value. Little wonder more companies have come to the significance of being socially responsible and have become actively involved in building key relationships with their various stakeholders. Some have gone from being socially responsible to becoming sustainable due to increasing awareness to conserve and protect earth’s limited and depleting resources (May et al. 2007, p.237) such as the G8 summit. British petroleum, BP in 1997 took a stand on climate change by reducing greenhouse emissions. This socially responsible act Bp claims has cost them nothing but increased net income by $600 million. However, the same Bp in 2010 was involved in an oil spill that led to 11 employees’ death and pollution due to negligence and an attempt to cut cost and increase shareholder wealth (Mardell, 2011). Bp as a result suspended dividend payments to shareholders with $25 billion dollars set aside to cover compensation claims (Boddy, 2011, p.161). Apple and Microsoft are massively involved in CSR while still creating value for their shareholders. (Heal, 2005, p.1&4).
Alternatively, there have also been those who argued that acting socially responsible has no impact on the wealth of an organisation. Friedman in an article published in 1970 argued that an organisation has no responsibility other than maximising shareholder wealth through legal and accepted means. Friedman was one of the capitalists who emphasised strict completion, wealth maximisation and reduction in expenditure which serve as barriers to acceptance of ethical practise in business. Monsanto was destroyed while acting socially responsible. The company invested money to make crops more productive without the use of chemicals. This backfired as it was faced with oppositions from environmental activists and consumers, thus making farmers to abandon them, causing financial threats to the company and the subsequent takeover. The quest to maximise shareholder wealth should not put other stakeholders’ lives in jeopardy. Take for instance Ford Motors whom in the sixties in an attempt to improve market position, fight competition from companies like Volkswagen and subsequently increase wealth for shareholders made the affordable Ford Pinto that was produced very cheaply with the petrol tanks placed in a position that endangers lives. Analyst believed Ford knowingly choosing profit over safety. The car poses risks and do not meet up with the legislation, yet the car was put up on sale. What followed were series of car accidents that caused many lives. Ford motors continued to sell the car as the cost of removing the product from the market far outweighs the law suit that would arise. The company was sued, though it won the lawsuit, but its reputation was badly damaged which affected the market share and subsequently the shareholder wealth they were aiming for (Boddy, 2011, p.135-136). The company in an attempt to maximise wealth for their shareholders put profit first before the safety of its customers and the community and operated outside the legal and accepted standard advocated by Friedman.
Ethics are the norms and standards for judging good versus bad, right versus wrong. It thus defines whether actions taking by an organisation are under moral grounds (May et al, 2007, p. 157). However moral behaviour is dependent on some circumstances of time and places or on each individual decision-maker. It provides a support for maximising shareholder value in the long term and an understanding of business ethics will enhance business targets and improve performance (Sternberg, 1994, p. 15). In a survey of CFOs carried out by ACCA, it was discovered that companies that build a culture of ethics are more likely to succeed financially. Also, good ethics they say means good business (Chriysside and Kaler, 1996, p.8). Studies have shown that employees are more inclined to work for companies that are ethically and socially responsible (Weiss J, W, 2003, p.11). The pursuit of shareholder wealth should be within the confines of ethical behaviour as an organisation that solely pursues wealth maximisation will act unethically (Gibson, 2007, p.7). More so, managers believes that shareholders interest is in wealth maximisation, however, shareholders differ on this view depending on the nature of their investment with time. Some shareholders wants returns on the short term through dividends and often times, such shareholders are not inclined to acting ethically as opposed to those who wants their returns reinvested to achieve capital gains in the longer term. Boddy states that evidence have shown that investors are willing to invest in business that encourages ethical decision making. Therefore, companies need to integrate values such as trust, honesty, integrity and fairness into its policies, practice and decision making (Blowfield, 2008, p. 18). In recent times, series of companies with strong ethical policies have been found in breach of the law. This was the case of Boeing in 1998 when despite its ethical guidelines on procurement, corruption and marketing used confidential materials stolen from its competitor Lockheed Martin to win defence procurement contracts with the United State government. This led to it suspension from bidding for defence contracts. Ethics is a necessity in the achievement of profits, growth and shareholder value (Blowfield, 2008, p.190). Conversely, an organisation that acts unethically will have its reputation damaged and boycotted by its stakeholders just like the Ford Pinto, Enron and WorldCom. Enron despites having a Code of ethics had its senior management concealed debts worth $35 billion. The exposure of this fraudulent act led to a drop in share price from $90 to 61 cent (Gini, 2009, pp.104-115). Royal Dutch shell adopted the slogan people, planet, profits in an attempt to regain lost trust in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and criticism for its proposed scrap of Brent Spar oil storage platform in the deep Atlantic (Blowfield, 2008, 61). It is therefore not acceptable for business to say that anything it does within the confines of law is ethically acceptable. In the 80’s, the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation had its executives sentenced by a jury for purported selling baby apple juice which in reality contain little or no apple juice. The company’s shares of $750 million dropped from a high of 20% as a result to 17% (Gini, 2009, pp.29-31). Pressure is being mounted on businesses to go beyond the law by according respect and dignity to stakeholders, thus the need for organisations to consider responsibilities to those whom their decisions will affect. Managers have to balance the demands to maximise wealth for shareholders with those of acting ethically in the pursuit of wealth and being responsible to its stakeholders whom are affected by its decisions as doing contrary to this could be detrimental or poses to the business and shareholder wealth just as Dearlove 1998 suggests that ethical behaviour should be imbibed as a core value of business.
Corporate social responsibility and ethics in a lot of ways increases wealth for shareholders as illustrated in series of examples above. However, organisations will need to weigh the benefits and advantages accrued from it and come to a balance. This is not to say that companies should pursue wealth at the expense of other stakeholders’ lives.
The aim of this report was to discuss the objective of the company as to whether the maximisation of shareholder wealth should be the sole objective of the company. Evidences reviewed in the report pointed to the fact that wealth maximisation should not be the sole aim of the company, other stakeholders who are affected by the company’s decision should be considered and the involvement of these various stakeholders evidence shown create company goodwill and increase shareholder wealth. It is therefore imperative that companies pursue other objectives beside wealth maximisation.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM TAKING PART IN THE COURSE WORK: This report gave me a better insight into shareholder wealth maximisation and levels of returns, stakeholder theory, agency theory, corporate social responsibility and ethics. I learnt to work with limited time and meet up with strict deadline and to effectively manage my time.
MY RESAERCH TECHNIQUES: My research techniques was based on reading journals, text books, Harvard Business review, television station archives such as BBC News, Ft.com,Rueters.com and internet sources.
MY MOTIVATION: My motivation stemmed from my drive to produce a quality course work. So my motivation was strong as I worked really hard to meet up with the deadline for the assignment.
WHAT I WILL DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME: I would ensure that I have done a thorough research regarding the subject matter before commencing my work as this will make it easier and save me time.
THE FOLLOWING ARE THE LEARNING OUTCOMES WHICH I FIND EASIEST
Corporate social responsibility which bothers on the ground that organisation in their pursuit of shareholder wealth needs to consider the positive impacts they made on the lives of the community and beyond the society in which they operate beyond that which constitute their legal obligations. I got to know that corporate social responsibility enhances shareholder wealth maximisation despite some argument which stress sole objective of wealth maximisation.
CHALLENGES AND THE LEANING OUTCOME I FIND MOST DIFFICULT
Stakeholder theory was particularly difficult for me as I have challenges getting relevant materials for it. Another was ethics which in a way is like a twin to corporate social responsibility. I realised while writing ethics that most of what I had to talk about were already discussed in corporate social responsibility making it difficult for me to have a balance word count between the two concepts. Thus ethics was also touched on in corporate social responsibility and vice versa.
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