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It’s been 20 years now since I started my first proper ‘career’ job. It was with a large business IT consulting firm. I remember the excitement of moving to London, and our induction session. “I was sat where you guys are a year ago,” the grad-plus-one standing at the front said enthusiastically. “The following week I was in New York!” In my almost five-year stint there, the furthest I got was Gatwick Airport (we were building a CRM for Airmiles). Test for Ben.

Such thoughts resurfaced in recent days after looking at news stories about Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act. The proposal, which, if passed, would be “the most significant change in U.S. corporate governance in 100 years”, is that corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue would be required to get a federal corporate charter requiring directors to consider the interests of all major corporate stakeholders – not only shareholders – in company decisions.

According to Sen. Warren, “my bill also would give workers a stronger voice in corporate decision-making at large companies. Employees would elect at least 40% of directors. At least 75% of directors and shareholders would need to approve before a corporation could make any political expenditures. To address self-serving financial incentives in corporate management, directors and officers would not be allowed to sell company shares within five years of receiving them – or within three years of a company stock buyback”.

Let’s rewind to the millennium. The company I was working for was going great guns. Well, in some respects it was. The share price was ridiculously high: at one point, as I recall, the market capitalisation placed it in the realm of Sainsburys and British Airways. It may have been 24th in the FTSE 100. A staff member on the sharesave scheme was talking of buying himself a boat. And around this time, the chief executive cashed in his chips and became the highest-paid CEO in the land.

This is literally fascism. The business does not belong to the government or its employees. It belongs to its shareholders. _______ Ken Gardner

That still ran Windows 95 in offices that looked threadbare. And then there was the work. I’d joined because I wanted to write software. That was what interested me then. I soon learned, however, that the ‘write software’ part of the operation was being outsourced to India. In that context, it makes sense that there was never any skills training to speak of. Over the course of a couple of years, enthusiasm turned to apathy.

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I decided I couldn’t afford to join the sharesave scheme. Moreover, I was sitting behind desktops that still ran Windows 95 in offices that looked threadbare. And then there was the work. I’d joined because I wanted to write software. That was what interested me then. I soon learned, however, that the ‘write software’ part of the operation was being outsourced to India. In that context, it makes sense that there was never any skills training to speak of. Over the course of a couple of years, enthusiasm turned to apathy.

As we can see, the news of Sen. Warren’s proposal has been greeted with great interest. More measured – though only slightly – was Samuel Hammond in the National Review. Under the headline ‘Elizabeth Warren’s Corporate Catastrophe’ he argued that a country like Germany, with its emphasis on co-determination, is unable to foster the rapid growth that, Hammond says, is “one of the most defining and precious features of the American economy”.


The examples he cites are Amazon, Uber and Apple. Apple recently became America’s first trillion-dollar company. But, of course, the question is one of how we measure wealth and contentment. What about that Apple factory in China? Or Amazon paying staff to tweet in the manner of kidnap victims with Stockholm syndrome?

Crucial in all of this is the view, made famous by economist Milton Friedman, that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profit. So the narrative goes, it’s one that became dogma in the Reagan/Thatcher years – the gilded, glitzy, ‘greed-is-good’ ‘80s.

Hammond’s worry is that companies that go public already have an added responsibility – a compliance burden that, together with the Accountable Capitalism Act, would create a layer of bureaucratic treacle that would slow everything down. The companies will no longer be lean, mean winning machines.

“In practice, corporate boards don’t have a fiduciary duty to do much of anything in particular, outside of the standard prescriptions of common law,” he adds. More open to the idea is Rebecca M. Henderson in Harvard Business Review. “A focus on shareholder value maximization at the expense of everything else is an exceedingly dangerous idea, not just to our society but also to the health of business itself,” she writes.


More open to the idea is Rebecca M. Henderson in Harvard Business Review. “A focus on shareholder value maximization at the expense of everything else is an exceedingly dangerous idea, not just to our society but also to the health of business itself,” she writes. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed et sapien sit amet neque ultrices tempus sit amet viverra nulla. Cras odio ex, pulvinar non ipsum faucibus, vestibulum mollis mi. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia.


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