Changing the Tune: Conceptualising the Effects of the Global Financial Crisis on Stakeholder Perceptions of Corporate Value
Could shareholder primacy, with its assumed short-termist practices, have had its day when it comes to managerial activity centered on creating corporate value? Many business and opinion leaders appear to take this position, not least Jack Welch who famously declared ‘shareholder primacy is the dumbest idea in the world!’ Indeed, in a post-Crash economy has a wider stakeholder focus with a longer-term outlook superseded any business notions of shareholder primacy and wealth maximization? This research examines these possibilities through a consideration of the narrative companies produce, such as annual reports. From this corpus material, an assessment is made of whether UK managers’ perceptions about corporate value generation changed over the period covering the worldwide financial crisis, with respect to their relative favouring of shareholders and stakeholders. The corpus of narrative material used is visualized as a conceptual space in which a conversation reflecting perceptual bias to the generation of corporate value occurs. To explore such corpuses, in order to compare narratives at points either side of the 2008 Crash, a new methodology was devised called narrative staining. Hence, a detection and visual mapping over the period was made possible of managers’ changing perceptions concerning primacy (shareholder or stakeholder orientation) with its mediation by termism (a short or long-term bias). Termism is also originally conceived as part of a larger temporal category, which includes a sense of urgency to act (urgent versus non-urgent) that is similarly examined. The investigation reveals that over time perceptual change about value creation happened, though in unanticipated ways. Companies pre-Crash were often short-term stakeholder oriented then moved post-Crash to a long-term shareholder orientation. A focus for this study was the corporate domain, consisting of a selection of FT250 companies. However, managerial perceptions about corporate value creation are influenced not simply by the conversation of the corporate domain but rather by a multi-actor conversation taking place throughout the business environment. To comprehend this effect, the research mines further corpuses that comprise the UK’s regulatory domain (hard and soft law), the press (Financial Times and other newspapers), and relevant peripheral stakeholder organizations (including the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, and the Trades Union Congress). These organizations demonstrated more complex, unforeseen, perceptual effects as the financial crisis proceeded with many aligning according to their political or business agenda, which also impacted any sense of urgency to act they had. There appears to be no previous attempt at an extensive and multivariate analysis of this nature. And the findings challenge prevalent characterizations of shareholder and stakeholder behaviour. Moreover, the research shows that utilizing a wide set of stakeholder corpuses acts a viable proxy for broader financial perspectives amongst UK organizations. The technique of narrative staining therefore provides insights, hitherto inaccessible, for assessing and consolidating large-scale perceptual bias regarding value creation across the economy. The technique also has significant potential for other applications.
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