It seems to me, a smart business idea that could net someone millions, and perhaps billions, is a website that reads and posts a simple to read synopsis of every shareholder’s report, briefly describing any changes the board wants to make, the likely consequences to the company and profits short and long term of those changes, an easy to read and understand report on any election to the board of trustees regarding their background, philosophy of corporate governance and work history, those synopsis and reports would be written for every firm with over one hundred million in gross revenue, and for a nominal fee that synopsis could be read by any shareholder of those companies. Companies that are ethical would offer to pay for the service for their shareholders. To get that done, such a company needs to become well known, create simple to read, correct and understandable reports and synopsis, as well as the intellectual capital to make it work. The potential earnings of such a company are staggering.
If there was such a company it could be a paradigm shift in the principle agent relationship. Today the agents have all the power. They send shareholders a several hundred page document that we are supposed to read and understand, that is in arcane language, redundant and actually says nothing of any import pertaining to the question they want us to vote on. That paradigm has created a lop sided power relationship between the principles and agents. That lop sided power in the relationship has allowed many companies to be run against the shareholder’s interests and have enabled senior management to get an out sized portion of the profits. I mean really, what employee is worth tens of millions of dollars, while running a company into the ground?
Empowering the principles to over see the agents can only lead to protecting the principle’s interest and limit the power of the agents to abuse their position. The power differential in the principle agent relationship has been used for over a century to enrich the senior management at cost to the shareholders and customers. Examples abound where shareholder profits and wealth have been undermined by management. One famous case was when J D Rockefeller bought an iron company, converted it into a publicly traded company, sold the shares for double what he paid, and remained as the CEO, reaping even more profit at the expense of the shareholder chumps.
Such a rebalancing of the principle agent relationship would create better run companies that would have a better relationship with their customers. Everyone is self interested, which is to say we all seek to maximize our returns on our investments. Economists call human beings rational maximizers. Clearly, since we are all self interested, if given actionable knowledge, we would seek to increase the longevity of our assets, seek long term profits instead of short term gain, provide excellent quality service and products to our customers while ensuring the company’s business model is consistent with the times. In short, instead of our agents working under pernicious incentives, we could return the entrepreneurial ethos to businesses.
If the principle’s interests are protected and the companies themselves are better run, the macro economy will improve, by potentially starting a new wave of Schumptarian economic expansion. Schumpeter coined the term, “Creative Destruction,” to explain the macro business cycle. In it, he posited… a new idea that improves efficiency in management, production or product, starts the business cycle. In the creative part of the cycle, as the new idea is implemented, the macro economy grows at a rapid pace. Once the idea is mostly implemented and the gains have been mined out, the old firms that have become outdated go belly up, ushering in the destruction portion of the business cycle, (recession). The recession destroys inefficient firms, freeing up capital, space and equipment for the next entrepreneur to begin the cycle again.
When a new firm is started, the more disruption it creates the more profit there is to be had, especially in the financial services sphere, where the sector is awash with other people’s money. As in any innovative idea that is disruptive, starting a business that reads and produces synopsis of every firm’s shareholder reports, board of trustee elections and board of trustee requests, would be a sea change in the way shareholders get information about the firms they own, by leveling the information landscape. In and of itself such a firm would start the creative cycle. Such a firm would need a great deal of startup capital to hire the necessary lawyers, MBAs and knowledge base to make such reports, and do it inside the regulatory framework that has been set up by the agents to protect their interests, or to change the regulatory environment if needed. The initial cost would be high, but the profit over the long term, the benefit to shareholders and the economy at large, would be tremendous.