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Gelter & Helleringer: Lift not the Painted Veil! To Whom are Directors’ Duties Really Owed?

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Martin Gelter (Fordham University School of Law ; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)) and Geneviève Helleringer (ESSEC Business School ; University of Oxford – Institute of European and Comparative Law) have posted “Lift not the Painted Veil! To Whom are Directors’ Duties Really Owed?”, University of Illinois Law Review, Forthcoming.

The abstract is as follows:

In this article, we identify a fundamental contradiction in the law of fiduciary duty of corporate directors across jurisdictions, namely the tension between the uniformity of directors’ duties and the heterogeneity of directors themselves. American scholars tend to think of the board as a group of individuals elected by shareholders, even though it is widely acknowledged (and criticized) that the board is often a largely self-perpetuating body whose inside members dominate the selection of their future colleagues and eventual successors. However, this characterization is far from universally true internationally, and it tends to be increasingly less true even in the United States. Directors are often formally or informally selected by specific shareholders (such as a venture capitalist or an important shareholder) or other stakeholders of the corporation (such as creditors or employees), or they are elected to represent specific types of shareholders (e.g. minority investors). The law thus sometimes facilitates the nomination of what has been called “constituency” directors. Once in office, legal rules tend nevertheless to treat directors as a homogeneous group that is expected to pursue a uniform goal. We explore this tension and suggest that it almost seems to rise to the level of hypocrisy: Why do some jurisdictions require employee representatives that are then seemingly not allowed to strongly advocate employee interests? Why can a director representing a specific shareholder not advance this shareholder’s interests on the board?

Behavioral research indicates that directors are likely beholden to those who appointed them and will seek to pursue their interests in order to maintain their position in office. We argue that for many decision-making processes, it does not matter all that much what specific interest directors are expected to pursue by the law, given that across jurisdictions, enforcement of the corporate purpose is highly curtailed.

 

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