Business Models- (08.12.03)

A key difference between business in the US and Britain is often seen as to what extent companies are shareholder driven. The US model, in which companies are solely concerned with stock prices and the value of transactions to shareholders, is now seen as widely discredited. However, this is really a post-Enron and WorldCom reaction and a tightening of regulations. There is very little evidence that the stock market sees a case for reform. Even individual shareholders and employees in the US do not question the fundamentals of this business model to a great extent.

The comparison with an alternative British model is rather more difficult however. I would question whether there is in fact a British business model at all. Clearly continental Europe does have another, perhaps not any more successful, alternative in which stakeholder interest are clearly represented at board level. This structure only exists in response to government regulation, for instance those requiring union consultation before redundancies can be considered. Even the German regional financial institutions that are designed to counter the short termism of stock markets are more government decision rather than financial incentives led.

The truth of the British model to corporate governance is that the stock market does lead to very short termist behaviour by companies. The few and the very successful who avoid this and become truly innovative tend to lose their way once the innovators lose populatity in the city (ICI, Virgin and perhaps soon the pharmaceutical companies are examples of this). It is this fault of short termism that allows the stakeholders to have their say in decisions. Perhaps it is the lack of clear leadership in the City that avoids the stock market having the same negative impacts as the US model without jepordising financing.