SOM Event Explores the Origins of Shareholder Activism Around the World

Corporate executives are paying themselves bloated bonuses while they squander shareowner value; a crony board of directors refuses to pay investors dividends and is keeping key financial accounts secret; the firm’s stock price is plummeting.

This story isn’t from today’s financial crisis; it comes from the year 1609, and these are among the complaints that investor Isaac Le Maire lodged against the Dutch East India Company, the world’s first publicly traded corporation. On January 24, 1609, Le Maire filed a petition against the company, marking the first recorded expression of shareholder activism.

To mark the 400th anniversary of shareholder advocacy, the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at the Yale School of Management (SOM) will host a conference titled “Origins of Shareholder Advocacy” Friday-Saturday, November 6-7.

“The story of Le Maire and the Dutch East India Company in 1609 sounds all too familiar in 2009,” says Ira Millstein, senior associate dean for corporate governance at SOM. “Four hundred years later, there are lessons to be learned by looking back at that event and others like it throughout history. We can gain insights to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over.”

Speakers will include international scholars in financial history, corporate governance, economics, law, organizational behavior and political science, who will present original research that explores the ­origins and historical development of shareholder advocacy and its relevance to corporate governance today.

The presentations will trace centuries of shareholder activism around the world, including in the United States, China, England, Italy and the Netherlands. The accounts of fraud, corporate mismanagement, whistleblowers, government bailouts, regulation, excessive CEO pay, short-selling and shareholder revolt aim to give a new perspective on present-day capital markets.

The conference is presented with support from IRRC Institute and APG, the asset management firm owned by ABP, the Dutch civil service pension system. The conference chair is Jonathan Koppell, associate professor of politics and management at SOM.

To register, go to http://millstein.som.yale.edu/Project_400.shtml.

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