Behind all these books lurks an even more ironic truth. Nearly always, nobody truly owns a public company. The institutional shareholders, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries, own small proportions of shares -- perhaps 5 to 6 percent at most. These institutions may own the shares on behalf of a future retiree, who may be quite unaware of a financial relationship with the company. If a single benign owner had control of the company (as is sometimes the case in Europe), and if all minority shareholders were treated as well as big ones, then the problem of governance would probably vanish.
Frances Cairncross ([email protected]), rector of Exeter College at Oxford University, was formerly the management editor at The Economist. Her most recent books include The Death of Distance: How the Communications Revolution Is Changing Our Lives (Harvard Business School Press, 2001) and The Company of the Future: How the Communications Revolution Is Changing Management (Harvard Business School Press, 2002).