A takeover in Britain shows shareholders still rule the corporate roost

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A takeover in Britain shows shareholders still rule the corporate roost

FOR MOST people, coming into work is about more than picking up a pay slip. Not everyone aims to change the fate of humankind at the office. But even a sense that one’s employer is making a useful product helps escape the lure of the duvet in the morning. Bosses hype this up. It has become fashionable to claim that the pursuit of purpose in the service of “stakeholders” matters more than pleasing shareholders. The outcome of a takeover battle shows how removed from reality the rhetoric is.
On September 20th Philip Morris International (PMI), a giant cigarette-maker, announced it had convinced over three-quarters of the shareholders in Vectura, a British pharmaceutical business, to back its takeover plan. Thus a maker of inhalers designed to combat respiratory diseases will soon be fully owned by a firm whose products often cause them. Whatever sense of purpose the research scientists toiling at Vectura may have had when it was independent is unlikely to survive intact becoming Marlboro’s sister company.

If stakeholderism had any teeth, this would have been the moment to bare them. Vectura is certainly among those beyond-mere-shareholder companies. It was spun out of academia in 1997. Its annual report talks of building a business that delivers value to stakeholders, among them employees, suppliers and patients. Staying…
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