Companies may issue another kind of stock called preferred stock, and owners of this could also rightly be termed shareholders. Because they own shares of the company’s stock, they want the company to take actions that produce growth and profitability, thereby increasing the share price and any dividends it may pay to shareholders. Introduced by the economist Milton Friedman in the 1960s, the shareholder theory of capitalism claims that corporations’ primary focus is to create wealth for its shareholders. This, however, doesn’t mean that companies can do as they please because their practices are still subject to applicable laws. Shareholders focus mainly on the financial return on their investments, whether in the form of dividends or stock appreciation.

Types of stakeholders

Anyone involved in a business or investment should set aside time to learn the terminology used to describe today’s financial landscape. Understanding the difference between a stakeholder and a shareholder can go a long way in terms of successfully navigating current and future investments. For example, when looking at the differences between a stakeholder vs. shareholder investors can identify the motivation behind certain business practices. This knowledge can enable investors to make more informed decisions about project planning, communication, and even portfolio management.

Internal Stakeholder Example

Once an organization or project has identified and ranked those stakeholders, it often identifies at what stage those different stakeholders should be prioritized and engaged with. For instance, investors are prioritized at the beginning of a project to elicit their investment. By contrast, project management best practices recommend that project team members be engaged more regularly as a project progresses. Under this system, employees often find it difficult to trust top management, as their behavior is subject to constant market scrutiny.

The Shareholders vs. Stakeholders Debate

Shareholder theory claims corporation managers have a duty to maximize shareholder returns. Economist Milton Friedman introduced this idea in the 1960s, which states a corporation is primarily responsible to its shareholders. These factors establish the primary dividing line between the various stakeholder groups and the company’s shareholders. Nevertheless, even if they leave or are forced to leave (for instance, when employees lose their jobs), they are still affected and are powerless to evade the organization’s repercussions. Therefore until shareholders decide otherwise, any social obligation does not bind them. Stakeholders and shareholders may have competing interests because of their affiliation with the company or organization.

Stock price performance vs. broader success

He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Also see Cassidy for a thorough and accessible treatment of the factors driving the shift to a “shareholder value” perspective. Community reviews are used to determine product recommendation ratings, but these ratings are not influenced by partner compensation. Get instant access to lessons taught by experienced private equity pros and bulge bracket investment bankers including financial statement modeling, DCF, M&A, LBO, Comps and Excel Modeling.

What Is Stakeholder Theory?

However, during a presentation, you might get some questions thrown at you that will demand a deeper look. The biggest difference between the two is that shareholders focus on a return of their investment. The money that is invested in a company by shareholders can be withdrawn for a profit. It can even be invested in other organizations, some of which could be in competition with the other.

Example of an External Stakeholder

Stakeholder capitalism is rife with trade-offs, and any missteps—even inadvertent ones—can become painfully public. Because of these very real risks, companies may prefer to keep things simple, focusing strictly on shareholders. Employers, customers, and investors may want more than a strong dividend history. Simply embedding a stakeholder ethos in a company’s statement of purpose can help to ensure that a wider range of stakeholders is kept in mind. Finally, nonfinancial stakeholders can be given an official voice, such as via board seats or executive roles.

Stakeholders can be internal or external and range from customers, shareholders to communities and even governments. Companies often have various people interested in their success, including shareholders and stakeholders. Although stakeholders do not have a direct relationship with the company, they may be affected by the company’s actions or performance. Another important distinction — only companies that issue shares have shareholders, while every organization, big or small, no matter the industry they operate in, have stakeholders. Stakeholders don’t necessarily have shares in the business but have an interest — a stake — in it. Stakeholders sometimes also have shares in the company, as in the case of employee shareholders.

By adding up all the ways that better health lifts the economy, McKinsey found that better health could increase global GDP by $12 trillion in 2040—an 8 percent boost, or 0.4 percent faster growth a year. Serving stakeholders, if done correctly, can be a source of competitive advantage. For example, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies laid off workers to cut costs and preserve cash. However, as consumer demand recovered, companies that avoided or limited layoffs found that they were in a much better position to restore production.7Bob Tita and Austen Hufford, “Consumer demand snaps back. Factories can’t keep up,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2021,

Shareholders are always stakeholders, but stakeholders aren’t necessarily shareholders. A study from ECSP Europe found that while shareholder theory is sound in the abstract, “some executives following this theory could have brought disrepute to it” in the leadup to the Great Recession. Let’s take joliet accountants a closer look at the other side of the shareholder token — preferred shareholders. Depending on the type of stock you own, you’re either a common shareholder or a preferred shareholder. You can buy both types of shares through a normal brokerage account, but they give you different benefits.

  1. Shareholders are part owners of the company only as long as they own stock, so they’re usually focused more on short-term goals that influence a company’s share prices.
  2. Stakeholder theory, in contrast, is the idea that stakeholders should have priority and that the relationship between stakeholders and the company is more complex and nuanced.
  3. Stakeholders do not have the same rights as shareholders, as outlined in the contract or the industry’s bylaws.
  4. Stability is often a plus for stakeholders, who may be less concerned with day-to-day developments.

By prioritizing your immediate project stakeholders (both internal and external), you can create better work environments that promote both employee well-being and customer satisfaction. And when your team feels heard, they’re more motivated to do their best work and help projects succeed. That means instead of aiming for quick wins, you’re investing in your future. When a company’s operations could increase environmental pollution or take away a green space within a community, for example, the public at large is affected. These decisions may increase shareholder profits, but stakeholders could be impacted negatively.

Various stakeholders include employees, consumers, suppliers, shareholders, creditors, many subsets of creditors, and even the government. Freeman believes businesses should concentrate on creating wealth for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. According to him, a company’s relationships with its clients, partners, employees, shareholders, and the community are interconnected. Contrarily, the growing importance of business ethics has given stakeholders more influence over how organizations are operated.

Use a portfolio mindset; while every idea doesn’t need to score highly on all three attributes, in aggregate, each theme should. Few, if any, companies can do everything, and ranking the ideas will help them to make the inevitable trade-offs. Once ideas are measured according to these three attributes, they should be ranked relative to one another.

Friedman contends that making money for the owners of a firm should be its main objective. Nowadays, many businesses consider the opinions of various stakeholders whose decisions might influence them before making a final choice. Although shareholders are technically the company’s owners, they are not accountable for the limited partnership or any other financial obligations.

In addition, factors such as race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, disability, and age can also influence health status. Environmental impact takes into account a company’s waste, pollution, emissions, land use, consumption of natural resources, and other ways its operations affect environmental health. For employees, this could include items such as diversity metrics and satisfaction surveys.

When a company goes over the allowable limit of carbon emissions, for example, the town in which the company is located is considered an external stakeholder because it is affected by the increased pollution. As far as the stakeholder theory is concerned, for organizations to truly create shareholder value, companies must embrace social responsibility and very carefully consider the needs of all of its stakeholders. A stakeholder is someone who can impact or be impacted by a project you’re working on.

They, however, receive their share of the proceeds after creditors and preferred shareholders have been paid. Stakeholder Theory suggests that prioritizing the needs and interests of stakeholders over those of shareholders is more likely to lead to long-term success, health, and growth across a variety of metrics. Being the employees, they are potential beneficiaries of those firm-specific investments, but also their risk bearers. In countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, corporate governance typically focuses on the firm’s outside investors, mainly shareholders. In those countries, top managers tend to be monitored by means of market-based rewards and penalties. For instance, in the United States, where compensation is often tied to the level of profitability, most firms would opt to cut back on labor in order to sustain current profitability.

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