Who owns the company? No one does

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John Kay has a refreshing, and controversial article in the FT this morning in which he asks the question:

So who does own a company?

To which he responds:

The answer is that no one does, any more than anyone owns the river Thames, the National Gallery, the streets of London, or the air we breathe.

I would stress, he is clearly thinking of the PLC here, and not the single person consulting entity. But the confusion between the two is, as he points out, part of the problem. In a PLC the right of the shareholder exists, but is only to own the share, not the company itself, and they're very different things.

The rest of the problem, he says, is the argument that:

Shareholders own the corporation, and the duty of the directors to maximise shareholder value follows from that. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told “that is the law”.

But that, as he rightly argues, is not true.

It's time we moved on from that claim whose survival has, I suggest, been because of the supposed justification it provides for tax abuse.