Restoring the Balance of Power in Corporate Management: Enforcing an Officer’s Duty of Obedience

NIETZER&HÄUSLER ist Mitglied in der Business Law Section der American Bar Association, und als solches möchten wir auf einen sehr guten Artikel in The Business Lawyer, Vol.66, Nov. 2010 von Megan Wischmeier Shaner zum Verhältnis Officers, Directors und Shareholders aus dem Blickwinkel Corporate Governance /Balance of Power in Corporate Management. Anmerkung: Da gilt es einiges geradezurücken, gerade angesichts der Selbstherrlichkeit, mit der so mancher CEO einer Gesellschaft vorsteht (das gilt aber auch für den einen oder anderen Geschäaftsführer oder Vorstand deutscher Gesellschaften) und den Eindruck vermtitelt, er sei die Firma, einhergehend mit einer Selbstbedienungsmentalität. Respekt, Maßhalten, Loyalität und „Gehorsam“ gegenüber den Gesellschaftern oder Board gehen verschiedentlich verloren. Dem muss entgegengewirkt werden. Hier der vollständige Artikel:TBL Corporate Management

Zusammenfassung: The issue of corporate officers’ fiduciary duties has been a neglected area of Delaware law for over seventy years. This is surprising given the power and authority that these individuals wield over a corporation’s business and affairs. The transgressions that took place at large public corporations such as Enron and WorldCom serve as reminders, even after allthese years, of how officer misconduct can dramatically affect a corporation’s fortunes. Following the scandals that occurred in corporate America in the beginning of the twenty-first century, as well as those that emerged in the recent fi nancial crisis, there has been a renewedfocus in certain quarters on rethinking the officercentric model of corporate management that has come to exist . Viewed as an effective means of achieving good corporate governance, much of the discussions surrounding increasing officer accountability pertain to the appropriate model for officer fiduciary duties and the standard of liability for such duties. This article discusses the application to officers of the duty of obedience that exists in agency law and asserts that emphasizing this duty of officers would be an effective step toward restoring the proper balance of power in corporate management. Based on the concept that certain persons are not only subject to the authority and direction of others in an organization’s hierarchy, but have an affirmative duty to implement those directions, the duty of obedience exemplifies the relationship between directors and officers contemplated by corporate statutes and case law.

Accordingly, this article asserts that focusing on enforcing the fiduciary duty of obedience would advance efforts to distinguish more clearly the governance.

The actions of corporate officers have received renewed attention in recent years as a result of corporate  misconduct at companies such as Enron and Adelphia and the fall of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch during the recent financial crisis. Recognizing that it is the officers, and not the directors, who hold a position of power and control over the business and affairs of a corporation, scholars and policymakers have called for corporate governance reform in an effort to restore the proper balance of power in corporate management. The imposition of fiduciary duties on officers is widely thought to be one way to achieve this better governance.

Until recently, however, the issue of an officer’s fiduciary duties had only been addressed by the Delaware  courts in passing references and dicta. In early 2009, the Delaware Supreme Court in Gantler v. Stephens appeared to resolve this issue by holding that officers of Delaware corporations owe the same fiduciary duties to the corporation and its stockholders as directors. While taking the first step to define the fiduciary obligations of these individuals, the court’s decision has been criticized for failing to address many of the issues still surrounding the duties of officers.

One way to achieve the goal of better corporate governance using fiduciary duties is through agency law’s fiduciary duty of obedience. Emphasizing the fiduciary obligation of officers to obey the board of directors, in addition to the fiduciary duty framework that the Gantler court established, would be an effective way to restore directors to a position of authority and control over officers. The duty of obedience would obligate officers to obey the instructions and directions of the board, thus emphasizing the roles of these individuals in corporate management contemplated in corporate statutes and case law. In addition, imposing a duty of obedience would lead to greater accountability both at the board level, in encouraging directors to be more thoughtful and precise in delegating authority and responsibilities to management of the corporation, and at the officer level, in requiring officers to follow the directions of the board. Not only would  recognizing the duty of obedience impose an additional fiduciary obligation on officers that they must comply with, in some situations the duty of obedience would operate also to require a stricter standard of the duties of care and loyalty, thereby making officers more accountable for their actions. Moreover, imposing a duty of obedience on officers would be consistent with recent federal reform efforts to distinguish more clearly the governance responsibilities of officers from those of directors.

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