“On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world” — Jack Welch, 2009. As GE’s CEO in the 80s, however, Welch championed corporate focus on shareholder returns. “Converts to the creed”, the Economist summarizes, “had little time for other ‘stakeholders’: customers, employees, suppliers, society at large and so forth.” What went wrong? Steve Denning describes how such a stance is counterproductive, creates turmoil in capitalism and fosters an environment in which “CEOs and their top managers have massive incentives to focus most of their attentions on the expectations market, rather than the real job of running the company producing real products and services.”
Warren Buffett's letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway make for some entertaining reading and are studied in B schools around the country. The 2004 letter [pdf] was recently released.