Sales and Elections as Methods for Transferring Corporate Control

Ronald J. Gilson, Alan Schwartz


Delaware case law has rendered the tender offer obsolete as a method for purchasing a company whose directors oppose the acquisition. A potential acquirer facing target opposition today must run an insurgent director slate, in the expectation that its directors are more likely to sell. The Delaware courts have not justified their preference for elections over markets as the preferred vehicle for implementing changes in control. Informal scholarly analyses ask transaction cost questions, such as whether proxy contests are more costly than takeovers. This article attempts to break new ground by asking whether there are systematic differences in the performance of elections and markets in the corporate context. Recent models of voting processes, we argue, strongly suggest that elections are inferior to markets. Proxy contest elections sometimes can be won by incumbent managements when a transfer of control would be efficient, a conclusion consistent with the sparse data; and the proxy election process aggregates information regarding the sale decision less well than markets do, thereby implying that proxy voters are less well-informed. Theory and data thus suggest, at the least, that the intellectual burden of proof should change: the task now is to justify using elections to transfer control despite their apparent deficiencies. The article briefly considers the policy implications of this change in perspective.

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