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谷歌发新股加强创始人的控制权

Eleanor Bloxham 2012年05月02日

谷歌创始人最近公布了新的企业架构,目的在于巩固他们对公司的掌控。这个问题应该引起所有人的注意。谷歌的创始人把自己当成了超脱于资本市场体系责任之外的先行者,但这种做法会削弱投资者对整体股市的信心和参与热情。

    谷歌(Google)的几位创始人近日公布了一项计划,以便他们长期牢牢掌握对公司的控制权。

    谷歌将在董事会的许可下向现有股东发行一种没有投票权的新股。这项计划可能将会稀释股东未来的投票权,不过由于谷歌的几位创始人目前掌握了公司大多数的投票权,因此这项计划并不需要征得股东们的同意。就在谷歌宣布该计划的同时,这几位创始人正在不停抛售股票。

    谷歌创始人推出的这项计划不仅对谷歌股东来说十分重要,就连谷歌产品的用户,以及其他股票的持有人(无论是直接持股、通过共同基金购股、或参加了退休储蓄计划的人)都应该引起关注。

    除了谷歌之外,还有一些科技公司(如Facebook)和金融机构【如凯雷投资集团(Carlyle)】也想获得公开市场融资,但同时又不想给予股东某种机制制约创始人。谷歌CEO拉里•佩奇在4月12日与分析师的电话会议上毫不掩饰谷歌收紧投票权的做法对其他公司起了示范作用。他说:“鉴于谷歌的成功,这种双重管理架构现在能在较新的科技企业里成为某种标准也就不足为奇了。”

    但并不是所有人都认同“如果大家都在做这件事,那这件事一定是个好点子”的想法。即便是那些健忘的人也还记得世纪之交的科技泡沫以及之后的泡沫大破裂,也肯定还记得至今还令我们苦苦挣扎的经济危机。

    谷歌的几位创始人在一封致股东的信中列出了各种理由来为新方案辩解。他们抨击了由股东管理公司的模式,认为避免股东管理是让公司专注于长期发展的最好方式。

    创始人这番“专注于长期”的论述非常聪明。说到底,没有人愿意说,我们只相信短期,长期就算做坏了也无所谓。人们或许确实会为了自己的短期私利而做出短视行为,但是明目张胆地说出这番话却会不可避免地招致关于暗箱操作的抨击。

    因此,谷歌创始人的论断能够说服一些人并不值得奇怪。哥伦比亚大学法学院(Columbia Law School)的罗伯•杰克森教授认为,谷歌的股东们相信谷歌的几位创始人和他们创造价值的能力。尽管股东可能希望随着时间的推移,创始人们会逐渐放松对公司的控制,但“他们购买股票的时候还是很理智的。”

    科技公司创始人中江郎才尽者也大有人在。LENS Investments的董事长鲍伯•蒙克斯在一封电子邮件中写道:“谷歌绝对是一家依托于天才的公司。现在的问题是,谷歌在‘社交市场’上的失败是否意味着就像宝丽莱(Polaroid)的创始人艾尔文•兰德的下场那样,谷歌的天才时代即将结束?还是像比尔•盖茨一样,一边推出Office办公套件,一边召集高级员工继续发展互联网技术来淘汰自己的产品……为了让外部股东能重新评估被‘锁定’了的投票控制权,必须有某种机制被建立起来。”

    已退休的高盛(Goldman Sachs)董事长约翰•怀特海德表示,他强烈认同“一股一票”的投票机制。“有些公司管理层的工作做得很出色。对于他们来说,不需要特别的投票安排。而对于那些工作表现糟糕的管理者来说,需要通过股东积极投票来保证他们的工作处于正轨。谷歌或其它公司都需要特殊的投票安排,这一点没什么好争论的。”

    Google's founders announced a plan designed to perpetuate their ironclad grip on the long-term governance of the company.

    With the board's blessing, the company will issue a new non-voting class of shares to existing shareholders. Because the founders currently hold majority-voting rights, the plan does not require that shareholders give their consent to the dilution of their future voting power. The action comes amid ongoing stock sales by Google's (GOOG) founders.

    While this edict by the founders is important to Google stockholders, users of Google's products, and owners of other stocks -- outright or in mutual funds or retirements savings plans -- should also beware.

    Other technology firms, like Facebook, and financial firms, like Carlyle, are attempting to gain access to public market funding without giving shareholders a mechanism to keep the founders accountable. In a conference call with analysts on April 12, Google CEO Larry Page took credit for a similar lack of voting rights at other companies. "Given Google's success, it's unsurprising this type of dual-class governance structure is now somewhat standard among newer technology companies," he said.

    But not everyone buys the "if everyone is doing it, it must be a good idea" argument. Even those with short memories can recall the tech boom and bust at the turn of the last decade, or the financial crisis we are still digging out of.

    Google's founders marshaled the best possible arguments for their plan in a letter to shareholders. Taking a swipe at shareholder governance, they argued that evading shareholder mandates was the best way to keep the company focused on the long term.

    The founder's invocation of the long term was genius. After all, no one in her right mind goes around saying we believe in the short term and the long term be damned. People may act in favor of their own short-term selfish interests but saying so is an inevitable invitation to cries of foul play.

    So it isn't too surprising that the founders' arguments have convinced some. With Google, shareholders are buying their founders and their ability to create value, says Rob Jackson, a professor at Columbia Law School. While shareholders may have expected the founders to loosen their control over time, they "went into the stock with their eyes open," he says.

    However, many founders do falter. "Google is definitely a genius-based company," wrote Bob Monks, chair of LENS Investments, in an email. "The question needs to be raised is their failure in the 'social market' an indication of the end of genius, a la Edwin Land, Polaroid's founder. Or is it a hiccup in the style of Bill Gates who launched the Office Suite at the same time as gathering his senior staff to obsolesce the whole technology by going to the web…. Some mechanism must exist to permit outside shareholder reevaluation of the 'locked up' voting control," he wrote.

    John Whitehead, retired co-chair of Goldman Sachs (GS), says that he is a strong believer in one share one vote. "Some managements do a good job. And those who do a good job don't need special voting arrangements," he says. "And those who do a bad job need active voting by shareholders to keep them in check. There is no argument to be made for special voting arrangements at Google or anywhere else," he says.

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