An increasing share of the economy is organized around financial capitalism, where capital market actors actively manage their claims on wealth creation and distribution to maximize shareholder value. Drawing on four case studies of private equity buyouts, we challenge agency theory interpretations that they are ‘welfare neutral’ and show that an alternative source of shareholder value is breach of trust and implicit contracts. We show why management and employment relations scholars need to investigate the mechanisms of financial capitalism to provide a more accurate analysis of the emergence of new forms of class relations and to help us move beyond the limits of the varieties of capitalism approach to comparative institutional analysis.