Manuscript Type: Review
Research Question/Issue: We assess the corporate governance role and the impact of private equity.
Research Findings/Results: Private equity firms are heterogeneous in their characteristics and activities. Nevertheless, a corporate governance structure with private equity involvement provides incentives to reduce agency and free cash flow problems. Additionally, private equity enhances the efficacy of the market for corporate control. Private equity investment is associated with performance gains, with such gains not simply being a result of transfers from other stakeholders. In the short term, the benefits appear clear to outgoing owners and to the new owners and management while in the longer term the benefits are less clear. While non-financial stakeholders argue that other stakeholders suffer in the short and long term, the evidence to support this view is at best mixed.
Theoretical Implications: By reviewing a comprehensive selection of theoretical and empirical papers published in refereed academic journals in finance, economics, entrepreneurship, and management as well as publicly available working papers and private equity industry studies, we develop a more complete understanding of private equity investment. Agency theory has shortcomings when applied to the broad sweep of private equity-backed buyout types, as in some cases pre-ownership change agency problems were likely low (e.g., family firms), in some cases the exploitation of growth opportunities owes more to the entrepreneurial behavior of managers than to improved incentives, and in some institutional contexts outside Anglo-Saxon countries traditional agency issues are different and stakeholder interests are more important. There is a need for further theorizing on the heterogeneity of buyout and private equity types and the contexts in which they occur. Particularly useful perspectives seem to be entrepreneurial perspectives (e.g., entrepreneurial cognition, strategic entrepreneurship), stewardship theory, and institutional theory. Stakeholder governance theory (e.g., relating to employee ownership and participation) may also be useful for explaining wider distribution of gains.
Practical Implications: Private equity investment is a positive feature of the corporate restructuring landscape. There is a need for managers and their advisors to be aware of the heterogeneity of the opportunities to create value and the expertise of different private equity firms. Policymakers designing mechanisms to regulate private equity need to be aware of the systematic evidence that shows a more positive impact of private equity than some have claimed, but also that there are heterogeneous effects relating to different types of buyouts and private equity firms that need to be taken into account.