Buy low, sell high. Fear? That’s the other guy’s problem…

It’s the 30th anniversary of Trading Places.

It’s the 30th anniversary of that classic Eddie Murphy – Dan Ackroyd – Jamie Lee Curtis movie Trading Places where that quote was first spoken, and the Duke brothers’ progeny are still making BLT’s and using insider information to cheat the public.

Here are just a couple of headlines this summer: JPMorgan Chase to pay $410 million in fines in energy market manipulation case; and from a New York Times investigation alleging Goldman Sachs uses Detroit warehouses to manipulate the aluminum market: A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold.

The Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership at Columbia University Law School and the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCI) picked a perfect time to seek papers and research on the potential misuse of stock prices in public equity markets.

But we don’t really need to wait for academic publications to illuminate the potential for bad behavior. Instead, the public, and specifically shareholders, can start to participate more in the process.

The “activist shareholder” moniker given to hedge fund billionaire and (now former) J.C. Penny shareholder Bill Ackman is a little generous– “self interested” may be better. Nonetheless, his is still a governance voice that emerges out of the lockstep of the boardroom conclave.

Pioneering activist shareholder Robert A. G. “Bob” Monks set the table for transparency and democracy in corporate governance about the time Trading Places hit the big screen. He founded Institutional Shareholder Services, Inc., and served as its president from 1985-1990. ISS is now the leading corporate governance consulting firm, advising shareholders with assets in excess of $1 trillion on how to vote their proxies.

Shareholders now have a voice. The next piece is helping shareholders realize they have one and teaching them how to use it so that companies regulate themselves in a way that is harmonious with public interest. That kind of ethical corporate culture is the foundation of any buzz around sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Click here to watch the classic scene where the Duke brothers explain commodities markets to Billy Ray Valentine.



About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.