Cover of Beyond Shareholder Primacy by Stuart L. Hart
Beyond Shareholder Primacy
Remaking Capitalism for a Sustainable Future
Stuart L. Hart


April 2024
392 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636217
Ebook ISBN: 9781503638747

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From the author of Capitalism at the Crossroads, a call to consciousness—and action—for individuals, organizations, communities, and nations.

Our current Milton Friedman–style "shareholder primacy capitalism," as taught in business schools and embraced around the world, has become dangerous for society, the climate, and the planet. Moreover, Stuart L. Hart argues, it's economically unnecessary. But there are surprising reasons for hope—from the history of capitalism itself. Beyond Shareholder Primacy argues that capitalism has reformed itself twice before and is poised for a third major reformation. Retelling the origin story of capitalism from the fifteenth century to the present, Hart argues that a radically sustainable, just capitalism is possible, and even likely, in our lifetime.

Hart goes on to describe what it will take to move beyond capitalism's present worship of "shareholder primacy," including corporate transformations to re-embed purpose and reforms to major economic institutions. A key requirement is eliminating the "externalities" (or collateral damage) of our current shareholder capitalism. Sustainable capitalism will explicitly incorporate the needs of society and the planet, include a financial system that allows leaders to prioritize the planet, reorganize business schools around sustainable management thinking, and enable corporations not just to stop ignoring the damage they cause, but actually begin to create positive impact.

About the author

Stuart L. Hart is Professor Emeritus at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management, where he founded the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, and Professor in Residence at the University of Michigan's Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. He is also co-founder and former Director of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the University of Vermont's Grossman School of Business. A Fortune 500 consultant, Hart is one of the world's top authorities on the implications of environment and poverty for business strategy. He is the author of numerous publications, including the influential book, Capitalism at the Crossroads, 3rd Edition: Next Generation Business Strategies for a Post-Crisis World.

"This book is a brilliant and critically needed masterpiece. Hart provides a sweeping and compelling case for why we must urgently reform our capitalist system, and offers a practical roadmap for how this transformation can proceed."

—Paul A. Laudicina, Chairman Emeritus, A.T. Kearney; Founder, Global Business Policy Council

"We need a capitalist reformation. Shareholder primacy, the source code of capitalism, is a dead end. Stuart L. Hart shows us a path to upgrade the operating system of capitalism so that it is fit for a higher purpose than profit maximization."

—Jay Coen Gilbert, Cofounder, B Corporation movement; Founding CEO, Imperative 21

"Hart's compelling analysis of capitalism's history shows us that the past forty years of shareholder primacy are an outlier. We can and must transform the way we do business to build companies which thrive by serving their many stakeholders - including planet Earth. This is capitalism for the billions, not just the billionaires."

—Paul Polman, former CEO, Unilever; co-author of Net Positive

"This book is a call to action. It gives students and emerging leaders the blueprint they need to create a truly sustainable capitalism."

—Karen Johns, CEO, Net Impact

"An extraordinary exploration of business thinking that goes beyond the boundaries of profit and purpose. Leaders now have a path to achieve social and environmental goals, in addition to financial success. A must-read for executives, entrepreneurs, and anyone passionate about building a better, more sustainable future."

—Scott Tew, Vice President, Sustainability, Trane Technologies