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Adrian Hensen


Steward-ownership: join the ‘economic avant-garde’ and make a real impact 

IbyIMD+ Published 12 January 2024 in Purpose • 11 min read

Described as the ‘economic avant-garde’ by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the federal president of Germany, steward-ownership is gaining ground among companies seeking to have a positive impact on the world. To protect their mission and ensure they can focus on their impact, entrepreneurs and family business owners are turning away from traditional absentee ownership and shareholder value primacy. Adrian Hensen, Co-founder of the Purpose Foundation, tells Bryony Jansen-van Tuyll how the model of steward-ownership equips businesses to deliver positive change.  

What is steward-ownership and how does it differ from other corporate ownership models?  

My background is in business and psychology, so let me explain from a psychology perspective. That requires looking at a company as a human. If a person would like to improve their lifestyle, they can put in place new programs for sports and diet, for example. These might make a difference for a while. Yet, to bring about significant improvement over the long term, a person must first identify and address the underlying drivers of their behavior – the root cause.   

In the same way, companies are limited in how much they can benefit society by the underlying structure of a company: ownership. Ownership is a bundle of different rights, including profit rights and voting rights. Owners, holding the rights to both money and power, determine the direction of travel a CEO can take.  

Steward-ownership is an ownership structure that decouples profit rights and voting rights to enable a…

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