There is some confusion between the terms “shareholder” and “stakeholder” in a company. What do we mean by one or another, what are the differences and why should you care about them? Here is what you should know.
What exactly are shareholders and stakeholders, and what’s the difference?
A stakeholder is any individual or group that has an interest or is affected by the activities, decisions, or outcomes of your company. Stakeholders can include employees, customers, suppliers, communities, government entities, trade unions, advocacy groups, and whoever knows or is interested or influenced by your company. They can have various perspectives and concerns related to the organization, such as its social and environmental impact, reputation, sustainability, and overall success.
A shareholder, on the other hand, refers to an individual, group, or institution that owns shares or stock in your company – we also call them equity owners. Shareholders are primarily concerned with their investment, which means that they will care about profitability, value, cash. Shareholders are often interested in maximizing their returns on investment through dividends, increase in the value of the company, or other financial benefits.
What should be very clear is that shareholders are specific stakeholders with a financial interest in a company.
Who is more influent in the company?
Shareholders generally have voting rights in the company, so they participate in decisions related to major corporate matters, such as the appointment of directors or changes in the company's structure. Their influence is typically proportional to their shareholding, meaning those with more shares have a greater say in the decision-making process. Because of their main interests, their main influence could be felt in the company's financial performance, governance practices, and long-term strategy.
Stakeholders have a broader scope of interest beyond just financial gain. They may be concerned about factors like ethical practices, environmental impact, social responsibility, employee well-being, or community development. Even if they don't have direct voting rights, stakeholders often contribute to shaping the organization's policies, direction, and decision-making by providing feedback, expressing concerns, or advocating for specific causes.
You could say that shareholders have a direct influence on the company business, while stakeholders have an indirect one. However, many times indirect influences are materialized in important decisions of the shareholders.
Which are the main objectives and interests of shareholders and stakeholders in a company?
Let’s compare the two categories:
- Focus: Shareholders primarily seek financial returns on their investment in the company. They are interested in maximizing their profits and wealth.
- Profit Orientation: Shareholders prioritize the financial performance of the company, such as increasing revenue, profitability, and share value.
- Return Expectations: Shareholders expect returns through dividends, capital gains from increasing stock prices, or selling their shares at a higher price.
- Decision Influence: Shareholders often have the right to vote on major corporate decisions, including electing directors or approving significant transactions, allowing them to exert influence on the company's strategic direction.
- Focus: Stakeholders have a broader set of interests beyond financial returns. They consider the impact of the company's activities on various parties, including employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment.
- Multiple Perspectives: Stakeholders may focus on social, environmental, and ethical considerations in addition to financial aspects.
- Sustainable Practices: Stakeholders often advocate for responsible business practices, emphasizing long-term sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and ethical conduct.
- Decision Influence: While stakeholders may not have direct voting rights, they can still influence decisions through various channels, such as engaging with the company, participating in dialogue, and exerting public pressure.
It's important to note that there can be overlaps between the interests of shareholders and stakeholders, but also situations in which the interests of the two categories are different, even conflicting. While shareholders usually are interested in the growth and development of your company, some stakeholders may be opposed to it, and even take adverse actions.
Could you give me some examples of shareholders for a company?
The main characteristic of shareholders, or partners, associates and such, as you will see at the end of this article, is that they own equity in the company.
- Founders and Executives: In many cases, not only the founders, but also the top executives of a company are also shareholders. They often have significant ownership stakes because of their role in establishing or leading the company.
- Employee Shareholders: Some companies offer their employees the opportunity to own shares of the company's stock through stock option plans, employee stock purchase plans, or equity-based compensation programs.
- Individual Investors: These are individuals who purchase shares of the company's stock directly, or through brokerage accounts or investment platforms. They can include small investors, retail investors, or high-net-worth individuals.
- Institutional Investors: These are organizations that invest large sums of money on behalf of their clients or funds. Examples include pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, insurance companies.
- Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Firms: These are specialized investment firms that provide funding to early-stage or high-growth companies in exchange for ownership stakes. They typically invest in startups or companies with high growth potential.
- Investing Companies: Sometimes, some companies acquire shares in other companies as part of their strategic initiatives or diversification strategies. As such, they become shareholders in the companies they invested in.
Which would be some examples of stakeholders for a company?
- Shareholders/Investors: Individuals or institutions that own shares or have invested capital in the company. It’s important to note that shareholders are just a subset of stakeholders in a company.
- Employees: The workforce of the company, including full-time and part-time employees, contractors, and freelancers.
- Customers: Individuals or organizations that purchase or use the company's products or services.
- Suppliers: Companies or individuals that provide goods or services to the company for its operations or production processes.
- Government: Regulatory bodies, local authorities, and government agencies that oversee and regulate the company's activities.
- Community: The local community in which the company operates, including residents and community organizations.
- Business Partners: Other companies or organizations that collaborate with the company in joint ventures, partnerships, or strategic alliances.
- Competitors: Other companies in the same industry that compete with the company for market share and customers.
- Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): Advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and other non-profit organizations that may have an interest in the company's practices or impact.
- Media: Journalists, reporters, and media outlets that cover and report on the company's activities, performance, and news.
- Financial Institutions: Banks, lenders, and creditors that provide financial services or have financial relationships with the company.
- Trade Unions: Organizations that represent and advocate for the rights and interests of the company's employees.
These are just a few examples, and the specific stakeholders vary tremendously depending on the industry, location, and nature of the company's operations.
Is it correct to designate as shareholders stock owners in a LLC type of company?
Shareholder means basically “holder of shares”. But not all types of companies have their equity composed of shares, so … what do we call the company owners in other entities, for example the ones called LLCs in Europe (Limited Liability Companies)? And how do you call them in English? Well … it depends.
While the term "shareholder" is commonly used in English-speaking countries to refer to individuals who own shares in a company, the legal terminology and usage can differ in various jurisdictions. Let’s explore the situation in some of Europe’s countries and regions.
- Romania: In Romania, the legal structure commonly used for small and medium companies is the “Societate cu Răspundere Limitată” (SRL), which is similar to a limited liability company (LLC) in other jurisdictions. In a SRL, the owners of the company are typically referred to as "asociati" or "partneri", which translate in English as “associates” or “partners”, rather than shareholders.
- Greece: In Greece, the equivalent legal structure to a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is called an "Etaireia Periorismenis Efthinis" or "EPE." An EPE is a private limited liability company where the liability of the company's shareholders is limited to their capital contributions. It is a popular choice for small and medium-sized businesses in Greece.
Equity owners are referred to as "μέτοχοι" (metochi), which typically translates to "shareholders" in English.
- Bulgaria: In Bulgaria, the equivalent legal structure to a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is called an "Ограничена отговорност" or "OOD" (Общество с ограничена отговорност). Equity owners are referred to as "съдружници" (sadruzhnitsi), which translates to "partners" in English.
- The Netherlands: In the Netherlands, the equivalent legal structure to a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is called a "Besloten Vennootschap" or "BV." "Aandeelhouders", translated in English as "shareholders" is the appropriate term to refer to equity owners in a BV in the Netherlands.
- DACH: The equivalent legal structure to an LLC in DACH is a "Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung" or "GmbH." A GmbH is a private limited liability company where the liability of the company's shareholders is limited to their capital contributions. It is a widely used business entity in Germany, providing limited liability protection to its shareholders.
Equity owners in a GmbH are referred to as "Gesellschafter," which translates to "partners" or "shareholders" in English, depending on the context. Therefore, "Gesellschafter," "partners," or "shareholders" are all appropriate terms to refer to equity owners in a GmbH in the DACH region.
Well, we hope you have now a clear idea about the differences between stakeholders, who are in general all people and entities influenced or interested in what you do in the company, and shareholders (or their equivalent), who are a specific subset of stakeholders, the ones who own the equity of the company. The stakeholders who own options or financial instruments as convertible notes which give them the right to become in certain circumstances equity owners will appear in the cap table of the company, so that the equity structure of the company will become clear, including not only actual, but also future and potential equity owners.