A Reexamination of Tunneling and Business Groups: New Data and New Methods
Executive Summary — "Tunneling" refers to efforts by firms' controlling owner-managers to take money for themselves at the expense of minority shareholders. Looking at emerging economies in general and at India in particular, HBS professor Jordan I. Siegel and doctoral student Prithwiraj Choudhury argue for a simultaneous analysis of corporate governance and strategic activity differences in order to reveal the quality of firm-level corporate governance. The development of rigorous methodology in corporate governance is not merely an academic issue but has enormous real-world consequences. It is critical that scholars gain deeper empirical and theoretical insights into the question of whether these business groups serve primarily as theft devices for the controlling owners, or whether they serve primarily as a positive force that enables the creation of scale and scope efficiencies. Key concepts include:
- It is too simple to say that business groups are the primary culprits of bad governance in emerging economies. Scholars need to analyze strategic activity differences across firms.
- In contrast to prior views, Indian business groups are not, on average, engaging in tunneling, but are on average exhibiting good corporate governance, especially in light of the markedly different business strategies they typically undertake.
- Business groups, through knowledge-based capabilities, have grown larger and more diversified with market liberalization, and they continue to tower over stand-alones in their marketing and technological capabilities.
The last decade of corporate governance research has been focused in large part on identifying what leads to superior or deficient corporate governance in emerging economies. We propose that firms' corporate governance and firms' strategic business activities within an industry are interlinked. By conducting a simultaneous economic analysis of business strategy and corporate governance, scholars can better discern the quality of a firm's governance. We look at one of the most rigorous extant methodologies for detecting "tunneling," or efforts by firms' controlling owner managers to take money for themselves at the expense of minority shareholders. We find that, in contrast to prior views, Indian business groups are not, on average, engaging in tunneling (expropriation) but are, on average, exhibiting good corporate governance, especially in light of the markedly different business strategies they typically undertake. Moreover, unlike many past conceptions of business groups from financial economics, sociology, and strategy, we find evidence for a knowledge-based "recombinative capabilities" view of business groups-that such groups have done the most to invest in R&D and other skills necessary to combine inputs in ways that lead to greater added value. Further, our finding that Indian business groups have grown larger and more diversified since liberalization and since broad-based corporate governance reforms were implemented goes expressly against the prediction of prior schools of thought about business groups. We argue that the conventional wisdom about tunneling and business groups will need to be questioned and reformulated in light of the new data, methodology, and findings presented in this study.