Dodge v. Ford Motor Company
, 204 Mich. 459, 170 N.W. 668
1919), was a famous case in which the Michigan Supreme Court
held that Henry Ford
owed a duty to the shareholders
of the Ford Motor Company
to operate his business for profitable purposes as opposed to charitable
By 1916, the Ford Motor Company
had accumulated a capital surpluses of $60 million. The price of the Model T, Ford's mainstay product, had been successively cut over the years while the cost of the workers had dramatically, and quite publicly, increased. The company's president and majority stockholder, Henry Ford, sought to end special dividends for shareholders in favor of massive investments in new plants that would enable Ford to dramatically grow the output of production, and numbers of people employed at his plants, while continuing to cut the costs and prices of his cars
. In public defense of this strategy, Ford declared:
- "My ambition is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number, to help them build up their lives and their homes. To do this we are putting the greatest share of our profits back in the business."
While Ford may have believed that such a strategy might be in the long-term benefit of the company, he told his fellow shareholders that the value of this strategy to them was not a primary consideration in his plans. The minority shareholders objected to this strategy, demanding that Ford stop reducing his prices when they could barely fill orders for cars and to continue to pay out special dividends from the capital surplus in lieu of his proposed plant investments. Two brothers, John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge, owned 10% of the company, among the largest shareholders next to Ford.
The Court was called upon to decide whether the minority shareholders could prevent Ford from operating the company for the charitable ends that he had declared.
Opinion of the Court
The Court held that a business corporation is organized primarily for the profit of the stockholders, as opposed to the community or its employees. The discretion of the directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to the reduction of profits or the nondistribution of profits among stockholders in order to benefit the public, making the profits of the stockholders incidental thereto.
Because this company was in business for profit, Ford could not turn it into a charity. This was compared to a spoilation of the company's assets. The court therefore upheld the order of the trial court requiring that directors declare an extra dividend of $19 million.
Shareholder Wealth Maximization
This case is frequently cited as support for the idea that "corporate law requires boards of directors to maximize shareholder wealth." The following articles attempt to refute that interpretation.
Among non-experts, conventional wisdom holds that corporate law requires boards of directors to maximize shareholder wealth. This common but mistaken belief is almost invariably supported by reference to the Michigan Supreme Court's 1919 opinion in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co.
Dodge is often misread or mistaught as setting a legal rule of shareholder wealth maximization. This was not and is not the law. Shareholder wealth maximization is a standard of conduct for officers and directors, not a legal mandate. The business judgment rule protects many decisions that deviate from this standard. This is one reading of Dodge. If this is all the case is about, however, it isn’t that interesting.
- Stout, Lynn A. Why We Should Stop Teaching Dodge v. Ford. Social Science Research Network . Retrieved on 2008-09-10..
- Henderson, M. Todd Everything Old is New Again: Lessons from Dodge v. Ford Motor Company. Social Science Research Network . Retrieved on 2008-09-10..