Shareholder Democracy under Autocracy: Voting Rights and Corporate Performance in Imperial Russia

This paper investigates how the rules that corporations wrote for themselves related to their financing and performance in an environment characterized by poor investor protections, Imperial Russia. We present new data on detailed governance provisions from Imperial Russian corporate charters, which we connect to a comprehensive panel database of corporate balance sheets from 1899 to 1914. We document how variation in votes per share and other shareholder rights provisions were related to corporate choices of using debt vs. equity and whether these governance provisions correlated systematically with performance measures on the balance sheet and in terms of the market-to-book ratio. This investigation reveals the trade-offs weighed by Imperial Russian corporations and demonstrates the surprising flexibility that Russian corporations enjoyed, conditional on obtaining a corporate charter