This study explores the impact of ownership and control on research expenditure intensity, patenting and new product introductions over a five-year period for 86 publicly listed pharmaceutical firms. Consistent with normative agency theory predictions, we find that the presence of block private and institutional shareholders – controlling for firm size and prior performance – is positively associated with innovation activity and its outcomes. We find that chief executive officer duality was positively related to R & D expenditures, and that insider-dominated boards were positively related to new product introductions. In the literature, there is a sense that management-dominated boards can lead to value destruction because decision control and management are combined. But when long-term irreversible investments of capital are required to drive innovation, the ability for managers to keep investing may spell the difference between success and failure. Combining decision control and management can sometimes have positive effects. Management-dominated board may, in specific circumstances, support more risk-taking and innovation. Therefore, ‘best practice’ recommendations for ‘independent (that is, outsider-dominated) boards’ should be reconsidered for firms engaged in high-risk innovation activities with uncertain outcomes.