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Ossi Pesämaa and Per-Erik Eriksson

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Ossi Pesämaa and Martin Svensson

Principal–agency theory has influenced the formation of corporate boards worldwide. However, the viability of such an outsider-owned model has also been questioned. Weak empirical support between the structure of corporate boards and the performance of firms, and examples of bankruptcies in companies such as Enron, Lehman Brothers and Worldcom, raise doubts about the efficiency of boards. Many Asian countries are dominated by another type of model – insider governance models – relying on families and close relationships instead. Based on the central tenets of principal–agent theory and macro-level data (2006–14), we analyse differences in board efficiency between emerging economies in Asia and western economies. The findings unveil a ‘cultural effect’ where board efficiency better predicts the insider-orientated governance model that is prevalent in eastern economies. The viability of principal–agency theory as a unifying model is discussed, and then practical implications and recommendations for further research are outlined.