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CEOs Make It Out Like Their Companies Will Save The World

November 9, 2009

Many businesses feel that the content of annual reports has become more important than ever due to the tough business climate induced by the financial crisis and the growing pressure to be environmentally and socially responsible. The so-called letter to shareholders is particularly important, since it allows the CEO to come forth and describe the company’s operations in a rather personal tone. Kristina Jonäll, researcher and teacher at the University of Gothenburg’s School of Business, Economics and Law has taken a close look at a number of letters to shareholders and the pictures of the companies they convey.

‘An annual report is so much more than a financial report. It is one of the company’s most important products used to communicate how it should be perceived, both internally and externally, and what values it wants to be associated with,’ says Jonäll, who recently defended her doctoral thesis ‘VD:n har ordet – bilden av det Goda Företaget – text och siffror i VD-brev’.

Jonäll for example studied the letters to shareholders in the annual reports published by three Swedish major companies: SKF, SCA and Ericsson. She found that all three strive to promote themselves as successful and uniquely able to satisfy all kinds of needs and to ‘save the world’.

‘The letters to shareholders are widely read and inspire innumerable decisions,’ says Jonäll. ‘My research sparks questions about how the often well-manicured images promoted in letters to shareholders affect shareholders, what responsibility companies and their managers have and what a good-company image really means.’

Jonäll’s findings will for example be used to make students better equipped to critically scrutinize non-financial information in annual reports. The increased knowledge will help business students extend their analyses and make wiser decisions.

The thesis was publicly defended on 25 September 2009.

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