Are Chinese CEOS stewards or agents? Revisiting the agency-stewardship debate

Helen Wei Hu, Ilan Alon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose - Stewardship theory is an emergent approach for explaining leadership behavior, challenging the assumptions of agency theory and its dominance in corporate governance literature. This study revisits the agency and stewardship theories by seeking to answer whether chief executive officers (CEOs) in China are committed stewards or opportunistic agents.

Practical implications - One size does not fit all. Leadership behaviors in China do not follow the agency assumptions inherent in Western practices, rather they favor the conditions of positive leadership expressed by the stewardship theory. Assuming that the motivations of managers in emerging markets such as China are similar to those in the West may lead to a poor fit between governance policies and the institutional context.

Design/methodology/approach - Based on 5,165 observations of 1,036 listed companies in China over the period 2005-2010, the results suggest that the corporate governance mechanisms developed from the agency theory in the West are not necessarily applicable in the Chinese context.

Findings - This study supports the stewardship theory in its findings that empowering CEOs through the practice of CEO duality and longer CEO tenure have a positive effect on firm value in China. Additionally, the positive relationships between CEO duality, CEO tenure and firm value are strengthened by the number of executive directors on the board, and weakened by the number of independent directors on the board.

Originality/value - As one of the few studies to connect the theoretical debate between the agency and stewardship theories, this study presents new evidence to support the stewardship theory, thereby strengthening its theoretical importance and relevance in corporate governance literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-277
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Finance Review
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency theory
  • CEOs
  • China
  • Corporate governance
  • Stewardship theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Are Chinese CEOS stewards or agents? Revisiting the agency-stewardship debate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this