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From Private to Public—and Back Again

What’s old is new—With a Twist.

A century ago, business organization was on the cusp of change. Individual proprietorships and partnerships were the norm back in 1913, but the need for large infusions of capital meant that corporations soon came to dominate the business landscape. Today, says Professor of Management James Post, the picture is changing again.

“Cash-rich corporations such as Apple will buy back more and more public-held stock,” he predicts, “and could conceivably ‘go private’ one day in the next decade or two.”

Other corporations will remain publicly held, but with a socially conscious twist: in 16 US states (and counting), it’s now possible for companies to become “benefit corporations,” allowing them to favor social and environmental missions over financial returns, without risk of being sued by their stockholders. Where this legal status isn’t available (or isn’t necessary), purpose-driven companies can seek B Corp certification from the nonprofit B Lab. “We haven’t yet seen a conventional company switch to a B Corp charter,” says Post, “but that day will come.”

The Social States
Check the map below—are you bright green, dark green, or blue? Bright green states have passed benefit corporation legislation. Dark green states are getting there—they’re working on legislation. Sorry, blue states, ­nothing yet. Map source: