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Threat of falling high status and corporate bribery: Evidence from the revealed accounting records of two South Korean presidents

Yujin Jeong and Jordan I. Siegel

Strategic Management Journal, 2018, vol. 39, issue 4, 1083-1111

Abstract: Research Summary: Social status and its dynamics may be an important predictor of which firms will engage in large‐scale bribery. Prior theory is incomplete, however, and prior studies have lacked comprehensive and reliable data on firm‐level bribery decisions. We offer a new theoretical prediction and a novel data set on high‐level corruption in South Korea, where the accounting records of two presidents in the 1987–1992 era were exposed to after‐the‐fact legal and public scrutiny. We find that, controlling for a range of alternative explanations, the threat of falling high status—that is, the combination of longstanding high social status with current‐period mediocre economic performance relative to that of industry peers—is a statistically and economically meaningful predictor of increases in the amount of large‐scale corporate bribery. Managerial Summary: What leads companies to engage in large‐scale bribery of senior politicians? Our concept of “threat of falling high status” refers to a circumstance where companies that have historically enjoyed high status through their owner families’ elite marriage networks experience mediocre economic performance relative to their peers. We show that this threat of falling high status is a notable determinant of large‐scale corporate bribery of senior politicians, using court data on corporate bribery of two South Korean presidents during 1987–1992. The implication of our study is twofold. Companies can strengthen internal control systems to avoid any large‐scale illegal activities at a higher level. Law enforcement agencies can also implement targeted monitoring programs to preempt illegal activities among companies facing the threat of falling high status.

Date: 2018
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