The Economist has been editorially independent since it was founded in September 1843 to take part “in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”
The share capital of The Economist Newspaper Limited, The Economist Group's parent company, is divided into ordinary shares, "A" special shares, "B" special shares and trust shares. The company is private and none of the shares are listed. Its articles of association also state that no individual or company can own or control more than 50% of its total share capital, and that no single shareholder may exercise more than 20% of voting rights exercised at a general meeting of the company.
Ordinary shares are principally held by employees, past employees, founding members of the company and, more recently, by EXOR NV. The ordinary shareholders are not entitled to participate in the appointment of directors, but in most other respects rank pari passu with the other shareholders. The transfer of ordinary shares must be approved by the Board of directors.
The "A" special shares are held by individual shareholders including the Cadbury, Layton, Rothschild, Schroder and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff.
The "B" special shares are all held by Exor which holds 43.4% of the total share capital of the company excluding the trust shares. Exor purchased the majority of its shareholding from Pearson plc in October 2015.
The trust shares are held by trustees, whose consent is needed for certain corporate activities, including the transfer of "A" special and "B" special shares. The rights attaching to the trust shares provide for the continued independence of the ownership of the company and the editorial independence of The Economist. Apart from these rights, they do not include the right to vote, receive dividends or have any other economic interest in the company. The appointments of the editor of The Economist and of the chairman of the company are subject to the approval of the trustees.
The general management of the business of the company is under the control of the Board of directors. There are 13 seats allowable on the Board, seven of which may be appointed by holders of the "A" special shares and six by the holders of the "B" special shares.