Telling the privatization story: a study of the president's letter

Denis Gendron (Département des sciences comptables, Université du Québec en Outaouais, Gatineau, Canada)
Gaétan Breton (Département des sciences comptables, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Canada)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Publication date: 28 June 2013



This paper aims to explore the use of narrative instruments, mainly storytelling, to sell the privatization of State‐owned enterprises (SOE) to the general public by their CEO.


The paper uses a semiotic analysis approach. It uses specific semiotic analysis instruments: Greimas' actantial model and Propp‐Bremond function model. These main instruments can be backed on time by other devices. The analysis is centered on the president's letters in the pre‐privatization period of Canadian SOEs.


The paper finds evidence of the use, by the CEO, of discourse in general and specifically accounting discourse to advocate for the privatization. The paper also finds that the general structure of storytelling in the presidents' letters studied implies the use of narrative instruments to surreptitiously convey specific messages in accordance with the surrounding ideology.

Research limitations/implications

This paper studies only SOE that had been privatized. However, top managers of every SOE are facing the same legitimating problematic. The context is strictly Canadian. Therefore, further research may examine Canadian non‐privatized SOEs or foreign SOE, privatized or not.

Practical implications

Privatization is a political decision, i.e. being decided ultimately by citizens. Therefore, CEOs of SOEs do not have to intervene in the debate using their privileged standpoint. Moreover, they will not do it except if backed by politicians promoting the same interests, although tacitly. Citizens must be aware of the manoeuvres done to orientate them toward the “good” decision.


The paper shows that the apparent objectivity of the financial results can be used to promote political agendas. It says that accounting is not a pure reflection of reality but a language used to promote specific interests. It also shows that accounting is telling stories that are used in other parts of the annual report, such as the president's letter.



Gendron, D. and Breton, G. (2013), "Telling the privatization story: a study of the president's letter", Society and Business Review, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 179-192.

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