Concern over Wesfarmers’ executive pay?

Wesfarmers, which owns some of Australia’s most recognizable brands, sees concerns from shareholders and proxy advisors regarding its CEO and executive pay during the last proxy season

Wesfarmers, one of the biggest conglomerates in Australia, saw concern from its shareholders with a negative response during the recent 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) that was held last November 14, 2019.

Although all resolutions were passed, there was a large number of shareholders that voted against the adoption of the remuneration report, resulting in a 21.45 percent disapproval. One of the biggest causes of the pessimistic response from shareholders was due to proxy advisor ISS advising investors to go against the remuneration report because of an “excessive” compensation plan.

Although Wesfarmers’ demerger from Coles supermarket resulted in a 360 percent increase in after-tax profit to AUD 5.5 billion, the company will neither give incentive nor penalize its executives [1].

Shareholders were concerned over the pay for both Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robert Scott and Independent Chairman Michael Chaney [2]. Mr. Scott has received over AUD 4 million in total realized pay and Mr. Chaney has received AUD 780,000 in total compensation, which ISS claims is higher than its industry peers.

CGLytics Pay for Performance Analysis

According to our CGLytics analysis, Wesfarmers has a higher CEO total realized pay over three years than its three-year increase in total shareholder return (TSR), when compared against its country and industry peers.

This misalignment of the CEO pay compared to company performance may have been the cause of the company almost undergoing a first-strike. A first-strike occurs when 25 percent of shareholders vote against the adoption of the remuneration report and the company would need to either amend or justify its remuneration policies before the next AGM [3].

Wesfarmers Limited's CEO Pay for Performance

wesfarmers CEO pay
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Not only was there concern over the CEO pay for Wesfarmers, but the ambiguous changes in awards policies [4]. This was also seen as an issue for other proxy firms such as Glass Lewis and the Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA).

What is the KEEPP bonus scheme?

The 2016 and 2017 Key Executive Equity Performance Plan (KEEPP) bonus had been cancelled following the demerger of Coles supermarket, but a bonus will be rewarded with the same principles as KEEPP, however with different performance conditions.

The 2017 KEEPP Allocation for the CEO and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had the following performance metrics: 50 percent weighting on Wesfarmers relative to the TSR of the ASX 100 Index, 20 percent weighting on absolute Return on Equity (ROE) and 30 percent weighting on strategic measures.

Because of the demerger in 2018, the company has removed the performance condition on absolute ROE as it may have an impact on the targets of executives. The 2018 KEEPP allocation for the CEO and CFO is as follows: 60 percent weighting on the Wesfarmers’ relative TSR against the S&P/ASX100 Index, 20 percent weighting on Wesfarmers’ portfolio management and investment outcomes and 20 percent weighting on strategic measures. However, the company was not able to be fully transparent and clear in its disclosure of strategic measures and investment outcomes, only stating the improvement of data analytics and better progress in gender balance.

Wesfarmers underpays due to complications in payroll

After the release of the 2019 AGM results, another scandal arose when it came to light that Wesfarmers had underpaid up to 6,000 current and former employees of its industrial division, resulting in AUD 15 million or more in underpayments [5]. The company stated that its cause was due to a defect in a payroll system. The company plans to expedite the sending of payments into the banks of underpaid current and former employees before the end of 2019, but is hindered by the complication of its payroll system [6][7].

Linking director pay to competency and expertise

Companies not only link executive pay to performance, but more often than not, companies also link director pay to competency and expertise [8]. With the current events that Wesfarmers has experienced, it is suggested that the company would benefit from a board that can guide it towards its strategic direction, mitigate risk and oversee company performance.

According to our analysis (performend using the CGLytics application), Wesfarmers’ board has strengths in the areas of ‘advisory’ and ‘finance’. Wesfarmers recent acquisition of the Catch Group in 2019 (an e-commerce company that runs Catch.com.au, Mumgo, Grocery Run and Brands Exclusive), should see greater skills and expertise added in the area of ‘technology’, which is currently very low. ‘Governance’ experience, to spot and mitigate risks, is also worth looking at to ensure issues are resolved smoothly in the future.

Wesfarmers board's expertise and skills

Wesfarmers skills and expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

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The DOs and DON’Ts when rethinking incentive plans

Why have 75% of first-time say-on-pay votes failed in 2019? A large number of negative votes can be attributed to incentives. Companies need to rethink their incentive plans and make sure metrics truly benchmark performance.

Seventy-five percent of first-time say-on-pay (SoP) votes failed in 2019, and a large number of these negative votes focused on incentives.

There is an increasing need for companies to fully rethink their incentive plans, as the CGlytics whitepaper “How to take the testing of equity-based compensation plans into your own hands” points out.

“It is imperative that companies design their equity pay plans to ensure they receive shareholder approval first time, every time. In order to meet investor expectations, companies need to understand how they, and the proxy advisors they rely on, evaluate equity plans and make voting decisions.”

Marc Ullman, a partner with Meridian Compensation Partners explains what to do and what not to do in rethinking incentive plans.

First of all, companies need to fully rethink their compensation plans, and not to just tweak them. Making just a few cosmetic changes will not suffice to ensure that incentives are effective. At least every two years, a real restructuring is needed.

Often shareholder pushback will incite a rethink, but even with shareholder support, benchmarking for effectiveness is critical as priorities change and the business climate evolves. The plan must reflect the new realities the business faces.

Or the incentive plan may simply become too complicated to be useful, as continually including more metrics and other add-ons makes application confusing. This often happens as businesses try to simply tweak the plan instead of really rethinking it.

 

Here are the do’s and don’ts to achieve as near optimal alignment between pay and performance as possible:

– If you need a full-scale rethink, don’t settle for a mere tweak. Make sure that what you do matters, don’t nibble around the edges. Make sure the metrics truly benchmark performance.

– But don’t overdo it. Pick out the key metrics and focus on that; don’t try to transform the whole structure unless you really feel that you have to.

– As the rethinking process is underway, take note of the solid rationale that stems from the business model. This will be something to communicate at the end of the process, and one that can be used for grounding the basis of your thinking.

– Make sure you include all the right people: Finance, HR, Corporate leadership, corporate leadership and the business unit. Everyone should buy in to the metrics and the targets that are being set.

– Make sure your plan pays something in year one. After a big rollout you need to make sure that design provides results. Otherwise it could hurt your credibility.

– Take advantage of feedback from shareholder outreach. More and more companies are actively talking to shareholders, and their points of view should at least be considered as the design is taking shape. Consider investor relations and investor perspective and proxy advisors like ISS and Glass Lewis.

– Communicate internally and externally. You have multiple audiences internally.

 

Predict Shareholder Approval with Glass Lewis’ Equity Compensation Model

 

The Glass Lewis Equity Compensation Model (ECM) allows you to instantly test and review your incentives plan using the same key criteria and scoring system as leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis. The ECM supports testing of 4,300+ publicly-traded U.S. firms including the Russell 3000 and exclusively available via CGLytics.

With the ECM you can confidently engage, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your current and future equity plans. Ensure you get the votes to legally grant equity compensation to your executives, board members and staff.

Click here to learn more about the ECM application or request a no-obligation demonstration.

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Sims Metal Management: Tracking Pay for Performance Over Time

A key element in an assessment of remuneration outcomes is the payout track record and payout variability over several years. Sophisticated remuneration structures should result in pay outcomes which vary in line with performance.

CGI Glass Lewis assesses both executive remuneration structure and outcomes, which is highly valuable when considering our support for remuneration reports of ASX-listed entities.

Concepts of appropriate structure and appropriate outcomes are related, given that strong remuneration structures should result in appropriate remuneration outcomes. However, we have found that a) the complexity of remuneration structures, b) challenges in measuring performance, and c) a large degree of discretion built in to remuneration structures (whether visible or not) often stretch this relationship.  To compensate, CGI Glass Lewis will often consider remuneration structure and remuneration outcomes independently so as to have each component act as a cross-check of the other.

A key element in an assessment of remuneration outcomes is the payout track record and payout variability over several years. Sophisticated remuneration structures should result in pay outcomes which vary in line with performance. Furthermore, the relationship between pay and performance should persist over longer periods as a result of common short-term incentives and long-term incentive remuneration structures.

CGLytics data has allowed us to consider the relationship between executive pay and company performance over a five-year period and has been a key element in our remuneration reports.

CGLytics in use

Sims Metal Management (“SGM”) buys and processes scrap metal from businesses, other recyclers and the general public with over 250 processing facilities in the United States, United Kingdom and Australasia.

CGLytics captures the total realizable pay of ASX300 CEO’s, including for SGM, where total realizable pay is the value of awards vested to the CEO in any given year. CGLytics tools have allowed the charting of realizable pay for the CEO of SGM against realizable pay for CEO’s of peer entities. CGLytics also captures the EBITDA performance for SGM and peers.

The CGLytics analysis, which is included in our Proxy Paper for the SGM 2019 AGM is presented below:

SGM Peer Groups

Looking at the charts, SGM has outperformed its peers on an EBITDA basis between 2015 and 2018 and the CEO’s realizable pay rose to match that.  In FY2019, EBITDA has dipped, which is matched by a significant drop in the CEO’s take home pay—notwithstanding the payout is still above those of peer groups.

We are please to see this relationship between performance and pay and can easily see the variability in pay outcomes over time, which corresponds to company performance as measured by EBITDA.

As SGM has no obvious direct peers listed on the ASX, a diversified approach to peer groups is used.  The first peer group, Country, is a group of 10 peer entities which are similar to SGM in terms of market capitalisation, revenues and employee numbers.  Similarly, the second peer group, Industry, is a group of 10 peer entities with similar size as in the Country peer group, but with the addition of a further industry filter.

A common problem for ASX-listed entities is the sourcing of appropriate peers. The use of the two sets of companies addresses the shortcomings of using a single peer group and allows us to see if trends and patterns persist when moving from one peer group to another.

Conclusion

CGI Glass Lewis assessed SGM’s 2019 remuneration structure as Fair following application of our Good/Fair/Poor assessment options.  This has historically been our assessment of SGM’s remuneration structure.

After reviewing of remuneration outcomes, including CGLytics charts which enable us to see historic payout variation and an ongoing relationship between pay and performance, we were comfortable in supporting the remuneration report proposal at the 2019 AGM.  In this case, using an assessment of remuneration outcomes has supported a Fair grading of remuneration structure and has given us confidence in SGM’s remuneration report.

Ultimately, the 2019 AGM held on November 14, 2019, SGM’s remuneration report proposal received support from 92.80% of votes cast.

 

Access Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay analysis – Available through CGLytics

For the 2020 proxy season, CGLytics data will provide the basis of Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay recommendations.

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Remuneration policy: Directors reward attracts more and more attention

A well-founded remuneration policy is no longer optional. The new European Shareholder Rights Directive demands transparency around remuneration of directors.

At many of the annual shareholders meetings, the remuneration of the directors will soon be prominently on the agenda. It is one of the most important governance issues for companies. In 2019, companies already received a taste of the increasing interest in this topic of shareholders and employees. We expect that this attention will only increase. It is not only shareholders who look critically at the remuneration of the directors and everything that is related to it. The legislator is also alert. De new European Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) demands the transparency of the company around the remuneration of directors and senior managers. The reward must also be in line with the long-term value creation.

Active involvement

An increasing number of directors, supervisors renumeration committees and investors are using corporate governance analytics to review remuneration policy. That helps determine an adequate reward structure. And overseeing it. The wide-ranging discussion on Shell-CEO’s remuneration, Ben van Beurden, illustrates that. It more than doubled to € 20.1 million in 2018. Important detail: the data shows that his wages are 143 times higher than the average wage of the British staff of Shell. At Shell’s most recent meeting, shareholders had the chance to vote on the pay package, 10 percent of the shareholders voted against.

Equal to employees

We also see how stakeholders can appreciate a long-term remuneration policy. For example, insurer ASR came into the news positively when it wanted to permanently put an end to bonuses and pay in shares for the board. After the agreement with the shareholders, it is also stipulated that there are no variable remuneration schemes for the members of the Board of Directors, thus the remuneration policy is equal to that of the other employees in the company.

Effect new law

It is clear that companies need to be aware of the effects of their remuneration policy. We see a positive effect if companies do talk about the remuneration policy with shareholders and other stakeholders before the general meeting of shareholders, underpinning this with data. We see signals that this reduces the number of oppositions to the proposed policy.

A well-founded remuneration policy is no longer optional. Dutch companies must draw up their remuneration reporting for the 2019 financial year in line with the new requirements of SRD II. This includes a comprehensive overview of the remuneration and benefits of each individual director covered by the advisory vote of shareholders. In addition, Dutch listed companies need to explain how their salary strategy connects with the long-term goals. The new law also gives shareholders more participation and influence. Since the introduction of the law, companies need 75 percent of shareholders’ votes to adapt their salary strategy. This was previously 50 percent. All the more reason for companies – also non-listed ones – to put their remuneration policy into perspective.

For more information about how CGLytics’ executive compensation data and tools informs companies of how they compare to their peers reumuneration practices click here.

About the Author

Aniel Mahabier: CEO and founder of CGLytics

Mahabier interviews and writes for Management Scope about the remuneration of directors and corporate governance analytics. This blog was published in Management Scope.

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Blue Sky Downfall – What went wrong?

While no company wants to find itself in a state of voluntary administration, it is a stark reality faced by the Australian-based fund manager Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited. The company is currently undergoing administration, following years of challenging circumstances starting as early as 2017.

When facing bankruptcy or insolvency, companies have the option of going into voluntary administration. This is when an independent and qualified person (a voluntary administrator) takes over a company’s assets and business operations in an attempt to salvage the company [1].

While no company wants to find itself in a state of voluntary administration, it is a stark reality faced by the Australian-based fund manager Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited. The company is currently undergoing administration, following years of challenging circumstances starting as early as 2017. The future of a company that was once named one of Brisbane’s top companies is now uncertain [2] after US-based short-seller Glaucus reported that the company had overstated its valuation and disregarded some of its key business obligations [3].

Despite Blue Sky’s former Chief Executive Officer Robert Shand’s claims that the company had grown by 50 per cent across key performance metrics, Glaucus expressed skepticism regarding the credibility of Blue Sky’s valuations [4]. The research company’s analysis showed that Blue Sky’s real fee earning asset under management was valued at maximum AUD 1.5 billion, which was 63 per cent short of the AUD 3.9 billion that Blue Sky had reported [5]. The inflated representation of figures may have helped with boosting share prices and more access to capital. Blue Sky was also criticized for allegedly overcharging its clients with inflated management fees.

Shortly after the release of the Glaucus report, Blue Sky suspended its trading to review the claims of the short-seller hedge fund [6]. Just one week later, the company’s share prices dropped by 41 per cent by April 5, 2018 [7]. Despite its free falling share prices, Blue Sky’s response in the face of such accusations was to call on the Australian Investments and Securities Commission (ASIC) to investigate and question the integrity of Glaucus rather than to refute the latter’s claims with evidence, fostering even more pessimistic investor sentiments.

Even in the midst of battling to keep themselves afloat and avoiding more trade suspensions, Blue Sky nonetheless remained optimistic. This was until September 2018, when it confirmed that a US-based investment firm, Oaktree Capital, would be providing the Australian company with a seven-year-loan facility of AUD 50 million to facilitate the recovery of the company [8].  However, not long after the loan agreement, Blue Sky announced it will fail to meet its obligations to Oaktree [9], breaching its financial covenant as it reported an after tax net loss of AUD 25.7 million for the first half of 2019. Blue Sky Alternative Access Fund, Blue Sky Alternative Investment’s fund management subsidiary, also decided to withdraw from its parent company until ongoing legal actions were concluded [10].

After many failed deals and breaches of financial obligations, Blue Sky was suspended from the ASX 300 on May 2019. The company has also announced that the advisory and investment firm, KordaMentha, has been selected as its receiver and manager, and is currently still in administration [11].

What went wrong?

Not only did Blue Sky fail to display transparency during the short-seller report, but it also failed to comply with the 3rd edition of the ASX’s Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations, where a listed entity must maintain a majority of independent directors in their board [12]. In early 2017, John Kain, who served as the Chairman of Blue Sky, was the only independent member of the board, the other six being Executive Directors. This pushed Blue Sky to appoint two more independent directors in February 2017 but still failed to compose a board with an independent majority board of directors [13]. The Australian Institute of Company Directors states that Non-Executive Directors provide independence and objectivity to the board. An objective and outside perspective supports the idea of acting in the best interest of the company and monitoring the Chief Executive Officer and senior executives without partiality [14]. Independent directors also act as expert advisors in areas where the company aims to grow and develop [15].

Board diversity Blue Sky

As of February 2017, the board of Blue Sky was composed of: John Kain (Independent Chairman), Michael Gordon (Independent Non-Executive Director), Philip Hennessy (Independent Non-Executive Director), Alexander McNab (Executive Director), Kim Morison (Executive Director), Timothy Wilson (Executive Director) and Mark Sowerby (Founder and Executive Director). Based on the CGLytics analysis, only 43 per cent of the board in 2017 were independent non-executive directors, even after the appointment of two additional independent directors. In addition, the analysis also shows that there are no female members, resulting in a less diverse board [16].

Board expertise Blue Sky

The board expertise tool of CGLytics that provides insight of the board skills matrix shows that the company lacked an expertise in risk. Although Blue Sky’s Board is strong in the finance expertise due to its company sector, independent directors experienced in risk management could facilitate in monitoring and assuring the reliability of the financial information provided by the company. However, both independent members and risk expertise were lacking.

There was also a high turnover of board members and senior executives during the whole debacle. The first to depart the company in 2016 was founder Mark Sowerby. This raised concerns due to his sale of approximately AUD 27 million worth of company shares and may have started the downfall and speculation of Blue Sky’s future [17]. In April 2018, Robert Shand, the supposed optimistic managing director of Blue Sky has also stepped down from the board [18]. Moreover, the company had to appoint three different Chief Financial Officers in a span of seven months [19]. Mr. Joel Cann was appointed as Chief Executive Officer as he had extensive experience in rebuilding Aspen, where he was also appointed as CEO in 2016 [20]. After just two months, Blue Sky announces that it no longer required a CEO, forcing Joel Cann to depart the board [21]. The high rate of departures could have led to an inefficiency in productivity [22]. A recent analysis performed by CGLytics on executive departures from S&P 500 companies reveals that having more than one executive resignation in a year may cause the company’s Total Shareholder Return to decline [23].

exec departures

A significant number of departures may potentially lead to a lack of confidence for the future and can slow down the growth of shareholder investments.

Conclusion

Although no one would have expected the drastic plunge of Blue Sky, it could have been minimized or mitigated with good governance practices and decisions throughout the volatile season of the company. Appointing competent and independent directors that have the right skills to oversee executive management can effectively and ultimately add value to the company and avoid risks of uncertainty in businesses.

Click here to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, used by institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

[1] https://asic.gov.au/regulatory-resources/insolvency/insolvency-for-employees/voluntary-administration-a-guide-for-employees/

[2] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/2017-brisbane-top-companies-21-30.html

[3] https://www.bonitasresearch.com/company/blue-sky-alternative-investments-ltd-asx-bla/

[4] https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20161006/pdf/43brx5pyfghn67.pdf

[5] https://www.bonitasresearch.com/company/blue-sky-alternative-investments-ltd-asx-bla/

[6] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/short-seller-hits-blue-sky–sends-shares-tumbling.html

[7] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-shares-take-another-big-hit-on-glaucus-stoush.html

[8] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/oaktree-saves-blue-sky-with–50m-investment.html

[9] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-fails-to-meet-oaktree-loan-conditions.html

[10] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-s-alternative-access-fund-cuts-supply-to-mothership.html

[11] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-calls-in-receivers.html

[12] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/critics-call-for-more-independent-directors-on-blue-sky-board.html

[13] https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20170220/pdf/43g3njpm12fzft.pdf

[14] https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/-/media/cd2/resources/director-resources/director-tools/pdf/05446-1-11-mem-director-tools-bc-non-executive-directors_a4_web.ashx

[15] https://medium.com/@theBoardlist/five-reasons-you-need-an-independent-director-on-your-board-dc300f668a41

[16] https://www.asx.com.au/documents/asx-compliance/cgc-principles-and-recommendations-3rd-edn.pdf

[17] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-in-freefall–calling-for-asic-intervention.html

[18] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-md-and-executives-resign-in-the-wake-of-glaucus-saga.html

[19] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-appoints-third-cfo-in-seven-months.html

[20] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/joel-cann-takes-the-reins-at-blue-sky.html

[21] https://www.businessnewsaus.com.au/articles/blue-sky-ceo-no-longer-required.html

[22] https://boardmember.com/sudden-ceo-departures-can-upend-an-unprepared-board/

[23] https://cglytics.com/the-effect-of-executive-departures-on-company-performance/

About the author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

Alex graduated from the S P Jain School of Global Management in Sydney with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship. She previously worked in the compliance division at a large financial institution and gained her experience as a research analyst.

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Harvey Norman AGM; Strike 2 in the making?

Harvey Norman’s Annual General Meeting is to be held this Wednesday November 27, 2019. With leading independent proxy advisor CGI Glass Lewis advising to vote against the reappointment of the company’s chief executive, Katie Page, and the remuneration report, the gloves are off.

Shareholders have braced themselves for the upcoming Harvey Norman Annual General Meeting (AGM) to be held on November 27, 2019. The meeting will not be taken lightly following the shocking results of the 2018 AGM. Here we take a look at the controversial corporate governance practices that has investors and proxy advisors concerned.

Votes against remuneration report in 2018

What happened in 2018? Majority of the shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report, resulting in 50.63 per cent of shareholders disapproving the resolution earning the company a first strike. Not only did a large percentage of shareholders vote against the remuneration report, but an average of 27.76 per cent opposed the re-election of the following directors: Non-Executive Director Mr. Michael John Harvey, Non-Executive Director Mr. Christopher Herbert Brown, and Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mr. John Slack-Smith. An average of 17.5 per cent of shareholders also voted against the grant of performance rights under the Harvey Norman 2016 Long-term Incentive Plan to the following Executive Directors: Executive Chairman Mr. Gerald Harvey, Chief Executive Officer Ms. Kay Lesley Page, Executive Director and COO Mr. John Slack-Smith, Executive Director David Ackery, and Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary Chris Mentis.

Questions over what will happen at 2019’s AGM

Harvey Norman is now in hot waters, especially if majority of the shareholders continue to vote against the adoption of the remuneration report in the 2019 AGM, leading to a spill resolution. The Corporations Act 2001 has been amended to include a “two-strike” rule [1]. A company will be given a first strike if 25 per cent or more vote against the remuneration report. Until the next AGM, the company is required to review and respond to the shareholders’ growing concerns regarding executive pay. The next AGM will determine whether a company gets a second strike [2]. This occurs when 25 per cent or more shareholders still vote against it. During the same AGM, shareholders will establish whether directors need to stand for re-election. If 50 per cent or more shareholders vote for to pass a “spill” resolution, a “spill” meeting will be held within 90 days. Proxy advisors Ownership Matters and CGI Glass Lewis have advised investors to vote against the remuneration report and face a spill resolution to effectively improve its corporate governance [3].

ASX’s Corporate Governance Principles comes into question

Minority shareholders are dissatisfied with the number of independent directors present in the board. The board is currently composed of: Executive Chairman Gerald Harvey, Chief Executive Officer Katie Page, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer/ Company Secretary Chris Mentis, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer John Slack-Smith, Executive Director David Ackery, Non-Executive Director Christopher Brown, Non-Executive Director Michael Harvey, Independent Non-Executive Director Maurice Craven, Independent Non-Executive Director Kenneth Gunderson-Briggs and Senior Independent Non-Executive Director Graham Paton.

There are 10 board members and only three of which are independent. The company disregards the 4th edition of ASX’s Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendation that states majority of board members must be independent [5].

Data from CGLytics suggests that only 30% of the Harvey Norman board members are independent. Independent directors are vital members of the board because they provide more transparency to shareholders and fill the gap of skills required by the company [6]. The lack of independent directors poses a huge problem for minority shareholders especially when the board of directors have a total of 56.9 per cent stake in the company, making them the majority shareholders. This gives a disadvantage to minority shareholders that want to voice concerns regarding re-election of directors and the adoption of the remuneration report.

HN Board

Proxy advisory firm Ownership Matters even goes so far to propose the voting against the re-election of non-Independent Directors to force the company to make board changes [7]. In the Harvey Norman 2019 Annual Report, the company responded to the reason behind appointing fewer independent directors, stating that each executive director (including non-executive directors that are not independent) still provide quality independent judgment to the issues that arise.

Tenure reveals a stale board

The board also appears to be stale. The average tenure of the board directors is 20 years. For some time now, corporate governance stakeholders; governance experts and shareholders alike have paid substantial attention to the issue of board refreshment or entrenched boards. Usually, when a board is stale, there is the concern that they may lack new perspectives, become complacent which may affect the long-term performance of the company as well as provision of effective oversight and management.

One more independent director added to the board

In March 2019, the company added John Craven who was an independent director to the board. This was the first time in 14 years that the board had appointed an independent director to its fold since Graham Paton joined the board in 2005.

Data from CGlytics shows that although there are 10 board members, most of their skills are concentrated on three areas: finance, advisory and technology. This shows that the composition of the skills matrix is not balanced between the members and is not aligned with the skills that the company requires. Having a skill such as risk is a vital key competency a board needs, especially in turbulent times that may make or break the company.

Harvey Norman's board expertise

What are the proxy advisors’ view?

Because of the criticism and frustration of stakeholders, proxy advisors such as ISS Governance and Ownership Matters  encourage investors to vote for the appointment of self-elected Mr. Stephen Mayne as a director. Mr. Stephen Mayne is a journalist and a shareholder activist that constantly offers himself up for election on boards. Executive Chairman Gerald Harvey has urged Australian regulators to question the credibility of the proxy advisors that advise shareholders to appoint someone who has no experience in the retail industry [8].

Different proxy advisory firms Ownership Matters and CGI Glass Lewis are also recommending against the re-election of Chief Executive Officer Katie Page [9].  The company is being questioned by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission regarding the high increase in pay for Ms. Page despite the decrease in the Total Shareholder Return (TSR) of the company [10].

Where does Harvey Norman’s CEO Pay for Performance rank?

The CGLytics Relative Positioning Pay for Performance tool compares Harvey Norman’s CEO pay with that of the industry peer group’s three year TSR. The performance evaluation shows that it is misaligned. The company’s total realized pay is in the 45th percentile while the three-year TSR ranks in the 15th percentile and shows that the CEO is compensated more than the increase in TSR.

HN P4P analysis

Changes in remuneration was included in its 2019 Annual Report, changing the short-term incentive financial metric from return on net assets to earnings per share adjusted for the after tax effect of property increments decrements. The short-term incentives will be measured 50 per cent on earnings per share adjusted for the after tax effect of property and 50 per cent as non-financial conditions. Short-term incentives will still be given in cash except when the executive directors have shares lower than the benchmark level. The STI pool will also be increased to the maximum level at 120%.

As to whether, these changes have the potential to avert a potential revolt at the upcoming AGM, it remains to be seen.

Would you like to gain instant insights into more than 5,500 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills? Or access the same CEO pay for performance insights used by Glass Lewis in their proxy papers?

Click here to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, used by institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

About the Author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

Alex graduated from the S P Jain School of Global Management in Sydney with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship. She previously worked in the compliance division at a large financial institution and gained her experience as a research analyst.

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Boeing: What has been done? And will that be enough?

Will changes to Boeing’s board be enough to sharpen focus on product and safety going forward? This article examines Boeing’s corporate governance practices and current board expertise, bringing to light some interesting findings.

This article examines Boeing’s corporate governance practices and current expertise on the board. This raises the question if recent changes will really be enough to sharpen Boeing’s focus on product and safety going forward.

Disaster strikes

Following the horrific plane crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in October 2018 and March 2019, a mounting crisis faces Boeing. As a result, Boeing has recently received a fair share of negative publicity, been the subject of investigations and named in lawsuits. Beyond the general public, shareholders and corporate governance experts are infuriated. They collectively question the effectiveness and transparency of the board and leadership—with good reason.

Various recent studies have shown Boeing’s quality of corporate governance.  Findings reveal Beoing ranks near the bottom of all S&P 500 company boards[1]. Even more interesting is the board’s compensation data.

CGLytics data reveals that of all S&P 500 companies, Boeing ranked 91st out of the 500 with the highest paid non-executive directors; receiving an average of $345,000 per director in 2018.

In addition, new developments at congressional hearings held in October 2019 have revealed that many concerns were warranted.  Boeing executives admitted to flaws in the design of its 737 Max. Pilot error was originally thought to be the main cause of the plane crashes, however that sentiment has changed and a “pattern of deliberate concealment”[2] is now suspected. Instead of pilot error, it is now alleged that insufficient information provided to the pilots regarding the new changes to the plane caused these unfortunate results. The Boeing CEO stated at the congressional hearings that, until recently, he was unaware of the apparent issues. It seems greater oversight and communication was, and is, needed within Boeing, its executives, and the Board.

Board takes steps to increase safety

We note that Boeing has taken various actions to ensure the future safety of its aircrafts. In August 2019, the board established a permanent Aerospace Safety Committee to assist the board in “the oversight of the safe design, development, manufacture, production, operations, maintenance, and delivery of the aerospace products and services of the Company.” Along with the establishment of the committee, the company also formed a Product and Services Safety organization, which is responsible for monitoring safety related events within the company’s major businesses.  These additional layers of oversight will hopefully strengthen Boeing’s safety focus and minimize unfortunate future safety issues on the consumer end.

The board also “amended the company’s Governance Principles to include safety-related experience as one of the criteria it will consider in choosing future directors.”[3] Following this amendment, the board appointed former Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson, whose prior positions included significant safety experience, as a director. Admiral Richardson,  along with Admiral Edmund Giambastiani,  appear to be the only director on Boeing’s 14-member board that has safety experience in aviation.  It also does not appear that the board currently contains directors with technical experience in aviation, except for CEO Dennis Muilenburg who was an engineer for Boeing. This could raise the question whether the board has enough expertise to address, both technical and safety issues, to challenge Muilenburg, who previously held a dual role as Chairman and CEO of Boeing for over three years.

Skills and expertise on Boeing's board

Changes for CEO Muilenburg

In October 2019, Boeing’s board decided to remove CEO Muilenburg from his role as Chairman. This action was taken to “enable Muilenburg to focus full time on running the company as it works to return the 737 Max safely to service, ensure full support to Boeing’s customers around the world, and implement changes to sharpen Boeing’s focus on product and services safety” and to “strengthen the company’s governance and safety management processes.”[4] It is still unclear, however, whether Muilenburg will receive any pay cut or even resign following his failure to address the 737 Max issues. When asked at the Congressional hearings about whether he would take any pay cut following this mistake, the CEO said: “Our Board will make those determinations.”

How Boeing could increase board oversight

Board oversight and transparency is a significant issue in corporate governance. It is important to be aware of board composition, executives, and the information that entails when viewing any company. CGLytics provides necessary data analytics that could lend a useful hand in analyzing boards, their efficacy, and transparency. In this case, a quick look at the board expertise, committee overview and individual profile of each director on the Boeing’s board on CGLytics would have drawn attention into the Board’s lack of safety committees and technical and safety experience and expertise.

Would you like to learn more about how, you too, can have instant insights into more than 5,500 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills? Click here to find out about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and obtain the same insights used by institutional investors and advisors.

About the Author

Thao Nguyen: U.S. Research Analyst

Thao completed her Bachelor of Science in International Business Management at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and spent a semester abroad at the University of Washington, Foster School of Business. She gained work experience as a Research Analyst in previous internships.

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Pressure from stakeholders brings about change

In an increasing number of companies, remuneration based on short-term results is giving way to a remuneration structure based on long-term performance. Companies should be able to indicate how the CEO’s remuneration contributes to long-term value creation, and be prepared to discuss their performance in this area.

It is an undeniable trend: in an increasing number of companies, remuneration based on short-term results is giving way to a remuneration structure based on long-term performance. The remuneration of executive directors is one of the most important governance issues for companies. Companies should be able to indicate how the CEO’s remuneration contributes to long-term value creation, and they should be prepared to discuss their performance in this area.

Supervisory and remuneration committees are expected to have assessed whether the remuneration is in perspective, both in relation to comparable roles, but also with respect to relationships within the company itself. In various countries, legislation that forces companies to explain how the remuneration of a top executive relates to the salaries of average employees within the organization is now under consideration.

Losing ground

The long-term focus in remuneration structures is also reflected in our data. For example, excessive severance payments, golden parachutes (a prior agreement on the level of severance pay) and substantial signing bonuses are becoming less and less common. In some countries, this kind of remuneration is now even prohibited. In addition, companies are increasingly using performance criteria that are in line with the long-term development of the company’s value. For example, generated cash flow as a criterion for the remuneration of executive pay is losing ground. Instead, the executive director’s performance is measured against metrics that say something about long-term value development, such as earnings per share.

Especially in financial sector

In the Netherlands, these developments can be seen mainly in the financial sector. In recent years, several listed financials have wholly or partly converted variable remuneration for executives and management into fixed remuneration. Moreover, this fixed remuneration more often consists of a combination of cash and shares of the company. With remuneration in shares, there is a direct connection between the remuneration of the executive director and the performance of the company. A similar development, but on a much larger scale, can be seen in the United States. Companies in a wide range of sectors are opting for a remuneration policy that combines cash and shares. These shares account for an average of 55 to 60 percent of the total remuneration package.

Stakeholder pressure

So the Netherlands has not got as far as the United States yet. But the trend has been set and it is irreversible. Greater attention to reasonable pay is in line with the focus in society and the business community on sustainable growth. Not all companies make the turnaround on their own initiative.

Not uncommonly, it takes pressure from stakeholders − such as major shareholders or employees − to start a discussion in the boardroom about a more sustainable remuneration policy. Large investors in particular − pension funds and insurers − are driving the change in remuneration. CGLytics data show that they are increasingly exercising their control to influence remuneration proposals. Not only are they expressing an explicit opinion on management board remuneration, but they also discuss the structure of the remuneration policy itself and the performance metrics used. Investors are calling for a sustainable and socially responsible remuneration policy by including ESG statistics (with environmental, social and governance variables). Shell sets short-term targets to reduce CO2 emissions and ties executive pay to these targets. Other groups have to keep up with such trends. If they do not do so proactively, they expose the company to financial and reputational risks.

Long-term focus

More than ever before, executive and supervisory directors need to strike a good balance between corporate strategy, remuneration of talent and the interests of shareholders. So the question is not whether Dutch companies should focus their remuneration policy more on long-term value creation, but when.

For more information about how CGLytics’ executive compensation data and tools informs companies of how they compare to their peers reumuneration practices click here.

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SRD II and the ramifications for disclosure obligations

With the proxy season fast approaching SRD II is top of mind. Learn about the implications SRD II will have on disclosure of executive pay and corporate goverannce.

With the next proxy season fast approaching the Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD) is top of mind. Extensive disclosure obligations are part of the second iteration and reliable information is key to ensuring requirements are met.

 

This article is part of the featured news report by governance.co.uk on SRD II. Click here to download the full article.

With the EU directive requiring transposition into domestic law in all Member States by September 2020, companies have a limited window to comply with the new requirements and ensure they have aligned their company’s structure in a way that encourages shareholder engagement long term.

The directive’s main aims involve long-term thinking and practices, transparency and increased engagement. However don’t think that this doesn’t also have implications for institutional investors, asset managers and proxy advisors. 

The new regime involves institutional investors and asset managers having to disclose their engagement  policies, and intermediaries to make sure they facilitate the transmition of information to shareholders in a transparent manner. This includes publicly disclosing what they charge for these services.

In short, the SRD II is aimed at reducing short-termism and excessive risk taking by EU companies, plus increasing transparency all-round.

The problem of pay

With executive pay being heavily scrutinized over the past few years, it comes as no surprise that SRD II calls for change to pay disclosures. Creating a better link between pay and performance of company directors, and bringing an end to short-term targets as a measure of success. With this aim brings requirements of providing greater detail and information to support pay policies, including what metrics are being used to measure executive performance. Decisions will have to be rationalized and justified in detail, and without data and facts showing exactly why these decisions were made, companies put themselves at risk of non-compliance.

For companies and investors to meet the requirements of SRD II and as they become effective in the 2020 proxy season (and for intermediaries to be fully compliant) there is no doubt that they need access to accurate and reliable data. CGLytics is already helping many companies, investors and intermediaries get up to speed with meeting obligations, including providing Glass Lewis with data for their Proxy Papers, and you can be fully prepared too.

If you would like to know more about the impact SRD II will have on your company or firm, click here to download the full article

Or reach out to us at CGLytics and receive a free explanation and assessment on how it’s likely to affect you. Click here

Aniel Mahabier SRD II quote

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How Glass Lewis improved their executive compensation analysis and Say on Pay recommendations for European markets

Andrew Gebelin from Glass Lewis talks through how he and his team of analysts have benefited from using the CGLytics data and tools to improve their executive compensation analysis and Say on Pay recommendations for European markets.

In the continuously evolving and sometimes volatile economic times, investors have to make tough decisions. To ensure they are making the best possible decisions they require greater insights into activities within portfolios. Whether it’s sustainability practices, gender and cultural diversity, or executive compensation and remuneration, Glass Lewis has experienced, first-hand, the increasing demand for additional information from their investor clients.

CHALLENGE

Glass Lewis had a vision to create the next generation version of their quantitative pay and peer analysis, which they include in their Proxy Papers for annual shareholder meetings. Their approach to proxy advising focuses on providing investor clients with independent, in-depth analysis that looks at each company on a case-by-case basis. When it comes to executive pay, regardless of the company’s size or sector, Glass Lewis’ methodology requires a contextual assessment incorporating two consistent peer comparisons: one against similarly sized peers in the same country, and the other against a wider geographic pool of companies in the same industry.

Prior to the partnership with CGLytics, Glass Lewis’ analysis of the relationship between executive pay and performance within the European market was limited by the quantitative pay and peer tools they had available. With their client investors expecting increasingly detailed evaluations of an
ever-wider pool of companies, Glass Lewis realized that achieving their vision would require tools that provide:

  • • Greater flexibility to model unique peer groups;
  • • An ability to view CEO pay comparisons over different time periods that appropriately reflect a company’s business cycle or performance period;
  • • Comparisons incorporating a larger range of key performance indicators and remuneration metrics, allowing deep-dives into individual pay practices;
  • • Flexibility to consider and make comparisons between grant-date, target and realized pay over different time periods; and
  • • The ability to model differences in pay outcomes based on any changes contemplated to the remuneration framework or metrics.
  • APPROACH

    For the 2018 proxy season Glass Lewis integrated CGLytics data and analytics into their analytical processes and Proxy Papers for the European markets.

    Working with CGLytics, Glass Lewis defined a new peer group methodology focused around two distinct comparator groups:cross-border industry groups, and in-country groups based on company size. These peer groups were proofed and refined with CGLytics’ support to ensure they provide an appropriate basis of comparison. Glass Lewis analysts then incorporated key metrics from CGLytics’ rich library of performance data, displayed against three years of realized pay to allow for a balanced assessment over the longer term.

    CGLytics’ platform allowed Glass Lewis to provide their clients with a standardized approach to pay analytics across Europe, while retaining flexibility to account for market-, company- or plan-specific features. The performance metrics included in the Proxy Paper analysis were chosen for the greatest possible consistency across all European listed companies, providing a common point of comparison regardless of market or sector. That said, not all companies (or pay plans) are alike. Where unique circumstances require bespoke pay analytics using different indicators or uniquely designed peer groups, access to the CGLytics SaaS platform allows Glass Lewis analysts to drilldown and perform a multitude of quantitative  comparisons and tests.
    With the new peer group methodology in place, CGLytics helped Glass Lewis develop a graphical layout that illustrates the relationship between pay and performance. The new Remuneration Analysis section within the Proxy Paper
    incorporates peer comparisons and a breakdown of remuneration components to present a comprehensive picture, allowing investors to assess pay outcomes on both a relative and absolute basis.

    SUCCESS

    Incorporating CGLytics compensation data and analytics into Glass Lewis’ Proxy Paper and voting recommendations has yielded overwhelmingly positive feedback from investor clients and from companies.

    By implementing a standardized display that allows every company to be compared on a like-for-like basis, while retaining the flexibility to utilize an array of customized key performance metrics, CGLytics and Glass Lewis developed the tools to produce quantitative pay analysis and peer comparisons that are second-to-none. Investors appreciate the easy access to CGLytics rich data and powerful tools, yielding valuable remuneration insights whether they are comparing the entire market or diving deep into a single pay plan. For the companies that Glass Lewis covers, the use of bespoke peer groups and the sheer range of options that can be customized provide reassurance that their company’s pay policies will be assessed appropriately.

     

    BENEFITS OF IMPLEMENTING CGLYTICS’ DATA AND ANALYTICS

    Analysts can access 10+ years of historical compensation data
    Glass Lewis analysts are able to both view historical pay practices over an extended horizon, and model the anticipated future impact of new pay policies.

    Comparison of pay practices on a like-for-like basis
    Standardized display options for every company across Europe supports greater consistency when comparing pay practices across industries and regions.

    Greater flexibility to analyze information beyond Proxy Papers
    Analysts can now use CGLytics SaaS platform to look at specific remuneration components and factors outside of the standard information displayed in Proxy Papers.

    Expanded European market coverage
    Glass Lewis expanded their European market with additional indexes and 200+ companies to cover more than 1,100 companies.

    50% time-savings when generating quantitative pay analysis
    Using graphical templates and standardized data, analysts were able to complete the
    quantatitive pay component of the Proxy Paper in half the time compared to prior years.

    Empowered investor clients to customize their own pay for performance analysis Glass Lewis clients have embraced the ability to customize their own analysis for Say on Pay in accordance with their own methodologies using CGLytics’ data.

    Leveled the playing field for corporate issuers
    With access to the same tools and underlying data as Glass Lewis, corporate issuers can now proactively understand how they are viewed in relation to their peers.

     

    USE THE SAME DATA AND TOOLS AS GLASS LEWIS

    Customers can now instantly view the Glass Lewis executive compensation analysis and peer group modeling for planning their Say on Pay agenda via CGLytics. CGLytics and Glass Lewis have established a global partnership to provide unmatched compensation data and analytics for corporates, investors and advisors.

     • Ensure effective engagement, risk oversight and modern governance practices with CGLytics.

     • Instantly view the Glass Lewis CEO and executive remuneration analysis in the CGLytics platform.

     • Use the same data set and analytical tools trusted by Glass Lewis’ global research team and featured in the reports used by its institutional investor clients.

     • Self-construct peer groups from an extensive global data set of 5,000+ public companies for benchmarking executive pay

    Click here to learn more about CGLytics’ boardroom intelligence capabilities and executive remuneration analytics, used by institutional investors, activist investors and advisors.

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