CNBC Report: More activist investors to focus on corporate governance and executive pay

This week CGLytics CEO discussed the increase in activist investor activity with CNBC Street Signs. New research from CGLytics reveals that activist investors are broadening their focus.

07.20.2020

CGLytics CEO, Aniel Mahabier, discusses the increase in activist investor activity with CNBC Street Signs. New research from CGLytics reveals the growth in the number of activist campaigns and how activist investors are broadening their focus.

Increase in activism

The CGLytics report Activist Investors Broaden their Focus analyzes the number of activist campaigns carried out over the previous four years and deep dives into the increasing areas that are attracting activism.

During the interview with CNBC, Aniel notes that shareholders are beginning to focus on areas such as diversity and performance. And, even though there has been an overall increase in the number of activist campaigns this year, not all of them have been successful.

The changes we are seeing during the pandemic, are that activists are focused on improving corporate performance. Having the right board composition and board diversity are the areas activists have been focusing on. Culture is another area where we have seen activists putting more focus on to improve corporate performance. – Aniel Mahabier, CEO of CGLytics

Regional shift in activism

The research report notes that now activist investors are finding a lot of opportunity in APAC, but not so much in continental Europe. The question is, do we expect this trend to change, and if so, when?

Social, cultural, and economic factors play a big role, along with the European market being highly regulated. This doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity for activists to play a role. I expect to see a marginal change taking place over time. – Aniel Mahabier, CEO of CGLytics

Executive pay

On this topic of executive pay, CNBC recalls that there has been a lot of focus from activists. Shareholder have objected to senior salaries in the past, even so companies have continued to pay out. During the pandemic, these senior salaries have been cut, and in some cases, granted in stock options. What are activists going to do with compensation?

A focus area of activists is to make sure executive pay is in line with the company performance. The median of CEO pay has risen, regardless of companies’ CEOs and Directors taking a pay cut. This is on both the S&P 500 and FTSE 100. We expect to see more focus on CEO pay in the upcoming proxy season. When it comes time for the AGMs in 2021, reflecting the 2020 performance year. – Aniel Mahabier, CEO of CGLytics

Source: CNBC Street Signs Europe

Board diversity

CNBC mentions about the motivation to change the makeup of boards, and that the representation of women on boards on the FTSE, is abysmal (still remaining below 30%). Will boards be motivated to improve diversity, due to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter campaign?

The activist landscape is changing. We used to have the traditional activists playing a big role. Now you have passive institutional investment managers changing their style and becoming more active.

If you look at the BlackRocks and the Vanguards of the world, they are focusing on boards being composed with the right mix. Diversity plays a big role. Not only from a gender perspective, or a race perspective, but making sure you have the right skill set in place, the right tenure, and the right age diversity. It’s a number of things that make a board very effective, and I expect diversity to continue to be a focus going forward. – Aniel Mahabier, CEO of CGLytics

Companies need to be prepared for activist investors and engage with shareholders on a more timely basis. Proactive engagement between investors and companies will prevent activist campaigns going forward. Companies need the right information and tools to ensure their corporate governance risks are reduced and any deficiencies are quickly resolved.

Contact CGLytics and learn about the governance tools available and currently used by institutional investors, activist investors and leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis for recommendations in their proxy papers.

 

CGLytics provides access to 5,900 globally listed company profiles and their governance practices, including their CEO Pay for Performance, board composition, diversity, expertise, and skills.

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Diversity on the Board? Metrics Used by Fortune 100 Companies

Examining the diversity of Fortune 100 boards and questioning the metrics currently used to disclose diversity. Are Fortune 100 companies providing the complete picture?

06.29.2020

This article examines the diversity of Fortune 100 companies’ boards, and questions the current metrics used to disclose diversity of board members. Due to the lack of uniformity of diversity disclosures, is the picture painted by some companies comprehensive enough to truly show diversity on their board?

The topic of diversity has grown in importance over the past decade. Large companies are spending time and resources discovering how having a diverse board of directors is affecting their company’s image, perception, and profits. Many companies focus on appointing employees with different education, experience, race, and backgrounds. This is illustrated through companies’ diversity statements. For example, Amazon.com, Inc. in their 2019 Proxy states,

“We take seriously our commitment to diversity and respect for people from all backgrounds, including gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and other dimensions of diversity, which are enduring values for us as reflected in a number of Company policies, including the Amazon Global Human Rights Principles.”[1]

 

Even with inclusive diversity statements, such as Amazon.com, Inc.’s, when calculating how diverse companies’ boards are, two main diversity metrics are used: gender and race. While acknowledging the positive effects of having a diverse board and showing how diversity is being valued in a company is important, examining how transparent companies are with their diversity metrics shines light on a company’s commitment to diversity.

Why is Board Diversity Beneficial for Companies?

The decisions that the board of directors make for corporations are critical for their success. The board impacts how the company is run by making crucial decisions on executive pay, dividend policies, setting yearly goals, and conducting any other business that concerns shareholders. Having a board composed of people with different backgrounds and experience will enrich conversations and allow the board to approach problems with new perspectives and ideas.[2]

Companies should actively try to understand and represent their clients and customers. In doing so, better marketing decisions and tactics can be set. For example, “Having a diverse board can help you better understand purchasing and usage decisions, particularly as studies have found that women drive 70-80 percent of purchasing in the United States.”[2]

CGLytics data of board diversity reveals the percentage of gender diversity and nationality dispersion on boards of Fortune 100 companies.

As depicted in the following graphs, Fortune 100 company boards are composed of mostly American men. Unfortunately, we can not determine percentages of race within these companies because very few companies disclose information on race/ethnicity. The missing data and the lack of transparency from these companies questions their commitment to diversity.

Fortune 100 diversity on boards
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Reporting Diversity

Based on the Fortune 100 companies’ 2018 and 2019 proxy statements, 23% of the Fortune 100 companies do not report information on diversity and the other 77% report the information using different metrics.

The reporting companies focus on gender alone, combine gender and race/ethnicity, or on nationality. There is no uniformity between companies or industries.  While most companies have statements in their proxies outlining the value of diversity and how they define it, the statements are not always represented in the graphs or numbers that break down their board diversity.

This is clearly shown in Caterpillar Inc.’s 2019 Proxy statement. The company lists one of their key characteristics of their board as being diverse of “race, ethnicity, gender, cultural background or professional experience.”[3]  This diversity statement implies that the board would be diverse. But it is unclear if it is as they combine gender and race in their data. In their governance highlights, Caterpillar Inc. lists their board as 45% diverse (gender and race combined).[3] By combining the percentage of gender and race, and not providing a breakdown of the directors’ backgrounds, it is difficult to determine if the board is diverse in race, ethnicity and gender.

Lack of uniformity when reporting diversity

When examining Fortune 100 companies for diversity, we find that it is difficult to compare companies’ information due to the lack of uniformity of how they are reporting data on board diversity.

For example, Delta Air Lines, Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc., both in the same industry, report their diversity metrics differently. At first glance, both companies report roughly equal percentages of diversity (38.5% and 40% respectively). However, American Airlines Group Inc. displays their information by separating gender and race/ethnicity.

Diversity of boards: Delta Air Lines and American Airlines
Source: Company disclosures found in the CGLytics software platform

Why would a company combine race/ethnicity and gender in their diversity graphs? One reason could be to increase the appearance of a diverse board.

Hypothetically, if Delta Airlines, Inc.’s board consisted of four white women and one non-white male and mirrored the American Airlines Group, Inc.’s diversity chart, it would show 38.5% diversity with 7% racially/ethnically diverse and 30.7% gender diverse. While the 30.7% gender diversity would be high for their industry (as shown in the follow graph), the racial/ethnically diversity would be low. This example could be switched with gender diversity being low and would highlight a similar problem. However, without clear diversity metrics, consumers and shareholders are left questioning Delta Airline’s commitment to diversity, which could result in a loss of business.

By combining the percentages of gender and racial diversity, Delta Air Lines is hiding who is represented on their board of directors. American Airlines Group, Inc. clearly shows their shareholders, investors, and the public that they value diversity and are prepared to make well informed decisions. What does clear diversity metrics look like?

Fortune 100: Women on boards by sector

Percent of women on Fortune 100 boards by sector
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Transparent diversity metrics should give the consumers and shareholders a comprehensive background of the members on the board. This should include race/ethnicity, gender, age, and industry experience. These metrics broaden the knowledge of the board, giving the board members the tools to make successful decisions.

This is illustrated in PepsiCo Inc.’s 2019 proxy statement. Their diversity statement is clear and backed by their diversity percentages. It states, “Diversity including understanding the importance of diversity to a global enterprise with a diverse consumer base, informed by experience of gender, race, ethnicity and/or nationality”[4]. This is clearly shown in multiple graphs that break down backgrounds of each director.

PepsiCo Inc.’s 2019 proxy statement

PepsiCo Inc.’s 2019 proxy statement
Source: Company disclosures found in the CGLytics software platform

It is recommended for more companies to design their diversity statements and data like PepsiCo Inc. They shared a comprehensive view of their board and proved their board was encompassed with directors of various backgrounds. This provides consumers and shareholders with confidence that the board is well equipped to make the best decisions for the success of the company.

To gain access to Governance Intelligence and Oversight of 5,900+ globally listed companies, contact CGLytics. Within the CGLytics software platform, access 125,000+ professional executives and their skills, expertise and backgrounds for recruiting board members and building a robust, diverse board.

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AGMs: Tactics for a Plague Year

In a time of crisis and confusion, shareholders are more eager than ever to get answers from their boards and management. Yet holding traditional AGMs is nearly impossible. What are the best options for running AGMs during a plague year?

In a time of crisis and confusion, shareholders are more eager than ever to get answers from their boards and management. Yet holding traditional AGMs is nearly impossible.

Postponing them may also not be a good option. Advisors, analysts, shareholders, investors, employees and all other stakeholders are all eager to understand their companies’ way forward in such troubled times, and the AGM offers the best way to address this. Postponing the AGM, even for good reasons, sends a bad signal to the markets at the very time when addressing investor and broader social concerns is critical.

For example, many companies are considering reducing dividends due to the challenging economic conditions, yet CEO pay reductions are not on the AGM agendas. CEO pay continues to rise, regardless of performance. The top 35 highest-paid CEOs on the S&P 500 received a combined Total Realized Compensation (TRC) of almost $3 billion in 2019, yet pay-for-performance alignment is badly skewed at nearly half of the companies on the index as our statistics show.

If postponing is not an option, companies do have two other options at their disposal: Running a ‘hybrid’ AGM, which would combine physical presence with virtual communications, or making the entire AGM virtual. Most companies don’t have such options included in their Articles of Association, but the first step at the hybrid or virtual AGM would mean voting on such changes. The London Stock Exchange is currently pushing for emergency legislation to change the companies act to allow all companies to stage virtual shareholder meetings. 

The hybrid option means that either board members are physically present at the AGM, while shareholders communicate with them via virtual links, or that shareholders send representatives to physically attend the meeting while board members communicate via video or audio communications. Voting ahead of meetings is also an option, working with proxy advisors.

Swedish telecoms and networking firm L.M. Ericsson has chosen the former hybrid option for its 2020 AGM on 31 March. The President and CEO Börje Ekholm will not attend in person, but will participate via links (it is not clear whether other board members will attend in person). A live webcast of the meeting will be available to shareholders.

To keep the numbers of attendees down, Euroclear Sweden will offer shareholders who are individuals the option to vote via proxy, and other opportunities to work with proxies are made available to shareholders. “No food or refreshments will be served,” the official invitation warns.

Ericsson’s official invitation offers links to Nomination Committee proposals as well as to some shareholder motions.

But, in this hybrid approach to the AGM, is it clear that board members will be able to fulfil their fiduciary responsibilities in communicating with shareholders? Will it be possible to hold a dynamic discussion of the company’s affairs? Will shareholders be able to work with proxy advisors on such short notice – how will policies be communicated? Will a shareholder wishing to pose a complex question to the CEO get sufficient airtime?

The alternative hybrid approach to running AGMs would mean that board members are physically present, while shareholders communicate with them entirely via audio, video and messaging. And there is the further alternative, in which all communication takes place virtually.

Each of these alternatives poses many of the same questions that we’ve raised above. One of the virtues of the physically-attended AGM is that a shareholder can follow up on questions, or insist on attention to specific subjects. Can shareholders be sure this will happen online?

The even larger question being asked at some companies will be whether all shareholders have had access to sufficient information to vote before the AGM. For example, under current conditions, it may not be possible for the audit of financial statements to be concluded. Some companies are opting to work with financial reporting that is incompletely audited. This poses a serious corporate governance challenge that the board would have to address at the AGM.

The diffusion of extensive financial and non-financial information to shareholders and their representatives ahead of the meeting is also critical for these virtual or semi-virtual AGMs to succeed. Given that shareholders must accept somewhat limited access to the board, they must be certain that all of the information relevant to decision-making on matters such as executive compensation, director election, Stock Purchase Plan has been provided in advance.

Boards that take all the necessary steps to ensure that shareholders have the information they need ahead of the AGMs will be fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders. At the same time, Shareholders will need to step up and leverage technology and information to support their engagement. The AGM will provide the basis for the company to move forward even in a Plague Year.

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A diverse supervisory board: This is how to unlock a wealth of talent

Aniel Mahabier, CEO of governance data specialist CGLytics, welcomes the fact that selection committees are using corporate governance analytics to assess the diversity of their own supervisory board. Technology is bridging the gap between the available talent and the knowledge and experience that committees already have in-house.

“Selection committees are looking for the right candidates outside their traditional networks”, says Aniel Mahabier, founder and CEO of governance data specialist CGLytics. Such an alternative approach, for example through the use of data analysis, has major advantages: people with unique experience and unique talent are put on the radar.

In many organizations – listed and unlisted – supervision is far from diverse. A supervisory board with only people of the same generation, background and education cannot properly monitor the continuity of the company in the changing society. Such a homogeneous council cannot sufficiently monitor the interests of the various stakeholders.

An important task therefore lies with the selection committees that are responsible for a balanced composition of the supervisory board. We see that selection committees use our corporate governance analytics to assess and benchmark the diversity of their own supervisory board. For example, to be able to answer questions from international shareholders and when planning succession. For example, they test the current composition against the various international corporate governance codes and sustainability regulations. This contributes to effective management and good risk management.  

Click here to continue reading the full article.

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Good corporate governance begins with good data

Effective corporate governance starts with having the right information. In an ever-changing corporate governance landscape of continually increasing, publicly available information, shareholder involvement, activism, ongoing media campaigns and continual changes to governance regulations, having the right information from the start can be the difference between success and ongoing shareholder revolt.

Effective corporate governance starts with having the right information. In an ever-changing corporate governance landscape of continually increasing, publicly available information, shareholder involvement, activism, ongoing media campaigns and continual changes to governance regulations, having the right information on a timely basis from the start can be the difference between success and ongoing shareholder revolt.

This article first appeard in Ethical Boardroom, the premier subscription based magazine and website that is trusted for its in-depth coverage and analysis of global governance issues. Click here to access the original article.

Boardroom diversity, fair executive compensation, compliance to regulatory requirements, how companies compare against their peers and competitors and how they are perceived by investors and proxy advisors, needs to be thoroughly understood by boards of companies to stay ahead.

With heightened scrutiny of governance practices in the post-financial crisis era, it is now more important than ever for companies’ boards and their executives to be fully prepared, with the same data and information as investors and proxy advisors, before beginning engagement to avoid reputational and governance risk.

CGLytics, the leading provider for global corporate governance data analytics, provides real time data and a suite of powerful benchmarking tools to help companies and their boards with data- driven insights for sustainable practices and effective oversight. These tools support boards in making smarter, more timely and better-informed decisions.

The great debate of executive compensation

Investors over the past 12 months have continued to pay attention to, and even asked more questions about, the pay practices of companies and rewards offered to their CEOs and directors. Add to this the requirements set out in the revised European Shareholder Rights Directive (SRD II) to increase transparency of the company’s pay practices, including CEO to average employee pay ratios, CEO pay relative to company’s performance and extended say on pay rights of shareholders, companies should be sitting up and paying close attention.

During the last proxy season, executive pay was heavily and effectively challenged. Shareholders repeatedly voted down advisory remuneration reports and questioned short-term remuneration plans, urging companies to bring pay into line with performance. Many remuneration-related resolutions were voted down on the grounds of misalignment.

The UK, in particular, was at the forefront of shareholders concerns over excessive pay. To address these concerns, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) issued a Revised Corporate Governance Code in July 2018, which encouraged directors to exercise independent judgement and discretion when authorising remuneration outcomes, by taking into account company and individual performance along with other circumstances.

Executive compensation data available in the CGLytics application

CGLytics carried out a proxy review with data from its extensive, global governance database of FTSE 100 companies and their pay practices. The study revealed that in 2018, 33 companies in the index sought a binding shareholder approval for their remuneration policies. Generally, investors questioned the earning potentials in short-term incentive plans, for example Rentokil Initial plc’s decision to increase the annual bonus from 100 per cent to 150 per cent cost the board a dissent of around 25 per cent on their remuneration policy. In addition, shareholder revolts were seen regarding remuneration reports where there was not enough clarity about contractual entitlements, as seen in the case of Royal Mail’s retiring CEO Moya Greene and new CEO Rico Back.

In other markets, shareholders became increasingly involved in company strategy, as seen in the Dutch AEX study carried out by CGLytics. Of the past years’ proposals to amend executive and supervisory directors’ remuneration, the majority encountered criticism and some were withdrawn prior to the AGM, or resulted in a large number of votes against.

“WITH HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY OF GOVERNANCE PRACTICES IN THE POST-FINANCIAL CRISIS ERA, IT IS NOW MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER FOR COMPANIES’ BOARDS AND THEIR EXECUTIVES TO BE FULLY PREPARED”- Aniel Mahabier, CEO of CGLytics

To increase transparency and truly understand how stakeholders, including proxy advisors, are viewing executive compensation and predicting how they are going to vote, companies and their boards need access to, not only information, but also data and tools that allow them to instantly compare their company to their industry peers’.

CGLytics’ extensive database hosts more than 10 years of global compensation data and is driving good corporate governance practices by increasing CEO pay transparency and helping companies to be more prepared than ever before.

Using the same solution as leading proxy advisors and institutional investors, companies can replicate the peer groups of proxy advisors and investors with CGLytics’ customisable peer group modeler and easily perform a pay-for-performance alignment review. This empowers boards to know exactly what investors are looking at and scrutinising prior to engagement, be proactive with their reporting and make sure there are no hidden surprises come AGM time.

Diversity in the boardroom: where are all the women?

With companies, their boards, investors and governmental stakeholders all agreeing that goals that promote long-term value creation are imperative to corporate governance health, the issue of diversity comes into play. Why? Because having a diverse board is linked to long-term value creation.

A diverse board of directors with different ages, genders, nationalities, cultures, skills, experiences, tenure and backgrounds certainly creates new and interesting dialogue around best practices for long-term value creation and brings fresh ideas to the table.

With the speed of change happening today, driven by technology innovations, a variety of ideas, perspectives and knowledge is mandatory to keep up and make the best decisions by taking into account worldly happenings. And government and regulatory bodies are taking note. In particular, during the past year, the US has seen strict regulation changes in some states to even out the gender imbalance in corporate boardrooms.

California was the first state to legally require female representation on boards with the California Senate Bill 826 being passed. The law requires the appointment of at least one female to a company’s board of directors by 2019 and between one and three by 2021, depending on the size of the company. A fine of $100,000 can be expected for not complying. This was shortly followed by New Jersey , which mimicked California’s approach of at least one female director by 2019.

Earlier this year, using CGLytics’ software solution that provides extensive boardroom composition data and analytics, a review was carried out to evaluate the progress made in the US market and likelihood of achieving greater diversity in the coming years. By taking a deep dive into the board composition of S&P 500 companies, it was revealed that even though there is a push from investors for more diverse boards in order to maximise returns, change is not happening as fast as desired.

In CGLytic’s S&P 500 Diversity report it shows that from 2017 to 2018 total female representation on boards grew marginally, reaching 24 per cent, up just one per cent from 2017. In response to engagement with the investor community, as well as the new regulatory requirements, the number of women on boards rose from two in 2017 to three in 2018, showing only a slight increase in efforts being made. However, despite the slow growth in overall female representation, six of the seven companies that lacked at least one female director in 2017 corrected this in 2018.

The report also revealed that bringing younger directors into the boardroom does not only add value in terms of unique perspectives and improved innovation, but also impacts company performance. The findings show that there  is a clear and positive correlation between the number of younger board members and the total shareholder return (TSR).

As many investors continue to encourage and push for boardroom diversity for long-term value creation, it is now crucial for companies to, firstly, see how their boardroom composition, including skills, expertise, age and gender diversity is seen by the outside world. And, secondly, see how their company stacks up against their peers and competitors (see graph below).

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Companies using the CGLytics software-as-a-service platform now have access to boardroom intelligence and can see exactly what their investors and proxy advisors see. Using this intelligence, which includes a skills and expertise matrix of more than 5,500 listed companies across the globe, boards are better preparing for AGMs, implementing effective succession plans and, at the same time, reducing their risk to reputational damage and activist investors.

In addition, having access to 125,000-plus global executive biographies in the CGLytics solution, including more than 20,000 female profiles (both existing as well as upcoming directors), with detailed information of skills, experience, compensation, interlocks and connections, nomination committees can lever new ways of scanning the market for talent, understanding corporate networks and work smarter with their search and HR firms when it comes to succession planning and recruitment. It really is helping companies to look beyond the standard practices and information available by leveraging technology to drive and implement good corporate governance practices and sustain a competitive advantage.

Why data, tools and smart technology are mandatory in the challenging times ahead

As we continue to see regulatory requirements to increase transparency of governance practices, such as CEO pay (through implementation of SRD II) and improve diversity (through legislation not only in the US but worldwide), a trend is emerging of investors becoming increasingly knowledgeable and sophisticated.

Not only are leading proxy advisors and institutional investors choosing to use data and analytics delivered to them from CGLytics, but some are building their own systems to stay informed and take advantage of investment opportunities. Companies need to have access to the same information as proxy advisors and investors, with the same sophisticated tools, in order to assess risks, better prepare for shareholder engagement and avoid potential activism. With knowledge being power, and transparency becoming a mandatory requirement, in the near future companies will have no choice but to use systems, such as those offered –by CGLytics, to keep up with investors and improve their reporting practices.

Board insights available in the CGLytics application

The need to keep up with intel on governance risk exposure was evident during the 2018 proxy season. The season saw record levels of shareholder activism, with some high-level campaigns – notably those of Elliott Management and Icahn Partners – hitting the headlines. Changes to board composition and M&A were the primary aims of these campaigns. A recent study performed by Lazard, shows that activists won 161 board seats in 2018, up 56 per cent from 2017 and continue to name accomplished candidates, with 27 per cent of activist appointees having public company CEO/CFO experience. The message is clear: boards must regularly review their governance vulnerabilities to minimise their exposure to activists, and to review vulnerabilities they must have access to the analytics and tools in platforms such as CGLytics’.

And themes that were established in the 2018 season are likely to continue. Shareholder activism will increase with institutional investors playing a more active role and driving change. It also seems likely that US activists will launch campaigns focussed on European companies. Forcing European companies to have access to global data for instant comparison of not just their country peers, but their industry peers and competitors globally.

To prepare effectively for shareholder engagement and anticipate response, companies and their boards must also be looking at past voting habits and patterns, and resolutions from other AGMs during the season. By looking at the trends of past shareholder voting and keeping abreast of happenings during the current proxy season, boards can spot patterns and predict the outcomes of shareholder voting resolutions.

CGLytics’ platform hosts an extensive database of N-PX filings with voting proposals and resolutions from 2004 onwards, covering 4,000-plus investors with more than eight million data points. With this information on hand, plus the benefit of receiving up-to-date alerts of shareholder voting outcomes, boards remain on top of voting trends and can easily identify investors for a proactive engagement.

The next era in corporate governance intelligence

The pressure on companies and their boards to increase transparency of executive compensation and pay practices, improve age and gender diversity, and constantly assess their board quality and effectiveness will not go away.

As investors and their proxy advisors gain greater insights and intelligence by use of data and smart solutions, companies will need to do the same. Boards need to ensure they are on top of their exposure to governance risks in order to avoid activism at all costs and any possibility of reputational risk – and they need to do this efficiently.

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? As well as access the same executive compensation data used by Glass Lewis in their Proxy Papers? Click here to learn more.

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How can innovations in information technologies support the role of the board of directors?

How far should we go in terms of sophisticated algorithms in order to complement the usual dashboards? What type of data processing tools boards need while avoiding a big data overload? How can a board leverage data and AI for effective oversight and to make better governance decisions?

6 November 2019  14.00 – 15.00 Brussels time     

Companies have to monitor their environment according to defined objectives and integrate the collected data into real strategic and operational information. Business intelligence is there to support not only the management but also board members in making better decisions. In a more demanding environment, board members have to understand the drivers of value creation and develop the right metrics to articulate value. Actionable and real-time insights are therefore becoming even more critical for board members. How far should we go in terms of sophisticated algorithms in order to complement the usual dashboards? What type of data processing tools boards need while avoiding a big data overload? How can a board leverage data and AI for effective oversight and to make better governance decisions?

Our speakers will provide their input to the debate:

  • Aniel Mahabier, CEO at CGLytics;
  • Deepak Krishnamurthy,  Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at SAP;
  • Michael Hilb, Entrepreneur, Board Member and Professor;
  • Rytis Ambrazevičius, Baltic Institute of Corporate Governance, President;

 

The webinar will be moderated by Suzanne Liljegren, ecoDa Communication Adviser.

Download the invitation here

ecoDa and CGLytics webinar

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The increasing popularity of linking equity compensation to socially responsible practices

Social responsibility is an increasing priority for corporates, reflecting changing pressures from stakeholders and society. In this article CGLytics looks at the trend of linking executive equity compensation to responsible social practices.

Historically, the primary concern of shareholders and company executives has been to deliver returns on investments and ensure that the company meets or exceeds their quarterly earnings expectations. Inevitably this led to a more short-term view with any projects that didn’t contribute to the present quarter / yearly results being at risk of cuts.

However, as some of the leading shareholders continue to embrace their roles in ensuring that companies are held accountable for their impact on both the environment and society, a growing trend has emerged of remuneration committees coming under pressure to link equity and compensation awards to sustainable environmental and socially responsible business practices (E.g. Alphabet 2019 Proxy Statement – Proposal 13).

A number of studies [Project ROI] have been carried out that link social and environmental impact to attracting and retaining customers, increasing revenue and building a vibrant corporate culture, whilst also having significant brand impact in a landscape where simply achieving results may become secondary to the “how” they were achieved.

Linking social impact to executive compensation

One of the most significant hurdles of linking the social impact of a company to the equity based compensation of senior executives and directors has been the attempt to identify  quantifiable measures for what can be a very subjective definition of success.

As the topic has come under more scrutiny there has been a visible appetite for businesses to provide more reporting and demonstrate measures that have been taken to ensure they partake in socially responsible practices. This can include:

  • Auditing suppliers to ensure that they and their subcontractors adhere to the values that they wish to demonstrate,
  • Allocating employee time and resources to positively impact society, or
  • Specific metrics regarding health and safety at work.

An example of this trend is Alcoa. In their 2019 proxy statement Alcoa links 30% of incentive goals to non-financial measures such as safety at work and diversity in the workforce, up from 20% in 2018.

In addition to the individual metrics defined by organizations, there has also been a growing trend of executive compensation being linked to the performance of a company on a corporate responsibility index (e.g. Dow Jones Sustainability Index). By linking elements of incentive multipliers to performance against a wider set of peers and the index, companies are able to not only create quantifiable targets to base awards on but are also focused on ensuring that they take a long term view in order to outperform competitors.

Gathering momentum

By defining these criteria and linking to long term incentives, businesses are more able to demonstrate their roles in a socially responsible business world. The positive financial impact of a socially responsible business is only a relatively recent trend. However, with a growing number of large investors taking an active role in the stewardship and engagement of their assets (Blackrock letter to CEOs), it is a trend that is likely to continue to gain traction.

Conversely, organizations that are perceived to be failing to meet their obligations to society will increasingly impact the brand, reputation, and ultimately the bottom line. Hence companies that traditionally have been focused on their financial results are exploring how they can adapt to the new criteria.

The Glass Lewis Equity Compensation Model

Glass Lewis’ Equity Compensation Model (ECM) is now available exclusively via CGLytics. Providing unprecedented transparency to the U.S. market in one powerful online application, both companies and investors can use the same 11 key criteria as the leading proxy advisor to assess equity incentive plans.

Click here to experience Glass Lewis’ new application.

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The Effect of Executive Departures on Company Performance

The Executive Management Team plays a pivotal role in the performance of a company. The dismissal or exit of one or more executives is often accompanied by a change in strategy. However, this isn’t always perceived as a positive change by investors.

The Executive Management Team plays a pivotal role in the performance of a company. Collectively they make strategic decisions which steer the company in a certain direction. The dismissal or exit of one or more executives is often accompanied by a change in strategy. However, this isn’t always perceived as a positive change by investors.

Executive Turnover and Performance

Using CGLytics data and intelligence it is possible to assess how executive departures may affect the Total Shareholder Return (TSR) of a company. In constructing the graph, the average TSR is taken across all years for each different number of Executive departures. The results below reveal that having more than one executive (CEO, CFO or COO) depart in a year causes a decline in TSR, whereas having just one executive depart may be seen as less of a concern.

However, when three or more executives depart there is a stark contrast, and TSR decreases significantly. Three executive departures in one year may indicate the cause for concern to investors and subsequently diminish investor confidence and with it, shareholder value.

Executive Departures from S&P 500 Companies and Average 1-year TSR (2013-2018)*

*The average 1-year TSR is calculated across six years (2013-2018) and the number of departures is calculated across all S&P500 companies during these six years.

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

CGLytics’ data and analytics are trusted and used worldwide by Glass Lewis, the leading independent proxy advisor, as a basis for their research on companies

 

A change in leadership inevitably means that the way a company is managed will be altered. The extent to which this alteration will permeate the company and affect its performance is contingent on the influence of the leadership position.

The most influential managerial position at a company is indisputably that of the CEO, closely followed by other executive positions such as COO or CFO. When there is a change in one of these positions it can be considered routine. Investors may not feel any apprehension over the future of the company as the majority of the executive team remains the same.

However, this is not the case when 3 or more executives depart the company. In such an event, investors may become uncertain over the future of the company. As aforementioned, this uncertainty is derived from investors losing their sense of familiarity with the management team. They may no longer feel they can comfortably predict the strategic decisions which management will undertake. This then casts doubt over the future performance of the company.

To learn how companies can become proactive and support modern governance decision-making, with access to the same insights as activist investors and proxy advisors, click here.

About the Author

Jaco Fourie: U.S. Research Analyst

Jaco holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of Reading. He has gained experience as a research analyst from his enrollment at the Henley Business School and the International Capital Market Association Centre.

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Interlocking Directorates: Looking for signs of collusion, conflict of interest and overboarding

Conflicts of interest, collusion and the overboarding of directors have been known to grab the attention of the biggest media outlets. As many companies are unfortunately aware. How can this be avoided right from the start?

Conflicts of interest, collusion and the overboarding of directors on publicly listed companies have been known to grab the attention of the biggest media outlets. As many companies are unfortunately aware, this unwanted attention raises questions, creates risk to a company’s reputation, gains attention from activist investors, and can ultimately affect the value of company shares. However, there is a way that all of this can be avoided right from the start.

Interlocking directorates are nothing new. It occurs when two firms share a common director, and the tie or connections that he/she creates is also referred to as a board interlock.

Although lawful and not illegal, it does raise questions about the independence of decisions made in the boardroom and can be seen by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as an anti-competitive practice prompting an investigation.

As stated by the FTC it is their responsibility to, “take(s) action to stop and prevent unfair business practices that are likely to reduce competition and lead to higher prices, reduced quality or levels of service, or less innovation”.

WHEN INTERLOCKS BECOME A CONCERN

An example of where interlocks became a concern for the FTC was during 2009. During this year Apple’s director Arthur Levinson abruptly resigned his seat on Google board following pressure from regulators. Following the announcement FTC’s chairman praised Google and Levinson “for their willingness to resolve our concerns without the need for litigation”.

That same year also saw Google’s Eric Schmidt resign from Apple’s board, three years after accepting a seat.

Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt resigns from Apple’s board in 2009

It’s important to mention that prior to these resignations, the FTC had been looking into whether interlocking directorates between Google and Apple raised competitive issues. These competitive issues may have violated U.S. antitrust laws.

The only safe way for companies to avoid situations of interlocking directorates that prompt investigation is by having oversight of every board members’ seats on other companies. By gaining this oversight companies can instantly see any risks or red flags, which are likely already on the radar of investors with governance issues coming under greater scrutiny of late.

This is also hugely important when a company makes new appointments to their board, or an existing director takes on additional responsibilities. Without oversight, companies might be opening themselves up to governance risk and wider liability.

 

CGLytics online solution provides instant information about a company’s board composition, director skills and expertise, as well as interlocking directorates for corporations, investors and advisors.

 

Interlocking directorates are common. It is not new. Most directors will have other board positions across one or more industry, however with highly confidential information that they are privy to, it is vital to identify potential conflicts of interest.

That being said, interlocking directorates can be indicators of the following:

– Collusion: Two or more members of the board holding appointments on another board and using this connection to influence the decision-making away from the best interests of either company.

– Conflict of interest: Directors with specific industry experience will often sit on boards that could be in competition. This can lead to questions from investors on if these board members are performing their duties in the best interests of the company.

– Overboarding: Directors must have the adequate time to devote to their duties of providing oversight for a company. US Proxy Advisory standards state that a director is considered to be overboarded when he/she is a non-executive director and sits on more than five boards, or he/she is an executive director and sits on more than three boards.

– Chairmen of the board are expected to spend double the amount of time as a NED and are considered overboarded with one chair and three other NED roles.

By identifying whether a board member is also on the board of a potential competitor (sometimes inevitably in niche markets where experience is necessary), or if two or more members of the board sit on the same board of another company, is vital for the nomination and governance committees to be aware and ensure that they have the correct policies and procedures in place, as regulators, investors and activists are constantly monitoring.

THINK LIKE AN ACTIVIST

Activist investor campaigns are continuing to show a year-on-year increase with more focus being placed on the composition of the board and the board members existing commitments. Leading investors are voting against the re-appointment of directors who are perceived to be overboarded. In addition, never before has there been as much scrutiny on the skills that a director brings to the board.

Activist investors are using CGLytics’ data and analytics for assessing the board effectiveness of listed companies worldwide.

 

With deep insights into how boards are composed in the CGLytics platform, and a skills matrix applied consistently across all companies in its universe, activist investors easily benchmark a board and assess if its compliant with regulatory and stewardship codes, hence see if there is any reputational risk.

Companies can access these very same insights in the CGLytics platform.

Corporate issuers, their boards and stakeholders can see exactly how they are perceived by activist investors. CGLytics is helping to promote good governance through transparency to the market. View director interlocks, see how board composition compares to competitors and raise concerns of any red flags. Identify any potential skills gaps and be proactive in succession planning, with access to a database of 125,000+ executive profiles draw from 5,500+ publicly listed companies across 40 indexes and 24 countries.

Curious to see how companies are viewed through the eyes of an activist investors? Click here

 

RESOURCES

https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/anticompetitive-practices

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-google/arthur-levinson-quits-google-board-appeasing-ftc-idUSTRE59B2R120091012

https://techcrunch.com/2009/08/03/google-ceo-eric-schmidt-resigns-from-apple-board-surprised/

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