The Energy Industry and Covid-19: Chesapeake Energy as a case study

 

The Energy Industry and Covid-19: Chesapeake Energy as a case study

 

On June 28, 2020, Fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, becoming the largest oil-and-gas company to file for bankruptcy protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

The oil and gas industry is currently undergoing an unprecedented price collapse that many have cited as seemingly impossible to rebound from. There has been a shock to supply as well as an aberrant drop in demand. The industry was already suffering due to falling natural-gas and crude oil prices and then collapsed even further following the Coronavirus pandemic. Excess supply, specifically from Russia and Saudi Arabia, gauged a price war which led to the price per barrel to drop to under $40. In March of 2020, the severity of the pandemic became obvious and there was a sudden halt in air travel. This, accompanied with widespread lock down measures, led to the United States citing its lowest energy consumption in 30 years in the spring of 2020.

To navigate the unfortunate industry circumstances numerous energy companies have been prompted to slash shareholder distributions, rack up increasing levels of debt, and sell or write-down the value of their assets. This steered many companies towards filing for bankruptcy. As of May 31, 2020, there were approximately 225 bankruptcy cases in the energy sector pending in federal bankruptcy courts. There was a total of 12 in 2017, 18 in 2018, and 18 in 2019. So far, in 2020, 19 energy companies filed for bankruptcies.

 

Chesapeake Energy: The Rise and Fall

 

Chesapeake Energy was a pioneer in the energy industry due to its early adoption of fracking extraction mechanisms. In the early 2010s, Chesapeake Energy was the second largest natural gas producer in the United States. However, as time went by Chesapeake Energy began making headlines for several disreputable occurrences. Chesapeake’s share price has dropped more than 93% from trading over $180 in January 2020 to under $5 in July 2020.

Since 2014, the Company’s stock has steadily plummeted albeit experiencing a few spikes. At its peak, post the 2008 Financial Crisis, Chesapeake stock traded for above $7000 per share. The stock is currently trading at around $4 per share.

The Company’s stock crashed so low in March that on April 13, 2020 it announced a suspension of dividend payments on preferred stock, and a 1 for 200 reverse stock-split to comply with exchange listing requirements. Taking the reverse stock split into consideration indicates that the above mentioned $4 share price is close to $0.02 per share.

Experts had warned that bankruptcy was inevitable, however optimistic investors continued trading and holding the stock. The company is roughly 8 billion USD in debt. This is a steep increase, considering that when it declared bankruptcy in June it was 7 billion USD in debt. For the first quarter of 2020 Chesapeake Energy declared an $8.3 billion net loss.

 

Chesapeake Proceeds to Make Pay Cuts in the Face of COVID

 

In May, the Company announced that it would be cutting bonuses for senior executives while creating new quarterly bonus incentive programs for non-executive and non-managerial employees. Additionally, it announced decreases in the target variable compensation of the four highest paid named executive officers (target variable compensation was cut by 34% to Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler and Chief Financial Officer Domenic J. Dell’Osso; by 33% to Frank J. Patterson, its executive vice president for exploration and production; and by 28% for James R. Webb, its general counsel).

The Company also reduced non-employee director compensation by around 15% on an aggregate basis and announced that all non-employee director compensation would be paid in cash on a quarterly basis. Furthermore, in terms of payment to senior executives and named executive officers, the company released a statement affirming that target variable compensation received by those employees would be prepaid with an obligation to refund up to 100% of the compensation on an after-tax basis (50%  based on their continued employment for a period of up to 12 months and 50% based on achieving certain specified incentive metrics).

These individuals were also required to waive participation in the Company’s 2020 annual bonus plan and waive their rights to all equity compensation awards with respect to 2020.  The Company proceeded to cancel all outstanding equity compensation awards held by its named executive officers and vice presidents.

 

Internal Influences: The Necessity of Diversity

 

While many of Chesapeake’s issues can be attributed to external factors, one must not overlook or undervalue how ill-advised decisions made by the Company’s executive leadership may have aggravated existing difficulties.

 

The Energy Industry and Covid-19Source: CGLytics August 2020

 

The Company’s Board of Directors is lacking in several areas of expertise that are crucial to the success of a Company. In an eight-person Board, only two members possess Industry and Sector expertise, while only one member has Financial expertise.

Chesapeake’s leadership was not equipped to navigate the financial pressures troubling the oil industry. The acceleration of Chesapeake’s demise was largely due to the accumulation of excessive amounts of debt. In addition, the Company was not diverse in its investments and allocated much of its funding towards horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Recent studies have proven that diversity leads to more profitability. Gender, cultural, and generational representation in a Company’s executive leadership are necessary for innovation in both growth and problem solving. Chesapeake’s board of directors has no cultural representation and little diversity with regards to gender and age.

 

 

 Plans Moving Forward

 

Chesapeake announced that filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection will enable the Company to obtain a more sustainable capital structure and a healthier balance sheet. Chesapeake has secured $925 million in DIP financing and has reached agreements with the majority of its creditors to eliminate approximately $7 billion in debt. The company also secured a $600 million commitment of new equity. The Company will continue with business as usual throughout the restructuring process. Doug Lawler, President and Chief Executive officer of the Company proclaimed that “Chesapeake will be uniquely positioned to emerge from the Chapter 11 process as a stronger and more competitive enterprise.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Impact of COVID-19 on Executive Pay

Download our latest report to learn how Russell 3000 companies have adjusted their executive pay due to COVID-19 to ensure your company’s pay practices are aligned to market standards.

Shareholders file numerous class action lawsuits against pro wrestling titan WWE

WWE’s lawsuits claim executives took actions without the best interest of shareholders in mind. CGLytics has analyzed the board of directors of WWE, using tools found in the CGLytics software platform. Insights reveal a lack of finance, governance, and technology experience on the board.

08.18.2020

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) is currently facing lawsuits filed by shareholders alleging that the company intentionally made misleading statements to investors and omitted material information causing shareholders to buy the company’s Class A common stock at inflated prices. This article examines the corporate governance practices of WWE in the wake of its crisis and how governance risks could have been reduced.

A Revealing Lawsuit

Named in the WWE lawsuit are Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Vincent K. McMahon, Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon (McMahon’s daughter), and former wrestler and current Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy and Development, Paul “Triple H” Levesque (Ms. McMahon’s husband).

Shareholders allege that WWE’s executives intentionally misled investors about the success to secure media rights deals in the MENA region, and that the company failed to disclose the true reasons behind declining merchandise sales and subscriptions to its streaming service, WWE Network.

Unlike typical incidents that Vince McMahon and WWE have to deal with, this lawsuit is not part of an on-camera storyline and raises serious concerns about the company’s financial condition and governance practices.  Additionally, this lawsuit raises an interesting opportunity to explore the inner workings of the leading company in an industry that has traditionally operated as a closed society.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Incorporated

Corporate governance has its own definition within WWE.  WWE, characterized by many as a “one-man operation”, has been centered around its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon since McMahon took over the promotion (then known as the World-Wide Wrestling Federation) from his father, promoter Vincent J. McMahon, in 1982.  True, the company has an independent board of directors, much the same as any other publicly-traded company, yet those who have worked under McMahon have never shown any hesitancy in claiming that Vince McMahon runs the show, both literally and figuratively.  For context, longtime wrestling manager, promoter, and commentator Jim Cornette recently commented in an interview with Vice News that “to this day, they run the lunch schedule by Vince McMahon.”

Whether it be a company-wide restructuring or designing the minute details of a particular wrestler’s “gimmick”(on-screen character), anecdotal stories of McMahon’s micromanagement of the WWE number in the dozens and illustrate the depth of his involvement at nearly every level of the company’s operations.  While this approach may have led to the WWE becoming the undisputed champion of the wrestling industry, McMahon’s dominance over the company may present a problem as it enters its third decade on the stock market.

WWE’s Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

WWE's Board expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

An analysis using the CGLytics Board Effectiveness software tools illustrates how WWE’s board lacks financial expertise and has no governance expertise among its members.  Considering the nature of the class-action lawsuits filed against the company, the lack of financial and governance expertise presents both a significant problem and also a valuable opportunity for the company to strengthen its board in these fields.  What remains to be seen, however, is if and/or how the famously iron-fisted McMahon will proceed as the lawsuits work their way through the legal system.

Mr. McMahon

WWE’s entry into the stock market revolutionized the professional wrestling industry.  Never had a “booker” become the Chairman and CEO of a publicly traded company, much less a wrestling promotion into the stock market.  Due to Vince McMahon’s reputation for never “breaking kayfabe”, countless current and former personalities in the industry have questioned where the line ends between Vince McMahon and his “Heel” on-screen character, the cartoonishly-evil-billionaire-boss, Mr. McMahon.

WWE Goes Public

Interestingly, it was not the wrestling itself that allowed the WWE to go public in 1999.  That particular part of WWE’s success can be traced back to the 1997 King of the Ring pay-per-view when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin cut a promo on Jake “The Snake” Roberts after winning their match and uttered the now immortal (and quite lucrative) line “Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your [rear end].” What followed was a virtual avalanche of sales of “Austin 3:16” emblazoned merchandise that dwarfed the profits previously drawn by 1980’s industry icon and former WWE staple, Hulk Hogan, and led to a dramatic shift in WWE’s business strategy.  In 1999 alone, WWE reported over $400 million in revenues from its various merchandise lines. By contrast, WWE’s live events, TV shows, and pay-per-view specials combined had drawn $170 million in revenue that same year.

No longer purely a wrestling promotion, WWE transformed its entire business around the merchandise sales of its top stars.  From Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson to John Cena to Phil “CM Punk” Brooks, WWE has raked in hundreds of millions in profits off the sales of t-shirts, hats, and an endless list of wrestler-themed accessories.

McMahon is noted to have pressured Steve Austin to remain with the company after the latter suffered a career-shortening spinal injury in 1997 due to the weight that his name carried and the unprecedented success of his merchandise line.  Austin, after all, would be an integral part of McMahon’s initial pitch to investors.  Indeed, his name can be found alongside those of The Rock, The Undertaker, and several other prominent wrestlers in the company’s S-1 registration statement.

Flash forward twenty years and WWE has again adjusted its business model to not only include merchandise lines, but also other forms of entertainment, including WWE-produced feature-films and reality tv shows starring WWE talent.  The company’s most recent success appears to be linked to the 2014 launch of the WWE Network, an online streaming service and digital TV network that offers access to WWE live events, TV shows, WWE-produced films and documentaries, and the company’s expansive digital library (known to be the world’s largest collection of professional wrestling video content).

WWE’s Financial Evolution

WWE's financial evolution
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Shareholders “Take the Book”

These class action lawsuits present a new dilemma for the WWE. Historically, it has taken relatively earth-shattering events to cause WWE to respond to shareholders in a meaningful and lasting manner.  The first prominent event to occur after WWE’s IPO was the tragic and sudden death of wrestler Eddie Guerrero in 2005.  Guerrero died of heart failure that was believed to have been a result of previous steroid abuse.  The circumstances surrounding Guerrero’s death led WWE to reimplement its current strict drug testing policy that had previously been suspended in 1996.

The second and more tragic event that caused a dramatic change within WWE was the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide in 2006.  Benoit’s actions had reverberations across the entire wrestling industry and caused WWE to relaunch its programming under a new “TV-PG” rating in a very public attempt to decrease the violence shown on WWE shows.  The entire tone of WWE programming shifted to a more “family-friendly” atmosphere, placing an emphasis on more comedic storylines and wrestler gimmicks, and heavily restricting the wrestling portions of its shows.

For example, one of the more controversial restrictions (among wrestlers and large swaths of fans) was the banning of the decades-old practice of “blading”.  In order to bleed for dramatic effect during a match without actually being hit over the head with a blunt object, wrestlers would use small, hidden razor blades to make shallow cuts in their foreheads that bled profusely but rarely caused actual injuries.  Under WWE’s PG policy, blood has almost vanished entirely from its programming, apart from accidents that draw blood (wrestlers term this bleeding “the hard way”).  In these instances, WWE TV shows will only broadcast those portions of the show in black-and-white to deemphasize the appearance of blood.  Former wrestler and Guardians of the Galaxy actor, Dave Batista, was fined $100,000 by the company after he “bladed” during a match in 2008.  The size of the fine was to no-doubt send a message to both the public and shareholders that WWE has taken its new turn seriously.

The Impact on Share Prices

The lawsuits appear to have already begun to cause damage to WWE’s share prices.  Forbes reported a 13% drop in the company’s share price on April 25th, 2019, after the initial news of WWE’s troubles in the MENA region began to leak.  This trend continued as the company underperformed in Q3 of 2019, leading a number of investors to openly question whether WWE leadership was being truthful about the nature of its relationships in the MENA region, most importantly with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The final straw appears to have come in a January 2020 disclosure when the company again underperformed due primarily to its failure to secure a favorable deal with Saudi Arabia and ceased to include the deal in financial forecasts.  By February 6th, 2020, WWE stock closed at USD 40.24, representing a 60% decline in share price from its previous year’s high of USD 100.  WWE filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuits in late June and the case is still winding its way through the legal system, however, it is safe to say that the company faces a new challenge the likes of which it has yet to encounter.

To navigate through difficult times, such as a lawsuit, it is of utmost importance for a company to show governance oversight and understand how their company is perceived by shareholders, investors, proxy advisors and the media. Deficiencies in board expertise such as finance, technology and governance can be clearly seen in the CGLytics platform and reveal governance risks to stakeholders and activist investors. Software tools, such as CGLytics, highlight governance red flags allow companies such as WWE to gain control through proactive insights and make smart data-based decisions.

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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Ubisoft’s sexual misconduct scandal reveals governance gaps

CGLytics reviews Ubisoft’s board and corporate governance practices after accusations of widespread, systemic sexual misconduct. How does Ubisoft’s board diversity, board effectiveness and director expertise measure up?

08.03.2020

Following recent accusations of widespread, systemic sexual misconduct at the family-run video game company Ubisoft, CGLytics has assessed the company’s financial performance and corporate governance practices. With reports of a toxic culture and sexism, how does Ubisoft’s board diversity (including gender diversity), board effectiveness and director expertise measure up?

Ubisoft, best known for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, has been shaken by allegations of serious misconduct. Reported cases include ‘subtle forms of sexism’ and ‘sexual assault’ and were apparently mishandled by the company’s human resources department. These reports come as the video gaming industry faces its own #Metoo movement.

Serge Hascoët (chief creative officer and considered number two at Ubisoft), Yannis Mallat (managing director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios) and Cécile Cornet (global head of human resources) have resigned; the latter only having left her position, not the company.

Chief executive (CEO) of the family business, Yves Guillemot, made a speech via video distributed to all employees on July 21, 2020. In the video, an apology was made, and he announce several new measures being put in place. These included the creation of a “Support and Recovery Centre” in order to put victims in contact with specialized psychologists, trainings for the prevention of harassment and discrimination, and the overhaul of HR services. Mr. Guillemot insisted on improving diversity stating, “We have started the process to recruit three new VPs. The profiles belonging to under-represented and diverse groups will be privileged”.

Further testimonies shone the light on how female characters have been discarded or relegated to second place in the firm’s video games, notably in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. According to Bloomberg, developers attested that both the marketing department and Serge Hascoët suggested that they “would not sell”.

Ubisoft’s board gender diversity does not meet French corporate governance code recommendations

On reviewing the diversity of Ubisoft’s board, it is revealed that there are deficiencies and improvements needed. Only recently appointed John Parkes is a non-French member, meaning that only 8% of the board are non-local. More importantly, Ubisoft has not met the French corporate governance code recommendation of at least 40% gender diversity representation on the board. The company currently has four female board members, which constitutes 33% of the board. Moreover, the Ubisoft shows an independence ratio of less than half (42%), which also seems to contradict the code’s recommendations. Perhaps contributing to the poor diversity and independence score is the fact that in July 2020, the Ubisoft board appointed Mr Parkes; a dependent director to replace female independent director, Frédérique Dame.

Ubisoft Board Diversity Overview

Board diversity
Source: CGLytics diversity snapshot

CGLytics data also suggests that the company has a relatively unsound board compared to most of their peers. Specifically, as certain Board members Yves Guillemot, Michel Guillemot, Claude Guillemot, Christian Guillemot and Gerard Guillemot – all of whom are executives – have spent over three decades on the board since their respective appointments in 1988, affecting the average tenure on the board.

A scandal likely to hit the company’s financial results

Nonetheless, Ubisoft reported a successful first quarter of its 2020-2021 fiscal year. People having been quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly helped achieve a 17.6% rise in sales (to EUR 427.3 million). The video games maker also saw its net bookings amounting to EUR 410 million between April and June (an increase of 30.5%), beating the target (EUR 335 million). For the current quarter, however, net bookings are expected to be around EUR 290 million, a decrease of 16% compared to the high performance of the same period during the previous fiscal year.

In the light of the fruitful quarter, we undertook a historical study of some key financial indicators to identify trends and perhaps understand what lies ahead for the company.

Although Ubisoft’s share price continues to rise, we found that all other indicators such as EPS, ROE and TSR fell quite heavily from 2018 to 2019 and are even expected to fall much steeper considering their YTD performance on these indicators. These are indications that, despite the rather glossy first quarter results published earlier this month, the company may suffer some deeper performance issues which could be a result of their recent scandal.

Ubisoft’s Financial Results (2015-YTD)

Ubisoft financial results
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Understanding Ubisoft’s board effectiveness and expertise

Using CGLytics’s board effectiveness tool, it is found that Ubisoft’s board attains an effectiveness score of 55%. This score is derived from 13 key board effectiveness attributes, benchmarked against corporate governance codes and standards. This mark shows that the issuer trails behind the average score of their sector peers (at 71%), and their unique peer group average.

One key metric that contributes to the score is the separation of Chair and CEO position. Considering that Ubisoft have the combined position of Chair and CEO, this is not in the company’s favor. The French corporate governance code gives issuers the choice to separate the positions or to combine. In the latter case, they must appoint a lead independent director. Ubisoft has a presence of a lead director on the board.

Ubisoft’s Board Composition and Effectiveness Score

Ubisoft board composition and effectiveness
Source: CGLytics board effectivess tool

Gaps revealed on Ubisoft’s board

Utilizing the board expertise and skills set tool found on the CGLytics platform, the analytics suggests gaps in the skills on the board. Specifically, not one of the independent directors has ‘Industry’ expertise, depicting their lack of ability to stay up to date with the market and trends compared to their peers. The board also has no representation of directors with governance expertise, questioning again their ability to apprehend the governance reforms promised by the company to address diversity.

Ubisoft’s Board Expertise and Skills

Board expertise and skills matrix
Source: CGLytics board expertise and skills marix

What’s to come for Ubisoft

Although reforms are expected for Ubisoft, and both changes in its governance and in its executive team have been promised, the company currently shows gaps of diversity among its senior leaders. Diversity does not only refer to the gender imbalance revealed, but also the decades-long tenure of its executive directors, plus the low ratio of foreign nationals. Not to forget the independence among its board members. Using CGLytics data and tools, it reveals Ubisoft’s board poses a serious governance risk. When comparing Ubisoft’s corporate governance practices to their peers’, they are not meeting market standards. As Ubisoft continues to navigate through the public scandal and implement changes to corporate culture, what remains to be seen is the impact on the financials of the video games specialist.

 

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/

https://www.numerama.com/

https://www.journaldemontreal.com/

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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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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Aston Martin: Speeding Towards 8th Bankruptcy or Revitalization?

A skill-deficient board led to the overestimation of Aston Martin’s market appeal. How does the introduction of new CEO Tobias Moers impact Aston Martin’s board composition, skillset, and expertise?

07.09.2020

After six years of successive losses, CEO Andy Palmer oversaw a return to profit for Aston Martin in 2017. However, failures since its October 2018 Initial Public Offering (IPO) led to board and management changes and revealed how an unbalanced and skill-deficient board led to an overestimation of the company’s market appeal.

Background 

Aston Martin, the British luxury car manufacturer whose iconic DB5 model is synonymous with James Bond, has never monetized on its classic brand, with less than 120,000 cars sold in its 107-year history, yet counting seven bankruptcies in the same span.  Andy Palmer was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in September 2014; determined to turn its fortunes around. He stated at the time: “Aston Martin has always relied on someone stepping in and injecting some more cash and saving it. But that’s not the legacy I want to leave”.(1)

Second Century & IPO

Mr. Palmer indicated short-term planning caused Aston Martin’s previous bankruptcies, as it never generated enough funds from released cars to produce new generation models.(2)

“In the first century we went bankrupt seven times, the second century is about making sure that is not the case…we need to be less dependent on a narrow product ratio and one type of customer…” (3,4)

Aston Martin launched its ‘Second Century’ in 2015 and planned to revitalize its fortunes by releasing seven cars in seven years, including the DB11, Vantage, Vanquish, and its first all-electric car, the DBX.(5) The DB 11 coupe, the first car of the plan was released in 2016 and was well received, helping push Aston Martins total sales to 5,117 in 2017, its highest in nine years(6) and resulted in profits of EUR 87M, its first profit since 2010.(7)

Given the initial success of the Second Century plan, in August 2018 Aston Martin announced its plan to offer at least 25% of its shares in an Initial Public Offering (IPO), the first of a U.K. carmaker in over three decades.(8) In preparation for its IPO, Aston Martin added multiple directors to the board: former InterContinential Hotels CEO Richard Solomons, former Sainsbury’s executive Imelda Walsh, former Deutsche Bank & Deloitte director Peter Espenhahn, and NYU professor Tensie Whelan. Former Coca-Cola executive Penny Hughes was appointed as its first female chairwoman on September 10th, 2018. She was independent on appointment in line with recommendations of the UK Corporate Governance code.

Mr. Palmer described the additions as a “significant milestone in our history and of the successful turnaround of the company.”(9) He felt the new directors, would help Aston Martin avoid its past mistakes by fostering a level of governance it previously lacked.(10) Expectations were high for its IPO, Mr. Palmer claimed “unprecedented” interest from investors. Aston Martin estimated its maximum value of over EUR 5 Billion, with shares trading between EUR 18.50 and EUR 20 a share.(11) It expected to sell between 6,200-6,400 cars in 2018, 7,100-7,300 in 2019, and 9,600-9,800 in 2020.(12)

Underwhelming IPO

On October 3, 2018, Aston Martin began trading on the London Stock Exchange under the ticker ‘AML’ at EUR 19 a share. The debut went poorly, with shares going for as low as EUR 17.75 a share, placing it in the FTSE 250 instead of its intended target of the FTSE 100.

By February 2019, it had lost nearly half its market cap from the IPO and reported an annual loss of EUR 68 Million for fiscal 2018, despite increased total car sales of 6,441 in 2018, due to the EUR 136 Billion it used to secure its listing.(13) Mr. Palmer stated that Aston Martin was only worried about the long-term performance of its stock, but there is reason to question whether its fortunes will improve.

In July 2019, with weak sales for The Vantage, the second model in the ‘Second Century’ plan, and economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit, Aston Martin revised its 2019 sales forecast to 6,400 cars from 7,300. The market cap of the company fell below EUR 1.5 Billion in August 2019, from its market cap of EUR 4.6 Billion at its IPO.(14) Non-executive director Najeeb Al Humaidhi sold his stake in Aston Martin in August 2019, a damning indictment on the ability of Mr. Palmer and the board to stabilize its finances.(15)

Something amiss in the skills and diversity matrix?

Data reviewed in the CGLytics software platform suggests Aston Martin’s board lacked the expertise and necessary independence to properly gauge its market appeal. The Pre-IPO board additions increased the size of Aston Martins board to 14 directors, 5 being independent non-executive directors, with 3 of the 14 directors women.

According to the Division of Responsibilities section of the UK Corporate Governance code Principal G states that:

“the board should include an appropriate combination of executive and non-executive (and in-particular, independent non-executive directors) such that no small group of individuals dominates the board’s decision making”.

The 11th Provision states that:

“at least half the board, excluding the chair, should be non-executive directors whom the board considers to be independent”.(16)

In addition to the UK Corporate Governance code, the Davies Commission stated that by 2020, a third of all directors should be women.(17)

Aston Martin stated its intention to follow all principles and provisions of the UK Governance code and the Davies Commission within a year. Nonetheless, with the 5 independent directors joining the board within a month of its IPO, it is likely that the executive directors and shareholder representing non-executive directors, dominated the board’s decision making. With more of a stake in its IPO, they were more inclined to overestimate Aston Martin’s market appeal.

Below is a display of Aston Martin’s Board Expertise and Diversity on October 3rd, 2018, before its IPO.

AM Board Expertise and Skills
AM Board Diversity
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Reviewing Aston Martins Board Expertise in CGLytics Board Effectiveness tool, of the directors on the board at the time, four had skills in Marketing: Andrew Palmer, Penny Hughes, Peter Rogers, and Matthew Carrington. While seeming sufficient, it should be noted that both Penny Hughes and Matthew Carrington were appointed to Aston Martin’s board just a month before its listing, which is not enough time for a director to immerse themselves and significantly contribute in the marketing strategy prior to the IPO. Peter Rogers was a shareholder’s representative, who would benefit if the IPO met or exceeded internal valuation; Mr. Palmer, as the chief executive was entitled to share awards up to E3.6m.(18)

The diagram also suggests that there was no director with Technology expertise, which is necessary for most issuers. Additionally, we find that the Board at the time of the IPO also lacked expertise in Governance. It is however interesting to point out that the Board had strong presence in Industry and Sector, Leadership, International, Executive, and Financial expertise.

Lawrence Stroll injects cash in Aston Martin. Management & Board changes begin

Despite Andy Palmer’s intention for nobody to save Aston Martin again, in January 2020 with losses mounting, and with no alternative but a substantial investment, Aston Martin sold a 20% stake to a group lead by Lawrence Stroll, who became Executive Chairman in April 2020 as part of the deal. Peter Rodgers passed away in February 2020, Penny Hughes stepped down as Chairwoman on April 7, 2020, and Richard Solomons, Imelda Walsh, and Tensie Whelan, all independent directors appointed before the IPO, declined to stand for re-election.(19) Aston Martin’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Mark Wilson, departed in April 2020. Mr. Palmer himself, stepped down in May 2020 with shares down over 90% since the IPO.(20)

New Voices, Same Results?

When Aston Martin announced the departure of Andy Palmer, its share price increased by over 40%, a sign the market believes a new CEO will reverse its fortune. Tobias Moers, the current Chief Executive Officer at Mercedes subsidiary AMG was appointed CEO of Aston Martin effective August 1st, 2020.(21) Kenneth Gregor was named the new Chief Financial Officer on June 22nd, 2020.(22)

With a new Executive Chairman, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Executive Officer, it is reasonable to expect a new direction for Aston Martin, but data suggests Aston Martin may not be better off than before.

Lawrence Stroll, while the owner of Force India’s F1 Team and a car enthusiast, has no automotive expertise. Tobias Moers fails to diversify the Board’s expertise.

Below is a display of Aston Martin’s board expertise effective August 1st, 2020, when new CEO Tobias Moers assumes control:

AM Board Expertise and Skills post IPO
AM Board Diversity post IPO
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

In this scenario, Aston Martin has 9 directors, only 2 who are independent non-executive directors, a 22% independence ratio, an indication Aston Martin has not yet complied with principles and provisions of the UK Corporate Governance code. In August 2020, when the new CEO takes his position, the independence ratio will further drop to 20%. One thing that can also be missed is the lack of gender balance on Aston Martin’s Board. There is currently no female on the Board, Aston Martin is further away from meeting the recommendations of the Davies Commission than before its IPO.

On the expertise and skills side, although the board still has its independent marketing expert in Matthew Carrington, the imbalance between the groups of directors makes it unlikely he will sway the board.

With the new Board, we see a significant drop in their Leadership, Financial, International, Executive, Industry and Sector Expertise. The company still has no Director with Technology and Governance expertise; skills necessary to steer company’s affairs in the right direction.

Aston Martin’s choice to go public may ultimately have been ill-advised. While initially allowing it to raise cash, an IPO was always going to lock Aston Martin into certain financial performance metrics, that given its historical struggles, it was unlikely to meet, despite the initial upturn in fortune under Andy Palmer. Independent non-executive directors with less at stake are more likely to recognize and raise red flags, reducing risk and providing greater corporate governance.

How can Aston Martin improve their corporate governance and gain oversight of their board effectiveness going forward? CGLytics governance data and analytics tools provides the board composition analysis companies, investors and service provides need, now and in the future, to reduce risk and ensure company success.

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 globally listed companies’ governance practices including their CEO Pay for Performance, board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

 

Click here to 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.

References:

[1] Hotten, R. (2015, March 5). Aston Martin battles to reinvent itself. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-31727799

[2] Padgett, M. (2016, March 7). Aston Martin promises 7 cars in 7 years–and profits. Motor Authority. https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1102701_aston-martin-promises-seven-cars-in-seven-years–and-profits

[3] Hotten, R. (2015, March 5). Aston Martin battles to reinvent itself. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-31727799

[4] Aston CEO calls crossover, daimler deal keys to revival. (2015, April 9). Automotive News Europe. https://europe.autonews.com/article/20150409/ANE/150409991/aston-ceo-calls-crossover-daimler-deal-keys-to-revival

[5] Hotten, R. (2015, March 5). Aston Martin battles to reinvent itself. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-31727799

[6] Tsui, C. (2018, January 4). Aston Martin reports record sales, sold more than 5,000 cars in 2017. The Drive. https://www.thedrive.com/article/17370/aston-martin-reports-record-sales-sold-more-than-5000-cars-in-2017

[7] Aston Martin roars back into the Black. (2018, February 26). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-43204733

[8] Publication of Reg document & H1 2018 results – 06:03:04 29 Aug 2018 – News article | London stock exchange. (2018, August 29). London Stock ExchangeLondon Stock Exchange. https://www.londonstockexchange.com/news-article/market-news/publication-of-reg-document-amp-h1-2018-results/13770626

[9] Neate, R. (2018, September 25). Aston Martin names first female chair as it prepares for £5bn float. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/10/aston-martin-chair-float-penny-hughes

[10] Aston Martin bolsters board as luxury carmaker prepares for IPO. (2018, September 10). Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/0c35df58-b4c9-11e8-bbc3-ccd7de085ffe

[11] Ipo. (n.d.). astonmartinlagonda.com. https://www.astonmartinlagonda.com/investors/ipo

[12] Publication of Reg document & H1 2018 results – 06:03:04 29 Aug 2018 – News article | London stock exchange. (2018, August 29). London Stock ExchangeLondon Stock Exchange. https://www.londonstockexchange.com/news-article/market-news/publication-of-reg-document-amp-h1-2018-results/13770626

[13] Kollewe, J. (2020, February 3). Aston Martin shares crash as it reveals £136m IPO costs. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/28/aston-martin-sets-aside-30m-for-brexit-as-revenues-rise

[14] Kollewe, J. (2019, November 7). Aston Martin blames tough European market for £13.5m loss. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/nov/07/aston-martin-blames-tough-european-market-for-135m-loss

[15] Aston Martin takes another hit as director sells $33 million stake. (n.d.). Driven. https://www.driven.co.nz/news/aston-martin-takes-another-hit-as-director-sells-33-million-stake/

[16] The UK Corporate Governance Code. (2018). Financial Reporting Council. https://www.frc.org.uk/getattachment/88bd8c45-50ea-4841-95b0-d2f4f48069a2/2018-UK-Corporate-Governance-Code-FINAL.pdf

[17] Aston Martin bolsters board as luxury carmaker prepares for IPO. (2018, September 10). Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/0c35df58-b4c9-11e8-bbc3-ccd7de085ffe

[18] Monaghan, A. (2018, September 25). Aston Martin boss in line for £7.2m package as £5.1bn float unveiled. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/20/not-a-bond-aston-martin-to-float-shares-on-stock-market

[19] Aston Martin drives through board changes after £104m loss. (2020, February 27). Accountancy Daily. https://www.accountancydaily.co/aston-martin-drives-through-board-changes-after-ps104m-loss

[20] Ziady, H. (2020, May 26). Aston Martin replaces CEO Andy Palmer with Mercedes-AMG chief. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/26/business/aston-martin-new-ceo/index.html

[21] Ziady, H. (2020, May 26). Aston Martin replaces CEO Andy Palmer with Mercedes-AMG chief. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/26/business/aston-martin-new-ceo/index.html

[22] Appointment of chief financial officer – 07:00:02 22 Jun 2020 – AML news article | London stock exchange. (2020, June 22). London Stock ExchangeLondon Stock Exchange. https://www.londonstockexchange.com/news-article/AML/appointment-of-chief-financial-officer/14586003

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Wirecard Pre- and Post-Scandal: A Board Effectiveness Analysis

This article examines Wirecard’s corporate governance practices, board effectiveness score compared to their DAX and sector peers, and shortfalls in board expertise pre- and post-scandal.

07.06.2020

Wirecard AG, one of the leading Fintech companies in Europe and a DAX constituent, is now in the centre of a major accounting scandal. This article examines Wirecard’s corporate governance practices, board effectiveness score compared to their peers, and shortfalls in board expertise using CGLytics tools.

Wirecard’s now former CEO, Markus Braun, resigned with immediate effect from his position on June 19 and was arrested by German authorities on June 22, after the company’s auditor, EY, reported EUR 1.9 billion missing from the balance sheets, and refused to sign off Wirecard’s financial results[1].

Wirecard claimed that the missing amount does not exist and announced that the company has filed an application for insolvency on June 25[2]. The company’s shares were suspended from trading before it announced insolvency proceedings. Wirecard’s shares fell almost 90% after it admitted to the missing EUR 1.9 billion.

Right after the CEO’s resignation, Jan Marsalek, Wirecard’s former COO and a member of the Management Board, was dismissed (on June 22). James Freis, a former Director of Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for the United States Department of the Treasury and Managing Director, Group Chief Compliance Officer, and Group Anti-Money Laundering Officer at Deutsche Börse AG, was appointed interim CEO of Wirecard on June 19.

To evaluate if the Board of Wirecard was well equipped to prevent the fraud scandal, CGLytics looked at the expertise of Board Members and other factors that define the effectiveness of the Board prior to changes to its composition.

Gaps in board expertise

Prior to changes on the Management Board in June 2020, the Board of Directors of Wirecard consisted of five members of Supervisory Board and four members of Executive Board. According to the Board Expertise analysis, using CGLytics Governance Data and Analytics tools in the software platform, the Board at that time scored low on the Financial and Governance expertise, the two essential skills for successful oversight of financial compliance.

Wirecard’s Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

Wirecard Board Expertise
Source: CGLytics Expertise Diagram and Skills Matrix

Criticism of Wirecard has been raised already in 2019, when the Financial Times started an investigation into the company’s accounting conduct based on numerous whistleblowing cases. Wirecard was denying reports of misconduct and claimed such information was fake[4]. Both Markus Braun and Jan Marsalek, now former members of the Management Board, lacked Financial and Governance expertise, which was also the case with other members of the Management Board (except the Chief Financial Officer Alexander von Koop).

Thomas Eichelmann, independent member of the Supervisory Board and Chairman since January 2020, brings both Financial and Governance expertise to the Board, having served as Chief Financial Officer at Deutsche Börse AG and as a member and Chairman of numerous companies in Germany. Interestingly, he was one of the key figures in pushing Wirecard to undertake an independent review of its accounting issues. The company hired KPMG in October to start such an investigation[5].

With the appointment of James Freis as an interim CEO, the Board has gained compliance and legal experience, however, the Financial expertise is still lacking.

Board effectiveness analysis

To evaluate other factors that add to the Board success, CGLytics looked at various parameters that together form the ‘Board Effectiveness’ score. At the end of 2019 Wirecard’s Board was compared to other Boards in the DAX index at the time. The graph below shows the single score attached to each DAX constituent representing the company’s ‘Board Effectiveness’ coefficient.

In total, Wirecard shows the fifth highest effectiveness score compared to other index constituents (on a scale from 1 to 100).

Board Effectiveness Score of DAX Index (2019)

Wirecard board effectiveness on DAX
Source: CGLytics Board Effectiveness Score

Utilizing the CGLytics peer composer tool, we created a peer group for Wirecard based on their sector to evaluate the company in comparison to their sector peers.

Interestingly, our analysis suggests that Wirecard’s Board Effectiveness score, using the CGlytics Risk Rating tool, is the second highest among competitor companies, as per the end of 2019.

Board Effectiveness Analysis of Wirecard’s Sector Peers (2019)

Wirecard board effectiveness compared to peers
Source: CGLytics Risk Rating tool

Utilizing CGLytics’ Risk Rating tool, we were able to gain insights into Wirecard’s Board Effectiveness score pre- and post-scandal. Using December 2019 as a benchmark, we found that the company’s Board Effectiveness score improved from 78 points to 82 points in June 2020.

However, it is worth noting that the company decreased in Nationality Dispersion and Directors Tenure. Underlying metrics such as Gender Equality and Board Independence has also improved from December 2019 to June 2020.

Board Effectiveness of Wirecard Pre- and Post-Scandal

Board effectiveness pre and post scandal
Source: CGLytics Risk Rating tool

Destruction of Shareholders’ Value

In September 2018, Wirecard boasted of EUR 22.5 billion in market capitalization, and ascended to the blue-chip index of Germany replacing Commerzbank, the country’s second largest financier. However, due to this scandal, Wirecard’s share price has plunged and wiped off millions of dollars of profits for investors; notably a group of SoftBank executives and a UAE (Abu Dhabi) fund that invested in a complex USD 1 BLN trade on the company’s equity.

According to market reports, in April 2019, SoftBank Investment Advisors, which manages the group’s USD 100 billion Vision Fund, structured roughly USD 1 billion investment in Wirecard through a convertible bond. The investment fund is now set to miss out on millions in profits that it might have gained from the Wirecard trade.

What’s next for Wirecard?

After continuous denial of allegations from whistle-blowers and journalists, notably the Financial Times, Wirecard is now going through insolvency proceedings and its former CEO faces charges of misrepresenting the company’s accounts and market manipulation[6]. The Board of Directors of Wirecard had obvious gaps in Financial and Governance expertise, being unable to identify and respond to the issue from its early days. As a result, the shares of the company fell dramatically, leaving lenders and investment funds with losses.

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 globally listed companies’ governance practices including their CEO Pay for Performance, board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

 

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Takeaway.com is on a mission

Takeaway.com is on a mission to assert its dominance as one of the world’s leading online food delivery service providers. Mergers and acquisitions have resulted in an increase in bonuses for the CEO and the board, plus an improvement in board structure.

07.01.2020

Takeaway.com has been on a mission for the past few years to assert its dominance as one of the world’s leading online food delivery service providers. In only six months the company has made two major acquisitions; acquiring Delivery Hero, Grubhub and merging with UK based Just Eat plc. All this while fending off counteroffers from competitors such as Prosus NV and out bidding rivals.

The Merger:

The merger between Takeaway.com and Just Eat took nearly six months to complete. The company had to fend off multiple bids, including a GBP 5.5 billion bid from competitor Prosus, the investment unit of South African internet conglomerate Naspers Limited.

The merger between the two companies was announced back in July 2019. Takeaway.com’s initial offer valued Just Eat at 731 pence per share (representing a 15 percent premium) and resulted in Just Eat shareholders owning 52.2 percent and Takeaway.com shareholders owning 47.8 percent of the share capital of the combined group.

The merger also brought significant changes in the combined group corporate governance structure, including, adopting a 2-tier board structure that comprises of an Executive Board and Supervisory Board. The 2-tier structure is a common practice laid out by the Dutch Corporate Governance code.

Additionally, change was announced to both the Supervisory and Executive board with the intention to increase the presence of both companies involved in the newly formed entity. The Supervisory Board increased from four to seven members with four members coming from Just Eat and the three from Takeaway.com.

On the Executive Board, the Co-Founder and CEO of Takeaway.com, Mr Jitse Groen, retained his position as CEO, Just Eat CFO took over as the Group CFO and the positions of COO would be shared as a Co-COO between the other two members.

The intended rearrangement was said to foster “a strong founder-led management team with years of combined experience in the sector”. [1]

CGLytics presented a scenario analysis of the board composition on the date of the announcement and what the board is comprised of before and after the merger.

Takeaway.com’s Board Expertise and Skill Matrix (pre-merger)

Takeaway.com board skills and expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Just Eat Takeaway Board Expertise and Skill Matrix (post-merger)

Takeaway.com and Just Eat board skills and expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

In the post-merger analysis, there is improvement to the overall board structure. Governance expertise are increased as well as Financial expertise, which are core competencies and imperative to a board. In a market with tough competition, that includes big names such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, plus others gradually increasing their presence, not having the right expertise and skills on the board pose corporate governance risks.

The analysis also reveals that the company is lacking in Technology expertise. For a company that carries out most of its business online, it should be an expertise area worth considering to improve.

As much as the merger seemed a good fit for both companies involved, South African owned Prosus had other intentions. The company twice increased its hostile bid for Just Eat including a GBP 5.5 billion bid in cash (740 pence per share), which the company deemed “a more compelling and certain value for Just Eat shareholders at a further premium to Takeaway.com’s offer”[2].

Nonetheless, Takeaway.com was offering Just Eat shareholders more control whereas Prosus’ offer was looking to decrease their control. Just Eat shareholders ultimately rebuffed Prosus’ offer citing the bid as “significantly undervaluing” the group [3].

At the beginning of 2020, rumours started circulating that a deal had been met; Takeaway.com and Just Eat settled on an implied value of 916 pence per share. Subsequently, on February 3, 2020, Just Eat announced it had suspended its listing and trading on the London Stock Exchange. The combined company was renamed to Just Eat Takeaway. The new partnership has brought changes to the company’s compensation strategy.

The Acquisitions:

Within the past year Takeaway.com has made multiple acquisitions.

In 2019 the company won the battle with Delivery Hero in the German market, agreeing to buy the larger rival’s activities in Germany in a deal worth EUR 930 million.

In 2020, after nearly a month of negotiations, US based Grubhub stepped away from a potential acquisition from Uber Eats after concerns of antitrust and instead merged with the newly formed Just Eat Takeaway. The company agreed to acquire Grubhub for USD 7.3 billion in stock. The deal will see the company be able to take on rivals such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, which are also based in the US market.

Just Eat Takeaway shareholders will control around 70 per cent of the combined company, while the rest will be owned by Grubhub’s investors. After the deal, Just Eat Takeway’s CEO was quoted as stating:

“Would it be better to just wait one year after every transaction? Yes, sure. We’d get more sleep. But that’s just not how the world turns” [4]

Impact on CEO Compensation:

During the company’s 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM), shareholders agreed to significantly increase the bonuses of the CEO and Executive Board. Where it was absent prior, there will be a Short-Term Bonus (STI) of a maximum of 150 percent of the base salary and an on target of 75 percent of basic salary.

In addition, there has been an adjustment to the Long-Term Incentive (LTI). The LTI has increased from a maximum of 150 percent to a maximum of 200 percent of the base salary and will be paid in the form of performance shares rather than performance stock options. The pay is, of course, dependent upon the achievement of performance objectives such as revenue growth relative TSR and a strategic target. [5]

The below table provides an example of what the potential earnings for the CEO might look like if all performance objectives are met versus what was earnt over the past two years.

CEO earnings
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

The company argued that the adjustment is to align the remuneration policy with the current size, scope and complexity of the company following the merger with Just Eat. Shareholders seem to agree to the proposal, which earned a resounding 99.2 percent approval at the 2020 AGM.

Takeaway.com is on a mission to become the worlds largest online food delivery service provider and based on the company’s most recent actions, one would say it is well on its way. However, it is not going to be easy road, out-bidding rivals and fending off large competitors in order to do so.

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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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Bennett and the Ashford Companies: Corporate Governance Pitfalls and Lessons

The companies controlled by hotelier Monty Bennett have seen controversy for exploiting a government loan program designed to help small businesses. Learn how misaligned Pay for Performance, and an unbalanced board, can result in poor decision-making and increase governance risk.

Poor corporate governance not only endangers a company’s operations and shareholder value, but also results in poor business decisions [1]. Board composition and executive compensation are key elements of corporate governance, and this article examines these key factors in relation to Bennett and the Ashford companies.

In April 2020, the group of hotel companies controlled by Texan hotelier Monty Bennett became the face of the controversies surrounding the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a program meant to help small businesses survive the economic impact of COVID-19. Three public companies controlled by Bennett (Ashford Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemar Hotels & Resorts) applied for USD 126 million in loans under the PPP and received at least USD 58 million in return. The Ashford group is the largest known applicant of the government’s relief program, and Ashford Hospitality Trust alone applied for USD 76 million in 117 separate loans, the most by a single company[2]. These companies took advantage of a provision that allowed hospitality and restaurant chains to receive assistance if individual locations had fewer than 500 employees[3].

Ashford companies soon received backlash for exploiting a government loan program designed to help small businesses during a difficult time. Bennett initially refused to return USD 58.7 million his companies received and denied any wrongdoing. On April 28, 2020, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that all companies that had received more than USD 2 million could be audited and held criminally liable for failing to meet the program’s criteria[4]. With mounting public scrutiny and the threat of congressional investigation, on May 2 Bennett declared his companies would return all funds.

A few days later, Douglas Kessler voluntarily resigned as President and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust.

Intense media scrutiny and Bennett’s initial refusal to return the funds shone a light onto the companies’ governance structure and poor financial performance. Ashford Inc., which provides asset management services, acts as an external advisor to real estate investment trusts Ashford Hospitality and Braemar. As Chairman of all Ashford companies and CEO of Ashford Inc., Bennett receives compensation from all three entities. These companies were already suffering from heavy losses and sinking stock prices long before COVID-19 struck. Ashford Hospitality had more than USD 100 million in losses in FY 2019. Amid the scandal, the NYSE threatened the company with delisting after its share price fell below USD 1, the minimum average closing price per share required to maintain listing on the NYSE[5]. Overall, the companies’ share prices have fallen over 70 percent on average over the last five years.

Pay for Performance analysis of Ashford Inc.’s CEO

However, the compensation of the Ashford group’s top executives did not decrease due to its poor financial performance. When using CGLytics’ Pay for Performance modeler to consider Ashford Inc.’s relative position compared to its industry peer group, it is revealed that Bennett’s compensation over three years as CEO is disproportionally high compared to the company’s earnings per share. Their CEO’s granted compensation is ranked on the 95th percentile whilst Earnings Per Share (EPS) is ranked in the 5th percentile displaying a misalignment between pay and performance.

Ashford Inc. also received an F grade in Glass Lewis’ Pay for Performance Analysis for FY 2018, meaning that the company’s poor financial performance is not in line with its high compensation levels.

Ashford Inc.’s Pay for Performance Analysis (2019)

Pay for Performance Ashford
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Understanding the skill set of the Board

When analyzing the Ashford companies’ boards through CGLytics’s board composition and expertise tools, it is noticed that directors were unlikely to be effective lines of defense against the public’s backlash. To have an effective response, we would expect to observe board members with governance, financial, legal or risk expertise. Of the seven directors sitting on Ashford Inc.’s board, only three have governance expertise which is derived from their exposure in governance committee roles. The only member with financial expertise, J. Robinson Hays, is dependent, and no members of the board have legal or risk experience. While all directors have worked in real estate, capital management or hospitality, only three – of which two are dependent – have experience in Ashford Inc.’s specific field.

Ashford Inc.’s Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

Ashford Inc.’s Board Expertise and Skill Matrix
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Looking at Ashford Hospitality Trust, only one of the three directors with governance expertise has worked in a compliance and governance role. Only two have financial expertise, with one being the outgoing CEO, and of the two individuals with legal expertise, only one has practiced law. No director has risk experience.

Ashford Hospitality Trust’s Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

Ashford Hospitality Trust’s Board Expertise and Skill Matrix
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Of Braemar Hotels and Resorts’ seven directors, none has risk expertise and only one has held financial roles.

Braemar Hotels & Resorts’ Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

Braemar Hotels & Resorts’ Board Expertise and Skill Matrix
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

From this analysis, few directors held the expertise and skills necessary to advise the companies on the proper course of action. All companies are led by Bennett as Chairman, and the New York Times asserts that the boards are “filled with people with close ties to Bennett,” including a director whose wife’s firm provides services to the entities[6].

Board tenure is also a factor to consider in a board’s effectiveness. While long tenure can have advantages, they can be an issue if members lack the necessary expertise or if they compromise independence[7]. Two of the three boards have an average tenure of almost seven years and Ashford Inc. has only appointed one director in the past six years.

Overall, the effects of public backlash against Bennett and the Ashford companies could have been mitigated with good governance practices and decisions. In order to acquire credibility in the eyes of the public and investors, the companies should consider restructuring their compensation levels and appointing independent directors with the right skills to oversee executive management and add value to the company.

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 globally listed companies’ governance practices including their ceo pay for performance, board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

 

Click here to contact CGLytics and learn about the governance tools available and currently used by institutional investors, activist investors and leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis in their proxy papers.

Refererences

[1] https://diligent.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/06/Whitepaper_modern_governance-1.pdf

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-finance-202/2020/04/27/the-finance-202-joe-biden-blasts-big-banks-corporateamerica-over-coronavirus-response/5ea60fc688e0fa3dea9c3036/

[3] https://www.bisnow.com/dallas-ft-worth/news/hotel/ashford-group-of-companies-affiliates-return-controversial-ppp-funding-blame-inconsistentfederal-guidance-104218

[4] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-28/mnuchin-says-all-relief-loans-of-2-million-will-be-audited

[5] https://www.sec.gov/ix?doc=/Archives/edgar/data/1232582/000123258220000019/ahtnyse8-k.htm

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/business/economy/monty-bennett-small-business-loans-coronavirus.html

[7] https://insights.diligent.com/board-succession-planning/leaving-a-board-removing-board-members-term-limits-and-more

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AMP Receives Second “First Strike” Within Three Years

This article examines AMP Limited’s governance practices, board of directors’ skills and expertise, and their CEO Pay for Performance, to undestand why it found itself in hot water with the Australian Royal Commission.

Ever since the Royal Commission has been investigating alleged cases of misconduct in banking, superannuation and financial services firms in 2017[1], it has scrutinized and fined Australia’s largest financial institutions and banks. This article examines AMP Limited’s governance practices, board of directors’ skills and expertise, and its CEO Pay for Performance, to understand why it found itself in hot water.

AMP Limited is one of those companies that has frequently dealt with the Royal Commission. The company has been investigated for several cases of misconduct in recent years, making shareholders furious over the company’s mismanagement and dishonesty. As a result, shareholders have questioned both the executives’ performance and their compensation.

On May 8, 2020, AMP obtained a ‘first strike’ on its remuneration report during its Annual General Meeting (AGM) after 67.25 per cent of its shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report for the financial year ending December 31, 2019[2]. However, this is not the first time the wealth management firm had experienced a first-strike. During its 2018 AGM, 61.46 per cent of shareholders voted against the adoption of its remuneration report because of the numerous scandals the firm was involved in[3].

In 2018, the company faced backlash for charging their clients service fees over a period of 90 days without rendering any advisory services[4]. AMP executive Anthony Regan admitted that the firm repeatedly misled the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) about the deliberate nature of the 90-day fee policy. The company has announced that it will return AUD 778 million for the service fees charged to its clients, with a further AUD 440 million being returned to clients that were given inappropriate advice[5].

The company was also questioned for its implementation of the government’s Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR), which was intended to hold executives accountable for misconduct and malpractice. AMP explained that it adopted a “hybrid model” where only executives from AMP Bank, as opposed to executives from the larger AMP Group, would be held accountable. The company stated such a model would be more “flexible and pragmatic” in achieving the company’s
long-term objectives.

Unfortunately, the company again found itself in hot water in 2019 when AMP and the trustees of its superannuation funds, AMP Superannuation and NM Superannuation, were confronted with a new class action for excessive fees on their accounts since 2013[6]. The law firm Maurice Blackburn claims that AMP billed unreasonably high fees to customers and violated its legal duty to act in the best interest of its clients.

One of the well-known violations of AMP was the case involving the late Mr. Daryl Oehm, who despite having passed away in October 2018 was charged fees from his account until March 2019. This occurred even after the company was informed of Mr. Oehm’s passing and the company’s subsequent agreement to “freeze” the account[7]. The Royal Commission discovered that at least 3,124 clients of AMP were continuously charged a collective total of AUD 922,000 in life insurance premiums even after their passing.

The financial giant released a statement in August 2019 announcing that it developed a three-year investment program to “fund growth, cost reductions and fix legacy issues.” The cost minimizing program plans to achieve AUD 300 million annual run-rate savings by FY22[8]. Despite its aggressive initiative, shareholders still voted against the adoption of its remuneration report during the 2020 AGM after reporting an AUD 2.5 billion loss, with AUD 2.35 billion spent on non-impairment charges and AUD 190 million on misconduct fees[9]. Shareholders protest that even though the company’s share price has declined by 25 per cent in the past 12 months from AUD 1.91 to AUD 1.42 and declared a non-payment of a final dividend, current Chief Executive Officer Mr. Francesco De Ferrari was still able to take home more than AUD 4 million in salary and short-term awards[10].

CGLytics’ Pay for Performance analysis compares CEO Mr. De Ferrari’s total realized pay with the industry peer group’s three-year total shareholder return (TSR). The CEO’s pay is disproportionately higher than the company’s TSR, with the CEO pay in the 40th percentile rank and the company’s TSR in the 0 percentile rank. The misalignment shows that the CEO’s compensation is not tied to the company’s performance resulting in the CEO receiving a generous reward despite the company’s poor performance. AMP Chairman Mr. David Murray defended the CEO’s compensation stating that the hurdles faced by the executive were of an extremely challenging nature[11].

AMP Limited’s Pay for Performance analysis

AMP Relative Positioning
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

The financial giant initially planned to divest its New Zealand wealth management business but ceased its proposal due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic[12]. The company focuses instead on the development and growth of its businesses. The company has also stated that it is continuing with the sale of AMP Life, a life insurance arm of the company, and payment of the next dividend will be conditional on the completion of AMP Life’s sale for AUD 3 billion[13].

AMP’s numerous counts of misconduct has brought The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to identify certain areas for improvement for AMP’s superannuation trustees such as governance and risk management policies, breach remediation procedures, risk culture and accountability processes[14]. With not only AMP’s superannuation arm in difficulty, the company must move to expand these recommendations to the whole AMP group to strengthen its board. According to the CGLytics Board Expertise and Skill Matrix, the board is experienced in advisory, banking and investment management. However, the company lacks expertise in governance and sustainability, skills useful for compliance[15], disclosure and accountability[16].

AMP Limited’s Board Expertise and Skills Matrix

AMP Board
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Using data and analytics found in the CGLytics software platform, companies, investors, proxy advisors and service providers efficiently analyze and spot governance risks and red flags in seconds. AMP will need to understand how they are perceived by proxy advisors and stakeholders going forward, not only to avoid ‘strikes’ in the future but understand areas of improvement for good governance and stewardship, ultimately driving the company forward.

Would you like to see how your executive compensation is viewed by leading independent proxy advisor Glass Lewis and institutional investors?

Click here to contact CGLytics and learn more about the Glass Lewis CEO compensation analysis and peer group modeling for Say on Pay engagement, available exclusively via CGLytics.

Reference

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/20/banking-royal-commission-all-you-need-to-know-so-far

[2]https://client.cglytics.com/media/documents/df/34/df34b2de121967bc1e33fdc360a284b581094956/2020.pdf?v=1588940146

[3]https://client.cglytics.com/media/documents/74/4e/744e81f4e2eb8d40209410561f32f928f015e34e/2018_results.pdf?v=1536325991

[4] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-16/banking-royal-commission-financial-planners/9662166

[5] https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/amp-s-fees-for-no-service-scandal-could-top-1-billion-20181127-p50iqg.html

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/it-stinks-amp-faces-class-action-on-behalf-of-1-million-customers-20190529-p51sf4.html

[7] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-11/amp-continued-to-charge-customer-months-after-death/11691870

[8]https://corporate.amp.com.au/content/dam/corporate/shareholdercentre/files/asx-announcements/2019/8_August_2019_New_strategy_to_reset_AMP.pdf

[9]https://client.cglytics.com/media/documents/3e/30/3e305d791339d441e817b1cab401ee6d336e792b/2019.pdf?v=1585294896

[10] https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/breaking-news/amp-shelves-plan-to-divest-nz-wealth-ops/news-story/3668460e76affd0f5464d5bf0861b083

[11] https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/shareholders-hit-amp-with-first-strike-against-executive-pay-packets-20200508-p54r6f.html

[12]https://corporate.amp.com.au/content/dam/corporate/shareholdercentre/files/asx-announcements/2020/MAY/200508_Update_on_New_Zealand_wealth_management.pdf

[13] https://www.msn.com/en-au/money/markets/shareholders-strike-against-executive-pay-at-this-asx-financial-share/ar-BB13STZ3?li=AAFsTE5

[14] https://www.apra.gov.au/news-and-publications/apra-imposes-directions-and-conditions-on-amp-super-rse-licensees

[15]https://corporate.amp.com.au/content/dam/corporate/aboutus/files/2020/April/200409_Corporate_governance_statement.pdf

[16] https://theconversation.com/amps-murray-right-to-question-the-value-of-corporate-governance-rules-100954

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