Westpac: the issues, regulators and lessons to be learnt

It has been revealed that several banks have been involved in fraudulent and criminal conduct, one of them being Westpac Banking Corporation.

Since the Royal Commission was established to inquire and report on misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry in Australia (on December 2017 )[1], it has been revealed that several banks have been involved in fraudulent and criminal conduct, one of them being Westpac Banking Corporation.

One of the more egregious acts of misconduct, according to the Royal Commission, was Westpac filling out loan forms and documents on behalf of its clients. Westpac was quick to acknowledge that it was normal practice for staff to help clients fill out documents on their behalf. However, after further investigation, there was evidence to suggest that the bank falsely witnessed documents and marked documents without client approval and acknowledgement[2].

 

The case of Ms. Flanagan

A specific case for this issue was that of an elderly pensioner, Ms. Carolyn Flanagan. Ms. Flanagan became a guarantor for a business loan taken out by her daughter. Westpac, despite having knowledge of Ms. Flanagan’s numerous medical conditions such as being legally blind, deafness, depression and a previous battle with cancer, allowed her to become a guarantor of AUD 165,000 business loan while claiming her home as collateral. Unfortunately, her daughter’s business failed two years after the loan was taken out in 2010. Westpac sought to evict the pensioner to recoup funds, but allowed Ms. Flanagan to live in her home until her passing. However, if she decided to sell the property, even for the purpose of funding her aged care and medical bills, she would have been liable to pay AUD 170,000 from the sale, plus three per cent per annum accruing.

Westpac’s general manager has admitted that the bank had incorrectly filled out Ms. Flanagan’s daughter’s loan. The marked document suggested that Ms. Flanagan sought independent legal and financial advice regarding the business loan, when in fact, she had not. Westpac admits its staff had wrongly assumed that Ms. Flanagan would be seeing a lawyer after the meeting. The bank lacked due diligence in checking for the elderly’s sources of income, placing the loan at greater risk. Furthermore, a Westpac employee admitted to signing the loan documents as a witness even before Ms. Flanagan signed the document.

 

Westpac CEO apologizes and releases statement

After the scandal was released, Westpac Group’s CEO Brian Hartzer released a public apology and a guarantee that the bank will learn from its mistakes[3]. The introduction of low rate credit cards, lower transaction fees, amendment of remuneration structures and other initiatives are some of the measures taken by Westpac to remedy its misconduct[4].

 

Shareholders show distrust via remuneration report

Unfortunately, these initiatives were not enough to win back the trust and satisfaction of Westpac shareholders. During the 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM), 64.16 per cent of shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report[5]. This resulted in a first strike for the company. According to the Corporations Act 2001, a company will be given a first strike when 25 per cent or more vote “no” on the remuneration report. The company must be able to review and reform its remuneration structures before the next AGM[6]. The following AGM determines whether a company gets a second strike. This is when 25 per cent or more shareholders vote against its remuneration report for the second time. During the next AGM, shareholders will establish whether directors need to stand for re-election. If 50 per cent or more shareholders vote to pass a “spill” resolution, a “spill” meeting will be held within 90 days[7].

Despite the 25 per cent cut of short-term cash awards to executives, shareholders still showed concern of executives receiving large amounts of bonuses following the scandals revealed by the Royal Commission. Westpac Chairman Mr. Lindsay Maxsted pointed out that such misconduct was not limited only to Westpac, and he continued to defend via the decrease in short-term awards for executives. He further urged shareholders not to focus on the issues released by the Commission as this does not reflect the overall culture of the company[8]. Westpac has allotted AUD 281 million for customer compensation and litigation costs[9][10]. After the no-confidence vote on the company’s remuneration report, Mr. Maxsted said that the bank will be reviewing the remuneration structure and taking shareholder feedback very seriously[11].

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Westpac’s Pay for Performance alignment compared to country and industry peers

CGLytics’ Pay for Performance analysis (using its Pay for Performance modeling application) shown below, has compared Westpac’s CEO total realized pay with the industry peer group’s three-year Total Shareholder Return (TSR). The CEO’s pay is in the 45th percentile compared to the three-year TSR being ranked in the 20th percentile which shows that the CEO’s pay is aligned to the TSR performance following the 25 per cent decrease in short-term cash awards.

Westpac’s CEO Pay for Performance

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Westpac’s assessment of culture, governance and accountability

After the 2018 AGM, the Australian Regulation Prudential Authority (APRA) requested that Westpac undergo an assessment of its culture, governance and accountability (CGA)[12]. The bank’s CGA self-assessment report stated that the company needs improvement of understanding non-financial risks. Westpac admitted that the bank’s management of non-financial risks was “generally less mature” than its management of financial risks[13]. The bank’s recommendations are focused around five streams, namely: governance, risk and compliance, customers, remuneration and accountability and culture. The CGA report was released in the hopes of avoiding a second strike during the 2019 AGM.

Towards the end of November 2019, Austrac, an Australian Government regulator for financial crimes, discussed legal actions against Westpac following an estimated AUD 23 million legal breaches worth over AUD 11 billion[14]. Among these breaches, the most detrimental is the one regarding transactions involved in child exploitation in the Philippines.

Austrac claims that Westpac failed to meet anti-money laundering and counter terror finance (AML-CTL) laws by allowing some 3,000 transactions, all valued less than AUD 500,000, made by twelve Westpac customers. Austrac stated that Westpac should have flagged these transactions, as they were consistent with child exploitation practices[15]. Such practices include: customers remitting small amounts of money to the Philippines and Southeast Asia despite having no familial or business connections in those countries, customers remitting money to a suspected “child exploitation arranger” in the Philippines, and customers with known prior child exploitation charges remitting money to the Philippines.

Westpac was accused of not conducting due diligence despite having knowledge of the aforementioned practices. Only 18 months after the transactions had occurred did Westpac take any action.

Westpac responds to scandal with changes to their board

After the release of this new scandal, shareholders of Westpac have been aggressive in wanting to terminate CEO Brian Hartzer[16]. However, the Board of Directors have expressed that there is no evidence that Mr. Hartzer was aware of these criminal transactions. As a result, Westpac again promised to cut down bonuses of its senior executives and promised to create a financial crime committee[17]. Despite these efforts, pressure and criticism from shareholders pushed CEO Mr. Brian Hartzer, Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Board Risk Committee Mr. Ewen Crouch, and Chairman Mr. Lindsay Maxsted to step down from the board and company[18].

After the awaited 2019 AGM on December 12, 2019, results were released that 35.90 per cent of shareholders voted against the adoption of the remuneration report, earning them a strike two. However, 91.26 per cent of shareholders voted no on the conditional spill resolution[19]. All directors except Mr. Ewen Crouch, who had withdrawn his re-election, passed the re-election and election on their positions[20]. Mr. Maxsted stated that the Board will be decreasing 20 per cent in executive pay, and deduct short-term awards to zero.

 

Westpac’s board skills matrix and expertise

Looking into Westpac’s board expertise and skills, one may want to deduce if the Board had the right skills set to manage the affairs of the Board. According to CGLytics’ Board Expertise application, Westpac has a significant number of directors that have experience in advisory which is timely and relevant during this turbulent time. Westpac has claimed that the Board is competent in finance, including financial risks. However, the Board lacks expertise in risk management, specifically in non-financial risk to account for risks such as reputational damage, for the next AGMs. Another expertise that is crucial in this time is legal, where compliance and governance is much needed to enforce regulatory frameworks provided by Austrac, APRA and other regulators [21].

Westpac's board expertise and skills

westpac_board
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Westpac has responded by appointing a new Chairman, Mr. John McFarlane, who has over 40 years of experience in banking and is expected by shareholders to quickly settle current issues as well as appoint a new Chief Executive Officer[22]. Another step that Westpac has taken following the scandals is to appoint Accountability Review Advisory Panel members. The following members of the panel are: Mr. Colin Carter, Dr. Kerry Schott and Dr. Zygmunt Switkwoski[23]. The panel’s objective is to give recommendations on risk governance and accountability in response to Austrac.

Are you prepared for the 2020 proxy season? The CGLytics platform provides users with a wealth of governance insights. From executive remuneration, board composition and risk indicators, CGLytics empowers Companies, Boards, Investors and Third-parties to be one step ahead.

CGLytics executive pay data is trusted worldwide by leading independent proxy advisor Glass Lewis for research analysis used in their proxy papers. Access the same data in the CGLytics application.

Would you like to gain instant insights into more than 5,500 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

Or access the same CEO pay for performance insights used by Glass Lewis in their proxy papers?

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Want to know how COVID-19 is Impacting Executive Compensation?

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References

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

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

[3] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2018/28-september/

[4] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2018/28-january/

[5] https://thewest.com.au/business/banking/westpac-chiefs-brace-for-fiery-perth-agm-following-banking-royal-commission-revelations-ng-b881048164z

[6] https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/resources/all-sectors/director-remuneration

[7] https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/what-is-the-two-strikes-rule-20121008-278us.html

[8] https://www.afr.com/companies/financial-services/westpac-gets-a-first-strike-at-agm-20181212-h190vn

[9] https://www.westpac.com.au/news/making-news/2018/12/strike-sends-a-strong-message/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/12/disgruntled-westpac-shareholders-vote-down-executive-pay-over-bonuses

[11] https://www.sharecafe.com.au/2018/12/13/58152/

[12] https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/westpac-risks-second-strike-on-executive-pay-20190624-p520ns.html

[13]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/media/Westpac_Self-Assessment_Report_.pdf

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/21/what-is-westpac-accused-of-and-how-is-this-related-to-child-exploitation-explainer

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/21/legal-breaches-allowed-westpac-customers-to-pay-for-child-sex-undetected-austrac-alleges

[16] https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/banking/calls-for-blood-over-westpac-money-laundering-and-child-exploitation-scandal/news-story/8f85b5a35cf033b08ab40d74c369f72b

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/28/more-directors-may-leave-westpac-as-investigation-seeks-board-accountability

[18] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/westpac-chairman-agm-protest-vote/11792010

[19]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/ic/WBC_AGM_2019_Results.pdf

[20] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/westpac-chairman-agm-protest-vote/11792010

[21]https://www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/aw/media/Westpac_Self-Assessment_Report_.pdf

[22] https://www.westpac.com.au/news/making-news/2020/01/sufficiently-battle-hardened-westpac-names-new-chair/

[23] https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/media/media-releases/2019/20-december/

About the Author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

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

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Concern over Wesfarmers’ executive pay?

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

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

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

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

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

CGLytics Pay for Performance Analysis

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

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

Wesfarmers Limited's CEO Pay for Performance

wesfarmers CEO pay
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

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

What is the KEEPP bonus scheme?

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

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

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

Wesfarmers underpays due to complications in payroll

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

Linking director pay to competency and expertise

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

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

Wesfarmers board's expertise and skills

Wesfarmers skills and expertise
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

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Blue Sky Downfall – What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What went wrong?

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

Board diversity Blue Sky

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

Board expertise Blue Sky

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

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

exec departures

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

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

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Harvey Norman AGM; Strike 2 in the making?

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

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

Votes against remuneration report in 2018

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

Questions over what will happen at 2019’s AGM

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

ASX’s Corporate Governance Principles comes into question

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

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

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

HN Board

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

Tenure reveals a stale board

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

One more independent director added to the board

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

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

Harvey Norman's board expertise

What are the proxy advisors’ view?

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

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

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

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

HN P4P analysis

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Alex Co: APAC Research Analyst

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

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

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

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

Disaster strikes

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

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

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

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

Board takes steps to increase safety

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

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

Skills and expertise on Boeing's board

Changes for CEO Muilenburg

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

How Boeing could increase board oversight

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

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

About the Author

Thao Nguyen: U.S. Research Analyst

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

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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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GlaxoSmithKline: Hampton’s departure gives a sense of unfinished business

CGLytics’ examines the board expertise and director interlocks of GSK both pre- and post-appointment of Mr. Jonathan Symonds, following Philip Hampton’s resignation as Chairman.

This article examines GlaxoSmithKline’s board expertise and director interlocks both prior and post the appointment of Mr. Jonathan Symonds; replacing Chairman Philip Hampton.

GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) announced in December 2018 the merger of its non-prescription drug and parapharmacy activities with those of the American giant Pfizer. The two labs are creating a GBP 10 billion joint venture, which will become the industry leader with GSK holding a majority of the shares – 68% and Pfizer a 32% holding. Within three years however, GSK plans to separate from this new entity and introduce it on the London Stock Exchange, placing Emma Walmsley as the CEO. There will therefore be a demerger project for GSK, aiming at separating their consumer health division (merged with Pfizer’s business) from their pharmaceutical and vaccines one. A lot of investors have been asking for this demerger over the past few years, however GSK is still in the middle of a transformation that is not quite complete.

The company intended, since 2015, to recover its Free Cash Flow (FCF) after the expenses arising from the costs of restructuration and integration of the Novartis deal. The company’s FCF is recovering quite well, with a GBP 5.7 billion in 2018 (+63% compared to 2017).

In January of this year, the Chairman of GSK, Philip Hampton, announced his decision to step down from his position after three and a half years and declared:

“Following the announcement of our deal with Pfizer and the intended separation of the new consumer business, I believe this is the right moment to step down and allow a new Chair to oversee this process through to its conclusion over the next few years.”

 

GSK announced their decision for a successor of Mr. Hampton, and it appears that Mr. Jonathan Symonds will be taking that role. Both individuals have different backgrounds and expertise. Mr. Symonds brings with him a strong pharmaceutical background together with corporate governance and corporate development experience. He was CFO of Novartis AG from 2009 to 2013 and prior to that CFO of AstraZeneca plc. He has been Deputy Group Chairman at HSBC Holdings plc since August 2018 and its Independent Non-Executive Director since April 2014. During his past experience, he has proven to be an expert of corporate changes. The most important transactions of Novartis (acquisition of Alcon) and AstraZeneca (acquisition of MedImmune) took place under his tenure. The experience Mr. Symonds brings with him added to his international finance knowledge make him a great fit for the upcoming challenges GSK will face.

The board expertise diagrams, produced directly from data and analytics in CGLytics’ platform, show GlaxoSmithKline’s board expertise matrix before and after Symonds’ appointment. The information used for producing CGLytics’ expertise and skills matrices in the SaaS offering is standardized and applied consistency to more than 5,500 companies globally for easy comparison, analysis and benchmarking of boards composition.

GSK board expertise prior to Symonds 4

Looking at the current board composition of GlaxoSmithKline, the Board’s strongest expertise are International, Governance, Leadership and Executive. The Board however currently has no director with Technology expertise. Five directors, including Sir Philip Hampton, have Financial expertise, having served as Finance Director of BG Group Limited. The Chairman nonetheless lacks Industry expertise which is in line with what market watchers have said.

The chart below displays the company’s expertise with the coming of the new Chairman Mr. Symonds. Jonathan also brings with him Non-Executive, Financial, Executive, Governance expertise among others. However, he also brings with him Industry expertise having served as CFO of Novartis AG. With his addition, the board will still lack in the area of Technology expertise.

GSK board expertise with Symonds 4

Another interesting insight is that Hampton is not currently sitting on any other company’s board, unlike Symonds who is currently sitting on four different boards (including HSBC Holdings plc). One could easily argue about the effectiveness of that choice when it comes to availability and focus/time dedication for the heavy incoming agenda.

The UK Corporate Governance Code advises:

“Additional external appointments should not be undertaken without prior approval of the board, with the reasons for permitting significant appointments explained in the annual report. Full-time executive directors should not take on more than one non-executive directorship in a FTSE 100 company or other significant appointment.”

Glass Lewis, in their UK 2019 Proxy Paper Guidelines, recommends:

“Voting against a director who serves as an executive officer of any public company while serving on a total of more than two public company boards, and any other director who serves on a total of more than five public company boards.”

On the other hand, investment management company BlackRock Inc., top shareholder of GSK’s capital, shares in their 2019 Proxy Voting Policy document that they would:

“Expect companies to provide a clear explanation in situations where a board candidate is a director serving on more than three other public company boards; or a Chairman serving on more than two other public company boards (or only one if this is an additional chairmanship).”

Finally, the recommendations of GSK’s second largest shareholder – asset management group Vanguard – state that:

“A fund will vote against any director who is a Named Executive Officer (NEO) and sits on more than one outside public board.”

Additionally,

“A fund will also vote against any director who serves on five or more public company boards.”

Mr. Symonds is sitting on one other public company’s board (from which he will be stepping down from at the beginning of 2020) and does not hold any executive position, which means that he satisfies the previous recommendations. But at the same time, Symonds remains on the board of three private companies: Proteus Digital Health Inc. (Chairman), Genomics England Limited (Chairman) and Rubius Therapeutics Inc. (Non-Executive Director). Despite the fact that he’s satisfying all guidelines, we can question if his agenda will allow him to dedicate the optimal amount of time for all the changes GSK is about to face.

As a conclusion, we can obviously always find a rational explanation to Hampton’s resignation and highlight the benefits of Symonds’ arrival. But at the end of the day, we must remember everything Hampton has done since joining the company: he has replaced the CEO, has reorganized the Board of Directors and led one of the biggest corporate restructuring projects seen these past years.

What makes this resignation a big event, is that GSK is currently in a timeframe where it needs as much stability as possible on a management level. The massive projects that are being led rely on the company to be extra cautious with its many moving parts. Considering the time needed for the restructuring and demerger to be concluded, we can think Hampton should have ideally stayed until the very end and then recruited a board for each entity.

All the reasons lead to thinking of the possibility of activities being overshadowed to keep investors from worrying. However, GSK has been clear about the fact that Hampton decided to leave once the Pfizer deal was announced. There may never be light over the other possible reasons that pushed Hampton to resign.

For more information regarding how CGLytics’ deep, global data set and unparalleled analytical screening tools can potentially help you make better decisions, click here.

About the Author

Amine Chehab: European Research Analyst

Amine completed his Master’s degree in International Financial Analysis at INSEEC Bordeaux, France. As part of his studies, he also attended the University of California, Riverside as an exchange student. Previously, he gained experience in the field of finance as a Finance Business Analyst and Financial consultant. Most recently he worked as a Credit Manager Assistant.

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Deutsche Bank: How CGLytics Tools Inform Glass Lewis’ Pay and Governance Analysis

Glass Lewis’ assessment of executive remuneration reflects a balance of quantitative and qualitative considerations, with CGLytics’ suite of tools underpinning the quantitative component. In the following discussion, we review the quantitative assessment with respect to Deutsche Bank, using CGLytics’ analytical tools.

For public companies based in Germany, Glass Lewis’ assessment of a company’s remuneration practices balances quantitative data with a variety of qualitative considerations. Since its introduction in 2018, CGLytics’ data analysis has helped us understand the pay structure and identify both quantum-related and broader governance issues.

CGLytics’ analysis of main profitability indicators illustrate the link between pay and performance. The tools are particularly useful when assessing a company’s remuneration in relation to local and European peers. That’s all the more important in Germany, where large companies usually include a significant number of US companies in their benchmarks, leading to a potentially skewed context for remuneration decisions and ultimate payouts.

In the following discussion, we describe how CGLytics’ analytical tools informed Glass Lewis’ review of Deutsche Bank ahead of the 2019 AGM.

Overview of DBK

Annual Say-on-Pay won’t be mandatory in Germany until SRD II is implemented, allowing Deutsche Bank to omit any remuneration-related votes from its 2019 AGM agenda; the multinational last sought shareholder approval of its remuneration policy in 2017. Nonetheless, for large cap companies Glass Lewis provides a remuneration analysis comprising CGLytics graphs and tables and a write-up to summarise any material issues. Even when there is no proposal focused solely on remuneration, this analysis informs our assessment of overall governance practices and the performance of the board, its committees and directors. Beyond the Proxy Paper report and voting recommendations, the analysis helps us to shape our engagement agenda and identify areas for further research.

Deutsche Bank’s KPIs have been consistently negative in the past years due to a number of legal disputes and organisational issues. In 2017, the Bank posted its third consecutive loss. Awards for those three years would have partially vested, mostly due to the achievement of the CET1 capital ratio and relative TSR targets. However, the management board decided to waive all variable remuneration payments and grants for fiscal years 2015 to 2017, in order to demonstrate that shareholders’ experience was reflected in the pay of top executives.

In 2018, the Bank reported its first consolidated net profit since 2014 and resumed the payment and grant of short- and long-term awards to management board members.

Overview of CGLytics Remuneration Analysis

CGLytics’ relative indicators confirmed that the company’s performance was below peers, while payouts were above. Moreover, the  analysis raised concerns about an excessive use of upward discretion and costs related to executive turnover.

Using CGLytics’ data, our analysis showed a poor alignment between pay and performance during an ongoing period of subpar results. In recent years, the management board’s waiver of variable remuneration had demonstrated a good appreciation of shareholders’ concerns – but a return to profitability in 2018 prompted an immediate return to the payment of incentives which appeared excessive and premature. While we acknowledged an improvement in performance, CGLytics showed that Deutsche’s EPS, ROA and ROE were still negative and below peers. Similarly, CGLytics’ analysis of relative TSR and realised pay showed a disconnect between above-median CEO costs and shareholder returns that remained significantly below peers.

The awards granted last year aren’t reflected in the charts below due to their deferral structure – nonetheless, CEO remuneration was still higher than that of German and European peers, highlighting quantum concerns and a wider issue of executive succession planning and turnover costs. Last year, departed Deutsche executives, many of whom presided over a period of underperformance, received over €7 million in immediate non-compete payments, with additional severance payments totalling millions to be paid in tranches over the next few years.

Source: CGLytics Compensation Data and Models

Glass Lewis Perspective

The context for this quantitative analysis centred on Deutsche’s role as a multinational bank. In the case of large  financial institutions , we recognise that the use of US and international peers is – to a certain extent – reasonable. In addition, we recognise that banks subject to CRD IV must cap variable pay at 200% of fixed, which tends to inflate fixed pay levels. We also noted that 2018 awards were subject to extensive deferral requirements.

On balance, while cognisant of the competitive marketplace, we remained concerned by salary levels – and moreover by the high cost of severance, with some payments set to continue for years to come, along with the level of  variable pay awarded given shareholder returns.

Conclusion

Deutsche didn’t have any remuneration-specific proposals on its AGM agenda in 2019. Nonetheless, the executive pay, succession planning and broader governance issues raised by CGLytics’ analysis contributed to our overall assessment of the company’s governance, and our recommendation that shareholders vote against the ratification of supervisory board acts.

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

Glass Lewis uses CGLytics as it’s global compensation data provider. For the 2020 proxy season our data will provide the basis of Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay recommendations.

 

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WeWork’s initial public offering

WeWork has had a tumultuous build-up to their IPO. Many investors were hesitant to back the company as their corporate governance policies did not meet their standards. CGLytics looks at some of the key factors that created controversy.

Preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) is often a strenuous undertaking. Companies strive to ensure that all their affairs are in order before they submit their S-1 filing to the SEC. This is done primarily to make sure that the initial public offering IPO is well received by investors.

WeWork

WeWork first filed its prospectus on August 14th 2019. Two main components of the filing prompted investor backlash. First and foremost, investors were alarmed at WeWork’s consecutive and increasing financial losses over the past three years. Secondly, investors took note of the company’s unusual governance practices. Although a justification could be provided for the financial losses, namely that they were essential to their growth strategy, no justification could be provided for the latter. With lazy governance practices increasingly linked to poor company performance, WeWork responded by making sweeping changes to assuage concerns.

Women on Boards

Gender diversity on boards has become a prominent issue in recent years. Some major investors, such as Blackrock, have even updated their voting guidelines to try and work towards a more equal representation. In light of this, investors were surprised and disappointed when WeWork’s initial filing included seven board members, all of which were male. In response, WeWork quickly recruited renowned culture coach Frances Frei to their board.

Frei earned her reputation when she was hired by Uber to help fix their “Bro Culture”. Although this a step in the right direction, WeWork might benefit from adding more women to their portfolio of directors. Using CGLytics data and intelligence a trendline can be made, in the S&P 500 real estate industry, between the percentage of women on boards and a company’s Average 1-year Total Shareholder Return (TSR).

Women on boards versus average TSR

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

 

Voting Rights

Also included in WeWorks initial filing were plans to award the company’s founders and early investors 20 votes for each share of Class Stock. This would grant unchecked power to the CEO. Moreover, in the event that the Chief Executive Officer, Adam Neumann, would become incapacitated, then his wife, Rebekah Neumann, and two directors would decide who the successor would be.

This plan has subsequently been scrapped and been replaced by a more contemporary policy where the Board of Directors holds the power to pick a successor. In regard to the voting rights, the number of votes for each share of Class A stock will now only account for 10 votes each.

WeWork has had a tumultuous build-up to their IPO. Many investors were hesitant to back the company as their corporate governance policies did not meet their standards. WeWork is just one example of many where Corporate Governance plays an integral role in the health and viability of a company, especially when third parties are involved.

For more information regarding how CGLytics’ deep, global data set and unparalleled analytical screening tools can potentially help you make better decisions, 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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