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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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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The Effect of Executive Departures on Company Performance

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

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

Executive Turnover and Performance

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

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

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

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

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

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

 

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Jaco Fourie: U.S. Research Analyst

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

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Correcting Founder’s Syndrome: Executive Compensation Practices at Ralph Lauren

Ahead of the Ralph Lauren AGM, CGLytics looks at how CEO pay has changed since the founder’s exit, and how the nominations change the board composition.

Ralph Lauren Corporation, a global leader of premium lifestyle products, is scheduled to hold its 2019 Annual General Meeting of Shareholders (AGM) on August 1, 2019. Shareholders attending the AGM will vote on the following resolutions:

  • The election of 4 directors to serve until the 2020 Annual General Meeting of Shareholders;
  • The ratification of the appointment of Ernst & Young LLP as the Company’s independent registered public accounting firm for the fiscal year ending March 28, 2020;
  • The approval, on an advisory basis, the compensation of the Company’s named executive officers and the Company’s compensation philosophy, policies, and practices;
  • The adoption of the Company’s 2019 Long-Term Stock Incentive Plan.

 

Election of Directors:

Ralph Lauren has two classes of directors, Class A and Class B. At the upcoming AGM, four Class A directors will be proposed for election: Frank A. Bennack, Joel L. Fleishman, Michael A. George, and Hubert Joly. We note that in 2018, Ralph Lauren increased the size of its Board with the appointment of three new directors, namely Michael A. George, Angela Ahrendts, and Linda Findley Kozlowski, ostensibly to expand the Board’s “diversity of skills and experiences”. These three directors bring to the Board Leadership, Executive, and Industry/Sector expertise, with Michael A. George and Linda Findley Kozlowski being active CEOs in two retail companies and Angela Ahrendts being a former executive of Apple, Burberry Group plc and Kate Spade & Company. In terms of skills, the three individuals bring about Marketing, Sales and Operations knowledge. Nevertheless, the Board still appears to lack Technology and Financial expertise.

However, in addition to the diversity of skills that the addition of the new directors has brought to the board, the company also now maintains a gender diversity level of 50%, well above the market standard for the United States.

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Executive Compensation:

The third resolution in the agenda is a shareholders’ advisory vote to approve the Company’s executive compensation.

After the Founder, Ralph Lauren, stepped down from his position as CEO, Ralph Lauren has gone through two CEO changes, with Stefan Larsson serving from November 2015 to May 2017, and Patrice Louvet serving since July 2017. As can be seen from the absolute comparison chart generated by CGLytics’ Pay for Performance module, there appears to be a misalignment between CEO compensation and one-year total shareholder return between 2008 and 2015. However, it appears that this misalignment has reduced since Mr. Lauren left the position of CEO. Furthermore, we also see that the total realized compensation for the CEO thereafter has been reduced significantly.

Source: CGLytics' P4P Modeler

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

CEO Compensation Package Breakdown

Historically, the CEO’s compensation package has primarily focused on his STI opportunity (between 2009 and 2012). However, since then, the CEOs compensation package breakdown has shifted towards long-terms incentives, which now form a greater component of the CEO’s compensation package.

Additionally, in 2017 the performance measures of LTI grants shifted from 3-year Cumulative Operating Margin and Operating Margin to 3-year Cumulative Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) and 3-year Relative Total Shareholder Return (TSR) in 2018. Ralph Lauren also added Global digital revenue as a new measure for STI grants, a modifying KPI that could result in an “adjustment of bonuses upwards or downwards by 10%.”

Source: CGLytics' P4P Modeler

Relative Positioning

In comparison to Ralph Lauren’s own disclosed peer goup, the Company’s CEO pay appears now to be line with its peers. Additionally, when reviewing the company’s relative positioning among its peers, there also appears to be a pay for performance alignment between Ralph Lauren’s 3-year TSR and compensation paid to its CEO.

RalphLauren4
Source: CGLytics' P4P Modeler

Ralph Lauren also proposes adopting a 2019 Long-Term Stock Incentive Plan, under which the Company awards equity compensation to executive officers, to replace the current Ralph Lauren Corporation 2010 Amended and Restated Long-Term Stock Incentive Plan. Under the new plan, LTI awards will be determined based on 3-year Cumulative Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) and 3-year Relative Total Shareholder Return (TSR).

Overall, we find that although the company has seen shifts in executive leadership over the past few years after Mr. Lauren left the reigns of the company to his successor, we also find that the company’s executive compensation programs have fallen more in line with market norms, correcting a former pay for performance misalignment that extended under Mr. Lauren’s leadership.

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

Sources

CGLYTICS DATA AND ANALYTICS   RALPH LAUREN 2019 PROXY STATEMENT

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FirstGroup Take Another Ride on the Activist Train

Over the past nine months, FirstGroup plc has been the target of an activist campaign from New York-based hedge fund, Coast Capital. One of the main critiques by the activist investor was regarding the governance structure, specifically the composition of the board. Utilizing CGLytics’ analytics and tools in its platform, we show how FirstGroup could have spotted governance red flags to possibly avoid this situation.

As the dust settles from FirstGroup plc’s latest engagement from activist investor Coast Capital, CGlytics looks at the timeline and the reasons why the company was a target of shareholder activism. This was not FirstGroup’s first experience as a target of activism. In 2013, Sandell, which owned a little over three percent of FirstGroup, wrote to the directors urging them to spin off and list the U.S. business unit separately on the stock market. Sandell, at the time said the break-up would enable the company to fund a much-needed investment program in its British bus business. FirstGroup fended off the proposal, with the notion that it contained structural flaws and inaccuracies.

Where this activist ride began

Over the past nine months, FirstGroup has been the target of activism from New York-based hedge fund, Coast Capital. The back and forth between the issuer and the investor date back to November 2018 when the Non-Executive Chairman of FirstGroup’s board, Dr. Wolfhart Hauser, responded in a letter written to the latter. The letter from Coast Capital included demands for management change and included criticism over the company’s failure to pay a dividend.

On May 17, 2019, FirstGroup received a letter from Coast Capital requesting an EGM to remove six of the current directors, increase the size of the board by one seat, and elect Coast Capital’s seven nominees. Coast Capital criticized the board saying that its directors lacked sector and industry expertise with reference to the CEO, Matthew Gregory, and Chairman of the Board, Hauser. Again, the activist investor pushed for a separation of the US and UK businesses, having declared FirstGroup’s strategy – and particularly its UK rail investment – as “extraordinarily destructive of capital”.

In June 2019, FirstGroup seemed to be taking heed to the investor pressure and announced that it will be selling off its bus division and possibly withdrawing from UK rail operations. The company also announced that it will focus on the US, although stating that it plans to sell off the famous Greyhound coach line.

The board’s expertise

One of the main critiques by Coast Capital was regarding the governance structure, specifically the composition of the board. Utilizing the Board Expertise functionality in CGlytics’ platform, insights are revealed as to the current board’s skills and expertise makeup. In particular, the Skills Matrix functionality in CGLytics’ solution aids companies to identify any skills gaps within their current board.

For FirstGroup, of the 11 directors currently sitting on the board, the graph shows that the strongest levels of expertise present on the board are International, Leadership and Executive. According to the Skills Matrix, it appears that the company lacks directors with expertise in the areas of Finance and Technology.

FirstGroup plc's Board Expertise and Skills Matrix
FirstGroup's Board Expertise and Skills Matrix
Source: CGLytics Executive Compensation Models

Pay for Performance

According to the pay policy of FirstGroup, the company aims to align its pay with performance and also with best corporate governance global practice. The company currently uses three performance criteria in the determination of its long-term incentive plans:

– Total Shareholder Return (TSR),
– Earnings Per Share (EPS), and
– ROCE.

Of which, the first two are equally weighted at 40% and the latter accounts for the remaining 20%.  The CGlytics Absolute Positioning tool sheds light on the relationship between the EPS performance component and the CEO’s realized compensation from 2013 to 2018.

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

 

As indicated in the graph below, there exists significant volatility in the movements of EPS and CEO pay. From 2016 to 2018, although both indicators fell, there seems to suggest that EPS had a much steeper fall compared to that of the CEO pay.

Specifically, while CEO pay reduced by 20% over the period, EPS fell by 43%. The CGlytics Relative Positioning Pay for Performance Evaluation tool compares FirstGroup’s CEO Realized Compensation with that of the company’s own peer group disclosed in the 2019 annual report against the peer group’s one year TSR.

The Pay for Performance evaluation reveals that the CEO’s Total Realized Compensation appears aligned with its performance indicator relative to its peers. The company’s Total Realized Pay ranks at lower decile at 18th percentile while TSR ranks in the 32nd percentile. It is also worth noting that the low pay stems from the fact that the company failed to meet its performance measures, and so the LTI part of the Total Compensation vested at only 12.5%.

Source: CGLytics Executive Compensation Models

Before, During and After the EGM

With Coast Capital’s request for an EGM, FirstGroup published a notice for the shareholders’ meeting to vote on the removal of six directors of the current board (including the Chairman, CEO and four other independent Directors). Additionally, appoint seven directors who are nominees of Coast Capital. Expectedly, in the EGM notice of meeting, the board recommended to vote against all the resolutions, believing that they the right strategy to take the company forward.

They added that Coast Capital’s director nominees do not have current relevant experience and also put forward plans that will leave the group with higher debts.

Interestingly, the movement and arguments garnered support from other leading shareholders.

Columbia Threadneedle, with a 10% stake, said it will join in voting against the reappointment of Wolfhart Hauser, the FirstGroup chairman since 2015. Schroders, with a 9% holding, was also seen to have taken sides with Coast Capital.

In a rather unexpected turn of events, one of the director nominees by Coast Capital, David Martin, missed the nomination affirmation deadline and was withdrawn ahead of the general meeting. Speculations suggested that David Martin, who is the former boss of Arriva, a transport company rival and one of the fund’s key nominees, decided not to run for a board seat because he had other projects under consideration.

At the general meeting which was held on June 25, 2019, the shareholders (on average) voted more than 20% in favor of the resolutions. The resolution to remove the Chairman Wolfhalt Hauser was supported by 29.33%, the resolution to remove the CEO was also approved by 25.15%. The resolutions to remove independent directors Imelda Mary, Stephen William Lawrence Gunning, James Frank Winestock and Martha Cecilia Poulter received votes of 31%, 25%, 46% and 25% respectively.

Not one of the directors put forward by the activist investor received the requisite votes to be appointed to the board.

Aftermath: Searching for a New Chairman

Despite receiving enough support to stay on the board, Wolfhart Hauser announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the board during the AGM, which is expected to come off on July 25, 2019. According to the company, senior independent director David Robbie will take on the role of chairman on an interim basis with effect from July 25, overseeing the search for a new chair.

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CSR Limited: Strike One on Remuneration Report

At the CSR Limited AGM in June 2019, the remuneration report received 34% of votes cast against which constitutes a first strike for the purposes of the corporations ACT 2001. CGLytics looks at the alignment of pay against performance and some of the key drivers behind the investor response.

CSR Limited, a major Australian industrial company held its Annual General Meeting on June 26, 2019. The board presented three ordinary resolutions and one special resolution to its shareholders. Included in the ordinary business proposal was to consider the re-election of non-executive director, Matthew Quinn, this year. The company also sought to receive shareholders’ support for the financial report, the director’s report and the auditor’s report for the financial year. Another ordinary resolution that was proposed by the board was to approve and adopt the remuneration report for the financial year ended March 31, 2019.

For the special resolution, the board advised shareholders to consider the granting of long-term incentives for Julie Coates, who will be taking up the position of managing director this September 2019.

The board’s expertise ahead of the AGM

CSR’s corporate governance states that the company seeks to maintain a board composed of directors that have a range of collective skills and experience to ensure corporate development. CSR also elaborates that it considers individuals that are highly-experienced in manufacturing, finance, law and other sectors that the company seeks to pursue in the future.

CSR Board Skills Matrix
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Using the Board Expertise functionality of CGLytics’ platform, we were able to gain insight on the current skills of the members of the board. The Skills Matrix functionality also aids companies to identify any skills gaps in its current matrix. For CSR, of the six directors currently sitting on the board, the graph shows that CSR’s strongest expertise is Finance. The second strongest suits of expertise include Corporate Development, Operations, Project Management and Sales. One area where the company is missing a director with specific expertise is in Governance. The company also lacks directors that have any relevant company Industry and Sector experience. However, the upcoming appointment of a new managing director on September 2019, Julie Coates, may be able to alleviate this missing element to the board’s skill set.

Julie Coates’ Expertise from the CGLytics platform

Board Expertise

Pay for Performance

Another board resolution the company was seeking approval on was the remuneration report and financial report. CSR promotes consistency in the remuneration of senior executives by ensuring that the company and individual performance are aligned with their incentives. The company focuses on compensation that generates long-term value for senior executives. The company only uses two performance criteria in the determination of executive compensation: Total Shareholder Return (TSR) and Earnings Per Share (EPS) for the long-term incentive plan in which both have equal weight of 50 percent.

The board states that absolute TSR instead of relative TSR helps align shareholder interests by keeping senior executives focused on increasing earnings and share price. On the other hand, the EPS helps measure the continued growth in earnings of the company and is parallel to the interests of the shareholders.

The CGlytics Absolute Positioning tool allows insight into the relationship between the two performance conditions and the Managing Director’s granted compensation from 2013 to 2018. As indicated in the graph below, there exists significant volatility in the movements of all performance criteria used in the determination of executive pay: TSR and EPS. From 2015 to 2016, CEO pay, EPS and TSR increased. The latter especially increased by 91.6%. From 2017 to 2018, CEO pay increased by 48% and TSR fell by 46.5%.

CSR CEO pay vs EPS and 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. Find out more.

The CGLytics Relative Positioning Pay for Performance Evaluation tool compares CSR’s CEO compensation with that of the company’s own peer group against the peer group’s three-year TSR. The Pay for Performance evaluation demonstrates that CSR’s Total Realized Compensation appears misaligned compared to its peers. The company’s Total Realized Pay ranks above median at 69th percentile while three-year TSR ranks in the 15th percentile.

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Granting of Rights

In the Annual report for the financial year ended March 31, 2019, CSR disclosed that it developed a performance-related pay which includes both the Short-Term Incentive (STI) and Long-Term Incentive (LTI) plans, both of which are measured against performance conditions.

The plan would utilize the same performance criteria as mentioned above: TSR and Earning Per Share (EPS) over a three-year performance period (April 1, 2019- March 31, 2022) in financial year-end 2020. The two performance conditions will be weighted at 50 per cent of the overall grant.

The board uses an annual growth rate of 14 percent for 75 percent vesting and an 18 percent stretch for a full vesting of rights for the TSR condition. The board also uses a compound growth rate of 5 percent target for a 50 percent vesting and 10 percent stretch for a 100 percent vesting for EPS condition. There was no change in the hurdles applied in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The board is seeking for the granting of 360,241 performance rights for Julie Coates, the newly appointed managing director. The amount is pro-rata of her one-year long-term incentive remuneration based on her date of appointment on September 2, 2019. The board also proposes that Ms. Coates is entitled to a maximum LTI award of up to 120 percent of her total fixed remuneration.

Highlights of the AGM

At the AGM which took place on June 26, 2019, all the resolutions were passed as ordinary resolutions. However, as suggest in the potential Pay For Performance misalignment demonstrated above, the remuneration report received 34% of votes cast against which constitutes a first strike for the purposes of the corporations ACT 2001.

CGLytics offers the broadest, up to date global data set and powerful benchmarking tools to conduct comprehensive analysis for executive compensation decisions and risk oversight. CGLytics is Glass Lewis’ source for global compensation data and analytics. These analytics power Glass Lewis’ voting recommendations in both their proxy papers and their custom policy engine service.

For more information on how CGLytics’ can support modern governance decision-making and potentially identify any areas of risk, click here.

 

Sources:

CGLYTICS DATA AND ANALYTICS

CSR LTD 2019 NOTICE OF MEETING

CSR LIMITED ANNUAL REPORT

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