Ubisoft’s sexual misconduct scandal reveals governance gaps

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

08.03.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ubisoft Board Diversity Overview

Board diversity
Source: CGLytics diversity snapshot

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

A scandal likely to hit the company’s financial results

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

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

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

Ubisoft’s Financial Results (2015-YTD)

Ubisoft financial results
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Understanding Ubisoft’s board effectiveness and expertise

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

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

Ubisoft’s Board Composition and Effectiveness Score

Ubisoft board composition and effectiveness
Source: CGLytics board effectivess tool

Gaps revealed on Ubisoft’s board

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

Ubisoft’s Board Expertise and Skills

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

What’s to come for Ubisoft

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

 

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/

https://www.numerama.com/

https://www.journaldemontreal.com/

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

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

07.20.2020

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

Increase in activism

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

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

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

Regional shift in activism

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

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

Executive pay

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

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

Source: CNBC Street Signs Europe

Board diversity

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Aston Martin: Speeding Towards 8th Bankruptcy or Revitalization?

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

Aston Martin: Speeding Towards 8th Bankruptcy or Revitalization?

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

07.09.2020

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

Background 

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

Second Century & IPO

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

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

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

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

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

Underwhelming IPO

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

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

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

Something amiss in the skills and diversity matrix?

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

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

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

The 11th Provision states that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Voices, Same Results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diversity on the Board? Metrics Used by Fortune 100 Companies

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

06.29.2020

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

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

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

 

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

Why is Board Diversity Beneficial for Companies?

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

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

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

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

Fortune 100 diversity on boards
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Reporting Diversity

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

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

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

Lack of uniformity when reporting diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortune 100: Women on boards by sector

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

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

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

PepsiCo Inc.’s 2019 proxy statement

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

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

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

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NMC Scandal and its Corporate Governance

The board of NMC Health lacked key financial expertise. A review of NMC’s board effectiveness and composition reveals what may have led to poor decision-making and the financial scandal.

An ongoing investigation into the financial scandal involving NMC, the biggest private provider of healthcare in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a previously listed FTSE 100 company, has taken the financial world by storm. The big scale fraud of over USD 6 billion of hidden debts, according to the latest reports, has raised several concerns over the practices that led to this catastrophe. Reviewing governance practices are central to figuring out what went wrong.

The story behind the biggest scandal involving a FTSE 100 listed company

NMC was founded in 1975 by Dr. BR Shetty, an Indian entrepreneur who emigrated to the UAE. Despite its humble beginnings, NMC, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, found its way into the FTSE 100 in 2012. This was considered a great success for Shetty as well as for the emerging market of the UAE.

In December 2019, Muddy Waters, a hedge fund, raised some concerns regarding possible fraud and theft after noticing inconsistencies in the company’s accounting. As a result of these concerns, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) launched an official investigation on February 27, 2020. NMC’s shares were temporarily suspended from trading on FTSE 100, while its CEO Mr. Prasanth Manghat was removed from his position as CEO by the Board.

Initially NMC was forced to admit fraud of USD  2 billion in debt, which was eventually increased to a staggering USD 6.6 billion, according to the latest report released on March 23, 2020. Following the discovery of NMC’s debt, one of its biggest creditors, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, filed a criminal complaint against the company for approximately USD  1 billion of owed funds. The High Court of England and Wales responded to Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank’s complaint by appointing the restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal as the administrators of all NMC’s clinics and services and replaced the entire Board. By the end of April 2020, NMC was permanently delisted from FTSE 100. Moreover, the FCA is also investigating Ernst Young (EY) over the auditing of NMC in 2018 for potential implication in the scandal.

Corporate Governance practices come into question

Boards of Directors are intermediaries between the shareholders and management of a firm. Boards decision-making roles include monitoring and evaluating company’s performance, hiring and firing the company’s management, and nominating new Board members, just to name a few. Boards of Directors are considered trustees of investors interests and are required to have sense of good business judgement when executing their duties. Therefore, it is very important for companies to have the suitable Board members to protect the shareholders’ investments.

NMC’s Board Expertise and Skill Matrix (2018)

Note: This figure illustrates the skills and expertise of NMC’s Independent Directors (INED) in 2018. All the data used in this figure is available in the CGLytics platform.

Understanding the skills set of NMC’s previous Board

The figure above shows the expertise and skills of the Independent Directors (INEDs), who sat on the Board in 2018. Attention is drawn to NMC’s INEDs lack of financial expertise. The Audit Committee of 2018 comprised of four members, one of whom left in the early part of March 2018 and only one with financial expertise. Moreover, the latest appointed chairman of the Audit Committee in March 2018 (and up until 2020), did not qualify as an accountant and neither has he worked as a principle in a financial position in the past. Therefore, he did not have the financial expertise to govern the auditing committee[1]. It is also noteworthy that the member with the financial expertise was also the previous chairman of the Audit Committee and more interestingly a past partner at EY; the Independent Auditor of NMC.

It becomes clear therefore that the Board’s lack of financial expertise and the Audit Committee Chairman’s lack of financial knowledge must have played an important role in prohibiting the correct functionality of the Board that might have eventually led to the financial catastrophe of NMC.

Note: This table presents data for NMC’s Board characteristics, which is collected by CGLytics.

Looking at the characteristics of NMC’s Board, it is revealed that NMC’s Board size in 2018 and 2019 was equal to 11. For 2018 and 2019, two of the Board members were joint chairs for both years, namely the founder who was considered Non-Executive Chair (dependent) and an Independent Non-Executive Chair, three members were Executive Directors and six were Non-Executive Directors, of whom only one is dependent while the rest are independent.

The average age of NMC’s Board is close to 57 for both years. Gender diversity includes three women sitting on the Board in 2018 and two women in 2019. Between 2018-2019, most of the Board of Directors were non-nationals[2] with a percentage equal to 73%. The average tenure of the Board is six years which reveals that the Board in both years were not particularly stale. Finally, 55% of NMC’s Board (referring to all the members of the Board) were independent across both years. In addition to the dependence ration, the UK corporate governance code states that “at least half the Board, excluding the chair, should be Non-Executive Directors whom the Board considers to be independent”, according to which 55% the Board of NMC, excluding the Chairs, is independent.  As it appears from the data described, there is no significant indication that these Board characteristics may have led to bad governance.

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What could have been the problem then?

Taking a closer look, an important fact comes to surface: NMC is headquartered in Abu Dhabi and was listed on the FTSE 100 index. Therefore, this company should not necessarily be treated as an average FTSE 100 company. Without a doubt we must take into consideration that the UK and the UAE are two entirely different countries; the former a developed economy while the latter is considered an emerging economy, not to mention having different legal systems, corporate governance codes, culture and norms. Looking at the Board characteristics of NMC, with this in mind, a few facts come to light that may have impacted corporate governance monitoring, avoiding this disastrous event.

Over the last decade, the increasing flow of capital around the world has forced many emerging economies to increase corporate governance in order to attract foreign funds. Moreover, many companies changed their board composition by adding more foreign directors in order to attract foreign capital, as foreign directors mitigate the agency problem between domestic and foreign shareholders in favor of the foreign investors.

Nationality of directors during 2018-2019

Note: The data used in this table is collected by CGLytics.

Observing NMC, the data indicates that 66.67% of its INEDs are foreigners, equating to two-thirds of the board. When the core sector of NMC, healthcare, does not typically rely on foreign sales, this generates questions. Is the high percentage of international INEDs merely there to serve the purpose of raising foreign capital? Raising foreign capital may have been achieved but at the same time weakened the Board’s governance and monitoring of activities.

International directors sometime lack the local knowledge of regulations and requirements. Furthermore, the greater the distance the foreign directors are from the foreign company, the less monitoring pressure is put on executives, which could allow executives to act irrationally and not in the shareholders’ best interests. Despite the fact that the dependency ratio of NMC’s Board is 5% above the threshold of the UK governance code, in countries where Corporate Governance is not well established – as in the UAE for example – this may play a significant role in negatively affecting the monitoring of the INEDs. Thus, combining all the above, we can conclude that the Executives together with the dependent members of the Board could have easily dominated the Board’s decision-making.

In legal systems that have a weaker legislation, companies’ are expected to have more concentrated ownership. The top three institutional investors of NMC are foreign companies with spread ownership stakes. The addition of foreign directors have legitimated the company to the foreign investors, but the institutional investors may have overseen the fact that the company is based and operating in the UAE, an emerging economy with a corporate governance system still under development; in no way on par with the UK Corporate Governance regulations or that of other developed economies. Therefore, the combination of the (physical) distance of the institutional investors and the assumption that the corporate governance system in the UAE is as strong – an additional reassurance created from NMC’s listing in FTSE 100 – could have very well affected the external monitoring of the NMC in a negative way.

With the ongoing investigation into NMC, we cannot be certain as to the exact reasons that led to the current state. Nevertheless, we can say that a combination of bad decision-making and other factors relating to corporate governance played a significant role. The lack of financial expertise of the INEDs along with the wrong composition of the Audit Committee, plus the prioritization of attracting foreign capital via the FTSE 100 and including foreign directors, may have resulted in the executives dominating the Board. We can ultimately conclude from the NMC’s hidden debt that the Board and their INEDs did not perform their corporate governance and monitoring adequately, proving detrimental to NMC.

Using data and analytics found in the CGLytics software platform, companies, investors, proxy advisors and service providers efficiently analyse and spot governance risks and red flags in seconds.

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 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, activist investors and leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis.

 

[1] Definition of financial expertise defined by CGlytics can be found here: https://audit.cglytics.com/documents/cg_guideline_expertise_20181123.pdf?ts=1575895304

[2] Nationals are considered to be members who are from UAE.

 

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 globally listed companies’ board composition, diversity, expertise and skills?

Request your governance health score to understand your board’s governance effectiveness, risks and red flag exposure.

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ProPetro: The Intricacy of Related Party Transactions and Effective Board Supervision

A review of ProPetro’s Board Effectiveness and corporate governance practices in the wake of their scandal. Is there a way their governance issues could have been detected earlier?

On March 13, 2020, Dale Redman resigned his position as Chief Executive Officer of ProPetro Holding Corporation with immediate effect. His departure marked the end of a seven month-long inquiry into violations of SEC regulations and company policy.  By the time the facts came to light, ProPetro’s stock had fallen 86% and the Company found itself embroiled in investor lawsuits and a federal investigation. This article examines the corporate governance deficiencies that have been uncovered.

 

Background and Timeline

ProPetro Holding Corporation is a hydraulic fracturing equipment and services company at the heart of the 21st century U.S. oil boom.  Founded in 2007 and operating in the Permian Basin oil field of west Texas, the company has seen healthy growth over the years and was in the process of bringing new hydrofracking technology to market when problems surfaced with the company’s management.

In August of 2019, ProPetro initiated an internal review that originally focused on the disclosure of contracts it signed with AFGlobal Corporation to purchase a number of fleets of its Durastim® fracking pumps.  The review, which included outside counsel and advisors, then expanded to include expense reimbursements made to ProPetro executives, related party transactions and potential conflicts of interest.

Review Uncovers Improper Activity

The preliminary findings of the internal review, which was conducted by management, found that due to inadequade documentation ProPetro was improperly expensed $370,000 by senior management but did not find any evidence of improperly disclosed related party transactions.  However, the company did annouce that the review would likely find material weaknesses among its internal controls.

Nevertheless this prompted a class action lawsuit by investors filed in Septemeber.

In October, 62 days later, ProPetro announced substantive completion of its review and a round of management changes took place, although none of the executives under review actually left the company. The company also announced that it had confirmed the existence of accounting deficiencies and the review would need additional time to investigate previously undisclosed related transactions that had come to light.

Among the senior managers that were reshuffled included Chief Executive Officer Dale Redman, who retained his title, although was removed from day to day duties.  Phillip Gobe, ProPetro’s Chairman was appointed as Executive Chairman and became the Company’s Principal Executive Officer.  Jeffrey Smith, the Chief Financial Officer, filled the newly created role as Chief Administrative Officer and was replaced by Darin Holderness as Interim Chief Financial Officer.  Chief Accouting Officer Ian Denholm resigned.

Following the announcement of this “improved organizational struture”, ProPetro’s shares rallied +19% appearing to quell market concerns and reassure investors that any governane issues were well in hand.  Though this reassurance was shortlived.

Later that Month on October 24, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) announced it had opened an investigation into ProPetro.  And on Novemeber 13 more details were revealed about ProPetro executive’s undisclosed transactions as the company announced that its former Chief Accounting Officer, Ian Denholm, had loaned money to a business partner for the development of real estate which was in turn sold or leased to ProPetro.  In total, ProPetro paid out $3.6 million to Denholm’s business partner.

Undisclosed Entities were used to Personally Enrich ProPetro Leadership

Eventually it came to light that members of ProPetro’s board and senior executives were named as leaders (or involved parties) of several companies with whom ProPetro was doing business.  FloCap Injection Services, LLC,  a company that had named Chief Executive Officer Dale Redman, who later resigned, as a managing member along with ProPetro Finance Chief Jeffrey Smith.  ProPetro board member and Audit Committee member Alan Douglas was also found to be Redman’s personal accountant and and involved party to outside entitites in which Dale Redman was named as a managing member: Red Hogg, LLC and Energy Entreprenuer Fund 1, LLC.  In fact, ProPetro employees had been in involved with a number of other undisclosed companies (Clarabby Development LLC, Conquistador Capital LLC, Dahlia Development LLC, Ener-Coil LLC, HR Double S LLC, South of the Border Materials LLC and others) to whom the ProPetro had eventually awarded business.  And at least four deals, it was discovered, were awarded to private ventures owned by Redman.  These undisclosed connections personally enriched Redman to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Redman Steps Down

On March 16, 2020, ProPetro announced that Dale Redman resigned his position as Chief Executive.  In that announcement it was also disclosed that, “… the company discovered that its former Chief Executive Officer entered into a pledge agreement covering all of the company’s common stock owned by him at that time as collateral for a personal loan in January 2017, in violation of the shareholders agreement then in place …”  Redman put up 35% of his holdings in ProPetro worth $8 million, around 601,200 shares in all.

A Reformed ProPetro?

Clearly, over the past several years, ProPetro has been suffering a number of governance deficiencies. An era of improper personal enrichment on the part of executives, lack of board independence, weak interal controls, violations of SEC regulations and poor disclosure practices, should have come to end with the resrtucturing announced in October of last year and the resignation of CEO Dale Redman.

An analysis of ProPetro’s Board Effectiveness should help investors find out if the company is well positioned to resume healthy operation going forward.  Board Effectiveness is calculated by averaging the scores of a company on a number of underlying attributes outlined by the NYSE and other US guidelines. The CGLytics Risk Rating tool, of which Board Effectiveness is one the of main pillars, enables Corporate Boards to stand back and assess their strengths and areas for development through an independent lens and identify gaps and changes that will enable them to achieve their full potential.

Board Effectiveness percentile rank within S&P Small Cap 600 - Energy Sector

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

ProPetro’s Board Effectiveness score has improved slightly from 73 to 75 since the internal review was first announced in August of 2019 and since the company’s leadership underwent restructuring.  Even though the changes made at ProPetro have improved effectiveness in a couple of areas, the company’s percentile rank did fall from 43% to 38%, placing it below median when compared to other companies listed on the S&P Small Cap 600 in its sector.  However, this is mostly due to the improving scores of other companies comparatively.

ProPetro - Board Effectiveness Scores

Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Of the factors contributing to ProPetro’s improving score are gender equality due to the addition of Michele Choka to the all male board of directors in February of 2020.  ProPetro also receives a modest 7 point boost on Board Independence due to the departure of long tenured individuals.  The data suggests that the issues of Board Independence, Gender Equality and Director Interlocks may be connected to the Nationality score, which is where ProPetro is weakest.

The nationality attribute reflects variation in the nationalities of board members.  The more nationally homogenous, the lower the score.  This is likely a function of the regional character of ProPetro’s business, being so closely linked with Permian Basin and the west Texas region generally. Nevertheless, it appears evident that board diversity is the key governance challenge for ProPetro going forward.

Altogether, the company’s response in the form of its internal review and subsequent actions succeded in bringing matters to light and holding executives accountable, but not before the company’s share price collapsed.  Since the restructuing, ProPetro’s stock has made a modest recovery and confidence in leadership appears to be returning.  Long term success will depend on ensuring board diversity and Independence.

Interested to see how your company stacks up against 5,900 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, activist investors and leading proxy advisor Glass Lewis.

References

Culper Research. (2019). ProPetro Holding Corp (PUMP): Friends & Family First at this Permian Cesspoolhttps://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/cc91fda7-4669-4d1b-81ce-a0b8d77f25ab/downloads/Culper_PUMP_10-31-2019.pdf?ver=1589202898850

Globe Newswire. (2019, December 3). Lawsuit for investors in ProPetro holding Corp. (NYSE: PUMP) shares announced by shareholders Foundation. Finance.Yahoo.com. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/lawsuit-investors-propetro-holding-corp-130010662.html

Liz Hampton. (2020, March 19). How a Texas oil CEO’s luxury land deals cost him his job. Reuters.com. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-oil-propetro-investigation-insigh/how-a-texas-oil-ceos-luxury-land-deals-cost-him-his-job-idUSKBN2161FD

ProPetro holding Corp. (2019, October 9). ProPetro announces substantial completion of fact finding for previously disclosed internal review. propetroservices.com. https://ir.propetroservices.com/press-releases/detail/45/propetro-announces-substantial-completion-of-fact-finding

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. (2019, August 8). Form 8-K. SEC.gov. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1680247/000110465919044899/a19-16860_18k.htm

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. (2019, October 3). Form 8-K. SEC.gov. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1680247/000110465919053592/a19-19705_18k.htm

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. (2019, November 13). Form 8-K. sec.gov. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1680247/000110465919063353/a19-22679_18k.htm

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. (2020, February 11). Form 8-K. sec.gov. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1680247/000110465920022476/tm208021d1_8k.htm

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. (2020, March 16). Form 8-K. sec.gov. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1680247/000110465920033704/tm2012779d1_8k.htm

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue reading the full article.

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Gender diversity in Spanish boardrooms

In Spain, the Comision Nacional de Mercado de Valores (CNMV), has put a series of changes to the corporate governance code of public companies under consultation. This is widely regarded as one of the most relevant proposed amendments relating to gender diversity in boardrooms.

In Spain, the Comision Nacional de Mercado de Valores (CNMV), has put a series of changes to the corporate governance code of public companies under consultation. This is widely regarded as one of the most relevant proposed amendments relating to gender diversity in boardrooms.

The new proposal is moving from a “mere” recommendation to a “direct” recommendation of a minimum of a 40% presence of females in boardrooms, significantly up from the current 30%. Besides, the CNMV also acknowledges that the current recommendation hasn’t been given enough attention by Spanish corporates. To address the issue, the new proposal recommends to include executive selection policies and processes in order to promote diversity of knowledge, experience and gender.

Considering these substantial and at the same time exciting changes, I decided to take a look at the current state of gender diversity in Spanish boardrooms, selecting both the IBEX35 and the remainder constituents of the IGBM. The result of the analysis is as follows:

Within the IBEX35, only 3 constituents already meet the new recommendation of the CNMV. Much worse is that only 43% meet the current threshold that has been introduced in 2015, and 20% have less than 20% of females on their board.

Within the rest of constituents of the IGBM (82 corporates), the situation is mixed:

  • • 2 corporates have already achieved real gender parity
  • • 3 corporates meet or exceed the new threshold of 40%
  • • 18 corporates are already above or meet the current recommendation
  • • 59 corporates are below or significantly below the current recommended 30%. Within this group, there are 11 companies which have no females at all in their boardrooms. Following Larry Fink’s latest letter, it is likely that these companies will be facing tougher environments and questioning from investors and stakeholders in the future, as well as higher financing costs.
chart2
Source: CGLytics Data and Analytics

Considering that the current recommendation was set by the CNMV in 2015, it is clear to see that companies will have a challenging future ahead if they want to meet the new recommendation for gender diversity, either via succession planning or boardroom expansions.

In view of the above, how can CGLytics support public corporates’ growing demand for board diversity and effective succession planning, at the required pace?

Whilst at the same time guarantee they achieve a well-balanced board, paramount to maintaining good corporate governance for long-term success?

CGLytics’ Nominations & Governance solution is the answer. Basically, Nominations is a strategic tool through which nomination committees and HR teams are empowered to maintain a pulse on how the board composition of their organisations measures up against peers, investors’ requirements and market standards.

Using Nominations & Governance, nomination committees and HR teams can benchmark the skillset of their boards versus peers and competitors, prepare for investors’ pressure related to board composition, identify the right skills needed now and in the future to best serve the board’s ability to make the right decisions and build a talent pipeline, getting instant access to 125.000+ (including over 20.000 females) global executive profiles of key decision-makers from listed companies, including comprehensive biographies containing employment, compensation, education and extracurricular activities, to search, find, engage and network with the best-quality prospects for boardroom recruitment and succession planning.

Please get in touch should you want to know more.

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About the Author

Francisco Lopez, Regional Sales Director

Francisco Lopez is a senior sales professional with two decades of successful experience in delivering growth to organizations and building long-lasting, profitable and sustainable relationships with clients and stakeholders worldwide. Francisco has developed his career in the market intelligence, information services and technologies industries, having fulfilled senior business development positions at blue-chip organizations such as Nielsen and GfK. Prior to joining CGLytics, Francisco was the global head of the Industrials sector at a global supplier of SaaS solutions for third-party risk & performance management. Francisco holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Complutense University of Madrid.

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About the author

Edna Frimpong: Lead EU Research Analyst

Edna holds a degree in LLM Finance and Law Programme from the Duisenberg School of Finance. In addition she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Administration in Accra, Ghana. She gained work experience during her internships as a research analyst at Sustainalytics and as a finance and business development intern at Carnomise SAS.

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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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.

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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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