Titles Matter to Provide Context and Direction – For Corporate Leaders and the Providers of Capital

May 14 2020

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

Shorthand terms in business and finance do matter – the “titling” of  certain developments can sum up trends we should be tuning in to.  Some examples for today: Sustainable Capitalism  – Stakeholder Primacy – Sustainable Investing – Corporate Sustainability – Corporate ESG Performance Factors – Environmental Sustainability – Corporate Citizenship…and more.

These are very relevant and important terms for our times as world leaders grapple with the impacts of the coronavirus, address climate change challenges, as well as addressing conditions of inequality, have/have not issues, questions about the directions of the capital markets, ensure issuer access to long-term capital…and more.  And, as influential leaders in the private, public and social sectors consider the way forward when the coronavirus crisis begins to wind down.

For investors and corporate sector leaders, the concept of shareholder primacy was more or less unchallenged for decades after World War II with the rise of large publicly-traded corporations – General Electric! — that dominated the business sector in the USA and set the pace other companies in the capital markets.

But as one crisis followed another – the names are familiar — Keating Five S&L scandal, Drexel Burnham Lambert and junk bonds, Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia Cable, Arthur Andersen, the Wall Street research analysts’ debacle (Merrill Lynch et al), Lehman Bros and Bear Stearns, Turing Pharmaceutics, on to Wells Fargo, Purdue Pharma and its role in the Opiod crisis – over time, increasing numbers of investors began to seriously adjust they ways that they evaluate public companies they will provide vital capital to in both equities and fixed-income markets.

Investors today in this time of great uncertainty are focused on: which equity issue to put in portfolio that will stand the test of time; whose bonds will be “safe”, especially during times of crisis; which corporate issuer’s reputation and long-term viability is not at risk; where alpha may be presented as portfolio management practices are challenged by macro-events.

This is about where the money will be “safer” overall, and provide future value and opportunity for the providers of capital – because there is great leadership in the board room and executive offices and resilience in crisis is being demonstrated.

As we think about this, the questions posed in context (virus crisis all around) are:  Why has sustainable investing gone mainstream?  What can savvy boards and C-Suite leaders do to exert leadership in corporate sustainability?  Where is sustainable capitalism headed?  How do we identify great leadership in the corporate sector in times of crisis?

Our choice of featured stories up top for you this week provide some interesting perspectives on these questions.

And, we’ve tried to illustrate the embrace of sustainability as a fundamental organizing principle today of great corporate leaders.  As well as explaining the continuing embrace of sustainable investing approaches of key providers of capital as a strategic risk management discipline — and proof of concept of acceptance of stakeholder primacy / sustainable capitalism in the 21st Century.

The other stories we’ve curated for you this issue of our newsletter help to broaden these perspectives that are offered up in these challenging times from thought leaders.

As the ancient blessing/curse goes:  May we live in interesting times.

Featured Stories – The Two Critical Halves of Sustainable Capitalism, Issuers and Providers of Capital…

Concept: A well-structured sustainability committee not only serves a critical coordinating function, but also steers sustainability right to the heart of the company and the company’s strategy. Let’s take a look at how boards at some of the world’s leading companies have tackled this…

How Can Boards Successfully Guide a Transition to Sustainable Business?
Source: Sustainable Brands – The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are set to unlock $12 trillion in new business opportunities by 2030. Yet many companies are still stuck in the past. Over the next decade, businesses can either adapt and thrive or deny and, says the organization…

The evidence suggesting that boardrooms should prioritize sustainability is growing rapidly. On the one hand, there are increased risks associated with not prioritizing sustainability. On the other hand, the figures show the huge opportunities sustainability offers businesses. As a result, more and more, sustainability is positioned at the top of boards’ agendas.

Boards must put sustainability at the top of their agenda to thrive
Source: GreenBiz – Amidst the global COVID-19 crisis, there have also been glimmers of hope. A significant one is its impact on climate change. It’s estimated that global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by 2.5 billion…

During a recent CECP CEO Roundtable, current and former CEOs gathered virtually and shared insights from their perspectives on the business landscape. In these informative discussions, one executive noted that leadership, more so than having the right systems in place, is and will be integral as we navigate uncharted territory:

Pivoting with Moral Leadership
Source: CECP – During a recent CECP CEO Roundtable, current and former CEOs gathered virtually and shared insights from their perspectives on the business landscape. In these informative discussions, one executive noted that leadership, more so…

Bears watching:  On 8 April 2020 the European Commission published a consultation paper on its renewed sustainable finance strategy (the “Sustainability Strategy”). The Sustainability Strategy is a policy framework forming a key part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s roadmap to making the EU’s economy sustainable, including reducing net greenhouse gas emission to zero by 2050. Despite the inevitable recent shift of focus to measures dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, this remains a top EU priority and the outcome of this consultation may significantly affect :

European Commission Consultation on the Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy
Source: National Law Review – The Sustainability Strategy is a policy framework forming a key part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s roadmap to making the EU’s economy sustainable, including reducing net greenhouse gas emission to zero by 2050. Despite the…

Examining Corporate Citizenship: How Ride-sharing Companies Respond to COVID-19? What They Promise – and How It Turns Out

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.  This is post #12 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis” – April 6 2020    #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”

By Yuyou Chen – Sustainability Reporting Analyst Intern at G&A Institute

Just four months after surfacing in Wuhan, China, the Coronavirus has been spread all over the world and affected about 1.3 million people in total to date.

Up until April 6, 2020, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 330,8919 COVID-19 cases and 8,910 deaths in the United States. CDC has recommended statewide citizens to practice social distancing and working from home.

With less on-site working, there is a sharp decline in the usual daily commuter activity. According to the Cities Commuter Activities report by Visual Capitalist, Los Angeles and New York experienced 95% and 97% reduction respectively in commuter activity respectively over the past three months.

The same thing is happening to the driver’s side. Ride-sharing companies face challenges in keeping their drivers at work.

Uber and Lyft in the Crisis

While some Uber and Lyft drivers who work on a part-time basis refuse to take any orders due to infection concerns, other full-time drivers may still stay on the frontlines to serve travelers for basic needs – or, they will face unemployment.

Ride-sharing, featured with convenient apps and affordable prices, has become a popular mode of commuting among people nowadays. With algorithms matching passengers to nearby drivers, the businesses are operated based on sufficient numbers and balance between commuters and drivers.

Uber and Lyft are two leading North America-based ride-sharing companies, both of which are headquartered in San Francisco, California.

For the past month, ride-sharing companies experienced a slight turndown in the stock market: For Lyft, share prices are down 2.00% (Nasdaq: LYFT); for Uber, down 3.63% (NYSE:UBER).

While each company declares that it puts well-being and safety of employees and customers as priority during the COVID-19 crisis, they set out somewhat differentiated business and risk management strategies.

Similarity: both companies state they enforce cleaning practices among their drivers and partially suspend their operations in some cases.

Looking at Uber

Uber says on their official website that they will temporarily suspend the accounts of riders or drivers who “confirmed to have contracted or been exposed to COVID‑19”.

Uber provides drivers with disinfectants to keep their cars clean for free, with manufacturers and distributors keeping enough cleaning supply. In particular, the surfaces being touched most often should be wiped.

In addition, Uber enforces “no contact” policy in their sub-brand – UberEats – specializing in local food delivery.

With the social distancing order from California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state’s residents are encouraged to work at home.

UberEats expects an increase in demand for food delivery given the less commuting population. To support local restaurant businesses, UberEats waived the delivery fee for more than 100,000 restaurants in North America.

For safety concerns, they allow customers to ask for leaving food at the door by leaving a note in the app. Food delivery companies like Doordash and Grubhub undertake similar policies. UberEats also provides free meals to health care workers, according to JUMP website.

Looking at Lyft

Similar to Uber, Lyft also says in their official website that they will distribute hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies to their drivers.

Further, to comply with California state order of social distancing, Lyft paused shared riding in all metropolitan markets, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. They also enforce cleaning activities in their bikes and scooters.

Lyft has established the COVID-19 fund to help drivers who are diagnosed with the Coronavirus disease survive the individual quarantine. (Uber also builds an employee relief fund for impacted restaurant workers.)

However, it turns out that Uber and Lyft are unable to guarantee their sick leave compensation at this moment, according to CNET reporting.

What Is Happening With the Local Drivers?

CNET recently spoke with three Uber drivers and one Lyft driver — all from San Francisco — who exhibited COVID-19 or other disease symptoms and had asked for paid leave. All of them said their companies need an extended period of time to review and process requests for sick leave.

Similar situations are reported to be happening in New York, Illinois and Washington State.

According to The Washington Post, such delay in unemployment aid issuance resides in the fact that “gig” workers are categorized as independent contractors.

In contrast to full-time laborers, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits such as paid leave and health insurance under the current U.S labor system. Without guaranteed labor protection, the Coronavirus has been posing a threat to their economic survival.

While the U.S. Congress and local government officials seem to be progressing to list self-employed labors to be protected under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, an Economic Securities (CARES) Act, the realization of unemployment benefit issuance still depends on the corporate themselves.

The Coronavirus infections are increasing at this moment, and the spread across the United States is projected to slow down no earlier than the next two months. It will certainly further affect the economy of the ride-sharing companies financially.

While struggling to maintain financial stability, the ride-sharing companies still need to spend time prioritizing drivers and customers’ interests and concerns in facing up the unprecedented challenge.

In the midst of bad news, a glimmer of good news: The Coronavirus is stressful to all of us, of course, but viewing it from an environmental perspective, the nation’s overall GHG emission would be reduced due to such a large decline in commuting all over the United States.

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About the Author
Yuyou Chen works as a Sustainability Reporting Analyst Intern at G&A Institute. She is currently a senior working towards a B.S in Environmental Science and Management and a B.A in Economics at the University of California, Davis. She is interested in ESG investing, Sustainability Reporting, and Urban Mobility. She had previous internship experience in a British environmental consulting firm where she engaged on research and analysis of an eco-labeling project for a China paper making company.