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…

They Are Beginning Now – the Long-Awaited Corporate Disclosures on Ratio of CEO Ratio – CEO Pay-to-Median-of-Workforce Pay

by Hank Boerner – Chairman & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

The big-deal and long-waited corporate announcements / disclosures are beginning in 1Q 2018. 

Way back when…after the 2008 financial crisis when the Dodd-Frank capital markets reform legislation was passed (in 2010)…one of the requirements was that public companies must develop a ratio and disclose this publicly: how much does the CEO earn, and what that is that compared to the median compensation of the employee workforce? (Half below/half above is the median level to be arrived in an analysis for public filing.)

This is the Ratio, CEO Pay-to-Median-Worker-Pay disclosures.

The Securities & Exchange Commission finally issued its guidance on all of this in September 2017 (companies and their trade associations had steadily pushed back on the 2010 disclosure mandate and the SEC struggled with the “how-to” rulemaking / or more “gentle” guidance, causing delays in applying the law).

So – today the CEO-Employee Pay Ratio is upon us – and the first important disclosures are coming out now – including the first filing for a S&P 100 firm.

Bloomberg Markets News reports that Honeywell International Inc’s filing shows that CEO Pay is 333 Times More Than Median Workers. CEO Darius Adamczyk’s pay package was $16.5 million in 2017; the median employee pay (for the company’s 130,000 workers) is $50,296.

The Honeywell CEO package for 2017 is 60% more than for the prior year (when he moved into the job).

Earlier this month Teva Pharmaceutical Industries disclosed a pay ratio of 302-to-1 ($19.4 million for the CEO, median worker $64,081).

The AFL-CIO projected a 347-to-1 ratio (CEO: $13.1 MM; workers, $37,000).

When the SEC guidance was firmed up in 2017, some market observers said this was a “local newspaper headline” and not something that serious investors would pay attention to.

The Los Angeles Times – both a regional newspaper and one with national reach and influence – now features this headline: “The First Official Report on CEO-Worker Pay Ratios Shows and Enormous 333-1 Gap at Honeywell”

LAT’s Pulitzer Prize-winning financial commentator Michael Hiltzik used words like “…obscene…raw figures…economic inequality…the 1%…telling…massively embarrassing..”

Sam Pizzigati, the prominent author and social commentator at the Washington DC think tank Economic Policy Institute, was quoted in the LA Times article:

“This is a confirmation of research done up to now,” Sam Pizzigati, a fellow at EPI, says of the Honeywell data. He expects some corporations to show much larger discrepancies. That could show up especially in the retail sector, where median earnings are likely to be well below the $50,000 level of Honeywell’s heavily professional workforce.

Walmart, for instance, says its average hourly pay for full-time workers was to reach $13.38, following a company-wide wage increase in 2016. That’s about $27,800. Its CEO, C. Douglas McMillon, was paid $22.4 million last year. That would create a ratio of about 805-to-1 based on hourly wages alone.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek writer Anders Melin published a piece in January – “Why Companies Fear Disclosing CEO-to-Workers Pay” — noting:

“U.S. companies must soon begin disclosing what many would rather keep secret: The ratio between the CEO’s compensation and the paycheck of the company’s median worker. The mandate was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to shed light on the growing income gap between executives and workers. Opponents say it’s only meant to embarrass executives and won’t be useful to investors. One critic called it an example of bigotry against the successful.”

And: The disclosures will provide a first-ever glimpse into how thousands of U.S. companies compensate their workers, plus a more accurate sense than ever before of the CEO-to-worker pay gap.

A year ago, Alex Edmans writing in The Harvard Business Review said “…the numbers are striking…the idea is that a high pay ratio is unfair…I strongly believe that executive pay should be reformed…[but] the pay ratio is a misleading statistic because CEOs and workers operate in very different markets…”

His commentary is at:

https://hbr.org/2017/02/why-we-need-to-stop-obsessing-over-ceo-pay-ratios
(He is a professor of finance at London Business School.)

Our new “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” management brief platform has background on the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio, published for guidance in September 2017 as the SEC published its guidance:

IT’S H-E-R-E NOW: SEC Guidance on CEO-Employee Pay Rule Clarified in Interpretive Guidance. Your Company Should Be Prepared for First Quarter 2018 Disclosures and Beyond!

The information is at:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/its-h-e-r-e-now-sec-guidance-on-ceo-employee-pay-rule-clarified-in-interpretive-guidance-your-company-should-be-prepared-for-first-quarter-2018-disclosures-and-beyond/

I have a chapter in my book (“Trends Converging!) about the pay rule (Chapter 9) – the entire book is available for you with my compliments at:
https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

We’ll continue to bring you news of the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio corporate disclosures in 1Q 2018– company announcements and the public response to same.