As “Corporate Citizen” Working In Many Lands – This Can Be Challenging, As Corporate Experiences With China Show…

Another in the series The Corporate Citizen and Society – the Dynamics of the Relationship

Started in Autumn 2019 – drafting interrupted – further edited in June 2020 – and posted in September 2020. 

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

Running a multi-national business today is quite challenging, especially for firms with “footprints” of size in countries beyond the homeland.

Recently we have been watching some critical events…at times crisis situations…that senior executives are navigating. 

Of course, corporate leaders are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic – and civil protests in many cities and towns related to equality issues and objections to current methods of policing. – and the economic dislocations of the virus and more.  

For large multi-nationals with a presence in many different nations – sourcing there, or with local facilities in operation, or with products and services extensively used in the countries, with partnerships established with the public sector or NGOs – the challenge of being a “good corporate citizen” is ever-present. And sometimes can be daunting.

Challenges? Think about those related to continuing “freedom to operate” or “social license” or actual regulatory license to operate that may be placed in jeopardy in some way or another. 

Something done, something said (or published or communicated)…with the foreign governments objecting to that “something”.– and threatening to or taking action to limit the freedom to operate. 

When I began drafting this commentary last fall, tiny bits of news about the Coronavirus was just beginning to be reported out of China, with very sketchy details.  By year end, It was a kind of flu. Nothing to worry about. 

In the news headlines at that time (summer into fall 2019) there were more obvious challenges being presented to non-Chinese tech companies as the Hong Kong people protests continued to build momentum, and the Communist government in the mainland began to put pressure on the corporate sector (perhaps pressuring foreign companies’ media that had China news coverage).

An example of this kind of threat came to us in October 2019 involving Apple — concerning its vital relationship with the “two Chinas” – and with significant production and retail stores on the mainland — the People’s Republic of China being the #2 global market for Apple sales.

Other non-China-based companies have also being feeling the pressures as well.  

Just offshore from mainland China, trouble was quite evident to the world in the former British territory of Hong Kong, which is a kind of status aparte of the mainland. (That is similar to the status of Aruba in the Caribbean Basin to parent country The Netherlands.)  China has maintained a “one country-two systems” approach to Hong Kong. Until now. 

China gained re-sovereignty over the Hong Kong territory in 1997 with the execution of a treaty at the end of the United Kingdom’s 99-year lease. The treaty terms were meant to assure separate governance systems for the more advanced Hong Kong economy and territory’s political system of that era.

Early in October 2019, an Apple device software application – Hkmap.live – developed by an outside firm and sold through the Apple Store, was removed from the on-line store. 

The concerns:  Reuters News and Associated Press reported that the Communist Party’s main newspaper (the People’s Daily) had singled out Apple for criticism for having the third party app for sale (and used on smartphones)  that reportedly enabled Hong Kong protesters to track the local police activity.

The People’s Republic of China’s propaganda arm (the publication) said this was a no-no – that is, Apple making the app available — and Apple removed the app because it “violated the rules,” according to the Reuters/AP report at the time.  (Reason: the app could be used to ambush police and by criminals where police were absent – the Apple rules allow for removal when the app is found to facilitate illegal activity.)

Apple had first rejected HKmap.live — then agreed to make it available — and then as the protest mounted (and mainland China responded), the app came off the App Store.

Was it the People’s Daily targeting of Apple and the app…or what the company said (“…many concerned customers in Hong Kong contacted the company…”).

An MSNBC commentator (Kif Leswing) weighed in, pointing out that Apple also removed a news stream (Quartz) because the content is illegal in China. Quartz was covering the Hong Kong democracy protests.

This is/was not a new issue: Back in 2017 several U.S. Senators presciently charged that Apple was enabling the Chinese government’s draconian moves on censorship and citizen surveillance.  (Which moves, according to news reports of today, involves collecting everyone’s DNA and placing cameras everywhere to track everyone – plus developing a “social profile” for tracking the movements of citizens — and meting out punishment where officials think it is merited.)

We note here that Google also quietly removed Hong Kong protest content from the Android store — without creating Apple-type headlines.

But – for those who had downloaded the app, it continued posting locations of police patrols, so said The Los Angeles Times.

MSNBC noted that Apple more than other tech companies has a very close relationship with China (where 200 million-plus iPhones are made each year) and China is an important market as well with tens of billions in revenue in total from the “three Chinas”.  (For Apple, China is the #2 market for iPhones.)

The third China: the separate nation of the Republic of China, more generally known as Taiwan, and persistently claimed by the mainland as part of its territory. “China” is a complicated subject for many company managements. And then there is Hong Kong and nearby Macao, outposts of China mainland.)

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a memo to Apple’s 130,000 employees to explain the move. And we can assume try to calm nerves internally.

US Senator Josh Hawley (Missouri) quickly posed the question:  Who is running Apple…Tim Cook or Beijing?

If We Don’t Agree — We Will Name & Share – Beware of the China Leadership

Brands targeted by China’s rulers have been subjected to campaigns (name and shame) to alert local customers of issues with a company or organization.

This could become more of a threat to non-Chinese companies as the government continues to develop the “social profile” of its citizens. And captures their imagines on street cameras. Which company’s products they buy could become a major issue in the western democracies!

Further complicating life for execs — we’ve seen the rise of internal protest inside U.S. tech companies, when employees don’t like the work being done for customers –particularly government agencies, police departments, intelligence agencies, military branches, etc. 

Business-society relationships are complicated. Sports is a big business in the USA. The National Basketball Association is a powerful sports enterprise now with global reach and the ownership universe (the key decision-makers) is made up of corporations and wealthy partnerships that own local sports teams. 

So – when the manager of the Houston Rockets briefly voiced support of the Hong Kong protests — the state TV in China stopped the broadcast of NBA games.  Pow!

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R_Kentucky) quickly weighed in: “The people of Hong Kong have risked much more than money to defend their freedom of expression, human rights and autonomy.  I hope the NBA can learn from that courage and not abandon those values for the sake of their bottom line.” (The NBA apologized for the Twitter comment of the Houston team GM. It’s not comfortable being in the middle of intercontinental cat fight.)

Complicating matters: Majority Leader McConnell’s wife – Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao – is a Chinese-American born in Taiwan. She was Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush (and therefore an overseer of U.S. fiduciary investment policy-making at the DOL, affecting decisions of many large investors.) More complications in public and private sectors, we could say.

The Houston basketball team has been very popular in China and a star player (Yao Ming) played for the team.   The U.A. Senate majority leader is a constant critic of China policies. Complicated matters for companies doing business in and with China!

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also weighed in:  “We’re better than this. Human rights should not be for sale and the NBA should not be assigning Chinese communist censorship.”  Remember, his father fled Communist Cuba to come to the U.S.A.

The aggravated condition of U.S.-China trade relations under the Trump Administration is also complicating things. 

One, Two, Three Chinas – It’s Complicated

We should explain that the “ Two Chinas” policy of the United States government should now be considered as “three,” as the identification has traditionally meant the relationship of [mainland] Communist China and the offshore democracy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the USA.

The Nationalist ROC has governed the island nation since the end of civil war of 1949 when many mainland refugees fled to Taiwan as the Communists came to power.

With China moving aggressively toward Hong Kong independence-of-a-sort, the Trump Administration and members of Congress are talking about possible actions to attempt to ensure some independence of the little territory.  

Another dustup:  Hollywood’s Dreamworks and a China production company (Pearl Studio) collaborated to create an animated feature – “Abominable” (about a young girl meeting the Abominable Snowman or “Yeti”).  The film features Asian-American actor and was quickly a hit on release in America.

The film debuted in Vietnam as well – and was quickly pulled from viewing.  A map of China used in the animation showed the “nine dashes” – a no-no in China’s neighboring countries.

The Nine-Dashes – Complicating Matters in the South China Sea

What are the 9 dashes, you might ask?  (I’m sure that question rapidly went ’round in Dreamworks’ Hollywood offices — what the hell!.)  China attempts to impose its authority over the South China Sea with a series of dashes (not firm lines) to imply control or ownership. 

Which angers neighbors — Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and other nations with access to the vital sea lanes.  And those nations are trading partners of the U.S. — and American companies have significant presence in them.

How many people in corporate suites are tuned in to the vagaries or subtleties of China’s diplomacy!   

We recommend that you read Foreign Affairs and China-scholar Robert D. Kaplan’s excellent book on all of this — red warning flags flying! — “Asia’s Cauldron:  The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.”  Published in 2014 – available on Amazon. 

Simply stated –  “China” – it’s  a complicated subject for corporate citizens.

The China – United State of America Relationship

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has said that the USA-China relationship with shape the international order for the 21st Century and the countries will have to deal with serious cultural differences (like freedom of expression and the right to protest and the freedom to trade etc.).

We saw that the investors in the USA shrugged off the Apple dustup with China over the Hong Kong protests. The share price was up $6.00 (3%) and moving toward an all-time high as the China-Hong Kong-APPL news stories appeared… this is a US$1 trillion-plus company! (Well, after the coronavirus crash of March 2020, we did have to check again and the price is back up in high $300s.)

Challenge: Being a Good Corporate Citizen When You Are a Guest

For large corporations, in general, worldwide, being a “good corporate citizen” in many lands is always a concern and a challenge as well as a competitive advantage (the brand and reputation and consumer favor as a 21st Century moat) — but things can be very complicated in the execution of citizenship on the ground. 

Complicated Challenge: Some companies operate in literally all but three or four nations of the world, excluding Iran, North Korea and perhaps a few others from their operations and marketing activities.

As we first prepared to finally publish this June 2020, dusting off the earlier Fall 2019 draft, we were in the midst of a global epidemic (COVID-19), and U.S. and global civil protests — with the news coverage all but eliminating the news out of Hong Kong on some days.

But China actions focused on western business organizations are very much in focus today. Recently several large news organizations (corporate-owned, of course, and at the top, corporate board and C-suite managed) saw their in-country journalists booted out of China because the Communist leaders objected to their news coverage.

Journalists employed by The New York Times (owned by The Times Company); The Wall Street Journal (owned by News Corp); and The Washington Post (now owned by Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon) were told to leave mainland China and the “regulated territories” of Hong Kong and Macoa.

In September 2020 we learned that Australian journalists had fled China to avoid detention. 

The leaders of the People’s Republic of China, it is said, are angered by coverage of the coronavirus (and the Communist government’s response); coverage of Hong Kong protests; and the reporting of “shadowy business dealings” of the country’s government leadership.

In addition, Time magazine (now owned by Marc Benioff, head of Salesforce) and the Voice of America – AND the expelled media organizations — were instructed to turn over information about their operations to the government minders.

U.S. Retaliation Complicates Corporate Life

This is not happening in a vacuum – in Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump designated the five China media organization operating in the USA as government functionaries of China, limiting the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the U.S. as journalists. The five are propaganda tools, the charge goes.  Their activities are being restricted. 

And so here in the USA the tit-for-tat is targeting China’s main news outlets –– Xinhua, CGTN, China Daily, People’s Daily, China Radio.

The Trump Administration is also moving to de-list publicly-traded Chinese corporations (traded on American stock exchanges). 

In all of the dustups, as U.S. business leaders are deftly navigating the tricky shoals where the seas of statesmanship meet the rocks of ideology and pose challenges to strategy and business models. 

Some of the challenges in the US-China relationships are about freedoms.  Such as our First Amendment freedoms. There are no China equivalents. 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out four important freedoms for the peoples of all nations during the early days of World War II  — freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear. These have long been central to many elements of U.S. and western capitalism — and foreign concepts to the rulers of present-day China. 

American companies have to carefully navigate the differences when they do business in China, with China, and other non-democratic nations. 

An example getting news coverage this week:  The Walt Disney Company, a U.S.-based global entertainment and communications company.  The company has been a  very able and savvy global marketer since the earliest days of Uncle Walt’s cartoon studio in sunny California.  Founder Uncle Walt always innovated and marketed that innovation far and wide. 

Consider that Disney has a $5 billion-plus investment in Shanghai Disneyland Resort (opened 2016) — co-owned by the Communist government — and an older Disney park in Hong Kong.   China is an important market for various activities of the company, including motion pictures.

And so the anxiety we logically could expect in the Disney offices as a new dustup occurred.  The company created “Hulan”, a movie about an important character (female) in China mythology, with a China-born female lead and a female director, and scenes filmed in China for accurate depiction of locations for the story. 

One snippet of the 1 hour/50 minute film — the usual (traditional) roll of credits at the end named a number of governments within China as assisting. Including Xinjiang, rolling by in a long list.  Where other American companies operated.  And where in 2018 as the film was underway, the local government was locking up tens of thousands of Muslims in concentration camps!  And so the September 2020 criticism of The Walt Disney Company — including by two dozen members of the U.S. Congress. 

There’s a thorough, fair and balanced recap of all of this in The New York Times, Sunday, September 13, 2020 (“How a 1 Minute of Scenery in ‘Mulan’ Put Disney in a Bind Over China”).    It’s an important read for you, I think, in the context of U.S.-China relations and for non-China-based companies operating in the country. 

Thinking about “open” communication not being permitted today in China we are reminded of President Thomas Jefferson’s perspective: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” – Thomas Jefferson letter to the Marquis de Lafayette.

So true some two centuries later in our great democracy!

 

It’s Earth Day Again – Let’s Celebrate – and Pledge Again to Defend Mother Earth!

For Earth Day – Plus 50 – April 22, 2020

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

The first Earth Day was the idea of and championed by a United States Senator, Democrat Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin on April 22, 1970. Fifty years ago!

Let’s also celebrate his life (1916-2005) and the environmental movement he helped to launch as we observe Earth Day 2020.

For those of us who were not around back in the day, I will also offer up some background for you as we celebrate the 50th Earth Day.

Why Earth Day?
In 1970, there were too many assaults on the nation’s environment. On Our Good Earth with air, water, soil polluted – in many parts of the nation, we were really heavily polluted!  (There are still SuperFund sites being cleaned in many states.)

The American landscape was rich with manufacturing facilities and processing plants, located in every state. Our manufacturing and processing exports in the post-WW II period comprised fully one-quarter and more of all world trade.

The generosity of the U.S. in creating the Marshall Plan to help our former wartime enemies build up their economies and our WW II allies’ economies fueled the exports of American-made goods. 

Even today, U.S. manufacturing (really cleaner!) accounts for half of U.S. exports. U.S. manufacturing today by itself makes up the world’s 10th largest economy (ahead of China, Japan, Germany and many other manufacturing centers). But back in the day…

The Importance of U.S. Manufacturing in the Post War
After World War II, the U.S. was the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Germany and Japan factories were coming back on line, having suffered tremendous damage [to each country’s industry].

Early in the post-WW II period many European companies began setting up factories in the U.S. (chemicals, pharma) — and many of those companies were serious polluters here, as they were in Europe. (One reason why European investors were early adopters of ESG approaches – not often discussed.)

In 1951, “re-armament” was in full gear and the Cold War was on. Military production was greater than for consumer goods – and that meant many more plants would be turning out goods without necessarily protecting the environment around the plant. (“In the national interest…”)

Solvents used for manufacturing would go into the ground. Emissions from toxic fumes, into the air. Solid and liquid waste – into ground, or waters (streams, bays, rivers, oceans). As consumer goods manufacturing rose, a “Guns & Butter” economy emerged in the U.S., with the factories running in two or three shifts. Out put steadily rose. So, too, nasty byproducts.

The steady assault on Mother Earth by industry and governments steadily rose.

Among the catalysts for action after two decades:

The Cayuhoga River, flowing through Cleveland, Ohio, the industrial city on the Great Lakes, caught fired and the junk on top burned. (Noontime, June 22, 1969 – a five story fire flashed out of the river in the downtown!) Info at: https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63

A huge oil spill just offshore fouled the beaches of Santa Barbara, California. January 28, 1969 – 3 million gallons of crude spilled off the shoreline of the beautiful city by Union Oil (now Unocal), leaving an oil slick of 35 miles in length along the California shores…killing bird, fish, mammals (and tourism!). 1,000 gallons of oil per hour flowed for a month.

The federal government had relaxed the regulations on casing around the drilling hole and an explosion ripped the sea floor. (Sound too familiar in 2020?)

The federal government did stop offshore drilling for a few years (in the state’s waters) but then that restriction was relaxed and The Los Angeles Times (which has covered the story for five decades) says today there are 23 oil and gas leases in state waters.

The California spill is considered a catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Richard Nixon was a California native — then sitting in the Oval Office — and was moved to action shortly after the spill.

The LA Times coverage is at: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969-20150520-htmlstory.html

In the eastern U.S., the trees on mountaintops were constantly seared and leaves gone, branches standing naked of greenery. The “acid rain” coming from parts of the nation to the west wafted high up and denuded New York and New England mountaintop greenery (that was SOX, NOX, etc from smokestacks carried far to the east on the higher winds).

Those with light color cars would be scrubbing the dark stains running vertically on the vehicle. Acid rain streaks. We saw those on our homes (the white paint, the rain gutters, these would be streaked with black stain).
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980928072644.htm

Personal Remembrances
As a boy, heading in the car to Manhattan or Brooklyn with family, I remember being curious about the large black, brown, yellow clouds hovering above the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building in midtown. Wafting along, at leisurely pace. You could “smell” the city as you approached. There was often a coating of soot on my shirt or coat when I returned home.

“Smog” enveloped many American and European cities. (Fog and smoke.) I have written a few times about my flying through or over city smog. Looking down below from the cockpit, thick yellow clouds often blanketed Manhattan on hot summer days. Flying through (at lower levels) I would be on instruments until I was safely over New Jersey’s rural parts heading west. And clean air again filled the cockpit!

You could always see the bellowing smoke coming out of New York City’s electric generating plants, furnaces fired by coal in those days.

For a time, to build flight hours, I flew around the city and suburbs on weekends broadcasting as “Captain Hank, Your Eye-in-the-Sky” for radio stations WGBB and WGSM. Checking on traffic to the beach, open spaces Jones Beach parking fields, fishing offshore, surfing at Gilgo Beach, and the like. Quite often I would be dodging in and out of smog banks that drifted eastward.

Up in Connecticut, driving one day along a river road, I was startled to see “rubber rocks” along the river bank. A large rubber tire company’s outflow of waste from the factory to the river had coated the rocks before heading downstream into Long Island Sound and then to the Atlantic Ocean. Everything would just disappear into the seas, right? (Prevalent thinking of certain business leaders at the time – externalize the crap and let someone else pay for results.)

Up in The Bronx (boro of New York City) and the northern parts of Manhattan, trucks would idle for hours as they picked up or dropped off food at the terminals…the children of minority populations living there had high rates of asthma. Part of the payment for the necessary local industry that employed their parents.

New York City – the Manufacturing Center!
It is hard to believe here in 2020, but New York City was once a mighty manufacturing city for goods now produced in Asia — apparel, footwear, jewelry and accessories. Also, for food and beverages (local beer manufacturers, sugar processing factories, colas). The Brooklyn Navy Yard produced mighty battleships and repaired aircraft carriers damaged in battle (the USS Enterprise).

Manufacturing is still big in Gotham City – but it is far cleaner, safer, more responsible in operations — by many magnitudes. https://nycfuture.org/data/manufacturing-in-nyc-a-snapshot

City of Transportation
New York has a magnificent harbor. The shorelines of Manhattan and Brooklyn boasted of many ocean shipping terminals for both passengers and cargo. Railroads ran along the shoreline (one abandoned line is now the High Line, an important Manhattan tourist attraction). The line brought carloads of meat to the west side, and then on to giant cruise ships of yesteryear.

Trucks ran uptown and downtown (my father owned a local trucking company and I would ride along on school breaks). The driver would back a truck up to the dock, load it, run around the city to deliver and pick up, bringing freight to the waiting rail cars along the docks, which would go on large barges over to New Jersey and out to the nation.

All of this activity pouring engine emissions into the air of New York, and with drip-drip-drip from transport machines (oil, gas, fluids) tricking down into the sewers and out to the rivers and out to the ocean.

This was at the height of 20th Century industrial America, the Arsenal of Democracy of World War Two. From east to west coasts and all through the heartland, factories poured out war materiel, and then shifted to peak production of peacetime goods for 1950s and 1960s consumer purchase. Along with Cold War materiel. Guns & Butter.

We were the world’s major manufacturing exporters, then, not China.

But at a cost. And so the rivers burning, smog choking the cities, creeks and bays and inlets and rivers and then oceans polluting.

Earth Day Helped to Change All of This – Looking Back, Rather Quickly
Senator Nelson was impressed by the 1960s “social revolution” with protest across the country as especially young men and women voiced their opposition to the status quo. Sit-ins were staged at universities to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marches took place in the south despite the marchers suffering beatings and arrests.

The senator was fascinated with civil rights sit-ins at southern soda fountains and marches by both black and white leaders — including many clergy and public officials. By the early organizing efforts to protect and ensure the rights of females and passage, state-by-state of the ERA – the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to reach the votes to become part of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).

According to the Earth Day origin story, Senator Gaylord Nelson was thinking to himself: “If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student ant-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.” And he did!

He set up an “Environmental Teach-in” (like civil rights counter “sit ins”!) to tell the story of the environmental degradation of the country and send a call to action to college campuses and schools. (Hey, let’s do that again today — so many youngsters are at home in the digital classrooms during this virus crisis!)

The result in 1970 was that 20 million people — roughly one-of-10 citizens — participated that first Earth Day (and that would be like 33 million people celebrating Earth Day today, out of our 330 million population!).

The midterm elections of 1970 saw many long-standing members turned out and a new wave of consciousness sweep the country. President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress on January 1, 1970 moved to pass the National Environmental Protection Act – which created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Then came passage of Clean Water Act (1972), Clear Air Act, Endangered Species Act, RCRA (waste), SuperFund (CERCLA-1980), Wilderness Act (1974) and many more federal and state regulations.

The good news is that while Senator Nelson hoped to kick off a movement, he did — and observance of Earth Day took hold – the year 1990 (20 years in) saw the peak participation in the U.S. and by 2000 some 184 countries held formal observances. There’s interesting background at: http://www.nelsonearthday.net/earth-day/

Alas, here in April 2020 we are homebound and not able to march or gather in groups. But we do have our electronic platforms of all kinds – so let’s connect and celebrate Earth Day that way.

We only have one (Earth) to protect and in the spirit of Senator Gaylord Nelson and those early organizers, let’s say we are still here, still with you in spirit, and there is much work still to be done!

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!

Shared Perspectives
You might be interested in the environmental movement perspectives here from March/April 2005, my column from the former journal, Corporate Finance Review. Popular Movements: A Challenge for Institutions and Managers” – explaining the emergence of ESG and the Sustainability Movement.

When Sustainability Movement Champion Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, in April 2007 he delivered a wonderful speech – A Greener, Greater New York – presaging his wonderful work in helping many of the world’s cities make their environments safer and more sustainable. This is what great mayors do!

One of the influential voices following the lead of Senator Nelson in our time is Bill McKibben, whose books and extensive writing have helped to influence the more recent sustainability movement. He was interviewed by the Times Union (Albany , New York) newspaper for this year’s celebration. 

You can follow him on Twitter.

Can’t get into the streets today to help celebrate? Earth Institute at Columbia University offers some suggestions on sheltering in place and celebrating

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.