Archive for the ‘UK’ Tag

Pay Ratios

 

Interest by the media, the public, and shareholders in the pay of CEOs has never been higher, and governments have increasingly taken notice of this in recent years. It is perceived as inequitable and often unjustifiable as to why there should be such large discrepancies between the pay of CEOs and of the employees in their companies. Recent legislation in some countries, and proposed legislation in others, has sought to address this concern by ensuring that companies disclose the ratio of CEO pay and the median employee’s pay in their company.

US Companies

In 2015 the SEC adopted amendments to Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K, on pay ratio disclosure such that companies have to provide details of the relationship of the annual total compensation of their employees and the annual total compensation of their Chief Executive Officer (CEO), i.e. the ratio of the CEO pay to the median of the annual total compensation of all employees. This applies to companies’ for their first fiscal year beginning on or after 1st January 2017.

Honeywell International, a large multinational corporation, was the first major U.S. public company to disclose its ratio of CEO pay to that of the median employee with a pay ratio of 333:1.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) highlights that in the S&P 500, Mattel had the highest ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay with a ratio of 4987:1. They reported a higher ratio still in the Russell 3000 where Weight Watchers International had a pay ratio of 5908:1. More detail is available at:

https://aflcio.org/paywatch/company-pay-ratios

UK Companies

In the UK, listed companies with more than 250 UK employees will legally be required to annually publish and justify the pay difference between chief executives and their staff for the first time. The regulations governing pay ratios will, subject to Parliamentary approval, come into effect from 1 January 2019 with companies reporting their pay ratios in 2020.

The disclosure of pay ratios is part of a move to hold larger companies more accountable for CEO pay and will provide helpful insights into the difference between CEO pay and average employee pay in different sectors and in individual larger companies in the UK.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uks-biggest-firms-will-have-to-justify-pay-gap-between-bosses-and-their-workers

 

Japan

Japan is a country whose CEOs have traditionally earned less than their global peers and where the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee has been lower than in countries such as the US. Part of this is attributable to the culture of Japan where very high pay ratios between CEO pay and average employee pay would not be viewed favourably.

It will be interesting to see what the impact of the disclosure of pay ratios in the US and other countries will be in the coming years.  Already shareholder revolts over executive pay during 2018 are growing and high pay ratios of CEO pay to the average employee’s pay could increase shareholders’ dissent on this issue.

 

Chris Mallin

June 2018

 

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Succession Planning

Why is succession planning important?

Succession planning is seen as crucial to ensuring that a successor is in place to carry on the work of key individuals in a business should they leave the company in either a planned manner (e.g. retirement, job move, generational succession, or ownership changes) or an unplanned manner (e.g. fatal accident, unplanned removal from post). Sometimes the immediate successor is seen as a safe pair of hands, ready and waiting to carry on the work pending the appointment of another individual, whilst at other times there has been more time to search for a successor.

Investors are keen to know that a succession plan is in place for key directors to help ensure the ongoing smooth running of the business, its strategy going forward, and to maintain a steady steer at the helm, thus retaining investor and market confidence. The successor may also be appointed for their new ideas on strategy, whether that is to take the business forward into new spheres or to concentrate more on a few core sectors which may be more appropriate for the company at that time.

 

Corporate Governance Codes

Corporate governance codes mention succession planning in different degrees of detail.  Looking at a few of these, the UK, Japan, and Italy, illustrates this.

The UK

The current UK Corporate Governance Code (2016) mentions succession planning in the context of the role of non-executive directors, they ‘have a prime role in appointing and, where necessary, removing executive directors, and in succession planning,’ (A.4, Non-executive Directors, Supporting principle, UK Corporate Governance Code 2016, Financial Reporting Council); and in the context of Appointments to the Board ‘The board should satisfy itself that plans are in place for orderly succession for appointments to  the  board  and to  senior  management,  so  as  to  maintain  an  appropriate  balance  of skills and experience within the company and on the board and to ensure progressive refreshing of the board (B2 Appointments to the Board, Supporting principle, UK Corporate Governance Code 2016, Financial Reporting Council) https://www.frc.org.uk/getattachment/ca7e94c4-b9a9-49e2-a824-ad76a322873c/UK-Corporate-Governance-Code-April-2016.pdf

However the proposed revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code (2017) cover succession planning in more detail.  Section 3 is headed ‘Composition, succession and evaluation’, and its Principle J states ‘Appointments to the board should be subject to a  formal, rigorous and transparent  procedure, and an  effective succession  plan  should  be in  place for board and senior management. Both appointments and succession plans should be based on merit and objective criteria, and promote diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, cognitive and personal strengths.’ Provision 17 states that ‘The board should  establish a nomination committee that should lead the process for appointments, ensure plans are in place for orderly succession to both the board and senior management positions, and oversee the development of a diverse pipeline for succession.  A majority of   members of the committee should be independent non-executive directors, with a minimum membership of three. The chair of the board should not chair the committee when it is dealing with the appointment of their successor,’ (December 2017, Proposed Revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code Appendix A – Revised UK Corporate Governance Code) https://www.frc.org.uk/getattachment/bff48ee6-4fce-4593-9768-77914dbf0b86/Proposed-Revisions-to-the-UK-Corporate-Governance-Code-Appendix-A-Dec-2017.pdf

Japan

Japan’s Corporate Governance Code (2015) states that ‘Based on the company objectives (business  principles, etc.) and specific business  strategies, the board should engage in the  appropriate oversight of succession planning for the CEO and other top executives,’ (4.1.3, Japan Corporate Governance Code, Seeking Sustainable Corporate Growth and Increased Corporate Value  over the Mid- to Long-Term (2015), Tokyo Stock Exchange) http://www.ecgi.global/sites/default/files/codes/documents/japan_cg_code_1jun15_en.pdf

Italy

Italy’s Corporate Governance Code (2015) refers to the fact that ‘The Board of Directors shall evaluate whether to adopt a plan for the succession of executive directors. In the event of adoption of such a plan, the issuer shall disclose it in the Corporate Governance Report. The review on the preparation  of  the  above  mentioned  plan  shall  be  carried  out  by  the nomination committee or by another committee established within the Board of Directors in charge of this task.  Should the issuer adopt a succession plan, the Corporate Governance Report shall disclose whether specific  mechanisms are set forth in the succession plan  in  case  of  early  replacement, the corporate bodies and the persons in charge of the preparation of the plan as well as the manners and timing of its review.  As far  as the succession  procedures  are  concerned, the Committee believes that these procedures shall clearly define their scope, instruments and timing, providing both for the involvement of the Board of Directors and for a clear allocation of tasks, also with regard to the preliminary stage of the procedure,’ Appointment of directors, 5.C.2. Corporate Governance Code (2015) http://www.ecgi.global/sites/default/files/codes/documents/cg_code_italy_15july2015_en.pdf

Also in Italy in 2017, the Corporate Governance Principles for Unlisted Family-Controlled Companies were issued. Article 9 relates to Planning and Succession Plans going into some detail. On this issue, there are two Principles: 9.P.1. ‘Being  aware  of  the  differences  that  the  company  size  and  ownership  structure  involve,  it  seems appropriate for the members and the Board of Directors to ensure the continuity of corporate governance and  management  of  the  company  by  defining  precise  regulations  for  effectively  addressing  generational transitions or ownership changes.’ Also 9.P.2. ‘For  the  purposes  of  administration  of  the  company,  succession  plans  must  be  appropriately established  in  advance,  taking into  account  the  specific  conditions  of  the  company,  the  Group  and possibly the currently controlling family.’

Five application criteria are then listed which provide guidance on the process to be followed including the timeliness of establishing the process and having it ready in good time. Corporate Governance Principles for Unlisted Family-Controlled Companies 2017 http://www.ecgi.global/sites/default/files/codes/documents/principi_per_il_governo_delle_societa_non_quotate_a_controllo_familiare._codice_di_autodisciplina%202017%20English_0.pdf

 

Examples of succession issues in practice

For many family firms – large and small – succession planning is a real issue when either the next generation doesn’t want to take on the mantle of the founder, or there is no obvious successor.  Leo Lewis in his article ‘New prescription’ about Takeuchi Optical, a Japanese glasses manufacturer, highlights that ‘thousands of family-owned businesses in Japan face uncertain futures due to a lack of heirs,’  (Financial Times, 5th April 2018, page 9). Whilst Japan has a rapidly ageing society, similarly, other countries also face succession planning issues.

In South Korea, for example, Lee Jae-yong, vice-Chairman of Samsung Electronics and grandson of the group’s founder, was arrested in February 2017 on charges relating to bribery and corruption connected to a nationwide political scandal. Lee Jae-yong was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges. However in February 2018, he was freed on appeal with his original sentence being halved and suspended for four years. In April 2018, Samsung Electronics announced that it would split the roles of CEO and Chair but there will continue to be three co-CEOs with ultimate power still residing with Lee Jae-yong as vice-chairman. However Elliott Management, the activist institutional hedge fund, is seeking a change in the company’s corporate governance to limit the power of the family successor in waiting, Lee Jae-yong.

Chris Mallin

April 2018

Boards need ability not diversity

Corporate governance thinking does not evolve: it skips from one topic to the next.  Ideas in corporate governance are like memes: they convey ideas just as genes convey physical characteristics, as I wrote on this blog some time ago.  These memes permeate thinking, and with today’s instant communication flash around the world, become the conventional wisdom.

A couple of years ago the theme was risk.  Cadbury and the early corporate governance codes had nothing to say about risk. Now boards needed to recognize their responsibility for identifying their company’s risk profile, assessing long-term strategic risk, and ensuring that appropriate risk policies were in place and working.  Risk had become a central issue in corporate governance.

More recently, it was culture- although commentators seemed unable to agree on what they meant by culture.  In March this year, I wrote in this blog that culture ‘can be thought of as the beliefs, expectations and values that people share’.  Like the skins of an onion, culture has many layers – national, regional, corporate cultures, and the culture of the board room.  Recent commentary about culture in corporate governance thinking has focused on board-level culture, which sets the tone throughout the organization and provides its moral compass.  Board-level culture reflects the experience, beliefs and expectations of the board members, particularly the leadership style of the board chairman and the effect of any dominant personalities on the board.

Introducing the concept of culture into corporate governance adds new dimensions, with behavioural, political, and psychological aspects that are difficult to identify, let alone quantify.  In February 2017, the UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a report on corporate governance reform that identified culture as ‘the central tenet of good corporate governance (which) should be embedded in the culture of all companies, so that it permeates activity at every level and in every sphere.’  Fine: but what does that actually mean?  What are boards expected to do to make the concept operational?

On board diversity

Now the focus has shifted again: board diversity has come into the spotlight. Again, however, ideas differ on what board diversity means.  The time has come for some clearer thinking.

It seems that most people, when talking about board diversity, mean gender diversity: the need to have more women directors.  That case seems clear and, around the world, efforts are being to increase the proportion of women on boards through mandatory quotas or voluntary targets. The challenge is to increase the pool of women with executive management experience. The BEIS report, mentioned above, recommends that ‘the UK Government should set a target that from 2020 at least half of all new appointments to senior and executive management level positions in all listed companies should be women’.

To others, however, board diversity means something quite different.

The UK’s Financial Reporting Council; welcoming the Hampton/Alexander report in November 2016, wrote that it:

‘looked forward to working with the review team to improve reporting on diversity. In light of the current public debate on corporate governance, we stand ready to revise the UK Corporate Governance Code following the Government consultation. Our work on succession planning this year suggested that nomination committees should take a more active interest in talent management, in particular that initiatives are in place to develop the talent pipeline and to promote diversity in board and executive appointments. To better inform boards about the link between diversity, strategy and developing the business, more consideration should be given to the nature, variety and frequency of interaction between the board and aspiring candidates at all levels.’
The BEIS report also refers explicitly to ‘ethnic diversity’ and recommends further measures ‘to ensure that diversity is promoted at all stages of careers to broaden the pool of talent at the executive level.’  The report further calls for ‘companies [to] recruit executive and non-executive directors from the widest possible base’. The report concludes with a rallying cry: ‘Overall, [our] recommendations are aimed at permanently ingraining the values and behaviours of excellent corporate governance into the culture of British business.’

Before we all rally to this banner, more clarity of thought is needed.

 

What is the purpose of the board of directors?

The role of the board of directors, indeed the role of the governing body of every organization, is to govern.  To put it in the vernacular, corporate governance means ensuring that the enterprise is being well run and that it is running in the right direction.  This is quite different from managing the business, as I have written many times in this blog. In essence, the governance of a company includes overseeing the formulation of its strategy and policy making, supervision of executive performance, and ensuring corporate accountability. Overall, the purpose of the board is to ensure that the company meets its objectives.

But that exposes a deeper question: what is the real purpose of a profit-orientated company?  The answer has not changed since the classical nineteenth century model of the joint-stock limited-liability company was invented: to create wealth, by providing employment, offering opportunities to suppliers, satisfying customers, and meeting shareholders’ expectations.

Companies meet their societal obligations by paying taxes, adopting socially responsible policies, and obeying the law of the lands in which they operate. Companies should not be seen as vehicles for social engineering.  The board does not need to reflect the structure of society.

Admittedly, the UK Companies’ Act does call for companies to recognize the interests of other stakeholders, including employees, suppliers and customers: though it is hard to see how a company could survive by ignoring them.   Stakeholder Senates, which I suggested in this blog preciously, could provide employee, market, and societal input to board deliberations, could include representatives of young and old, poor and rich, ethic and other minorities.

To fulfil the company’s primary purpose of creating wealth, a board does not need to reflect society. It needs people who can contribute effectively to its governance. In other words, the qualities needed to be a director are the experience, knowledge, and ability relevant to governing that company, backed up in a fast-moving business environment with the ability to continue to learn and adapt. Companies are often competing with other companies around the world, whose directors are experienced professionals, in China for example.

Attempts by the UK’s FRC to revise the corporate governance code needs to be clear on the proper role of the board of directors.  Ability at board level is vital for corporate success; social diversity has nothing to do with it.

Bob Tricker, October 2017

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Oxford University Press, or fellow blogger Professor Chris Mallin.