Archive for the ‘Corporate Governance’ Category

Economic and Geopolitical Disruptive Forces: History Favors the Best Prepared

March 17th, 2015 | By

Now in its third year, NACD’s Directorship 2020® takes an investigative look at the trends and disruptors that will shape boardrooms agendas of the future. This initiative is designed to raise directors’ awareness of these complex emerging issues and enable them to provide effective guidance to management teams as they navigate the associated risks and opportunities.  The inaugural 2015 session was held on March 3 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, where subject-matter experts from Broadridge, KPMG, Marsh & McLennan Cos., and PwC and corporate leaders explored the boardroom implications of geopolitical and economic disruption.

Illustrating the boardroom perspective on the impacts of economic and geopolitical disruption on corporate strategy.

Illustrating the boardroom perspective on the impacts of economic and geopolitical disruption on corporate strategy.

In his remarks on economic disruption, Peterson Institute for International Economics Visiting Fellow and International Capital Strategies Executive Chair Douglas Rediker examined the changing face of global competitive markets. Governments around the world are increasingly involved in market activities and are more likely to champion domestic businesses or businesses based in countries with which they have trade agreements. This situation creates a business environment in which companies seeking to expand must assess a foreign country’s protected business sectors in order to fully evaluate the endemic risks and opportunities.

Taking a geopolitical perspective, UBS Executive Director and Head of U.S. Country Risk Dan A. Alamariu considered the ripple effects of government regulation, using a case example of the sanctions recently imposed by the US and EU on Russia. Though these measures did diminish the buying power of the ruble, the sanctions also hurt Western companies operating in Russia because consumers could no longer afford to purchase foreign goods. He cited other examples as well. In its efforts to recover from the financial crisis, the Chinese government has recently implemented a number of economic reforms. While these reforms may succeed in re-establishing China as an “engine of growth,” the infighting that they have triggered among political elites could ultimately dampen growth and set the country on an uncertain course. Closer to home, persistent gridlock in the US government is preventing needed progress on issues critical to the business community, such as tax policy and infrastructure.

Both speakers alluded to the fact that as countries become more divided and inwardly focused—both internally and with respect to international relations—developing collective approaches to major transnational issues such as climate change and cyberattacks will become more challenging. Companies will therefore need to devise their own strategies for addressing these challenges.

Economic and geopolitical disruptors are inextricably linked, and the three main takeaways from both sessions are as follows:

  1. Embrace risk—you may discover opportunities. Directors need to start thinking like emerging markets investors. In other words, they should get comfortable working in a business environment that is volatile and unpredictable. This breed of investor has historically been focused on domestic, regional, and international political and economic risks. Because technology has created a world that is deeply interconnected, investors must proactively cultivate an understanding of geo-economic risks. By extension, it is also important to recognize technology as a major disruptive force that will continue to impact companies across all sectors. For example, tablet devices have completely changed not only how people communicate and access multimedia content but also how companies conduct business. By embracing disruptive technology, companies can in turn create the caliber of differentiated products that will transform the marketplace.
  2. Be prepared. This ageless scouting motto is especially relevant to anyone managing or overseeing a company. Businesses the world over are more interconnected than ever before, which forces companies to compete across national borders and exposes them to international political and economic risks. Boards need to consider the ultimate “black swan” events that could affect their companies. By extension, directors need to be mathematically literate—if they are not already. Black-swan events include natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, which incapacitated businesses in our nation’s financial epicenter; political events, such as the outbreak of war; economic unpredictability; and technological innovation, which we have seen from the automobile to the iPad. Having a by-the-numbers plan for how the company could behave in specific scenarios will create a comprehensive understanding of the risks the business faces. Because it’s impossible to completely protect a company, it is essential to create resiliency. The board must therefore ensure that incident response plans are in place and must routinely test those response plans to confirm that they meet the company’s evolving needs.
  3. Beware of “herd mentality.” Directors need to periodically review the current board composition; and if there are gaps in the board’s collective knowledge that may prevent it from assessing areas of risk, it may be in the board’s best interests to bring in a third-party expert to help inform boardroom discussions. This is especially true of cyber risk. Many boards are still struggling to comprehend the depth and breadth of these threats, and because it’s neither possible nor desirable for every board to have a cyber expert in their ranks, it is imperative to bring in outside sources to inform and educate directors and management.

Look for full coverage of this NACD Directorship 2020 session in the May/June 2015 issue of NACD Directorship magazine. For information on future events and recaps of past events, visit the NACD Directorship 2020 microsite.

Ken Daly’s 2015 Letter to NACD Membership

January 23rd, 2015 | By

Dear NACD Members,

As I look ahead to the challenges that boards will face in 2015, I am more confident than ever in NACD’s mission to help directors navigate an increasingly complex environment. Our programs and resources remain focused on helping directors improve their performance as strategic assets for their organizations. We achieve this primarily by providing the foresight to anticipate emerging issues, thereby enhancing stakeholder confidence in the board’s ability to provide effective leadership.

I’d like to briefly share with you the three critical issues that NACD will focus on this year.

1. Cybersecurity. It will surprise no one that cyber-risk oversight has become a top agenda item for boards. NACD’s latest survey found that the majority of directors are dissatisfied with the cybersecurity information they are getting from management. How well does your board understand the company’s cyber risk practices? Does your board have an established response plan in the event of a cyber-breach? These are the issues that NACD will continue to help directors resolve throughout 2015.

Suggested NACD Resources:
Director’s Handbook on Cyber-Risk Oversight
– NACD Advisory Council on Risk Oversight: Cybersecurity Oversight and Breach Response

2. Board-Shareholder Communications There’s no question that shareholders will continue to influence boardroom agendas in 2015. In our most recent meeting with major institutional investors, we asked the participants to list their priorities for board focus in 2015. The three areas identified were: (1) focusing on “drivers” of effective board leadership, (2) holding directors accountable when investors believe shareholder rights have been undermined, and (3) ensuring communication between boards and investors are about context, not volume. We will continue to meet with both institutional investors and activist shareholders throughout the year and will share their perspectives with you.

Suggested NACD Resources:
– Investor Perspectives: Critical Issues for Board Focus in 2015
– NACD Blue Ribbon Commission Report on Board-Shareholder Communications

3. Strategy. You may be wondering why strategy is on this list. Isn’t oversight of the organization’s strategy an inherent responsibility of the board?  The answer is still yes. However, in an increasingly dynamic climate, boards can no longer afford to take an annual “review and concur” approach to management’s strategy. Our 2014 Blue Ribbon Commission Report strongly recommends continuous board engagement with management in the strategy development, and course correction, process. Our members’ reaction to this new – and potentially radical – approach has been very positive, and we will continue to provide guidance on this topic in 2015.

Suggested NACD Resources:
NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Strategy Development
– The Board’s Role in Strategy: Interview with General Mills Director

Two final notes. Our NACD Directorship 2020 initiative, which puts a spotlight on the market disruptors that will impact companies in the years to come, continues to be very popular. We will hold three member-exclusive events again in 2015. Please be sure to register early as the sessions tend to sell out.

We are holding our inaugural NACD Strategy and Risk Forum in San Diego on May 12-13. The forum will include a full day dedicated to cybersecurity, with former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge as a featured speaker. Click here to learn more about this exciting new program.

Thank you for your membership. I wish you a successful year ahead and encourage you to continue to work with your dedicated NACD Concierge to identify the educational programs and topical resources to enhance your board leadership.

Ken Daly
Chief Executive Officer
National Association of Corporate Directors
Advancing Exemplary Board LeadershipTM

NACD BLC 2014 Breakout Session – Balancing Shareholders and Capital Markets

December 2nd, 2014 | By

On the morning of Tuesday, October 14, 2014, a group of Board Leadership Conference attendees  joined Alan M. Klein, Partner, Simpson Thacher; Jamie S. Moser, Partner, Joele Frank; and moderator Chris Ruggeri Principal, Deloitte for a power breakfast session entitled “Balancing Shareholders and Capital Markets”.

The Landscape

It is well known that there has been a rise in shareholder activism over the last few years. There are more than 400 activist funds today with more than $100 billion under management. If viewed as an asset class, activist funds are a top performer. Money flows to where it can generate the largest return, and activist-backed funds have flourished. In turn, panelists observed that this has emboldened shareholders of all stripes. In their quest to have a more prominent voice in how companies are run, these investors have changed the dynamics of company-shareholder interaction.

There are many different kinds of shareholders ranging from professional, established investors to newer, smaller entrants into the market. Moser believes that some larger organizations that tend to maintain long-term positions in companies can be considered activists as well. While they prefer not to run campaigns on their own, they feed ideas to others who will. Klein noted, “In a sense these ‘long only’ funds have outsourced their activism”.

Tactics

Panelists noted that activist shareholders don’t pick targets lightly. They spend a significant amount of time drilling down into companies, and have a surprising depth of knowledge. As such, it would be a mistake to disregard them or view them as superficial. Nevertheless, there is often a mismatch between the way those who run companies view their businesses and the perspective of many activists.

Governance issues can be used as part of a shareholder’s demands. Although they are not typically the crux of an activist fight, these issues can become part of the story and set the tone. For example, panelists cited topics such as related party transactions or sluggish board turnover as “low hanging fruit” for shareholders. Even if these issues have been properly disclosed, a shareholder may use them to put the company on the defensive.

On the other hand, some investors – particularly the more well-established fund – ask for reasonable conversations with the board and management. Panelists observed that if directors can demonstrate to them the validity of the current plan and why their thesis is wrong, some investors may listen or even back off. That being the case, engagement is extremely important.

Outreach

It is critical that directors understand the perspective of the company’s shareholders. The first question Moser asks  a company is, “When’s the last time you spoke with your top 10 shareholders?

Further, the board should engage with shareholders for the first time outside proxy season, when the discussion is often centered around voting. Then, if a proxy contest starts, the company can reply “our board has been speaking directly with shareholders; we’ve been active and engaged.” Meetings between the board and investors should demonstrate transparency and openness. Directors can simply ask investors, “what’s on your mind?” Of course, panelists noted that it is important to remain conscious of Regulation FD; avoid the discussion of material items in a one-on-one setting.

Boards can also go beyond annual “deep dives” to ensure the current strategy is still viable. For example, Klein suggested that boards invite a banker to give a presentation, valuing the strategic plan and showing how it stacks up to strategic alternatives. If the board has conducted this type of analysis, they are more able to speak to the current strategy’s strengths and how it will produce the most value for the company. It is also important that the strategic plan for the company is communicated in the most compelling way possible. “The first three-quarters of any ‘fight letter,’” Moser noted, should be about strategy – how your strategy provides more value than what the shareholder is proposing.”

Activist Investors on the Board

Finally, the panel discussed how boards can work with new activist directors once elected to the board. Klein noted that most activist situations  today end in a negotiated outcome:  Either a proxy fight doesn’t start, or the fight may end before it ever gets to a vote. Typically, as the result of a negotiation, the shareholder ends up with one or two seats. If these new directors can make their case in a logical manner, a fresh perspective may prove beneficial for a board.

Ultimately, panelists agreed that there has been a sea change regarding how companies and their shareholders interact. To the question of whether activism is good or bad, the answer is “yes”– it depends on facts and circumstances.