Archive | January, 2017

Governance Lessons from Wells Fargo

Governance Lessons From Wells Fargo

Governance Lessons From Wells Fargo

Tone at the Bottom: Governance Lessons from Wells Fargo

That was the advertised title for the program co-sponsored by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance and the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange. (Sign up to be on the SVDX mailing list.) After the program, I am still not convinced the real governance lesson from Wells Fargo (ticker: WFC) is not more about lack of oversight from the top, rather than the tone at the bottom.

It was another great panel of corporate governance, legal, and public relations experts for the deep dive into what went wrong. As usual, it was Chatham House Rule, so I’m mostly providing a little more background and some commentary on the presentations. I am sure others drew different conclusions than I did. The panel focused on issues ranging from public disclosure requirements, whistleblower policies and mechanics, compensation policies (including the board’s use of claw-back provisions), company policies regulating employee conduct, and the negative publicity suffered by the bank. Here were some of the advertised questions:

WFC panel

WFC panel

What happens when you have a well-meaning and talented board and a CEO who was regarded within the industry as one of the best managers with a stellar reputation? Was it inevitable that the CEO would be forced to step down by an outraged Congress and populist sentiment? What governance lessons from Wells Fargo are applicable to the non-banking industry, with special attention to Silicon Valley-based tech companies?

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Climate Competency Needed in Boardrooms

Rich Ferlauto on Climate Competency

Rich Ferlauto on Climate Competency

Large institutional investors, concerned about portfolio risks stemming from the effects of global warming, are calling for climate-competent boards and directors as part of their fiduciary responsibility to preserve and enhance the long-term value of their investment assets.

Despite the anticipated rollback of climate related governmental policies such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and limits on methane emissions by the Trump administration, investors still need to understand the risks that climate change poses to their portfolios. Unequivocal disclosures and boards equipped to manage and govern climate risk will be more important than ever. Now, however, it appears investors will not able to rely on federal regulatory standards or policy interventions to manage climate risk related to greenhouse gas emissions and the emphasis on fossil fuel production. They will be left to their devices to understand the very real financial impacts that climate issues could have on their portfolios. Continue Reading →

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Gadfly Proposals Reduce Value?

Deal Professor Envisions Corporate Gadfly

Starting with Corporations

Gadfly proposal on your corporate proxy? One implicit conclusion from a recent academic study is that you should short the company as soon as the SEC disapproves the company’s no-action request, since a proposal from a gadfly is likely to reduce the company’s value. Even though their intent is primarily to show why managers generally oppose proposals, that is the takeaway investment strategy one might conclude from a paper by John G. Matsusaka, Oguzhan Ozbas and Irene Yi entitled Why Do Managers Fight Shareholder Proposals? Evidence from No-Action Letter Decisions. (Why Do Managers Fight Shareholder Proposals, pdf)

Investors Skeptical of Gadfly Proposals

Researchers found a statistical correlation between Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) staff decisions to block a no-action request and negative abnormal returns over the period of 2007-2016, “suggesting that investors agree with managers that these proposals are value-destroying.” “[O]ur main finding is that the market responded positively to the granting of a no-action letter.” “Investors are not particularly skeptical of proposals by unions and public pensions, but appear to view proposals by individual ‘gadfly’ shareholders as value-destroying.” Continue Reading →

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Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.: Proxy Score 33

Image result for walgreens boots alliance wbaWalgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (WBA) operates as a pharmacy-led health and wellbeing company. It operates through three segments: Retail Pharmacy USA, Retail Pharmacy International, and Pharmaceutical Wholesale.

Their annual meeting is coming up on January 26th, 2017. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of 3 fund families when I checked. I voted FOR proxy access and a report on sustainability and pay practices; AGAINST pay, compensation committee, auditor and financial expert. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 33% of the time. View Proxy Statement. See 1/25/2017 update. Continue Reading →

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Trump: Draining the Swamp

Kevin Siers cartoon on Trump Draining the Swamp

Kevin Siers cartoon on Trump Draining the Swamp

CPA Statement on President Trump’s Silence on “Draining The Swamp” in Money and Politics

Bruce Freed, president of CPA, issued the following statement about President Trump’s failure to address campaign finance reform and corporate political disclosure and accountability in his Inaugural Speech:

President Donald Trump made ‘draining the swamp’ a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. However, the swamp will only deepen with his failure to even mention one of today’s critical issues – campaign finance reform – in his Inaugural address. This is a tremendous missed opportunity. As a steadily growing number of America’s leading companies are adopting transparency and accountability for their political spending, the President could have endorsed their effort and given it a big boost. Instead, his silence only heightens the risks that political spending poses to companies. So sad.

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The Shareholder Action Guide

The Shareholder Action GuideThis could be the most important book you will read in 2017, For more than twenty years, I have been posting to corpgov.net, thinking I should write a book. The closest I got was The Individual’s Role in Driving Corporate Governance, a chapter in The Handbook of Board Governance. Now it is too late. Andrew Behar has stolen my thunder with The Shareholder Action Guide: Unleash Your Hidden Powers to Hold Corporations Accountable. Behar tells better stories and takes a more practical approach than I probably would have. He even has one of my favorite cartoons right before the Contents page.

yes-the-planed-got-destroyed

My task now is to help him get more readers, so they can join in our good work.  Buy the book at Amazon.com.

Want to make misbehaving corporations mend their ways? You can! Behar tells you how in this guide for good corporate citizenship. I teach an occasional seminar at a local university, hoping to inspire mostly retirees to use their investments as a tool to make corporations accountable. Behar covers much the same ground I do but in great detail, beginning with a few examples of bad corporate behavior and a brief explanation of corporate power.
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Trump’s LL Bean Political Contributions

LL Bean LogoDo not make the same mistake as LL Bean. The last thing I want is to turn CorpGov.net into another social media outlet on Donald Trump. However, the advice offered today by Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability (CPA), is something public company boards should be discussing as they try to stay on the good side of President-elect Donald Trump, without being ethically challenged.

While, the advice flowed out of the controversy over President-elect Donald Trump’s endorsement of LL Bean following a contribution to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump from a Bean family member, it closely tracks advice CPA has been giving for years.  Continue Reading →

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Looking for Best SRI Funds? Start Here

Best SRI Funds

Best SRI Funds

After making the decision to apply the principles of SRI investing, many clients embark on the initial step of selecting a core stock fund. Traditional investors have literally hundreds of highly efficient core investment solutions. However, SRI investors aren’t so blessed—which is why I put together this core list of Best SRI Funds.

Best SRI funds need to start out by being financially sustainable. Some fund companies seem to believe that they can rake in higher fees on the backs of well meaning investors. The primary objective of a core fund is to match the market with as little cost drag as possible. Continue Reading →

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US SIF Comments on DOL Guidance Update

DOLThe Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded Interpretive Bulletin 2008-2 relating to the Exercise of Shareholder Rights and replaced it with Interpretive Bulletin 2016-01 which reinstates the language of Interpretive Bulletin 94-2 with some modifications. US SIF supports this change as IB 2008-2 was not only inconsistent with prior guidance, but may have discouraged ERISA plan fiduciaries from exercising their shareholder rights.

The guidance appropriately notes the positive role fiduciaries play through the exercise of shareholder rights. Additionally, this guidance also reinforces the language of IB 2015-1 on economically targeted investments which clarified that environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts can be intrinsic to the market value of an investment. Continue Reading →

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SRI Movement: Don’t Go Alone

SRI MovementBe Part of the SRI Movement

A lack of affordable SRI investing solutions may incentivize some savvy investors to do their own research and purchase their own portfolio of individual stocks, but this is almost always a mistake. There is power in the SRI Movement.

If you’re joining the SRI movement, it’s likely because you have a vision for our world and the economy that’s bigger than your own portfolio. To leverage the full scope of impact, you should identify ways that you can coordinate your efforts with others whose values overlap with your own. The easiest way to do this is by purchasing a SRI fund, but there are other ways to maximize your impact. Continue Reading →

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Nell Minow: Advice for Shareholders

Nell Minow

Nell Minow

What better way to bring in the new year than to get advice from Nell Minow, the Queen of Good Corporate Governance, especially with the Trump Administration about to begin? In the talk below, Minow addresses an audience sponsored by the Center for Study of Responsive Law, which held its second four-day conference on securing long-overdue democratic solutions in Washington, D.C. from September 26-28, 2016.

In her brief talk, Nell Minow offers several simple strategies for retail shareholders on how we can impact corporate boards. Ready to roll up your sleeves but need some help? I highly recommend two practical guides:

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