Tag Archives | boards

Culture Impact: Directors Forum 2018

The Culture Impact: Values, Attitudes & Strategic Directions

Culture impact in corporate governance got a big boost with NACD Blue Ribbon Commission report Culture as a Corporate Asset. A brave panel tackled the topic, The Culture Impact: Values, Attitudes & Strategic Directions, at the Corporate Directors Forums I attended in San Diego. Like all Corporate Directors Forums, this one operated under the Chatham House Rule, so you will not find any direct quotes below. These are my notes on The Culture Impact. As such, they include my opinions as well observations made by speakers, panelists and others in attendance at the Forum. This is certainly not a transcript. However, I hope even those who attended the Forum will find the post useful, especially my attempt to provide additional context through links and commentary.

To learn more about the 13th annual Directors Forum: Directors, Management & Shareholders in Dialogue conference, click on the following: @corpdirforum on Twitter, tweets from  that often link to other posts,   website, and Linkedin.

The Culture Impact: Panelists

  • Moderator: Michael Berthelot, Director, Fresh Del Monte Produce Company, CEO, Cito Capital Corp; and Managing Principal, Corporate Governance Advisors, Inc.
  • Stephen L. Brown, Senior Advisor, KPMG Board Leadership Center
  • Joann Lublin, Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist & Management News Editor, The Wall Street Journal; Author, Earning It
  • Bryan Cornwall, Founder & Principal, Cornwall Bioengineering & Communications
  • Hanna Grene, Policy Director, Center for Sustainable Energy

The Culture Impact: My Notes

Paper forthcoming on Wells Fargo and Uber by Hanna Grene and Bryan Cornwall to be published on Equilar website. I will be waiting with anticipation. How would we react? What tools do we have available? It seems to me, the problems were an open “secret,” not unlike Harvey Weinstein.  The basics of the Wells Fargo scandal were reported in the LA Times in 2013. Los Angeles sued in 2015. The Board didn’t issue their own internal study until April 2017. Too little, too late with Federal Reserve placing the first firmwide limit on a bank as Chair Janet Yellen stepped down. Wells Fargo announced concurrently that it would replace 4 board members, three by April. Wells Fargo will be included in case studies on culture impact for years to come.

Similarly, Uber’s “hard charging” workplace environment was hardly a secret and had adverse corporate culture. Culture was key. Uber was (is?) aggressive and overbearing. Whereas founder Travis Kalanick’s motto might have been something like, “get it done,” the new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has adopted ‘We do the right thing. Period.’ Media impact was huge reason for change. We see the influence of media, especially social media, even more after the latest mass shooting. (Mass shootings have made gun stocks toxic assets on Wall Street)

The Culture Impact: Public Opinion Sidebar

Renee Aggarwal, Isil Erel and Laura T. Starks, Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors (August 6, 2014, Georgetown McDonough School of Business Research Paper No. 2447012; available at SSRN) found that investors have been “voting less with the recommendations of management or proxy advisors.” In contrast,

public opinion on corporate governance issues, as reflected in media coverage and surveys, is strongly associated with investor voting, particularly mutual fund voting. In addition, even proxy advisor’s recommendations are associated with public opinion… media coverage captures the attention of proxy advisors, institutional investors and individual investors, and is thus reflected in recommendations and votes.

The researchers looked at each proxy proposal for each firm in the Russell 3000 Index for the period January 2004 through November 2010. They looked not only at voting records and ISS recommendations but also media coverage of executive compensation, as well as Gallup surveys of public opinion.

A few highlights from their research are as follows:

  • Mean support for shareholder proposals increased from 23.6% in 2004 to 31.8% in 2010, after peaking at 37% in 2009.
  • Institutions voted with management on shareholder proposals 74% of the time in 2004 but only 54% of the time by 2010.
  • Investor agreement with ISS advice went from 78.4% in 2004 to 57.5% in 2010.
  • In 2004, 60% of investors followed ISS opposition to proposals but only 20% did so by 2010.
  • The proportion of shareholder proposals opposed by ISS declined from 156.4% in 2010 to 30.5% by 2010.
  • Support for shareholder proposals increases by 3.15%-2.69% if there is a one standard deviation increase in media coverage.

They conclude:

Our results suggest that public opinion, as measure through either Gallop Poll survey or media coverage at the aggregate and firm level, influences shareholder voting. The implications of these results are that financial intermediaries, such as mutual funds, pay attention to the shareholders’ preferences regarding corporate governance. These results hold even after controlling for the recommendations of the proxy advisor.

The Culture Impact: Back to Conference Notes

Executives sometimes make it known they did not want negative feedback. How do directors make changes before a negative story appears on the upper fold of a major newspaper?

If you are a high performer, culture impact may be nonexistent for a while; you can do anything you want. But the buck stops at the board, not the CEO. The board needs to be willing to second guess. The board needs to wonder about what you do not know. The board should insure it has independent sources of information. Some argue they have their own independent staff. Activists often do, and they often turn out to be good board members in part because of those additional resources.  Every board member should have a responsibility to visit branches, have many experiences as a customer or user. Uber board members seem to have been blind-sided with rapid growth. They waited to long to go after the CEO. Mandatory unconscious bias training might have helped.

The NACD Blue Ribbon report has many tools. Regulatory or the courts; markets or self-reflection. Unfortunately, too often boards seem to be wearing blinders. We are unlikely to see regulatory reform on culture impact. Pressure seems more likely from major shareholders like BlackRock’ announcement to gunmakers. Shareholders have the ability to push back. They have the right to vote boards off the island. Larry Fink’s letter this year said companies must have “a sense of purpose.” Companies have culture impact.

Furthermore, the board is essential to helping a company articulate and pursue its purpose, as well as respond to the questions that are increasingly important to its investors, its consumers, and the communities in which it operates. In the current environment, these stakeholders are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues. And they are right to: a company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth, which is why we are increasingly integrating these issues into our investment process.

Your vote is really important. At Wells Fargo and Uber we saw a failures of courage. Uber had frat boy culture. Culture, character and courage… that is what it takes. Wells Fargo seems to have had a culture of, ‘cheat and you can stay; don’t cheat and you are fired.’ Boards need to be more transparent around reports and actions taken, not just to reduce potential liabilities but also to help your company live up to its purpose.

Investigations must be reported up. HR should number and track complaints so they do not get lost. Boards should get routine reports to assess culture impact — to see trends and outliers. Boards should seek the right answers. Non-financial measures should be to be tied to compensation. In an M&A, which culture will prevail? Which culture to keep.

The role of HR. Is it to protect the company or to protect and develop employees? Heads of HR should address boards more frequently. Directors have to spot the data anomalies. Culture is important and is part of their fiduciary duty.

The Culture Impact: Recent Related Posts


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Standing Voting Instructions: Reviewed

Standing Voting Instructions: Empowering the Excluded Retail Investor by Jill E Fisch just could be the most important article on corporate governance this year… if it is widely read and acted on. Download at ecgiPenn Law or SSRN. The above photo is from Small Investors Support the Boards. But Few of Them Vote, The New York Times. Unfortunately, most will not bother to read the article. What follows is both and summary of main points and my commentary. Hopefully, this post will lead to reading the research and adding your voice to those petitioning the SEC to facilitate standing voting instructions. Continue Reading →

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3D Moves to Equilar – Diversity Benefits

3D Joins Equilar Diversity Network

3D Joins Equilar Diversity Network

3D Moves to Equilar. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) today announced the Diverse Director DataSource (3D) will now be available through the Equilar Diversity Network.

The new partnership marks an exciting milestone for the 3D, a database the two pension funds jointly developed in 2011. 3D was designed to make it easy for companies to find untapped talent to serve as directors on corporate boards. 3D joins the suite of searchable sources on Equilar, further simplifying companies’ and candidates’ ability to build and be a part of diverse corporate boards. MSCI ESG Research previously hosted the database.

Launching 3D on Equilar’s Diversity Network showcases the depth and availability of qualified, diverse directors. The Diversity Network is designed to connect candidates from various diversity organizations with boards. Continue Reading →

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Medtronic PLC: How I Voted – Proxy Score 44

MedtronicMedtronic PLC ($MDT) manufactures and sells device-based medical therapies worldwide. Medtronic is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on December 11, 2015. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of two funds when I checked.  I voted with the Board’s recommendations 44% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.  Continue Reading →

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Call for Papers: Critical Issues for Boards & Institutional Investors

WeinbergCtrThe John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance of the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics at the University of Delaware will host a Corporate Governance Symposium on March 15, 2016.  The focus of the Symposium will be “Critical Issues for Boards & Institutional Investors in 2016.”  The Symposium will feature up to four academic papers on corporate governance and a panel discussion featuring speakers from the Delaware judiciary, academic, business and legal communities.  The John L. Weinberg Corporate Governance Best Paper Award will be presented during the symposium luncheon.    Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Replacing Board Members

Replacing Board Members - Elephant In The RoomAs I reported in Replacing Board Members: The Elephant in the RoomSVDX and Stanford University’s Rock Center put on another great event last week that just about packed the house! These events are always top notch. A few nibbles and coffee or tea for breakfast, excellent company and a great program — what more could you want on third Thursdays.

If the video does not come up after several seconds, try reloading the page.

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Sharfman Pans Proxy Access Proposals by Public Pensions

Bernard S. Sharfman

Bernard S. Sharfman

Bernard Sharfman notified me of his post, Public-pension funds play with newest toy in corporate governance, saying: “As you know I am not a big fan of proxy access.” I was looking forward to a thoughtful analysis of the issues but that is not what I found. The R Street blog, where his piece was posted, apparently doesn’t allow comments. Don’t “free markets” and “real solutions” benefit from the free exchange of ideas? Since Sharfman has contributed to the CorpGov.net blog with more serious scholarship, I feel a greater obligation to point out his fallacies. Perhaps, with some dialogue, we will come closer to agreement. I would welcome his comments, as well as those from other readers. Continue Reading →

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Boardroom Insider: Aren’t Boards Supposed to Work That Way?

Boards od Directors

A meeting of a board of directors of the Leipzig–Dresden Railway Company in 1852 (Wikipedia)

Those of us involved in corporate governance issues for a living enjoy talking shop with others in the field. One reason, I suspect, it that it’s so damned difficult to explain corporate governance norms to people on the outside. “You mean CEOs pretty well select the very board members who set those CEOs’ pay and performance standards? How can I get a job like that?”…and so on. Continue Reading →

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Where are Women? Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity

Challenging Boardroom HomogeneityChallenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Strategies for Increasing Board Diversity – A Conversation with Aaron Dhir and Deborah Rhode.

Sponsored by the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, the Rock Center for Corporate GovernanceStanford Women on Boards, and the Vision 2020 Project.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
5:00 – 5:30pm Reception
5:30 – 6:30pm Presentation
Stanford Law School, Room 190 Continue Reading →

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Change the System

Chelsea Clinton says Change the System

Chelsea Clinton says Change the System

In an unscripted moment at a Clinton Foundation event in Miami, Chelsea mentioned a study that shows there are more men named John, Robert, William or James on corporate boards than there are total women corporate directors. Upon hearing that statistic, Hillary, who was on stage with Chelsea, joked, “sounds like we need to change our names!”

Chelsea emphatically cut in to raucous applause: “No, we need to change the system.”

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Wayback: Five, Ten and Fifteen Years Ago in Corporate Governance

Mr. Peabodys WayBackMachine

Mr. Peabody and Sherman prepare to go back in time to visit corpgov.net 5, 10 and 15 years ago.

Five years ago in Corporate Governance

In the year-end reflections two contributing factors deserve more attention. First, “prophetic warnings” from religious groups on the dangers of subprime loans via shareowner resolutions. Second, a call from Sanford Lewis for boards to revoke implicit policies of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with regard to liability issues. (Two Overlooked Lessons From the Financial Crisis)

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Women on Corporate Boards: Global Trends for Promoting Diversity

WomenOnBoardsWe last explored the topic of gender diversity on boards, in particular the underrepresentation of women on them, late in 2012, but much has happened globally on the subject since then. More companies have adopted regulation on the issue that range from “comply-or-explain” rules to quotas for the percentage of women on boards.

A 2014 Grant Thornton report, Women in Business: From Classroom to Boardroom, finds more leaders warming to a quota system, with 45% of international business leaders supporting quotas — up from 37% just a year ago.

Below is a brief summary of some of the most recent developments concerning women on boards. Continue Reading →

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Corporate Political Spending Disclosure: Strategic Communications Plan

Corporate Political Spending PollIn the absence of mandatory disclosure, companies are increasingly, voluntarily adopting disclosure policies for their corporate political spending – largely in response to pressure from shareholders, investor advocates, the media, political groups and others. In this articleChuck Nathan suggests that voluntary disclosure may or likely will become the norm – at least among larger companies – within the next few years. Given that potential, he provides some timely, seasoned advice – namely, that companies undertaking or considering such disclosure do so only in the context of a strategic communication plan that includes these critical elements: Continue Reading →

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Outsourcing the Board Isn’t Warranted or Remedial

outsourcing the board

Outsourcing the Board?

Based on a proposal discussed in a recent issue of the Stanford Law Review, this recent Economist article promotes outsourcing corporate boards as a solution to corporate governance failures of the type we have experienced historically. As proposed, outsourcing would consist of replacing individual directors with a new category of professional firms – identified as BSPs or Board Service Providers – that companies would retain to supply them with a “full complement of board members.” The article claims that, despite some reforms over the past decade, boards are (still) fundamentally flawed. Specifically, here is how the article characterizes boards: Continue Reading →

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Should CEO Des Hague be Fired for Kicking Puppy?

Des Hague and puppy about to be kicked

Des Hague and puppy Sade about to be kicked

Sports catering giant Centerplate fined and censured CEO Des Hague last week after an internal review of surveillance video showing him kicking and yanking his friend’s puppy by its leash in a Vancouver elevator.(ESPN) Should the board fire him? Maybe we need more videos of CEOs and board discussing global climate change, slave labor and disdain for their employees and customers. Or is it only kicking puppies that brings outrage? Continue Reading →

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Talk is Cheap: The Board's Role in an Ethical Culture

SVDXAs Advertised: Board resolve can be critical to the development of an effective ethical culture — defined as the values that inform the behavior toward the organization’s stakeholders. Features of an ethical culture will be examined, along with its value to the bottom line, company brand and reputation. Examples of effective board involvement will also be explored, that still hold management responsible for operational execution and performance. Continue Reading →

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Many Boards Moving Ahead on Environmental and Social Issues

IRRCiCorporate boards are  exceeding legal oversight requirements on environmental and social issues, with more than half of S&P 500 companies providing board level oversight of environmental and/or social issues above and beyond that required by law. Board Oversight of Sustainability Issues finds that many industries subject to scrutiny – paper, forestry, healthcare, utility companies – are among the most  likely to have board oversight of sustainability issues. But, the retail sector lags despite criticism for recycling and labor and human rights practices.  Continue Reading →

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Guest Post: Meet… James McRitchie, CorpGov.Net

MikeTyrrell at Work

Mike Tyrrell

James McRitchie

James McRitchie

Mike Tyrrell is Editor of SRI-Connect – an online research marketplace for professional institutional investors, analysts & companies interested in sustainable development.  He is keen to open up the site to corporate governance analysts & corporate governance research. Mike kindly gave permission to reproduce the interview on CorpGov.net.  Continue Reading →

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Directors&Boards: Digital Advisors & Knowledge Capture

Directors&BoardsDirectors&Boards is one of our “stakeholders.” No, that doesn’t mean they own part of us or that we own part of them and it doesn’t mean we always agree with each other. But they are included in our primary reference groups, those who contribute regularly to our “vocabulary of meaning.” The current edition begins to address two topics that need more attention. Continue Reading →

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Review: Getting Women on to Corporate Boards

GettingWomenontoCorporateBoardsThis slim but informative volume contains contributions from practitioners, policy-makers, principle-setters, advocacy groups and researchers on gender balance in the boardroom, the outcomes of the Norwegian quota law and its snowball effects in other countries. The book came out of a Think Tank organized in Oslo in March 2011. The Norwegian quota law demanded a minimum share of either gender of 40% on boards of publicly listed companies, about 1500 corporations as of January 2008.

Norway took a radical approach. The penalty for not meeting the quota was dissolution. No company took that chance. By any reasonable measure, the Norwegian law is a success. Has Norway’s example started a “wave effect” of momentum around the world? I think so, although Norway had a head start over most countries because they already had a strong base of human rights. Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Margaret Blair – Making The Hard Call: The Unheralded Role of Corporate Boards of Directors

MargaretBlairThe UBC Faculty of Law welcomed its fourth Fasken Martineau Visiting Senior Scholar, Professor Margaret Blair. Professor Blair is an economist who focuses on management law and finance. Her current research focuses on five areas: team production and the legal structure of business organizations, legal issues in the governance of supply chains, the role of private sector governance arrangements in contract enforcement, the legal concept of corporate “personhood,” the historical treatment of corporations by the Supreme Court, and the problem of excessive leverage in financial markets.

Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia. It has become part of the accepted corporate governance wisdom in the U.S., as well as in numerous other countries, that boards of directors of publicly-traded corporations Continue Reading →

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Technology at the Top, the Changes Made in the Boardroom


Amanda Biggs

Guest post from Amanda Biggs, web manager and governance writer. By participating in the expansion of the Leading Boards portal for boards of directors, she has specialized on issues concerning the arrival of technology inside the boardroom.

All through the last decade new technology solutions and tools have moved from being non-existent to becoming a “must have” for many directors worldwide. Indeed, research and development led to “board portals” which are adapted to the boardrooms’ needs and have become be necessary for the modern challenges that boards face concerning workflow and management. The advent of the iPad with its mobile Continue Reading →

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Investing in Women & Inalienable Rights: Part II

Yesterday, in Part I, I discussed the most recent UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders: A Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers and how it led me to invest disproportionately in firms with more women CEOs and NEOs. Just how are women different than men and what kind of changes can we expect or hope for?

More Evidence Women Leaders Make Difference

And there is this from a recent article in The Economist (Vive la différence!, 12/7/2013): Men&WomenBrainWiring

MEN and women do not think in the same ways. Few would disagree with that. And science has quantified some of those differences. Men, it is pretty well established, have better motor and spatial abilities than women, and more monomaniacal patterns of thought. Women have better memories, are more socially adept, and are better at dealing with several things at once. There is a lot of overlap, obviously. But on average these observations are true…

the cross-talk between them in women, suggested by the wiring diagrams, helps explain their better memories, social adeptness and ability to multitask, all of which benefit from the hemispheres collaborating. In men, by contrast, within-hemisphere links let them focus on things that do not need complex inputs from both hemispheres. Continue Reading →

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Investing in Women & Inalienable Rights: Part I

UCDstudyCAWomenBusinessLeadersSince starting this blog in 1995, I’ve pushed for greater diversity on boards and in named executive officers (NEOs). Progress has proceeded at a glacial pace, at least in the United States. For the ninth year, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, in partnership with Watermark, published the annual UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders: A Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers. The study found the average Top 25 firms (which have 25+% women at upper levels) makes three times as much revenue and almost 50% more net income than the average company in the study (which has 10.9% women).

After reading the study, I took the plunge, investing in seven of the top 25 California companies with the highest percentage of women leaders. Hopefully, investing in women will reap additional rewards and will help me carry on with my efforts to make corporate governance more democratic. Women obviously bring a different perspective that pays financial dividends. Will women in positions of power also result in a more salubrious environment, recognition of human rights and a more equitable distribution of wealth?

I invested in the following: Annie’s (BNNY), Medivation (MDVN), Genomic Health (GHDX), Bio-Rad Laboratories (BIO), NETGEAR (NTGR), Symantec (SYMC), and Visa (V). I’ve been trying to invest in Yahoo! (YHOO) and SciClone Pharmaceuticals (SCLN) but haven’t been successful at the prices I’ve bid. I already had investments in Walt Disney (DIS). See all my investments under Disclosures. Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Board Assessment


Dr. Richard Leblanc

Dr. Richard Leblanc created this week’s video to discuss his board assessment tool that addresses a key deficiency in corporate governance: namely the review of board and individual director performance. Surveys show that many or most boards of directors self-review their own performance, and possibly the performance of individual directors, or do not do so at all. Management often unduly influences and facilitates internal board reviews, setting and managing questions and data, and Continue Reading →

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