Le rôle du conseil d’administration face à la COVID-19 : Comment les administrateurs de sociétés devraient-ils agir?


Voici un article d’actualité en cette période de COVID-19 publié par la firme Langlois.

J’ai reproduit l’introduction de l’article.

Bonne lecture !

Le rôle du conseil d’administration face à la COVID-19 : comment les administrateurs de sociétés devraient-ils agir?

 

The role of the board of directors in to the context of COVID-19: how should corporate directors act? - Langlois lawyers

 

Depuis le début de la crise de santé publique et économique causée par la COVID-191, la tentation peut être grande pour les administrateurs de s’immiscer dans la gestion quotidienne de la société ou se substituer à la direction, surtout s’ils portent également le chapeau d’actionnaire. Or, c’est le comité de gestion de crise, souvent composé de dirigeants exécutifs, qui a la responsabilité de gérer la crise au quotidien. Néanmoins, les administrateurs ont eux aussi un rôle à jouer : ils ont le devoir de s’assurer de la bonne gouvernance de la société à court, moyen et long terme2.

Cette responsabilité s’accroît face à la crise et commande une réflexion pour les administrateurs de sociétés qui devront, d’une part, examiner attentivement la manière de gérer les risques actuels au sein de l’organisation ainsi que les risques collatéraux qui pourraient en découler et, d’autre part, prendre note des éléments à améliorer pour le futur.

Dans le cadre de cet article sur la gouvernance de sociétés en période de crise, nous nous penchons plus spécifiquement sur les réflexes de gouvernance à adopter dans le contexte actuel, tout en ne perdant pas de vue l’après COVID-19.

Dix éléments majeurs à considérer par les administrateurs en temps de COVID-19


Voici dix éléments qui doivent être pris en considération au moment où toutes les entreprises sont préoccupées par la crise du COVID-19.

Cet article très poussé a été publié sur le forum du Harvard Law School of Corporate Governance hier.

Les juristes Holly J. Gregory et Claire Holland, de la firme Sidley Austin font un tour d’horizon exhaustif des principales considérations de gouvernance auxquelles les conseils d’administration risquent d’être confrontés durant cette période d’incertitude.

Je vous souhaite bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

Ten Considerations for Boards of Directors

 

Boards and Crisis Infographic

 

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents complex issues for corporations and their boards of directors to navigate. This briefing is intended to provide a high-level overview of the types of issues that boards of directors of both public and private companies may find relevant to focus on in the current environment.

Corporate management bears the day-to-day responsibility for managing the corporation’s response to the pandemic. The board’s role is one of oversight, which requires monitoring management activity, assessing whether management is taking appropriate action and providing additional guidance and direction to the extent that the board determines is prudent. Staying well-informed of developments within the corporation as well as the rapidly changing situation provides the foundation for board effectiveness.

We highlight below some key areas of focus for boards as this unprecedented public health crisis and its impact on the business and economic environment rapidly evolves.

 

1. Health and Safety

 

With management, set a tone at the top through communications and policies designed to protect employee wellbeing and act responsibly to slow the spread of COVID-19. Monitor management’s efforts to support containment of COVID-19 and thereby protect the personal health and safety of employees (and their families), customers, business partners and the public at large. Consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.

 

2. Operational and Risk Oversight

 

Monitor management’s efforts to identify, prioritize and manage potentially significant risks to business operations, including through more regular updates from management between regularly scheduled board meetings. Depending on the nature of the risk impact, this may be a role for the audit or risk committee or may be more appropriately undertaken by the full board. Document the board’s consideration of, and decisions regarding, COVID-19-related matters in meeting minutes. Maintain a focus on oversight of compliance risks, especially at highly regulated companies. Watch for vulnerabilities caused by the outbreak that may increase the risk of a cybersecurity breach.

 

3. Business Continuity

 

Consider whether business continuity plans are in place appropriate to the potential risks of disruption identified, including through a discussion with management of relevant contingencies, and continually reassess the adequacy of the plans in light of developments. Key issues to consider include:

  • Employee/Talent Disruption. As more employees begin working remotely or are unable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, continually assess what minimum staffing levels and remote work technology will be required to maintain operations. (Also, as noted above, consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.)
  • Supply Chain and Production Disruption. Review with management the risks that a disruption in the supply chain will cause interruptions in operations and how to protect against such risks, including the availability of alternate sources of supply. Ask management to assess the risks that the company will have difficulty in fulfilling its contractual obligations and how management is preparing to address those risks, including through review of relevant provisions in customer contracts (e.g., force majeure, events of default and termination) to determine what recourse is available.
  • Financial Impact and Liquidity. Review with management the near-term and longer term financial impact (including the ability to meet obligations) of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related impact of the extreme volatility in the financial markets. Understand the assumptions underlying management’s assessment and discuss the likely outcome if those assumptions prove incorrect. Consider the need to seek additional financing or amend the terms of existing debt arrangements.
  • Internal Controls and Audit Function. Consider whether COVID-19 may have an impact on the functioning of internal controls and audit. For publicly-traded companies, remember that any material changes in internal control over financial reporting will require disclosure in the next periodic report.
  • Recent Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance: In a March 4, 2020 press release, SEC Chair Jay Clayton urged companies to work with their audit committees and auditors to ensure that their financial reporting, auditing and review processes are sufficiently robust to enable them to meet their obligations under the federal securities laws in the current environment.
  • Key Person Risks and Emergency Succession Plans. Consider whether an up-to-date emergency succession plan is in place that identifies a person who can step in immediately as interim CEO in the event the CEO contracts COVID-19. Consider the need to implement similar plans for other key persons.
  • Incentives. Consider whether incentive plans need to be reworked in light of the circumstances, to ensure that appropriate behaviors are encouraged. Consider delaying setting incentive plan goals until the uncertainty has subsided or try to build in flexibility with respect to any goals set.
  • Board/Governance Continuity. Consider whether the board is appropriately positioned to provide guidance and oversight as the COVID-19 threat expands. Consider scheduling in advance special board meetings and/or information conference calls over the next three to four months, which can be cancelled if not needed. Decide whether to replace in-person meetings with conference calls to help limit the threat of contagion. Consider whether contingencies are in place if a board quorum is not available. Continue to meet regularly in executive session to discuss assessment of how management is managing the crisis.

 

4. Crisis Management

 

During this turbulent time, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders will look to boards to take swift and decisive action when necessary. Consider whether an up-to-date crisis management plan is in place and effective. A well-designed plan will assist the company to react appropriately, without either under- or over-reacting. Elements of an effective crisis management plan include:

  • Cross-Functional Team. Crisis response teams typically include key individuals from management, public relations, human resources, legal and finance. Identify these individuals now and begin meeting so that they are prepared to respond quickly as the crisis develops. The team should be in regular contact with the board (or a designated board member or committee) as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
  • Quick and Decisive Deployment. The plan should include crisis response procedures, communications templates, checklists and manuals that can be readily adapted to a variety of situations for effective, time-critical and agile deployment. The crisis response team should be familiar with the elements of the plan and ready to implement it at a moment’s notice.
  • Contingency Plans. A crisis is inherently unpredictable. However, the company should endeavor to anticipate all potential crises to which it is vulnerable and develop contingency plans to deal with those crises to minimize on-the-fly decision-making.
  • Examples of scenarios to prepare for: What will our response be if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the company? How will we notify employees of a confirmed case and what privacy implications do we need to consider? What planning (e.g., IT training) is required if we need to mandate that our employees work remotely?
  • Thoughtful Communications. The board should oversee the company’s communication strategy. Clear communication and planning within the crisis response team will allow the company to communicate internally and externally in a calm and thoughtful manner, which will help build confidence during a volatile situation.

 

5. Oversight of Public Reporting and Disclosure for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

Companies must consider whether they are making sufficient public disclosures about the actual and expected impacts of COVID-19 on their business and financial condition. The level of disclosure required will depend on many factors, such as whether a company has significant operations in China or is in a highly affected industry (e.g., airlines and hospitality companies). In any event, boards should monitor to ensure that corporate disclosures are accurate and complete and reflect the changing circumstances.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and changing by the day, the SEC acknowledges that it is challenging to provide accurate information about the impact it could have on future operations.

Recent SEC guidance: “We recognize that [the current and potential effects of COVID-19] may be difficult to assess or predict with meaningful precision both generally and as an industry- or issuer-specific basis.” Statement by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on January 30, 2020.

  • Earnings Guidance. Consider whether previously issued earnings guidance should be downgraded to reflect the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 and, if so, how to describe the reason for the revision. Due to the current unpredictability of COVID-19’s impact, consider withdrawing previously-issued earnings guidance altogether or refraining from issuing guidance in the near term.
  • Risk Factor Disclosure. Consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may require additions or revisions to risk factor disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “We also remind all companies to provide investors with insight regarding their assessment of, and plans for addressing, material risks to their business and operations resulting from the coronavirus to the fullest extent practicable to keep investors and markets informed of material developments.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Potential topics for risk factor disclosure include:
      • Disruptions to business operations whether from travel restrictions, mandated quarantines or voluntary “social distancing” that affects employees, customers and suppliers, production delays, closures of manufacturing facilities, warehouses and logistics supply and distribution chains and staffing shortages
      • Uncertainty regarding global macroeconomic conditions, particularly the uncertainty related to the duration and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and related decreases in customer demand and spending
      • Credit and liquidity risk, loan defaults and covenant breaches
      • Inventory writedowns and impairment losses
      • Ensure that risk factor disclosure is consistent with the board’s conversations with management about material risks.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “One analytical tool to evaluate disclosure in this context is to consider how management discusses … risks with its board of directors. Obviously not all discussions between management and the board are appropriate for disclosure in public filings, but there should not be material gaps between how the board is briefed and how shareholders are informed.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • As always, risk factor disclosure should be specific to a company’s individual circumstances and avoid generic language. Finally, be careful not to describe a risk related to COVID-19 as hypothetical if it has actually occurred.
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A). Consider whether the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 on a company’s business (including its supply chain), financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and/or prospects would be deemed material to an investment decision in the company’s securities and require disclosure. Consider whether the impact or potential impact of COVID-19 on the company is a “known trend or uncertainty” requiring disclosure in the MD&A of the next periodic report. Tailor any MD&A disclosures to the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s business in particular. Consider whether disclosures appropriately address the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on future results of operations.
  • Subsequent Events. A joint statement by SEC and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) leadership on February 19, 2020 specific to COVID-19 reporting considerations encouraged companies to consider the need to potentially disclose subsequent events in the notes to the financial statements in accordance with guidance included in Accounting Standards Codification 855, Subsequent Events.
  • Forward-Looking Statements. Consider whether the company’s forward-looking statement disclaimer language adequately protects the company for statements it makes regarding the expected impacts of COVID-19. It should be specific and consistent with updates made to the risk factors and other public disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Companies providing forward-looking information in an effort to keep investors informed about material developments, including known trends or uncertainties regarding the coronavirus, can take steps to avail themselves of the safe harbor in Section 21E of the Exchange Act for this information.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Updates. Consider whether prior disclosures should be revised to ensure they are accurate and complete. While there is no express duty to update a forward-looking statement, courts are divided as to whether a duty to update exists for a forward-looking statement that becomes inaccurate or misleading after the passage of time (from the perspective of claim under Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5).
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Depending on a company’s particular circumstances, it should consider whether it may need to revisit, refresh, or update previous disclosure to the extent that the information becomes materially inaccurate.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Proxy Statements. Given the SEC’s emphasis on discussion of how boards oversee the management of material risks, consider expanding the proxy statement disclosure of board oversight of COVID-19-related risks where material to the business. 5Recent SEC guidance: “To the extent a matter presents a material risk to a company’s business, the company’s disclosure should discuss the nature of the board’s role in overseeing the management of that risk. The Commission last noted this in the context of cybersecurity, when it stated that disclosure about a company’s risk management program and how the board engages with the company on cybersecurity risk management allows investors to better assess how the board is discharging its risk oversight function. Parallels may be drawn to other areas where companies face emerging or uncertain risks, so companies may find this guidance useful when preparing disclosures about the ways in which the board manages risks, such as those related to sustainability or other matters.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • Also, consider cautioning stockholders that the annual meeting date and logistics are subject to change.
  • Current Reports. Consider the need to file a Form 8-K for material developments such as if the CEO or another key person or a significant portion of the workforce contracts COVID-19.
  • Conditional Filing Relief. Companies that anticipate filing delays due to COVID-19 should consider taking advantage of the SEC’s March 4, 2020 order granting an additional 45 days to meet Exchange Act reporting obligations for reports due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

6. Compliance with Insider Trading Restrictions and Regulation FD for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

  • Insider Trading. Closely monitor and consider further restricting trading in company securities by insiders who may have access to material nonpublic information related to COVID-19 impacts (e.g., by requiring additional training, imposing blackout periods or enhancing preclearance procedures).
  • Recent SEC guidance: If a company “become[s] aware of a risk related to the coronavirus that would be material to its investors, it should refrain from engaging in securities transactions with the public and … take steps to prevent directors and officers (and other corporate insiders who are aware of these matters) from initiating such transactions until investors have been appropriately informed about the risk.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Carefully consider whether the company should potentially buy back stock to take advantage of significantly depressed stock prices.
  • Regulation FD. Be mindful of Regulation FD requirements, particularly if sharing information related to the impact of COVID-19 with customers and other stakeholders.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “When companies do disclose material information related to the impacts of the coronavirus, they are reminded to take the necessary steps to avoid selective disclosures and to disseminate such information broadly.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.

 

7. Annual Shareholder Meeting

 

With the Center for Disease Control recommending that gatherings of 50 or more persons be avoided to assist in containment of the virus, consider with management whether to hold a virtual-only shareholders meeting or a hybrid meeting that permits both in-person and online attendance. Public companies that are considering changing the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting, including a switch from an in-person meeting to a virtual or hybrid meeting, will need to review applicable requirements under state law, stock exchange rules and the company’s charter and bylaws. Companies that change the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting should comply with the March 13, 2020 guidance issued by the Staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance and the Division of Investment Management. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

8. Shareholder Relations

 

Activism and Hostile Situations. Continue to ensure communication with, and stay attuned to the concerns of, significant shareholders, while monitoring for changes in stock ownership. Capital redemptions at small- and mid-sized funds may lead to fewer shareholder activism campaigns and proxy contests in the next several months. However, expect well-capitalized activists to exploit the enhanced vulnerability of target companies. The same applies to unsolicited takeovers bids by well-capitalized strategic buyers. If they have not already done so, boards should update or activate defense preparation plans, including by identifying special proxy fight counsel, reviewing structural defenses, putting a poison pill “on the shelf” and developing a “break the glass” communications plan.

 

9. Strategic Opportunities

 

Consider with management whether and if so where opportunities are likely to emerge that are aligned with the corporation’s strategy, for example, opportunities to fulfill an unmet need occasioned by the pandemic or opportunities for growth through distressed M&A.

 

10. Aftermath

 

Consider with management whether the changes in behavior occasioned by the pandemic will have any potential lasting effects, for example on employee and consumer behavior and expectations. Also, be prepared when the crisis abates to assess the corporation’s handling of the situation and identify “lessons learned” and actionable ideas for improvement.

Le dilemme d’un administrateur indépendant dans un cas de vol de données


Voici un cas publié sur le site de Julie McLelland qui aborde une situation où Trevor, un administrateur indépendant, croyait que le grand succès de l’entreprise était le reflet d’une solide gouvernance.

Trevor préside le comité d’audit et il se soucie de mettre en place de saines pratiques de gouvernance. Cependant, cette société cotée en bourse avait des failles en matière de gestion des risques numériques et de cybersécurité.

De plus, le seul administrateur indépendant n’a pas été informé qu’un vol de données très sensibles avait été fait et que des demandes de rançons avaient été effectuées.

L’organisation a d’abord nié que les informations subtilisées provenaient de leurs systèmes, avant d’admettre que les données avaient été fichées un an auparavant ! Les résultats furent dramatiques…

Trevor se demande comment il peut aider l’organisation à affronter la tempête !

Le cas a d’abord été traduit en français en utilisant Google Chrome, puis, je l’ai édité et adapté. On y présente la situation de manière sommaire puis trois experts se prononcent sur le cas.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont toujours les bienvenus.

Le dilemme d’un administrateur indépendant dans un cas de vol de données

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trevor est administrateur d’une société cotée qui a été un «chouchou du marché». La société fournit des évaluations de crédit et une vérification des données. Les fondateurs ont tous deux une solide expérience dans le secteur et un solide réseau de contacts et à une liste de clients qui comprenait des gouvernements et des institutions financières.

Après l’entrée en bourse, il y a deux ans, la société a atteint ou dépassé les prévisions et Trevor est fier d’être le seul administrateur indépendant siégeant au conseil d’administration aux côtés des deux fondateurs et du PDG. Il préside le comité d’audit et, officieusement, il a été l’initiateur des processus de gouvernance et de sa documentation.

Les fondateurs sont restés très actifs dans l’entreprise et Trevor s’est parfois inquiété du fait que certaines décisions stratégiques n’avaient pas été portées à son attention avant la réunion du conseil d’administration. Comme l’expérience de Trevor est l’audit et l’assurance, il suppose qu’il n’aurait pas ajouté de valeur au-delà de la garantie d’un processus sain et de la tenue de registres.

Il y a trois semaines, tout a changé. Une grande partie des données de l’entreprise ont été subtilisées et transférées sur le « dark web ». Ce vol comprenait les données financières des personnes qui avaient été évaluées ainsi que des données d’identification tels que les numéros de dossier fiscal et les adresses résidentielles. Pire, la société a d’abord affirmé que les informations ne provenaient pas de leurs systèmes, puis a admis avoir reçu des demandes de rançon indiquant que les données avaient été fichées jusqu’à un an avant cette catastrophe.

Plusieurs clients ont fermé leur compte, les actionnaires sont consternés, le cours de l’action est en chute libre et la presse réclame plus d’informations.

Comment Trevor devrait-il aider l’entreprise à surmonter cette tempête ?

Pour prendre connaissance de ce cas, rendez-vous sur www.mclellan.com.au/newsletter.html et cliquez sur « lire le dernier numéro ».

Adam’s Answer

 

This is a critical time for Trevor legally and reputationally, it is also a time when being an independent director carries additional responsibility to the company, the shareholders, the staff and the customers.

All Directors and Executives can only have one response to a blackmail attempt.  That is to immediately report it to the police and not respond to the ransomware demands.  Secondly the company should have had a crisis management plan in place ready for such an eventuality.  In this day and age, no company should operate without a cybercrime contingency plan.

In this case it is unclear, but it appears that the authorities were not informed and that Trevor’s company was unprepared for a data breach or ransomware demands.

There are 2 scenarios open to Trevor:

1) If Trevor was not informed straight away of the ransom demands and the CEO and founding Executive Directors knew but did not brief him on the ransom issue and the company’s response, then his independent status has been compromised and he should resign.

2) If Trevor was informed and the whole Board was involved in the response, then Trevor must remain and help the company ride out the storm.   This will involve working with the police, the ASX and crisis management guidance from external suppliers – technical and PR. 

The rule to follow is full transparency and speedy action. 

Trevor should refer to the recent ransomware attack on Toll Logistics and their response which was exemplary.

Adam Salzer OAM is the Chair and Global Designer for Whitewater Transformations. His other board experience includes Australian Transformation and Turnaround Association (AusTTA), Asian Transformation and Turnaround Association (ATTA), Australian Deafness Council, Bell Shakespeare Company, and NSW Deaf Society. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

Julie’s Answer

 

This is a listed company; Trevor must ensure appropriate disclosure. A trading halt may give the company time to investigate, and respond to, the events and then give the market time to disseminate the information. His customer liaison at the stock exchange should assist with implementing a halt and issuing a brief statement saying what has happened and that the company will issue more information when it becomes available.

This will be a costly and distracting exercise that could derail the company from its current successful track.

Three of the four board members are executives. That doesn’t mean the fourth can rely on their efforts. Trevor must add value by asking intelligent questions that people involved in the operations will possibly not think to ask. This board must work as a team rather than a group of individuals who each contribute their own expertise and then come together to document decisions that were not made rigorously or jointly.

Trevor has now learnt that there is more to good governance than just having meetings and documenting processes. He needs to get involved and truly understand the business. If his fellow directors do not welcome this, he needs to consider whether they are taking him seriously or just using him as window-dressing. He should ensure that the whole board is never again left out of the information flow when something important happens (or even when it perhaps might happen).

He should also take the lead on procuring legal advice (they are going to need it), liaising with the regulators, and establishing crisis communications. Engaging a specialist communications firm may help.

Julie Garland McLellan is a non-executive director and board consultant based in Sydney, Australia.

Jinan’s Answer

 

I recommend three separate parallel streams of work for Trevor. 

1. Immediate public facing actions
Immediately apologize and state your commitment to your customers.  Hire a PR firm and have the most public facing person issue an apology. The person selected to issue the apology has to be selected carefully (cannot be the person responsible for leak, and has potential to become the new trusted CEO)

2. Tactical internal actions
Assess the damage and contain the incident.  Engage an incident response firm to assess how the breach happened, when it happened, what was stolen. Confirm that leak doors are closed. Select your IR firm carefully – the better reputed they are, the better you will look in litigation.
Conduct an immediate audit and investigation. You need to understand who knew, when and why this was buried for a year.
Take disciplinary action against anyone who was part of the breach. Post audit, either allow them to keep their equity or buy them out.

3. Strategic actions
Review and update your cybersecurity incident response process.  This includes your ransomware processes (e.g. will you pay, how you pay, etc.), and how you communicate incidents. 
Build cybersecurity awareness, behavior and culture up, down and across your company.  Ensure that everyone from the board down are educated, enabled and enthusiastic about their own and your company’s cyber-safety. This is a journey not a one-off miracle.
Extend cybersecurity engagement to your customers. Be proactive not only on the status of this incident, but also on how you are keeping their data safe.  Go a step further and offer them help in their own cyber-safety.
Create a forward thinking, business and risk-aligned cybersecurity strategy. Understand your current people, process and technology gaps which led to this decision and how you’ll fix them.
Elevate the role of cybersecurity leadership.  You will need a chief information security officer who is empowered to execute the strategy, and has a regular and independent seat at the board table. 

Jinan Budge is Principal Analyst Serving Security and Risk Professionals at Forrester and a former Director Cyber Security, Strategy and Governance at Transport for NSW. She is based in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats | En reprise


Voici un article publié par GAVIN HINKS pour le compte de Board Agenda qui montre que les grandes firmes d’audit sont de plus en plus susceptibles de démissionner lorsque les risques leur apparaissent trop élevés.

Les recherches indiquent que c’est particulièrement le cas au Royaume-Uni où l’on assiste à des poursuites plus fréquentes des Big Four. Ces firmes d’audit sont maintenant plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs clients.

Compte tenu de la situation oligopolistique des grandes firmes d’audit, devons-nous nous surprendre de ces décisions de retrait dans la nouvelle conjoncture de risque financier des entreprises britanniques ?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

Le comité d’audit des entreprises est interpellé publiquement lorsque l’auditeur soumet sa résignation. L’entreprise doit souvent gérer une crise médiatique afin de sauvegarder sa réputation.

Pour certains experts de la gouvernance, ces situations requirent des exigences de divulgation plus sévères. Les parties prenantes veulent connaître la nature des problèmes et des risques qui y sont associés.

Également, les administrateurs souhaitent connaître le plan d’action des dirigeants eu égard au travail et aux recommandations du comité d’audit

L’auteur donne beaucoup d’exemples sur les nouveaux comportements des Big Four.

Bonne lecture !

 

Auditor resignations indicate new attitude to client selection

 

 

auditor
Image: Shutterstock

 

The audit profession in Britain is at a turning point as Westminster—Brexit permitting—considers new regulation.

It seems firms may be responding by clearing the decks: the press has spotted a spate of high-profile auditor resignations with audit firms bidding farewell to a clutch of major clients. This includes firms outside the Big Four, such as Grant Thornton, which recently said sayonara to Sports Direct, the retail chain, embroiled in running arguments over its governance.

But Grant Thornton is not alone. KPMG has parted ways with Eddie Stobart, a haulage firm, and Lycamobile, a telecommunications company. PwC meanwhile has said goodbye to Staffline, a recruitment business.

Should we be surprised?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

This came to a head in December 2017 with the collapse of construction and contracting giant Carillion, audited by KPMG. The event prompted a parliamentary inquiry followed by government-ordered reviews of the audit market and regulation.

An examination of the watchdog for audit and financial reporting, the Financial Reporting Council, has resulted in the creation of a brand new regulatory body; a look at the audit market resulted in recommendations that firms separate their audit businesses from other services they provide. A current look at the quality and scope of audit, the Brydon review, will doubtless come up with its own recommendations when it reports later this year.

 

Client selection

 

While it is hard to obtain statistics, the press reports, as well as industry talk, indicate that auditors are becoming more picky about who they choose to work for.

According to Jonathan Hayward, a governance and audit expert with the consultancy Independent Audit, the first step in any risk management for an audit firm is client selection. He says the current environment in which auditors have become “tired of being beaten up” has caused a new “sensitivity” in which auditors may be choosing to be more assiduous in applying client filtering policies.

Application of these policies may have been soft in the past, as firms raced for market share, but perhaps also as they applied what Hayward calls the auditor’s “God complex”: the idea that their judgement must be definitive.

Psychological dispositions are arguable. What may be observed for certain is that the potential downsides are becoming clearer to audit chiefs. Fines meted out in recent times by a newly energised regulator facing replacement include the £5m (discounted to £3.5m) for KPMG for the firm’s work with the London branch of BNY Mellon. Deloitte faced a £6.5m fine (discounted to £4.2m) for its audit of Serco Geografix, an outsourcing business. Last year PwC faced a record breaking £10m penalty for its work on the audit of collapsed retailer BHS.

What those fines have brought home is the thin line auditors tread between profit and and huge costs if it goes wrong. That undermines the attractiveness of being in the audit market.

One expert to draw attention to the economics is Jim Peterson, a US lawyer who blogs on corporate law and has represented accountancy firms.

Highlighting Sports Direct’s need to find a replacement audit firm, Peterson notes Grant Thornton’s fee was £1.4m with an estimated profit of £200,000-£250,000.

“A projection from that figure would be hostage, however, to the doubtful assumption of no further developments,” Peterson writes.

“That is, the cost to address even a modest extension of necessary extra audit work, or a lawsuit or investigative inquiry—legal fees and diverted management time alone—would swamp any engagement profit within weeks.”

He adds: “And that’s without thinking of the potential fines or judgements. Could the revenue justify that risk? No fee can be set and charged that would protect an auditor in the fraught context of Sports Direct—simply impossible.”

Media attention

 

Auditor resignations are not without their own risks. Maggie McGhee, executive director, governance at ACCA, a professional body for accountants, points out that parting with a client can bring unpleasant public attention.

“If auditors use resignation more regularly in a bid to extract themselves from high-risk audits,” says McGhee, “then it is probable that there will be some media interest if issues are subsequently identified at the company. Questions arise, such as did the auditor do enough?”

But as, McGhee adds, resignation has to remain part of the auditor’s armoury, not least as part of maintaining their independence.

For non-executives on an audit committee, auditor resignation is a significant moment. With an important role in hiring an audit firm as well as oversight of company directors, their role will be to challenge management.

“The audit committee is critical in these circumstances,” says McGhee, “and it should take action to understand the circumstance and whether action is required.”

ACCA has told the Sir Donald Brydon review [examining audit quality] that greater disclosure is needed of “the communication and judgements” that pass between auditors and audit committees. McGhee says it would be particularly relevant in the case of auditor resignations.

There have been suggestions that Sir Donald is interested in resignations. ShareSoc and UKSA, bodies representing small shareholders, have called on Sir Donald to recommend that an a regulatory news service announcement be triggered by an auditor cutting ties.

A blog on ShareSoc’s website says: “It seems clear that there is a need to tighten the disclosure rules surrounding auditor resignations and dismissals.”

It seems likely Sir Donald will comment on resignations, though what his recommendations will be remains uncertain. What is clear is that recent behaviour has shone a light on auditor departures and questions are being asked. The need for answers is sure to remain.

Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats


Voici un article publié par GAVIN HINKS pour le compte de Board Agenda qui montre que les grandes firmes d’audit sont de plus en plus susceptibles de démissionner lorsque les risques leur apparaissent trop élevés.

Les recherches indiquent que c’est particulièrement le cas au Royaume-Uni où l’on assiste à des poursuites plus fréquentes des Big Four. Ces firmes d’audit sont maintenant plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs clients.

Compte tenu de la situation oligopolistique des grandes firmes d’audit, devons-nous nous surprendre de ces décisions de retrait dans la nouvelle conjoncture de risque financier des entreprises britanniques ?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

Le comité d’audit des entreprises est interpellé publiquement lorsque l’auditeur soumet sa résignation. L’entreprise doit souvent gérer une crise médiatique afin de sauvegarder sa réputation.

Pour certains experts de la gouvernance, ces situations requirent des exigences de divulgation plus sévères. Les parties prenantes veulent connaître la nature des problèmes et des risques qui y sont associés.

Également, les administrateurs souhaitent connaître le plan d’action des dirigeants eu égard au travail et aux recommandations du comité d’audit

L’auteur donne beaucoup d’exemples sur les nouveaux comportements des Big Four.

Bonne lecture !

 

Auditor resignations indicate new attitude to client selection

 

 

auditor
Image: Shutterstock

 

The audit profession in Britain is at a turning point as Westminster—Brexit permitting—considers new regulation.

It seems firms may be responding by clearing the decks: the press has spotted a spate of high-profile auditor resignations with audit firms bidding farewell to a clutch of major clients. This includes firms outside the Big Four, such as Grant Thornton, which recently said sayonara to Sports Direct, the retail chain, embroiled in running arguments over its governance.

But Grant Thornton is not alone. KPMG has parted ways with Eddie Stobart, a haulage firm, and Lycamobile, a telecommunications company. PwC meanwhile has said goodbye to Staffline, a recruitment business.

Should we be surprised?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

This came to a head in December 2017 with the collapse of construction and contracting giant Carillion, audited by KPMG. The event prompted a parliamentary inquiry followed by government-ordered reviews of the audit market and regulation.

An examination of the watchdog for audit and financial reporting, the Financial Reporting Council, has resulted in the creation of a brand new regulatory body; a look at the audit market resulted in recommendations that firms separate their audit businesses from other services they provide. A current look at the quality and scope of audit, the Brydon review, will doubtless come up with its own recommendations when it reports later this year.

 

Client selection

 

While it is hard to obtain statistics, the press reports, as well as industry talk, indicate that auditors are becoming more picky about who they choose to work for.

According to Jonathan Hayward, a governance and audit expert with the consultancy Independent Audit, the first step in any risk management for an audit firm is client selection. He says the current environment in which auditors have become “tired of being beaten up” has caused a new “sensitivity” in which auditors may be choosing to be more assiduous in applying client filtering policies.

Application of these policies may have been soft in the past, as firms raced for market share, but perhaps also as they applied what Hayward calls the auditor’s “God complex”: the idea that their judgement must be definitive.

Psychological dispositions are arguable. What may be observed for certain is that the potential downsides are becoming clearer to audit chiefs. Fines meted out in recent times by a newly energised regulator facing replacement include the £5m (discounted to £3.5m) for KPMG for the firm’s work with the London branch of BNY Mellon. Deloitte faced a £6.5m fine (discounted to £4.2m) for its audit of Serco Geografix, an outsourcing business. Last year PwC faced a record breaking £10m penalty for its work on the audit of collapsed retailer BHS.

What those fines have brought home is the thin line auditors tread between profit and and huge costs if it goes wrong. That undermines the attractiveness of being in the audit market.

One expert to draw attention to the economics is Jim Peterson, a US lawyer who blogs on corporate law and has represented accountancy firms.

Highlighting Sports Direct’s need to find a replacement audit firm, Peterson notes Grant Thornton’s fee was £1.4m with an estimated profit of £200,000-£250,000.

“A projection from that figure would be hostage, however, to the doubtful assumption of no further developments,” Peterson writes.

“That is, the cost to address even a modest extension of necessary extra audit work, or a lawsuit or investigative inquiry—legal fees and diverted management time alone—would swamp any engagement profit within weeks.”

He adds: “And that’s without thinking of the potential fines or judgements. Could the revenue justify that risk? No fee can be set and charged that would protect an auditor in the fraught context of Sports Direct—simply impossible.”

Media attention

 

Auditor resignations are not without their own risks. Maggie McGhee, executive director, governance at ACCA, a professional body for accountants, points out that parting with a client can bring unpleasant public attention.

“If auditors use resignation more regularly in a bid to extract themselves from high-risk audits,” says McGhee, “then it is probable that there will be some media interest if issues are subsequently identified at the company. Questions arise, such as did the auditor do enough?”

But as, McGhee adds, resignation has to remain part of the auditor’s armoury, not least as part of maintaining their independence.

For non-executives on an audit committee, auditor resignation is a significant moment. With an important role in hiring an audit firm as well as oversight of company directors, their role will be to challenge management.

“The audit committee is critical in these circumstances,” says McGhee, “and it should take action to understand the circumstance and whether action is required.”

ACCA has told the Sir Donald Brydon review [examining audit quality] that greater disclosure is needed of “the communication and judgements” that pass between auditors and audit committees. McGhee says it would be particularly relevant in the case of auditor resignations.

There have been suggestions that Sir Donald is interested in resignations. ShareSoc and UKSA, bodies representing small shareholders, have called on Sir Donald to recommend that an a regulatory news service announcement be triggered by an auditor cutting ties.

A blog on ShareSoc’s website says: “It seems clear that there is a need to tighten the disclosure rules surrounding auditor resignations and dismissals.”

It seems likely Sir Donald will comment on resignations, though what his recommendations will be remains uncertain. What is clear is that recent behaviour has shone a light on auditor departures and questions are being asked. The need for answers is sure to remain.

Congédiement du directeur général (DG) par le conseil d’administration | Situation de crise


Cette semaine, je donne la parole à SOPHIE-EMMANUELLE CHEBIN* et à JOANNE DESJARDINS** qui agissent à titre d’auteures invitées sur mon blogue en gouvernance.

Les auteures ont une solide expérience de consultation dans plusieurs grandes sociétés et sont associées de la firme Arsenal Conseils, spécialisée en gouvernance et en stratégie.

Elles sont aussi régulièrement invitées comme conférencières et formatrices dans le domaine de la stratégie et de la gouvernance.

Dans ce billet, qui a d’abord été publié dans le Journal Les Affaires, elles abordent une situation vraiment difficile pour tout conseil d’administration : le congédiement de son directeur général.

Les auteures discutent des motifs liés au congédiement, de l’importance d’une absolue confidentialité et du courage requis de la part des administrateurs.

La publication de ce billet sur mon blogue a été approuvée par les auteurs.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

 

Lorsque le CA doit congédier le PDG

par

Sophie-Emmanuelle Chebin et Joanne Desjardins

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « congédiement PDG »
De plus en plus de PDG congédiés pour des manquements à l’éthique

 

Peu importe le motif, le congédiement du PDG demeure une des décisions les plus difficiles à prendre pour un conseil d’administration. Selon notre expérience, aucun CA n’est jamais tout à fait prêt à faire face à cette situation. Toutefois, certains facteurs peuvent faciliter la gestion de cette crise.

 

Le motif de congédiement influence la rapidité de réaction du conseil d’administration

 

Selon une étude américaine, les administrateurs sont plus prompts et rapides à congédier un PDG qu’autrefois, et ils le font de plus en plus pour des raisons éthiques.

Bien entendu, la décision de congédier le PDG sera plus facile à prendre lorsque le comportement du PDG pose un risque réputationnel pour l’entreprise. C’est notamment le cas en présence de comportements inadéquats, de fraude ou de perte de confiance des clients.

À titre d’exemple, la triste histoire de Brandon Truaxe, qualifié de génie des cosmétiques et fondateur de la marque de cosmétique canadienne The Ordinary, véritable phénomène mondial. L’automne dernier, les actionnaires et administrateurs de Deciem, groupe duquel fait partie la marque ont demandé et obtenu sa destitution, à titre d’administrateur et de PDG de Deciem. Le Groupe Estée Lauder, actionnaire minoritaire et dont un représentant est administrateur, estimait alors que le comportement erratique du PDG, qui a annoncé sans fondement la fermeture de son entreprise et qualifié ses employés de criminels, nuisait à la réputation de son entreprise, de ses administrateurs et de ses actionnaires en plus de compromettre le futur de l’entreprise.

À l’opposé, les administrateurs tergiversant plus longuement lorsque la situation est plus ambiguë et moins cristalline. Stratégie défaillante, équipe de gestion inadéquate ou mise à niveau technologique mal gérée, ces situations ne font pas toujours l’unanimité au sein du conseil à savoir si elles constituent ou non des motifs suffisants de congédiement. Dans ces cas, les discussions seront souvent plus longues et plus partagées.

Une bonne dynamique au sein du conseil d’administration facilite la tâche des administrateurs lorsque survient une crise. Dans ces circonstances, il est essentiel que les administrateurs placent l’intérêt supérieur de l’organisation au sommet de leurs préoccupations. Les intérêts personnels doivent demeurer au vestiaire. Pas toujours facile lorsque le conseil a appuyé un PDG pendant plusieurs années, que celui-ci a contribué à notre recrutement comme administrateur ou que l’entreprise se porte généralement bien, mais que le conseil d’administration juge que le PDG n’est plus la bonne personne pour mener l’organisation vers ses nouveaux défis.

Un CA mobilisé fait une différence lors des prises de décisions difficiles. Cette mobilisation se prépare de longue date. Elle n’apparaît pas de façon spontanée en période de haute tension.

Par ailleurs, les conseils qui mènent, sur une base annuelle, des exercices de simulation de crise sont également plus efficaces dans la prise de décisions difficiles, et sous-pression, tel le congédiement du PDG.

 

Confidentialité absolue

 

Une fois saisi de la question du congédiement du PDG, le conseil d’administration, même sous pression, doit agir rapidement tout en prenant le temps requis pour délibérer. Délicat équilibre à trouver ! Choisir de se départir du PDG est une décision fondamentale qui ne doit pas être prise à la légère. Pour ce faire, certains CA choisissent de mandater le comité exécutif ou un comité ad hoc pour évaluer en profondeur les tenants et aboutissants de la situation. Le CA sera par la suite mis au fait de leurs travaux et en discutera en plénière. Trois choix possibles : supporter, coacher ou congédier.

Dans tous les cas, aucun compromis possible sur la confidentialité des échanges ! Rien de pire qu’une décision de cette nature qui s’ébruite ou qui traîne en longueur. Parlez-en à cette PME des Laurentides dont le sujet du congédiement du PDG a alimenté les discussions de corridor et miné le moral des employés pendant quelques semaines alors que les rencontres du CA sur le sujet se tenaient dans une salle à l’insonorisation sonore…

Congédier le PDG est une chose, choisir son successeur en est une autre. Peu importe qu’une solution par intérim ou permanente soit retenue, le conseil d’administration doit prévoir le futur et la continuité des opérations. Il doit impérativement développer un plan pour la succession du PDG ou activer celui déjà en place. Pendant cette période de transition, les administrateurs doivent être conscients que leur engagement envers l’entreprise pourrait être plus soutenu.

 

Faire face à la musique

 

Enfin, le CA doit s’assurer d’une stratégie de communication impeccable pour le congédiement du PDG. Employés, clients, autorités gouvernementales, les parties prenantes de l’entreprise devront tôt ou tard être mises au fait de ce changement à la tête de l’entreprise. Assurez-vous de développer des messages cohérents et de choisir les bons canaux de communication.


Sophie-Emmanuelle Chebin*, LL.L, MBA, IAS.A, accompagne depuis 20 ans les équipes de direction et les conseils d’administration dans l’élaboration et le déploiement de leurs stratégies d’affaires. Au fil des ans, elle a développé une solide expertise dans les domaines des stratégies de croissance, de la gouvernance et de la gestion des parties prenantes. Joanne Desjardins**, LL.B., MBA, ASC, CRHA, possède une solide expérience comme administratrice de sociétés ; elle rédige actuellement un livre sur la stratégie des entreprises. Elle blogue régulièrement sur la stratégie et la gouvernance.

Nouvelles perspectives pour la gouvernance en 2018


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un excellent article de Martin Lipton* sur les nouvelles perspectives de la gouvernance en 2018. Cet article est publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Après une brève introduction portant sur les meilleures pratiques observées dans les entreprises cotées, l’auteur se penche sur les paramètres les plus significatifs de la nouvelle gouvernance.

Les thèmes suivants sont abordés dans un contexte de renouvellement de la gouvernance pour le futur :

  1. La notion de l’actionnariat élargie pour tenir compte des parties prenantes ;
  2. L’importance de considérer le développement durable et la responsabilité sociale des entreprises ;
  3. L’adoption de stratégies favorisant l’engagement à long terme ;
  4. La nécessité de se préoccuper de la composition des membres du CA ;
  5. L’approche à adopter eu égard aux comportements d’actionnaires/investisseurs activistes ;
  6. Les attentes eu égard aux rôles et responsabilités des administrateurs.

À l’approche de la nouvelle année 2018, cette lecture devrait compter parmi les plus utiles pour les administrateurs et les dirigeants d’entreprises ainsi que pour toute personne intéressée par l’évolution des pratiques de gouvernance.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2018

 

 

Introduction

 

As 2017 draws to a conclusion and we reflect on the evolution of corporate governance since the turn of the millennium, a recurring question percolating in boardrooms and among shareholders and other stakeholders, academics and politicians is: what’s next on the horizon for corporate governance? In many respects, we seem to have reached a point of relative stasis. The governance and takeover defense profiles of U.S. public companies have been transformed by the widespread adoption of virtually all of the “best practices” advocated to enhance the rights of shareholders and weaken takeover defenses.

While the future issues of corporate governance remain murky, there are some emerging themes that portend a potentially profound shift in the way that boards will need to think about their roles and priorities in guiding the corporate enterprise. While these themes are hardly new, they have been gaining momentum in prompting a rethinking of some of the most basic assumptions about corporations, corporate governance and the path forward.

First, while corporate governance continues to be focused on the relationship between boards and shareholders, there has been a shift toward a more expansive view that is prompting questions about the broader role and purpose of corporations. Most of the governance reforms of the past few decades targeted the ways in which boards are structured and held accountable to the interests of shareholders, with debates often boiling down to trade-offs between a board-centric versus a more shareholder-centric framework and what will best create shareholder value. Recently, efforts to invigorate a more long-term perspective among both corporations and their investors have been laying the groundwork for a shift from these process-oriented debates to elemental questions about the basic purpose of corporations and how their success should be measured and defined.

In particular, sustainability has become a major, mainstream governance topic that encompasses a wide range of issues such as climate change and other environmental risks, systemic financial stability, labor standards, and consumer and product safety. Relatedly, an expanded notion of stakeholder interests that includes employees, customers, communities, and the economy and society as a whole has been a developing theme in policymaking and academic spheres as well as with investors. As summarized in a 2017 report issued by State Street Global Advisor,

“Today’s investors are looking for ways to put their capital to work in a more sustainable way, one focused on long-term value creation that enables them to address their financial goals and responsible investing needs. So, for a growing number of institutional investors, the environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics of their portfolio are key to their investment strategy.”

While both sustainability and expanded constituency considerations have been emphasized most frequently in terms of their impact on long-term shareholder value, they have also been prompting fresh dialogue about the societal role and purpose of corporations.

Another common theme that underscores many of the corporate governance issues facing boards today is that corporate governance is inherently complex and nuanced, and less amenable to the benchmarking and quantification that was a significant driver in the widespread adoption of corporate governance “best practices.” Prevailing views about what constitutes effective governance have morphed from a relatively binary, check-the-box mentality—such as whether a board is declassified, whether shareholders can act by written consent and whether companies have adopted majority voting standards—to tackling questions such as how to craft a well-rounded board with the skills and experiences that are most relevant to a particular corporation, how to effectively oversee the company’s management of risk, and how to forge relationships with shareholders that meaningfully enhance the company’s credibility. Companies and investors alike have sought to formulate these “next generation” governance issues in a way that facilitates comparability, objective assessment and accountability. For example, many companies have been including skills matrices in their proxy statements to show, in a visual snapshot, that their board composition encompasses appropriate skills and experiences. Yet, to the extent that complicated governance issues cannot be reduced to simple, user-friendly metrics, it remains to be seen whether this will prompt new ways of defining “good” corporate governance that require a deeper understanding of companies and their businesses, and the impact that could have on the expectations and practices of stakeholders.

Against this backdrop, a few of the more significant issues that boards of directors will face in the coming year, as well as an overview of some key roles and responsibilities, are highlighted below. Parts II through VI contain brief summaries of some of the leading proposals and thinking for corporate governance of the future. In Part VII, we turn to the issues boards of directors will face in 2018 and suggestions as to how to prepare to deal with them.

 

Expanded Stakeholders

 

The primacy of shareholder value as the exclusive objective of corporations, as articulated by Milton Friedman and then thoroughly embraced by Wall Street, has come under scrutiny by regulators, academics, politicians and even investors. While the corporate governance initiatives of the past year cannot be categorized as an abandonment of the shareholder primacy agenda, there are signs that academic commentators, legislators and some investors are looking at more nuanced and tempered approaches to creating shareholder value.

In his 2013 book, Firm Commitment: Why the Corporation is Failing Us and How to Restore Trust in It, and a series of brilliant articles and lectures, Colin Mayer of the University of Oxford has convincingly rejected shareholder value primacy and put forth proposals to reconceive the business corporation so that it is committed to all its stakeholders, including the community and the general economy. His new book, Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2018, continues the theme of his earlier publications and will be required reading.

Similarly, an influential working paper by Oliver Hart and Luigi Zingales argues that the appropriate objective of the corporation is shareholder welfare rather than shareholder wealth. Hart and Zingales advocate that corporations and asset managers should pursue policies consistent with the preferences of their investors, specifically because corporations may be able to accomplish objectives that shareholders acting individually cannot. In such a setting, the implicit separability assumption underlying Milton Friedman’s theory of the purpose of the firm fails to produce the best outcome for shareholders. Indeed, even though Hart and Zingales propose a revision that remains shareholder-centered, by recognizing the unique capability of corporations to engage in certain kinds of activities, their theory invites a careful consideration of other goals such as sustainability, board diversity and employee welfare, and even such social concerns, as, for example, reducing mass violence or promoting environmental stewardship. Such a model of corporate decision-making emphasizes the importance of boards establishing a relationship with significant shareholders to understand shareholder goals, beyond simply assuming that an elementary wealth maximization framework is the optimal path.

Perhaps closer to a wholesale rejection of the shareholder primacy agenda, an article by Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, featured in the May-June 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, attacks the fallacies of the economic theories that have been used since 1970 to justify shareholder-centric corporate governance, short-termism and activist attacks on corporations. In questioning the benefits of hedge fund activism, Bower and Paine argue that some of the value purportedly created for shareholders by activists is not actually value created, but rather value transferred from other parties or from the public purse, such as shifting a company’s tax domicile to a lower-tax jurisdiction or eliminating exploratory research and development. The article supports the common sense notion that boards have a fiduciary duty not just to shareholders, but also to employees, customers and the community—a constituency theory of governance penned into law in a number of states’ business corporation laws.

Moreover, this theme has been metastasizing from a theoretical debate into specific reform initiatives that, if implemented, could have a direct impact on boards. For example, Delaware and 32 other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation approving a new corporate form—the benefit corporation —a for-profit corporate entity with expanded fiduciary obligations of boards to consider other stakeholders in addition to shareholders. Benefit corporations are mandated by law to consider their overall positive impact on society, their workers, the communities in which they operate and the environment, in addition to the goal of maximizing shareholder profit.

This broader sense of corporate purpose has been gaining traction among shareholders. For example, the endorsement form for the Principles published by the Investor Stewardship Group in 2017 includes:

“[I]t is the fiduciary responsibility of all asset managers to conduct themselves in accordance with the preconditions for responsible engagement in a manner that accrues to the best interests of stakeholders and society in general, and that in so doing they’ll help to build a framework for promoting long-term value creation on behalf of U.S. companies and the broader U.S. economy.”

Notions of expanded stakeholder interests have often been incorporated into the concept of long-termism, and advocating a long-term approach has also entailed the promotion of a broader range of stakeholder interests without explicitly eroding the primacy of shareholder value. Recently, however, the interests of other stakeholders have increasingly been articulated in their own right rather than as an adjunct to the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance. Ideas about the broader social purpose of corporations have the potential to drive corporate governance reforms into uncharted territory requiring navigation of new questions about how to measure and compare corporate performance, how to hold companies accountable and how to incentivize managers.

 

Sustainability

 

The meaning of sustainability is no longer limited to describing environmental practices, but rather more broadly encompasses the sustainability of a corporation’s business model in today’s fast-changing world. The focus on sustainability encompasses the systemic sustainability of public markets and pressures boards to think about corporate strategy and how governance should be structured to respond to and compete in this environment.

Recently, the investing world has seen a rise of ESG-oriented funds—previously a small, niche segment of the investment community. Even beyond these specialized funds, ESG has also become a focus of a broad range of traditional investment funds and institutional investors. For instance, BlackRock and State Street both offer their investors products that specifically focus on ESG-oriented topics like climate change and impact investing—investing with an intention of generating a specific social or environmental outcome alongside financial returns.

At the beginning of 2017, State Street’s CEO Ronald P. O’Hanley wrote a letter advising the boards of the companies in which State Street invests that State Street defines sustainability “as encompassing a broad range of environmental, social and governance issues that include, for example, effective independent board leadership and board composition, diversity and talent development, safety issues, and climate change.” The letter was a reminder that broader issues that impact all of a company’s stakeholders may have a material effect on a company’s ability to generate returns. Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Laurence D. Fink remarked similarly in his January 2017 letter that

“[e]nvironmental, social and governance factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.”

Similarly, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment remind corporations that ESG factors should be incorporated into all investment decisions to better manage risk and generate sustainable, long-term returns.

Shareholders’ engagement with ESG issues has also increased. Previously, ESG was somewhat of a fringe issue with ESG-related shareholder proxy proposals rarely receiving significant shareholder support. This is no longer the case. In the 2017 proxy season, the two most common shareholder proposal topics related to social (201 proposals) and environmental (144 proposals, including 69 on climate change) issues, as opposed to 2016’s top two topics of proxy access (201) and social issues (160). Similar to cybersecurity and other risk management issues, sustainability practices involve the nuts and bolts of operations—e.g., life-cycle assessments of a product and management of key performance indicators (KPIs) using management information systems that facilitate internal and public reporting—and provide another example of an operational issue that has become a board/governance issue.

The expansion of sustainability requires all boards—not just boards of companies with environmentally sensitive businesses—to be aware of and be ready to respond to ESG-related concerns. The salient question is whether “best” sustainability practices will involve simply the “right” messaging and disclosures, or whether investors and companies will converge on a method to measure sustainability practices that affords real impact on capital allocation, risk-taking and proactive—as opposed to reactive—strategy.

Indeed, measurement and accountability are perhaps the elephants in the room when it comes to sustainability. Many investors appear to factor sustainability into their investing decisions. Other ways to measure sustainability practices include the presence of a Chief Sustainability Officer or Corporate Responsibility Committee. However, while there are numerous disclosure frameworks relating to sustainability and ESG practices, there is no centralized ESG rating system. Further, rating methodologies and assessments of materiality vary widely across ESG data providers and disclosure requirements vary across jurisdictions.

Pending the development of clear and agreed standards to benchmark performance on ESG issues, boards of directors should focus on understanding how their significant investors value and measure ESG issues, including through continued outreach and engagement with investors focusing on these issues, and should seek tangible agreed-upon methodologies to address these areas, while also promoting the development of improved metrics and disclosure.

Promoting a Long-Term Perspective

 

As the past year’s corporate governance conversation has explored considerations outside the goal of maximizing shareholder value, the conversation within the shareholder value maximization framework has also continued to shift toward an emphasis on long-term value rather than short term. A February 2017 discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute in cooperation with Focusing Capital on the Long Term found that long-term focused companies, as measured by a number of factors including investment, earnings quality and margin growth, generally outperformed shorter-term focused companies in both financial and other performance measures. Long-term focused companies had greater, and less volatile, revenue growth, more spending on research and development, greater total returns to shareholders and more employment than other firms.

This empirical evidence that corporations focused on stakeholders and long-term investment contribute to greater economic growth and higher GDP is consistent with innovative corporate governance initiatives. A new startup, comprised of veterans of the NYSE and U.S. Treasury Department, is working on creating the “Long-Term Stock Exchange”—a proposal to build and operate an entirely new stock exchange where listed companies would have to satisfy not only all of the normal SEC requirements to allow shares to trade on other regulated U.S. stock markets but, in addition, other requirements such as tenured shareholder voting power (permitting shareholder voting to be proportionately weighted by the length of time the shares have been held), mandated ties between executive pay and long-term business performance and disclosure requirements informing companies who their long-term shareholders are and informing investors of what companies’ long-term investments are.

In addition to innovative alternatives, numerous institutional investors and corporate governance thought leaders are rethinking the mainstream relationship between all boards of directors and institutional investors to promote a healthier focus on long-term investment. While legislative reform has taken a stronger hold in the U.K. and Europe, leading American companies and institutional investors are pushing for a private sector solution to increase long-term economic growth. Commonsense Corporate Governance Principles and The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth were published in hopes of recalibrating the relationship between boards and institutional investors to protect the economy against the short-term myopic approach to management and investing that promises to impede long-term economic prosperity. Under a similar aim, the Investor Stewardship Group published its Stewardship Principles and Corporate Governance Principles, set to become effective in January 2018, to establish a framework with six principles for investor stewardship and six principles for corporate governance to promote long-term value creation in American business. A Synthesized Paradigm for Corporate Governance, Investor Stewardship, and Engagement provides a synthesis of these and others in the hope that companies and investors would agree on a common approach. In fact, over 100 companies to date have signed The Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership: A Roadmap for Sustainable Long-Term Growth and Opportunity, sponsored by the World Economic Forum, which includes the key features of The New Paradigm.

Similarly, the BlackRock Investment Stewardship team has proactively outlined five focus areas for its engagement efforts: Governance, Corporate Strategy for the Long-Term, Executive Compensation that Promotes Long-Termism, Disclosure of Climate Risks, and Human Capital Management. BlackRock’s outline reflects a number of key trends, including heightened transparency by institutional investors, more engagement by “passive” investors, and continued disintermediation of proxy advisory firms. In the United Kingdom, The Investor Forum was founded to provide an intermediary to represent the views of its investor members to investee companies in the hope of reducing activism, and appears to have achieved a successful start.

Similarly, in June 2017, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and Ernst & Young jointly announced the launch of a project on long-term value creation. Noting among other elements that trust and social cohesion are necessary ingredients for the long-term success of capitalism, the project will emphasize reporting mechanisms and credible measurements supporting long-term value, developing and testing a framework to better reflect the full value companies create beyond simply financial value. There is widespread agreement that focusing on long-term investment will promote long-term economic growth. The next step is a consensus between companies and investors on a common path of action that will lead to restored trust and cohesion around long-term goals.

 

Board Composition

 

The corporate governance conversation has become increasingly focused on board composition, including board diversity. Recent academic studies have confirmed and expanded upon existing empirical evidence that hedge fund activism has been notably counterproductive in increasing gender diversity—yet another negative externality of this type of activism. Statistical evidence supports the hypothesis that the rate of shareholder activism is higher toward female CEOs holding all else equal, including industries, company sizes and levels of performance. A study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology investigated the reasons that hedge fund activists seemingly ignore the evidence for gender-diverse boards in their choices for director nominees and disproportionately target female CEOs. The authors suggest these reasons may include subconscious biases of hedge funds against women leaders due to perceptions and cultural attitudes.

In the United Kingdom, the focus on board diversity has spread into policy. The House of Commons Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee report on Corporate Governance, issued in 2017, included recommendations for improving ethnic, gender and social diversity of boards, noting that “[to] be an effective board, individual directors need different skills, experience, personal attributes and approaches.” The U.K. government’s response to this report issued in September 2017 notes its agreement on various diversity-related issues, stating that the “Government agrees with the Committee that it makes business sense to recruit directors from as broad a base as possible across the demographic of the UK” and further, tying into themes of stakeholder capitalism, that the “Government believes that greater diversity within the boardroom can help companies connect with their workforces, supply chains, customers and shareholders.”

In the United States, institutional investors are focused on a range of board composition issues, including term limits, board refreshment, diversity, skills matrices and board evaluation processes, as well as disclosures regarding these issues. In a recent letter, Vanguard explained that it considers the board to be “one of a company’s most critical strategic assets” and looks for a “high-functioning, well-composed, independent, diverse, and experienced board with effective ongoing evaluation practices,” stating that “Good governance starts with a great Board.” The New York Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0 is focused on increasing diversity of boards in order to strengthen their independence and competency. In connection with launching this campaign, the NYC Pension Funds asked the boards of 151 U.S. companies to disclose the race and gender of their directors alongside board members’ skills in a standardized matrix format. And yet, similar to the difficulty of measuring and comparing sustainability efforts of companies, investors and companies alike continue to struggle with how to measure and judge a board’s diversity, and board composition generally, as the conversation becomes more nuanced. Board composition and diversity aimed at increasing board independence and competency is not a topic that lends itself to a “check-the-box” type measurement.

In light of the heightened emphasis on board composition, boards should consider increasing their communications with their major shareholders about their director selection and nomination processes to show the board understands the importance of its composition. Boards should consider disclosing how new director candidates are identified and evaluated, how committee chairs and the lead director are determined, and how the operations of the board as a whole and the performance of each director are assessed. Boards may also focus on increasing tutorials, facility visits, strategic retreats and other opportunities to increase the directors’ understanding of the company’s business—and communicate such efforts to key shareholders and constituents.

 

Activism

 

Despite the developments and initiatives striving to protect and promote long-term investment, the most dangerous threat to long-term economic prosperity has continued to surge in the past year. There has been a significant increase in activism activity in countries around the world and no slowdown in the United States. The headlines of 2017 were filled with activists who do not fit the description of good stewards of the long-term interests of the corporation. A must-read Bloombergarticle described Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp., which manages $34 billion of assets, as “aggressive, tenacious and litigious to a fault” and perhaps “the most feared activist investor in the world.” Numerous recent activist attacks underscore that the CEO remains a favored activist target. Several major funds have become more nuanced and taken a merchant banker approach of requesting board representation to assist a company to improve operations and strategy for long-term success. No company is too big for an activist attack. Substantial new capital has been raised by activist hedge funds and several activists have created special purpose funds for investment in a single target. As long as activism remains a serious threat, the economy will continue to experience the negative externalities of this approach to investing—companies attempting to avoid an activist attack are increasingly managed for the short term, cutting important spending on research and development and focusing on short-term profits by effecting share buybacks and paying dividends at the expense of investing in a strategy for long-term growth.

To minimize the impact of activist attacks, boards must focus on building relationships with major institutional investors. The measure of corporate governance success has shifted from checking the right boxes to building the right relationships. Major institutional investors have reiterated their commitment to bringing a long-term perspective to public companies, including, for example, Vanguard, which sent an open letter to directors of public companies world-wide explaining that a long-term perspective informed every aspect of its investment approach. Only by forging relationships of trust and credibility with long-term shareholders can a company expect to gain support for its long-term strategy when it needs it. In many instances, when an activist does approach, a previously established relationship provides a foundation for management and the board to persuade key shareholders that short-term activism is not in their best interest—an effort that is already showing some promise. General Motors’ resounding defeat of Greenlight Capital’s attempt to gain shareholder approval to convert its common stock into two classes shows a large successful company’s ability to garner the

support of its institutional investors against financial engineering. Trian’s recent proxy fight against Procter & Gamble shows the importance of proactively establishing relationships with long-term shareholders. Given Trian’s proven track record of success in urging changes in long-term strategy, Nelson Peltz was able to gain support for a seat on P&G’s board from proxy advisors and major institutional investors. We called attention to importantlessons from this proxy fight (discussed on the Forum here and here).

 

Spotlight on Boards

 

The ever-evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have equivalent influence on board and company behavior. In the coming year, boards will be expected to:

Oversee corporate strategy and the communication of that strategy to investors;

Set the tone at the top to create a corporate culture that gives priority to ethical standards, professionalism, integrity and compliance in setting and implementing strategic goals;

Choose the CEO, monitor the CEO’s and management’s performance and develop a succession plan;

Determine the agendas for board and committee meetings and work with management to assure appropriate information and sufficient time are available for full consideration of all matters;

Determine the appropriate level of executive compensation and incentive structures, with awareness of the potential impact of compensation structures on business priorities and risk-taking, as well as investor and proxy advisor views on compensation;

Develop a working partnership with the CEO and management and serve as a resource for management in charting the appropriate course for the corporation;

Oversee and understand the corporation’s risk management and compliance efforts, and how risk is taken into account in the corporation’s business decision-making; respond to red flags when and if they arise (see Risk Management and the Board of Directors, discussed on the Forum here);

Monitor and participate, as appropriate, in shareholder engagement efforts, evaluate potential corporate governance proposals and anticipate possible activist attacks in order to be able to address them more effectively;

Evaluate the board’s performance on a regular basis and consider the optimal board and committee composition and structure, including board refreshment, expertise and skill sets, independence and diversity, as well as the best way to communicate with investors regarding these issues;

Review corporate governance guidelines and committee charters and tailor them to promote effective board functioning;

Be prepared to deal with crises; and

Be prepared to take an active role in matters where the CEO may have a real or perceived conflict, including takeovers and attacks by activist hedge funds focused on the CEO.

To meet these expectations, major public companies should seek to:

Have a sufficient number of directors to staff the requisite standing and special committees and to meet expectations for diversity;

Have directors who have knowledge of, and experience with, the company’s businesses, even if this results in the board having more than one director who is not “independent”;

Have directors who are able to devote sufficient time to preparing for and attending board and committee meetings;

Meet investor expectations for director age, diversity and periodic refreshment;

Provide the directors with the data that is critical to making sound decisions on strategy, compensation and capital allocation;

Provide the directors with regular tutorials by internal and external experts as part of expanded director education; and

Maintain a truly collegial relationship among and between the company’s senior executives and the members of the board that enhances the board’s role both as strategic partner and as monitor.

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*Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Lipton, Steven A. Rosenblum, Karessa L. Cain, Sabastian V. Niles, Vishal Chanani, and Kathleen C. Iannone.

Mesures à prendre en matière de contrôle interne afin d’éviter les fraudes de cybersécurité


Voici un article qui met l’accent sur les mesures à prendre en matière de contrôle interne afin d’éviter les fraudes de cybersécurité.

Les auteurs, Keith Higgins*et Marvin Tagabanis exposent les résultats de leurs recherches dans un billet publié sur le site de  Havard Law School Forum.

Les fraudes dont il est question concernent neuf entreprises qui ont été la cible des arnaques par l’utilisation de courriels.

The nine defrauded companies lost a total of nearly $100 million as a result of the email scams. The companies operated in different business sectors including technology, machinery, real estate, energy, financial, and consumer goods, which the Report suggests “reflect[s] the reality that every type of business is a potential target of cyber-related fraud.” The Report also highlighted the significant economic harm posed by “business email compromises” more broadly, which, based on FBI estimates, has caused over $5 billion in losses since 2013, with an additional $675 million in adjusted losses in 2017—the highest estimated out-of-pocket losses from any class of cyber-facilitated crime during this period.

Les auteurs notent que les escroqueries par le biais des courriels étaient principalement de deux types :

(1) Courriels envoyés par de faux dirigeants ;

(2) Courriels envoyés par de faux vendeurs.

Les auteurs présentent les implications du contrôle interne pour minimiser ces fraudes.

Bonne lecture !

 

Implementing Internal Controls in Cyberspace—Old Wine, New Skins

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « contrôle interne et cybersécurité »

 

On October 16, 2018, the SEC issued a Section 21(a) investigative report (the “Report”), [1]cautioning public companies to consider cyber threats when designing and implementing internal accounting controls. The Report arose out of an investigation focused on the internal accounting controls of nine public companies that were victims of “business email compromises” in which perpetrators posed as company executives or vendors and used emails to dupe company personnel into sending large sums to bank accounts controlled by the perpetrators. In the investigation, the SEC considered whether the companies had complied with the internal accounting controls provisions of the federal securities laws. Although the Report is in lieu of an enforcement action against any of the issuers, the SEC issued the Report to draw attention to the prevalence of these cyber-related scams and as a reminder that all public companies should consider cyber-related threats when devising and maintaining a system of internal accounting controls.

The nine defrauded companies lost a total of nearly $100 million as a result of the email scams. The companies operated in different business sectors including technology, machinery, real estate, energy, financial, and consumer goods, which the Report suggests “reflect[s] the reality that every type of business is a potential target of cyber-related fraud.” The Report also highlighted the significant economic harm posed by “business email compromises” more broadly, which, based on FBI estimates, has caused over $5 billion in losses since 2013, with an additional $675 million in adjusted losses in 2017—the highest estimated out-of-pocket losses from any class of cyber-facilitated crime during this period.

Two types of email scams were employed against the nine companies: (i) emails from fake executives, and (ii) emails from fake vendors.

Emails from Fake Executives. In the first type of scam, perpetrators emailed company finance personnel using spoofed email domains and addresses of an executive (typically the CEO) so that it appeared as if the email were legitimate. The spoofed email directed the employees to work with a purported outside attorney identified in the email, who then directed them to wire large payments to foreign bank accounts controlled by the perpetrators. Common elements among each of these schemes included: (1) the transactions or “deals” were time-sensitive and confidential; (2) the requested funds needed to be sent to foreign banks and beneficiaries in connection with foreign deals or acquisitions; and (3) the spoofed emails typically were sent to midlevel personnel, who were not generally responsible or involved in the deals and rarely communicated with the executives being spoofed.

Emails from Fake Vendors. The second type of scam was more technologically sophisticated than the spoofed executive emails because the schemes typically involved the perpetrators hacking into the email accounts of the companies’ foreign vendors. The perpetrators then requested that the vendors’ banking information be changed so that a company’s payments on outstanding invoices for legitimate transactions were sent to foreign accounts controlled by the perpetrators rather than the real vendors. The Report noted that some spoofed vendor email scams went undetected for an extended period of time because vendors often afforded companies months before considering a payment delinquent.

Considerations for Public Companies

In the Report, the SEC advises public companies to “pay particular attention to the obligations imposed by Section 13(b)(2)(B) to devise and maintain internal accounting controls that reasonably safeguard company and, ultimately, investor assets from cyber-related frauds.” Finance and accounting personnel at public companies should be aware that the above-described cyber-related scams exist, and these types of scams should be considered when implementing internal accounting controls.

Although the “cyber” aspect of these scams helps to make them a topic du jour, fake invoices are certainly no recent invention, nor are vendor requests to direct payments to a new address something that is unique to the email era. If the result of the Report is to cause companies to liberally insert “cyber” references into their internal controls, and little more, it will not have accomplished its objective. SEC Enforcement staff observed that the cyber-related frauds succeeded, at least in part, because the responsible personnel at the companies did not sufficiently understand the company’s existing controls or did not recognize indications in the emailed instructions that those communications lacked reliability. For example, in one matter, the accounting employee who received the spoofed email did not follow the company’s dual-authorization requirement for wire payments, directing unqualified subordinates to sign-off on the wires. In another case, the accounting employee misinterpreted the company’s authorization matrix as giving him approval authority at a level reserved for the CFO.

Scams will always be with us, and the Report recognizes that the effectiveness of internal accounting control systems largely depends on having trained personnel to implement, maintain, and follow such controls. Public companies should also consider the following points raised by the actions taken by the defrauded companies following the cyber-related scams:

Review and enhance payment authorization procedures, verification requirements for vendor information changes, account reconciliation procedures and outgoing payment notification processes, particularly to foreign jurisdictions.

Evaluate whether finance and accounting personnel are adequately trained on relevant cyber-related threats and provide additional training on any new policies and procedures implemented as a result of the above step.

The Report confirms that the SEC remains focused on cybersecurity matters and companies should continue to be vigilant against cyber threats. While the SEC stated that it was “not suggesting that every issuer that is the victim of a cyber-related scam is . . . in violation of the internal accounting controls requirements of the federal securities laws,” the Report also noted that “[h]aving internal accounting control systems that factor in such cyber-related threats, and related human vulnerabilities, may be vital to maintaining a sufficient accounting control environment and safeguarding assets.”

_________________________________________________

Endnotes

1Report of Investigation Pursuant to Section 21(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 Regarding Certain Cyber-Related Frauds Perpetrated Against Public Companies and Related Internal Accounting Controls Requirements, Exchange Act Release No. 84429 (Oct. 16, 2018) (available here).(go back)

*Keith Higgins is chair of the securities and governance practice and Marvin Tagaban is an associate at Ropes & Gray LLP. This post is based on their Ropes & Gray memorandum.

Le courage, une qualité du cœur | Une réflexion de René Villemure


Cette semaine, nous renouons avec notre habitude de collaboration avec des experts avisés en matière de gouvernance et d’éthique. Ainsi, à l’occasion du colloque du réseau d’éthique organisationnel du Québec (RÉOQ) intitulé « Vivre l’éthique au quotidien dans son organisation : entre le rêve et la réalité », j’ai demandé à René Villemure*, conférencier d’honneur du colloque, d’agir à titre d’auteur invité sur mon blogue, et de jeter un regard philosophique sur une réalité avec laquelle tout administrateur et tout gestionnaire est confronté : le courage.

En tant qu’administrateur de société, faire preuve de courage, c’est de poser les bonnes questions, en temps opportun, et en lien avec nos valeurs profondes.

Voici donc la réflexion que nous livre René Villemure à ce sujet. Vous pouvez visiter son site à www.ethique.net pour mieux connaître ses champs d’intérêt et consulter ses nombreux bulletins réflexifs.

Vos commentaires sont appréciés. Bonne lecture !

 

Le courage, une qualité du cœur

par René Villemure*

 

Le courage c’est l’exception, c’est automatiquement la solitude ; quel vide autour du courage ! — Jean Giono

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « courage »

 

Tant dans la direction des entreprises que lors de conseils d’administration, on parle peu de courage, sinon que pour citer ce vague courage managérial qui, au fond, ne signifie, au mieux, que l’on fera les choix qui doivent être faits afin de faire son boulot comme attendu.

Si un mot est la construction d’un son et d’un sens, il semblerait que le courage ne soit devenu qu’un son sans le sens, c’est-à-dire que l’on reconnaît le mot lorsqu’on l’entend, lorsque certains l’évoquent, mais que, au fond, personne ne sait réellement ce en quoi il consiste.

On aura beau créer des formations universitaires en gouvernance, en administration des affaires ou en management, le courage n’est pas une valeur qui se codifie ou qui s’enseigne.

Le courage ne consiste pas à faire son travail tel qu’on l’attend de vous, ce qui n’est que compétence. Non, le courage est une qualité du cœur qui porte à réfléchir et à agir contre la facilité, avec sagesse, dans des circonstances difficiles. Le courage n’existe pas en théorie, il ne peut se démontrer que dans l’action.

Tout comme l’éthique, le courage exige un peu moins de soi et un peu plus des autres. La personne courageuse mettra de côté son intérêt personnel à court terme en vue de réaliser la raison d’être de l’entreprise.

Dans la conduite des affaires, combien de personnes, devant l’adversité, préféreront détourner le regard, se voiler les yeux, ou dire que cela ne me regarde pas ? Combien préféreront la facilité ? Combien diront que c’est imposé et que je n’ai pas le choix ?

Il importe de savoir que le courage ne signifie pas l’absence de peur ; la personne courageuse peut avoir peur dans des circonstances difficiles. Toutefois, la personne courageuse mesurera le danger, évaluera les actions qui peuvent être entreprises, surmontera sa peur et fera ce qui peut être fait dans les circonstances. Le courage se distingue de la témérité, qui n’est après tout que de foncer sans réfléchir. La témérité n’est qu’un excès de courage — sans-réflexion.

Comme dirigeants, comme administrateurs, vous avez toujours le choix. Vous avez d’ailleurs été nommés afin d’exercer ce choix. La question n’est donc pas de savoir si vous avez ou non le choix, mais, plutôt, si vous aurez le courage d’exercer ce choix. Pour le dire autrement : aurez-vous assez de cœur afin de faire ce qui doit être fait ?

Malheureusement, l’observation de la vie des organisations nous offre de [trop] nombreux exemples où plusieurs ont préféré le confort au courage. Confort, c’est un joli mot, mais en réalité, ce confort n’est que lâcheté qui n’ose dire son nom. Certes, lâcheté, c’est moins joli, mais c’est plus exact.

Lorsque l’on y pense un instant, sans courage, on devient sans-cœur.

Dans une société qui change rapidement, on a plus besoin de modèles et de héros que de mercenaires à la fidélité douteuse. C’est pourquoi, dans la conduite des affaires, il convient de réhabiliter le courage, de comprendre sa distinction d’avec la témérité et d’agir de manière juste.

Avec courage.

Avec cœur.

Si le courage mène à l’héroïsme, le manque de courage mène au cynisme.


*René Villemure est Éthicien et Chasseur de tendances. Il a fondé l’Institut québécois d’éthique appliquée en 1998 et Éthikos en 2003. Il a été le premier éthicien au Canada à s’intéresser à la gestion éthique des organisations à l’époque où personne ne connaissait les termes « gouvernance », « responsabilité sociétale des entreprises », « développement durable » et « gestion éthique ». Il croyait que ces sujets étaient cruciaux, fondamentaux, incontournables, et ne devaient pas demeurer dans l’ombre ou le privilège de quelques experts et éthiciens d’occasion.

Éthicien depuis 1998, son point de vue est recherché par les gouvernements et les dirigeants de grandes sociétés publiques et privées tant en Amérique qu’en Europe et en Afrique. Il a, à ce jour, prononcé plus de 675 conférences et formé plus de 65 000 personnes, autour du monde, dans plus de 700 organisations puis a participé à plus de 375 entrevues dans les médias francophones et anglophones. Ses interventions sur l’éthique touchent des domaines aussi variés que le monde de l’entreprise, la santé, l’éducation, l’industrie du luxe, l’agroalimentaire, les relations internationales que la culture ou encore l’intelligence artificielle.

Visionnaire, il invente dès 1998 les concepts de Diagnostic éthique ©, de Modèle de gestion éthique © et signe la conception de la méthode Éthique et valeurs © puis, en 2014, il crée BoardEthics qui mesure la compréhension et la sensibilité éthique de membres de conseils d’administration et de la haute direction. Depuis 2009, il enseigne la Gouvernance éthique au Collège des administrateurs de sociétés de l’Université Laval. Il offre également des séminaires éthiques à l’Institut Français des Administrateurs (IFA) à Paris.

Rôle du conseil d’administration en cas de gestion de crises | Les défis de Facebook


Voici un article qui met en garde les structures de gouvernance telles que Facebook.

L’article publié sur le site de Directors&Boards par Eve Tahmincioglu soulève plusieurs questions fondamentales :

(1) L’actionnariat à vote multiple conduit-il à une structure de gouvernance convenable et acceptable ?

(2) Pourquoi le principe de gouvernance stipulant une action, un vote, est-il bafoué dans le cas de plusieurs entreprises de la Silicone Valley ?

(3) Quel est le véritable pouvoir d’un conseil d’administration où les fondateurs sont majoritaires par le jeu des actions à classe multiple ?

(4) Doit-on réglementer pour rétablir la position de suprématie du conseil d’administration dirigé par des administrateurs indépendants ?

(5) Dans une situation de gestion de crise comme celle qui confronte Facebook, quel est le rôle d’un administrateur indépendant, président de conseil ?

(6) Les médias cherchent à connaître la position du PDG sans se questionner sur les responsabilités des administrateurs. Est-ce normal en gestion de crise ?

Je vous invite à lire l’article ci-dessous et à exprimer vos idées sur les principes de bonne gouvernance appliqués aux entreprises publiques contrôlées par les fondateurs.

Bonne lecture !

 

Facebook Confronts Its Biggest Challenge: But where’s the “high-powered” board?

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « facebook »i

 

Facebook is arguably facing one of the toughest challenges the company has ever faced. But the slow and tepid response from leadership, including the boards of directors, concerns governance experts.

The scandal involving data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly led to 50 million Facebook users’ private information being compromised but a public accounting from Facebook’s CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg has been slow coming.

Could this be a governance breakdown?

“This high-powered board needs to engage more strongly,” says Steve Odland, CEO of the Committee for Economic Development and a board member for General Mills, Inc. and Analogic Corporation. Facebook’s board includes Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings; Susan D. Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of The Gates Foundation; the former chairman of American Express Kenneth I. Chenault; and PayPal cofounder Peter A. Thiel, among others.

Odland points out that Facebook has two powerful and well-known executives, Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who have been publicly out there on every subject, but largely absent on this one.

While Zuckerberg released a written statement late today on his Facebook page, he didn’t talk directly to the public, or take media questions. He is reportedly planning to appear on CNN tonight.

It was a long time coming for many.

“They need to get out and publicly talk about this quickly,” Odland maintains. “They didn’t have to have all the answers. But this vacuum of communications gets filled by others, and that’s not good for the company.”

Indeed, politicians, the Federal Trade Commission and European politicians are stepping in, he says, “and that could threaten the whole platform.”

Typically, he adds, it comes back to management to engage and use the board, but “I don’t think Zuckerberg is all that experienced in that regard. This is where the board needs to help him.”

But how much power does the board have?

Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware’s Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance, sees the dual-class ownership structure of Facebook that gives the majority of voting power to Zuckerberg and thus undermines shareholders and the board’s power.

“It’s his board because of the dual-class stock. There is nothing [directors] can do; neither can the shareholders and a lawsuit would yield really nothing,” he explains.

Elson has been warning against such structures for some time, including in a piece for this publication on Snap’s dual-class IPO.

He and his coauthor Craig K. Ferrere wrote:

Increasingly, company founders have been opting to shore up control by creating stock ownership structures that undercut shareholder voting power, where only a decade ago almost all chose the standard and accepted one-share, one-vote model.

Now the Snap Inc. initial public offering (IPO) takes it even further with the first-ever solely non-voting stock model. It’s a stock ownership structure that further undercuts shareholder influence, undermines corporate governance and will likely shift the burden of investment grievances to the courts.

By offering stock in the company with no shareholder vote at all, Snap — the company behind the popular mobile-messaging app Snapchat that’s all about giving a voice to the many — has acknowledged that public voting power at companies with a hierarchy of stock ownership classes is only a fiction. And it begs the question: Why does Snap even need a board?

But some critics have waved Elson’s assertions away because so many tech companies, including Facebook, have been doing well by investors.

Alas, Facebook’s shares have tanked as a result of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, and it’s unclear what’s happening among the leaders at Facebook to deal with the crisis.

Facebook’s board, advises Odland, needs to get involved and help create privacy policies and if those are violated, they need to follow up.

“This is a relatively young company in a relatively young industry that has grown to be a powerhouse and incredibly important,” he explains.  Given that, he says, there are “new forms of risk management this board needs to tackle.”

Nouvelles perspectives pour la gouvernance en 2018


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un excellent article de Martin Lipton* sur les nouvelles perspectives de la gouvernance en 2018. Cet article est publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Après une brève introduction portant sur les meilleures pratiques observées dans les entreprises cotées, l’auteur se penche sur les paramètres les plus significatifs de la nouvelle gouvernance.

Les thèmes suivants sont abordés dans un contexte de renouvellement de la gouvernance pour le futur :

  1. La notion de l’actionnariat élargie pour tenir compte des parties prenantes ;
  2. L’importance de considérer le développement durable et la responsabilité sociale des entreprises ;
  3. L’adoption de stratégies favorisant l’engagement à long terme ;
  4. La nécessité de se préoccuper de la composition des membres du CA ;
  5. L’approche à adopter eu égard aux comportements d’actionnaires/investisseurs activistes ;
  6. Les attentes eu égard aux rôles et responsabilités des administrateurs.

À l’approche de la nouvelle année 2018, cette lecture devrait compter parmi les plus utiles pour les administrateurs et les dirigeants d’entreprises ainsi que pour toute personne intéressée par l’évolution des pratiques de gouvernance.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2018

 

 

Introduction

 

As 2017 draws to a conclusion and we reflect on the evolution of corporate governance since the turn of the millennium, a recurring question percolating in boardrooms and among shareholders and other stakeholders, academics and politicians is: what’s next on the horizon for corporate governance? In many respects, we seem to have reached a point of relative stasis. The governance and takeover defense profiles of U.S. public companies have been transformed by the widespread adoption of virtually all of the “best practices” advocated to enhance the rights of shareholders and weaken takeover defenses.

While the future issues of corporate governance remain murky, there are some emerging themes that portend a potentially profound shift in the way that boards will need to think about their roles and priorities in guiding the corporate enterprise. While these themes are hardly new, they have been gaining momentum in prompting a rethinking of some of the most basic assumptions about corporations, corporate governance and the path forward.

First, while corporate governance continues to be focused on the relationship between boards and shareholders, there has been a shift toward a more expansive view that is prompting questions about the broader role and purpose of corporations. Most of the governance reforms of the past few decades targeted the ways in which boards are structured and held accountable to the interests of shareholders, with debates often boiling down to trade-offs between a board-centric versus a more shareholder-centric framework and what will best create shareholder value. Recently, efforts to invigorate a more long-term perspective among both corporations and their investors have been laying the groundwork for a shift from these process-oriented debates to elemental questions about the basic purpose of corporations and how their success should be measured and defined.

In particular, sustainability has become a major, mainstream governance topic that encompasses a wide range of issues such as climate change and other environmental risks, systemic financial stability, labor standards, and consumer and product safety. Relatedly, an expanded notion of stakeholder interests that includes employees, customers, communities, and the economy and society as a whole has been a developing theme in policymaking and academic spheres as well as with investors. As summarized in a 2017 report issued by State Street Global Advisor,

“Today’s investors are looking for ways to put their capital to work in a more sustainable way, one focused on long-term value creation that enables them to address their financial goals and responsible investing needs. So, for a growing number of institutional investors, the environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics of their portfolio are key to their investment strategy.”

While both sustainability and expanded constituency considerations have been emphasized most frequently in terms of their impact on long-term shareholder value, they have also been prompting fresh dialogue about the societal role and purpose of corporations.

Another common theme that underscores many of the corporate governance issues facing boards today is that corporate governance is inherently complex and nuanced, and less amenable to the benchmarking and quantification that was a significant driver in the widespread adoption of corporate governance “best practices.” Prevailing views about what constitutes effective governance have morphed from a relatively binary, check-the-box mentality—such as whether a board is declassified, whether shareholders can act by written consent and whether companies have adopted majority voting standards—to tackling questions such as how to craft a well-rounded board with the skills and experiences that are most relevant to a particular corporation, how to effectively oversee the company’s management of risk, and how to forge relationships with shareholders that meaningfully enhance the company’s credibility. Companies and investors alike have sought to formulate these “next generation” governance issues in a way that facilitates comparability, objective assessment and accountability. For example, many companies have been including skills matrices in their proxy statements to show, in a visual snapshot, that their board composition encompasses appropriate skills and experiences. Yet, to the extent that complicated governance issues cannot be reduced to simple, user-friendly metrics, it remains to be seen whether this will prompt new ways of defining “good” corporate governance that require a deeper understanding of companies and their businesses, and the impact that could have on the expectations and practices of stakeholders.

Against this backdrop, a few of the more significant issues that boards of directors will face in the coming year, as well as an overview of some key roles and responsibilities, are highlighted below. Parts II through VI contain brief summaries of some of the leading proposals and thinking for corporate governance of the future. In Part VII, we turn to the issues boards of directors will face in 2018 and suggestions as to how to prepare to deal with them.

 

Expanded Stakeholders

 

The primacy of shareholder value as the exclusive objective of corporations, as articulated by Milton Friedman and then thoroughly embraced by Wall Street, has come under scrutiny by regulators, academics, politicians and even investors. While the corporate governance initiatives of the past year cannot be categorized as an abandonment of the shareholder primacy agenda, there are signs that academic commentators, legislators and some investors are looking at more nuanced and tempered approaches to creating shareholder value.

In his 2013 book, Firm Commitment: Why the Corporation is Failing Us and How to Restore Trust in It, and a series of brilliant articles and lectures, Colin Mayer of the University of Oxford has convincingly rejected shareholder value primacy and put forth proposals to reconceive the business corporation so that it is committed to all its stakeholders, including the community and the general economy. His new book, Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2018, continues the theme of his earlier publications and will be required reading.

Similarly, an influential working paper by Oliver Hart and Luigi Zingales argues that the appropriate objective of the corporation is shareholder welfare rather than shareholder wealth. Hart and Zingales advocate that corporations and asset managers should pursue policies consistent with the preferences of their investors, specifically because corporations may be able to accomplish objectives that shareholders acting individually cannot. In such a setting, the implicit separability assumption underlying Milton Friedman’s theory of the purpose of the firm fails to produce the best outcome for shareholders. Indeed, even though Hart and Zingales propose a revision that remains shareholder-centered, by recognizing the unique capability of corporations to engage in certain kinds of activities, their theory invites a careful consideration of other goals such as sustainability, board diversity and employee welfare, and even such social concerns, as, for example, reducing mass violence or promoting environmental stewardship. Such a model of corporate decision-making emphasizes the importance of boards establishing a relationship with significant shareholders to understand shareholder goals, beyond simply assuming that an elementary wealth maximization framework is the optimal path.

Perhaps closer to a wholesale rejection of the shareholder primacy agenda, an article by Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, featured in the May-June 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, attacks the fallacies of the economic theories that have been used since 1970 to justify shareholder-centric corporate governance, short-termism and activist attacks on corporations. In questioning the benefits of hedge fund activism, Bower and Paine argue that some of the value purportedly created for shareholders by activists is not actually value created, but rather value transferred from other parties or from the public purse, such as shifting a company’s tax domicile to a lower-tax jurisdiction or eliminating exploratory research and development. The article supports the common sense notion that boards have a fiduciary duty not just to shareholders, but also to employees, customers and the community—a constituency theory of governance penned into law in a number of states’ business corporation laws.

Moreover, this theme has been metastasizing from a theoretical debate into specific reform initiatives that, if implemented, could have a direct impact on boards. For example, Delaware and 32 other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation approving a new corporate form—the benefit corporation —a for-profit corporate entity with expanded fiduciary obligations of boards to consider other stakeholders in addition to shareholders. Benefit corporations are mandated by law to consider their overall positive impact on society, their workers, the communities in which they operate and the environment, in addition to the goal of maximizing shareholder profit.

This broader sense of corporate purpose has been gaining traction among shareholders. For example, the endorsement form for the Principles published by the Investor Stewardship Group in 2017 includes:

“[I]t is the fiduciary responsibility of all asset managers to conduct themselves in accordance with the preconditions for responsible engagement in a manner that accrues to the best interests of stakeholders and society in general, and that in so doing they’ll help to build a framework for promoting long-term value creation on behalf of U.S. companies and the broader U.S. economy.”

Notions of expanded stakeholder interests have often been incorporated into the concept of long-termism, and advocating a long-term approach has also entailed the promotion of a broader range of stakeholder interests without explicitly eroding the primacy of shareholder value. Recently, however, the interests of other stakeholders have increasingly been articulated in their own right rather than as an adjunct to the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance. Ideas about the broader social purpose of corporations have the potential to drive corporate governance reforms into uncharted territory requiring navigation of new questions about how to measure and compare corporate performance, how to hold companies accountable and how to incentivize managers.

 

Sustainability

 

The meaning of sustainability is no longer limited to describing environmental practices, but rather more broadly encompasses the sustainability of a corporation’s business model in today’s fast-changing world. The focus on sustainability encompasses the systemic sustainability of public markets and pressures boards to think about corporate strategy and how governance should be structured to respond to and compete in this environment.

Recently, the investing world has seen a rise of ESG-oriented funds—previously a small, niche segment of the investment community. Even beyond these specialized funds, ESG has also become a focus of a broad range of traditional investment funds and institutional investors. For instance, BlackRock and State Street both offer their investors products that specifically focus on ESG-oriented topics like climate change and impact investing—investing with an intention of generating a specific social or environmental outcome alongside financial returns.

At the beginning of 2017, State Street’s CEO Ronald P. O’Hanley wrote a letter advising the boards of the companies in which State Street invests that State Street defines sustainability “as encompassing a broad range of environmental, social and governance issues that include, for example, effective independent board leadership and board composition, diversity and talent development, safety issues, and climate change.” The letter was a reminder that broader issues that impact all of a company’s stakeholders may have a material effect on a company’s ability to generate returns. Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Laurence D. Fink remarked similarly in his January 2017 letter that

“[e]nvironmental, social and governance factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.”

Similarly, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment remind corporations that ESG factors should be incorporated into all investment decisions to better manage risk and generate sustainable, long-term returns.

Shareholders’ engagement with ESG issues has also increased. Previously, ESG was somewhat of a fringe issue with ESG-related shareholder proxy proposals rarely receiving significant shareholder support. This is no longer the case. In the 2017 proxy season, the two most common shareholder proposal topics related to social (201 proposals) and environmental (144 proposals, including 69 on climate change) issues, as opposed to 2016’s top two topics of proxy access (201) and social issues (160). Similar to cybersecurity and other risk management issues, sustainability practices involve the nuts and bolts of operations—e.g., life-cycle assessments of a product and management of key performance indicators (KPIs) using management information systems that facilitate internal and public reporting—and provide another example of an operational issue that has become a board/governance issue.

The expansion of sustainability requires all boards—not just boards of companies with environmentally sensitive businesses—to be aware of and be ready to respond to ESG-related concerns. The salient question is whether “best” sustainability practices will involve simply the “right” messaging and disclosures, or whether investors and companies will converge on a method to measure sustainability practices that affords real impact on capital allocation, risk-taking and proactive—as opposed to reactive—strategy.

Indeed, measurement and accountability are perhaps the elephants in the room when it comes to sustainability. Many investors appear to factor sustainability into their investing decisions. Other ways to measure sustainability practices include the presence of a Chief Sustainability Officer or Corporate Responsibility Committee. However, while there are numerous disclosure frameworks relating to sustainability and ESG practices, there is no centralized ESG rating system. Further, rating methodologies and assessments of materiality vary widely across ESG data providers and disclosure requirements vary across jurisdictions.

Pending the development of clear and agreed standards to benchmark performance on ESG issues, boards of directors should focus on understanding how their significant investors value and measure ESG issues, including through continued outreach and engagement with investors focusing on these issues, and should seek tangible agreed-upon methodologies to address these areas, while also promoting the development of improved metrics and disclosure.

Promoting a Long-Term Perspective

 

As the past year’s corporate governance conversation has explored considerations outside the goal of maximizing shareholder value, the conversation within the shareholder value maximization framework has also continued to shift toward an emphasis on long-term value rather than short term. A February 2017 discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute in cooperation with Focusing Capital on the Long Term found that long-term focused companies, as measured by a number of factors including investment, earnings quality and margin growth, generally outperformed shorter-term focused companies in both financial and other performance measures. Long-term focused companies had greater, and less volatile, revenue growth, more spending on research and development, greater total returns to shareholders and more employment than other firms.

This empirical evidence that corporations focused on stakeholders and long-term investment contribute to greater economic growth and higher GDP is consistent with innovative corporate governance initiatives. A new startup, comprised of veterans of the NYSE and U.S. Treasury Department, is working on creating the “Long-Term Stock Exchange”—a proposal to build and operate an entirely new stock exchange where listed companies would have to satisfy not only all of the normal SEC requirements to allow shares to trade on other regulated U.S. stock markets but, in addition, other requirements such as tenured shareholder voting power (permitting shareholder voting to be proportionately weighted by the length of time the shares have been held), mandated ties between executive pay and long-term business performance and disclosure requirements informing companies who their long-term shareholders are and informing investors of what companies’ long-term investments are.

In addition to innovative alternatives, numerous institutional investors and corporate governance thought leaders are rethinking the mainstream relationship between all boards of directors and institutional investors to promote a healthier focus on long-term investment. While legislative reform has taken a stronger hold in the U.K. and Europe, leading American companies and institutional investors are pushing for a private sector solution to increase long-term economic growth. Commonsense Corporate Governance Principles and The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth were published in hopes of recalibrating the relationship between boards and institutional investors to protect the economy against the short-term myopic approach to management and investing that promises to impede long-term economic prosperity. Under a similar aim, the Investor Stewardship Group published its Stewardship Principles and Corporate Governance Principles, set to become effective in January 2018, to establish a framework with six principles for investor stewardship and six principles for corporate governance to promote long-term value creation in American business. A Synthesized Paradigm for Corporate Governance, Investor Stewardship, and Engagement provides a synthesis of these and others in the hope that companies and investors would agree on a common approach. In fact, over 100 companies to date have signed The Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership: A Roadmap for Sustainable Long-Term Growth and Opportunity, sponsored by the World Economic Forum, which includes the key features of The New Paradigm.

Similarly, the BlackRock Investment Stewardship team has proactively outlined five focus areas for its engagement efforts: Governance, Corporate Strategy for the Long-Term, Executive Compensation that Promotes Long-Termism, Disclosure of Climate Risks, and Human Capital Management. BlackRock’s outline reflects a number of key trends, including heightened transparency by institutional investors, more engagement by “passive” investors, and continued disintermediation of proxy advisory firms. In the United Kingdom, The Investor Forum was founded to provide an intermediary to represent the views of its investor members to investee companies in the hope of reducing activism, and appears to have achieved a successful start.

Similarly, in June 2017, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and Ernst & Young jointly announced the launch of a project on long-term value creation. Noting among other elements that trust and social cohesion are necessary ingredients for the long-term success of capitalism, the project will emphasize reporting mechanisms and credible measurements supporting long-term value, developing and testing a framework to better reflect the full value companies create beyond simply financial value. There is widespread agreement that focusing on long-term investment will promote long-term economic growth. The next step is a consensus between companies and investors on a common path of action that will lead to restored trust and cohesion around long-term goals.

 

Board Composition

 

The corporate governance conversation has become increasingly focused on board composition, including board diversity. Recent academic studies have confirmed and expanded upon existing empirical evidence that hedge fund activism has been notably counterproductive in increasing gender diversity—yet another negative externality of this type of activism. Statistical evidence supports the hypothesis that the rate of shareholder activism is higher toward female CEOs holding all else equal, including industries, company sizes and levels of performance. A study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology investigated the reasons that hedge fund activists seemingly ignore the evidence for gender-diverse boards in their choices for director nominees and disproportionately target female CEOs. The authors suggest these reasons may include subconscious biases of hedge funds against women leaders due to perceptions and cultural attitudes.

In the United Kingdom, the focus on board diversity has spread into policy. The House of Commons Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee report on Corporate Governance, issued in 2017, included recommendations for improving ethnic, gender and social diversity of boards, noting that “[to] be an effective board, individual directors need different skills, experience, personal attributes and approaches.” The U.K. government’s response to this report issued in September 2017 notes its agreement on various diversity-related issues, stating that the “Government agrees with the Committee that it makes business sense to recruit directors from as broad a base as possible across the demographic of the UK” and further, tying into themes of stakeholder capitalism, that the “Government believes that greater diversity within the boardroom can help companies connect with their workforces, supply chains, customers and shareholders.”

In the United States, institutional investors are focused on a range of board composition issues, including term limits, board refreshment, diversity, skills matrices and board evaluation processes, as well as disclosures regarding these issues. In a recent letter, Vanguard explained that it considers the board to be “one of a company’s most critical strategic assets” and looks for a “high-functioning, well-composed, independent, diverse, and experienced board with effective ongoing evaluation practices,” stating that “Good governance starts with a great Board.” The New York Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0 is focused on increasing diversity of boards in order to strengthen their independence and competency. In connection with launching this campaign, the NYC Pension Funds asked the boards of 151 U.S. companies to disclose the race and gender of their directors alongside board members’ skills in a standardized matrix format. And yet, similar to the difficulty of measuring and comparing sustainability efforts of companies, investors and companies alike continue to struggle with how to measure and judge a board’s diversity, and board composition generally, as the conversation becomes more nuanced. Board composition and diversity aimed at increasing board independence and competency is not a topic that lends itself to a “check-the-box” type measurement.

In light of the heightened emphasis on board composition, boards should consider increasing their communications with their major shareholders about their director selection and nomination processes to show the board understands the importance of its composition. Boards should consider disclosing how new director candidates are identified and evaluated, how committee chairs and the lead director are determined, and how the operations of the board as a whole and the performance of each director are assessed. Boards may also focus on increasing tutorials, facility visits, strategic retreats and other opportunities to increase the directors’ understanding of the company’s business—and communicate such efforts to key shareholders and constituents.

 

Activism

 

Despite the developments and initiatives striving to protect and promote long-term investment, the most dangerous threat to long-term economic prosperity has continued to surge in the past year. There has been a significant increase in activism activity in countries around the world and no slowdown in the United States. The headlines of 2017 were filled with activists who do not fit the description of good stewards of the long-term interests of the corporation. A must-read Bloombergarticle described Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp., which manages $34 billion of assets, as “aggressive, tenacious and litigious to a fault” and perhaps “the most feared activist investor in the world.” Numerous recent activist attacks underscore that the CEO remains a favored activist target. Several major funds have become more nuanced and taken a merchant banker approach of requesting board representation to assist a company to improve operations and strategy for long-term success. No company is too big for an activist attack. Substantial new capital has been raised by activist hedge funds and several activists have created special purpose funds for investment in a single target. As long as activism remains a serious threat, the economy will continue to experience the negative externalities of this approach to investing—companies attempting to avoid an activist attack are increasingly managed for the short term, cutting important spending on research and development and focusing on short-term profits by effecting share buybacks and paying dividends at the expense of investing in a strategy for long-term growth.

To minimize the impact of activist attacks, boards must focus on building relationships with major institutional investors. The measure of corporate governance success has shifted from checking the right boxes to building the right relationships. Major institutional investors have reiterated their commitment to bringing a long-term perspective to public companies, including, for example, Vanguard, which sent an open letter to directors of public companies world-wide explaining that a long-term perspective informed every aspect of its investment approach. Only by forging relationships of trust and credibility with long-term shareholders can a company expect to gain support for its long-term strategy when it needs it. In many instances, when an activist does approach, a previously established relationship provides a foundation for management and the board to persuade key shareholders that short-term activism is not in their best interest—an effort that is already showing some promise. General Motors’ resounding defeat of Greenlight Capital’s attempt to gain shareholder approval to convert its common stock into two classes shows a large successful company’s ability to garner the

support of its institutional investors against financial engineering. Trian’s recent proxy fight against Procter & Gamble shows the importance of proactively establishing relationships with long-term shareholders. Given Trian’s proven track record of success in urging changes in long-term strategy, Nelson Peltz was able to gain support for a seat on P&G’s board from proxy advisors and major institutional investors. We called attention to importantlessons from this proxy fight (discussed on the Forum here and here).

 

Spotlight on Boards

 

The ever-evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have equivalent influence on board and company behavior. In the coming year, boards will be expected to:

Oversee corporate strategy and the communication of that strategy to investors;

Set the tone at the top to create a corporate culture that gives priority to ethical standards, professionalism, integrity and compliance in setting and implementing strategic goals;

Choose the CEO, monitor the CEO’s and management’s performance and develop a succession plan;

Determine the agendas for board and committee meetings and work with management to assure appropriate information and sufficient time are available for full consideration of all matters;

Determine the appropriate level of executive compensation and incentive structures, with awareness of the potential impact of compensation structures on business priorities and risk-taking, as well as investor and proxy advisor views on compensation;

Develop a working partnership with the CEO and management and serve as a resource for management in charting the appropriate course for the corporation;

Oversee and understand the corporation’s risk management and compliance efforts, and how risk is taken into account in the corporation’s business decision-making; respond to red flags when and if they arise (see Risk Management and the Board of Directors, discussed on the Forum here);

Monitor and participate, as appropriate, in shareholder engagement efforts, evaluate potential corporate governance proposals and anticipate possible activist attacks in order to be able to address them more effectively;

Evaluate the board’s performance on a regular basis and consider the optimal board and committee composition and structure, including board refreshment, expertise and skill sets, independence and diversity, as well as the best way to communicate with investors regarding these issues;

Review corporate governance guidelines and committee charters and tailor them to promote effective board functioning;

Be prepared to deal with crises; and

Be prepared to take an active role in matters where the CEO may have a real or perceived conflict, including takeovers and attacks by activist hedge funds focused on the CEO.

To meet these expectations, major public companies should seek to:

Have a sufficient number of directors to staff the requisite standing and special committees and to meet expectations for diversity;

Have directors who have knowledge of, and experience with, the company’s businesses, even if this results in the board having more than one director who is not “independent”;

Have directors who are able to devote sufficient time to preparing for and attending board and committee meetings;

Meet investor expectations for director age, diversity and periodic refreshment;

Provide the directors with the data that is critical to making sound decisions on strategy, compensation and capital allocation;

Provide the directors with regular tutorials by internal and external experts as part of expanded director education; and

Maintain a truly collegial relationship among and between the company’s senior executives and the members of the board that enhances the board’s role both as strategic partner and as monitor.

______________________________________

*Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Lipton, Steven A. Rosenblum, Karessa L. Cain, Sabastian V. Niles, Vishal Chanani, and Kathleen C. Iannone.

Sept leçons apprises en matière de communications de crise **


Nous avons demandé à Richard Thibault *, président de RTCOMM, d’agir à titre d’auteur invité. Son billet présente sept leçons tirées de son expérience comme consultant en gestion de crise.

En tant que membres de conseils d’administration, vous aurez certainement l’occasion de vivre des crises significatives et il est important de connaître les règles que la direction doit observer en pareilles circonstances.

Voici donc l’article en question, reproduit ici avec la permission de l’auteur. Vos commentaires sont appréciés. Bonne lecture.

 

Sept leçons apprises en matière de communications de crise

Par Richard Thibault*

La crise la mieux gérée est, dit-on, celle que l’on peut éviter. Mais il arrive que malgré tous nos efforts pour l’éviter, la crise frappe et souvent, très fort. Dans toute situation de crise, l’objectif premier est d’en sortir le plus rapidement possible, avec le moins de dommages possibles, sans compromettre le développement futur de l’organisation.

Voici sept leçons dont il faut s’inspirer en matière de communication de crise, sur laquelle on investit généralement 80% de nos efforts, et de notre budget, en de telles situations.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as seen from s...
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as seen from space by NASA’s Terra satellite on May 24, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(1) Le choix du porte-parole

Les médias voudront tout savoir. Mais il faudra aussi communiquer avec l’ensemble de nos clientèles internes et externes. Avoir un porte-parole crédible et bien formé est essentiel. On ne s’improvise pas porte-parole, on le devient. Surtout en situation de crise, alors que la tension est parfois extrême, l’organisation a besoin de quelqu’un de crédible et d’empathique à l’égard des victimes. Cette personne devra être en possession de tous ses moyens pour porter adéquatement son message et elle aura appris à éviter les pièges. Le choix de la plus haute autorité de l’organisation comme porte-parole en situation de crise n’est pas toujours une bonne idée. En crise, l’information dont vous disposez et sur laquelle vous baserez vos décisions sera changeante, contradictoire même, surtout au début. Risquer la crédibilité du chef de l’organisation dès le début de la crise peut être hasardeux. Comment le contredire ensuite sans nuire à son image et à la gestion de la crise elle-même ?

(2) S’excuser publiquement si l’on est en faute

S’excuser pour la crise que nous avons provoqué, tout au moins jusqu’à ce que notre responsabilité ait été officiellement dégagée, est une décision-clé de toute gestion de crise, surtout si notre responsabilité ne fait aucun doute. En de telles occasions, il ne faut pas tenter de défendre l’indéfendable. Ou pire, menacer nos adversaires de poursuites ou jouer les matamores avec les agences gouvernementales qui nous ont pris en défaut. On a pu constater les impacts négatifs de cette stratégie utilisée par la FTQ impliquée dans une histoire d’intimidation sur les chantiers de la Côte-Nord, à une certaine époque. Règle générale : mieux vaut s’excuser, être transparent et faire preuve de réserve et de retenue jusqu’à ce que la situation ait été clarifiée.

(3) Être proactif

Dans un conflit comme dans une gestion de crise, le premier à parler évite de se laisser définir par ses adversaires, établit l’agenda et définit l’angle du message. On vous conseillera peut-être de ne pas parler aux journalistes. Je prétends pour ma part que si, légalement, vous n’êtes pas obligés de parler aux médias, eux, en contrepartie, pourront légalement parler de vous et ne se priveront pas d’aller voir même vos opposants pour s’alimenter.  En août 2008, la canadienne Maple Leaf, compagnie basée à Toronto, subissait la pire crise de son histoire suite au décès et à la maladie de plusieurs de ses clients. Lorsque le lien entre la listériose et Maple Leaf a été confirmé, cette dernière a été prompte à réagir autant dans ses communications et son attitude face aux médias que dans sa gestion de la crise. La compagnie a très rapidement retiré des tablettes des supermarchés les produits incriminés. Elle a lancé une opération majeure de nettoyage, qu’elle a d’ailleurs fait au grand jour, et elle a offert son support aux victimes. D’ailleurs, la gestion des victimes est généralement le point le plus sensible d’une gestion de crise réussie.

(4) Régler le problème et dire comment

Dès les débuts de la crise, Maple Leaf s’est mise immédiatement au service de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments, offrant sa collaboration active et entière pour déterminer la cause du problème. Dans le même secteur alimentaire, tout le contraire de ce qu’XL Foods a fait quelques années plus tard. Chez Maple Leaf, tout de suite, des experts reconnus ont été affectés à la recherche de solutions. On pouvait reprocher à la compagnie d’être à la source du problème, mais certainement pas de se trainer les pieds en voulant le régler. Encore une fois, en situation de crise, camoufler sa faute ou refuser de voir publiquement la réalité en face est décidément une stratégie à reléguer aux oubliettes. Plusieurs années auparavant, Tylenol avait montré la voie en retirant rapidement ses médicaments des tablettes et en faisant la promotion d’une nouvelle méthode d’emballage qui est devenue une méthode de référence aujourd’hui.

(5) Employer le bon message

Il est essentiel d’utiliser le bon message, au bon moment, avec le bon messager, diffusé par le bon moyen. Les premiers messages surtout sont importants. Ils serviront à exprimer notre empathie, à confirmer les faits et les actions entreprises, à expliquer le processus d’intervention, à affirmer notre désir d’agir et à dire où se procurer de plus amples informations. Si la gestion des médias est névralgique, la gestion de l’information l’est tout autant. En situation de crise, on a souvent tendance à s’asseoir sur l’information et à ne la partager qu’à des cercles restreints, ou, au contraire, à inonder nos publics d’informations inutiles. Un juste milieu doit être trouvé entre ces deux stratégies sachant pertinemment que le message devra évoluer en même temps que la crise.

(6) Être conséquent et consistant

Même s’il évolue en fonction du stade de la crise, le message de base doit pourtant demeurer le même. Dans l’exemple de Maple Leaf évoqué plus haut, bien que de nouveaux éléments aient surgi au fur et à mesure de l’évolution de la crise, le message de base, à savoir la mise en œuvre de mesures visant à assurer la santé et la sécurité du public, a été constamment repris sur tous les tons. Ainsi, Maple Leaf s’est montrée à la fois consistante en respectant sa ligne de réaction initiale et conséquente, en restant en phase avec le développement de la situation.

(7) Être ouvert d’esprit

Dans toute situation de crise, une attitude d’ouverture s’avérera gagnante. Que ce soit avec les médias, les victimes, nos employés, nos partenaires ou les agences publiques de contrôle, un esprit obtus ne fera qu’envenimer la situation. D’autant plus qu’en situation de crise, ce n’est pas vraiment ce qui est arrivé qui compte mais bien ce que les gens pensent qui est arrivé. Il faut donc suivre l’actualité afin de pouvoir anticiper l’angle que choisiront les médias et s’y préparer en conséquence.

En conclusion

Dans une perspective de gestion de crise, il est essentiel de disposer d’un plan d’action au préalable, même s’il faut l’appliquer avec souplesse pour répondre à l’évolution de la situation. Lorsque la crise a éclaté, c’est le pire moment pour commencer à s’organiser. Il est essentiel d’établir une culture de gestion des risques et de gestion de crise dans l’organisation avant que la crise ne frappe. Comme le dit le vieux sage,  » pour être prêt, faut se préparer ! »


* Richard Thibault, ABCP

Président de RTCOMM, une entreprise spécialisée en positionnement stratégique et en gestion de crise

Menant de front des études de Droit à l’Université Laval de Québec, une carrière au théâtre, à la radio et à la télévision, Richard Thibault s’est très tôt orienté vers le secteur des communications, duquel il a développé une expertise solide et diversifiée. Après avoir été animateur, journaliste et recherchiste à la télévision et à la radio de la région de Québec pendant près de cinq ans, il a occupé le poste d’animateur des débats et de responsable des affaires publiques de l’Assemblée nationale de 1979 à 1987.

Richard Thibault a ensuite tour à tour assumé les fonctions de directeur de cabinet et d’attaché de presse de plusieurs ministres du cabinet de Robert Bourassa, de conseiller spécial et directeur des communications à la Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail et de directeur des communications chez Les Nordiques de Québec.

En 1994, il fonda Richard Thibault Communications inc. (RTCOMM). D’abord spécialisée en positionnement stratégique et en communication de crise, l’entreprise a peu à peu élargi son expertise pour y inclure tous les champs de pratique de la continuité des affaires. D’autre part, reconnaissant l’importance de porte-parole qualifiés en période trouble, RTCOMM dispose également d’une école de formation à la parole en public. Son programme de formation aux relations avec les médias est d’ailleurs le seul programme de cette nature reconnu par le ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec, dans un contexte de communication d’urgence. Ce programme de formation est aussi accrédité par le Barreau du Québec.

Richard Thibault est l’auteur de Devenez champion dans vos communications et de Osez parler en public, publié aux Éditions MultiMondes et de Comment gérer la prochaine crise, édité chez Transcontinental, dans la Collection Entreprendre. Praticien reconnu de la gestion des risques et de crise, il est accrédité par la Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII).

Spécialités : Expert en positionnement stratégique, gestion des risques, communications de crise, continuité des affaires, formation à la parole en public.

http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=46704908&locale=fr_FR&trk=tyah

** Article en reprise

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Se poser les bonnes questions en cette période incertaine | Deloitte


Deloitte a récemment publié un document très important intitulé Courage under fire : Embracing disruption (en anglais seulement) dans lequel trois administrateurs chevronnés échangent leurs points de vue sur les grandes perturbations que les organisations mondiales sont appelées à connaître en 2017.

Les questions posées sont les suivantes :

Étant donné les attentes croissantes envers les conseils d’administration, quelles devraient être les priorités des administrateurs ?

Les appels à une meilleure communication de l’information ne cessent de se faire entendre. Comment les conseils réagissent-ils ?

Les organisations sont nombreuses à subir des perturbations numériques. Est-ce un risque incontrôlable de plus à gérer ?

Les perturbations numériques créent beaucoup d’incertitude. Les conseils d’administration réussissent-ils à bien s’adapter à cette réalité ?

Vous pouvez télécharger le document ci-dessous.

Bonne lecture !

Courage under fire : Embracing disruption |  Deloitte

 

 

Le rôle du conseil d’administration dans les procédures de conformité


Voici un cas de gouvernance, publié en décembre sur le site de Julie Garland McLellan* qui illustre comment la direction d’une société publique peut se retrouver en situation d’irrégularité malgré une culture du conseil d’administration axée sur la conformité.

L’investigation du vérificateur général (VG) a révélé plusieurs failles dans les procédures internes de la société. De ce fait, Kyle le président du comité d’audit, risque et conformité, est interpellé par le président du conseil afin d’aider la direction à trouver des solutions durables pour remédier à la situation.

Même si Kyle est conscient qu’il ne possède pas l’autorité requise pour régler les problèmes constatés par le VG, il comprend qu’il est impératif que son message passe.

Le cas présente la situation de manière assez succincte, mais explicite ; puis, trois experts en gouvernance se prononcent sur le dilemme qui se présente aux personnes qui vivent des situations similaires.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont toujours les bienvenus.

Le rôle du conseil d’administration dans les procédures de conformité

 

Business audit concept . Flat design vector illustration

Kyle is chairman on the Audit, Risk and Compliance committee of a government authority board which is subject to a Public Access to Information Act. The auditor general has just completed an audit of several authorities bound by that Act and Kyle’s authority was found to have several breeches of the Act, in particular;

–  some contracts valued at $150,000 or more were not recorded in the contracts register

–  some contracts were not entered into the register within 45 working days of the contracts becoming effective

–  there were instances where inaccurate information was recorded in the register when compared with the contracts, and

–  additional information required for certain classes of contracts was not disclosed in some registers.

The Board Chairman is rightly concerned that this has happened in what all directors believed to be a well governed authority with a strong culture of compliance. The Board Chairman has asked Kyle to oversee management’s response to the Auditor General and the development of systems to ensure that these breeches do not reoccur. Kyle is mindful that he remains a non-executive and has no authority within the chain of management command. He is keen to help and knows that the CEO is struggling with the complexity of her role and will need assistance with any increase in workload.

How can Kyle help without getting embroiled in management affairs?

Raz’s Answer

The issue I spot here, is one which I’ve encountered myself – as a seasoned professional, you have the internal urge to roll your sleeves and get right into it, and solve the problem. From the details disclosed in this dilemma, there’s evidence that the authority’s internal culture is compliant, therefore it’s hard to believe there’s foul play which caused these discrepancies in the reports. I would have guessed that there are some legacy processes, or even old technology, which needs to be looked at and discover where the gap is.

The CEO is under immense pressure to fix this issue, being exposed to public scrutiny, but with the government’s limited resources at her disposal, the pressure is even higher. Making decisions under such pressure, especially when a board member, the chair of the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee is looking over her shoulder, will likely to force her to make mistakes.

Kyle’s dilemma is simple to explain, but more delicate to handle: « How do I fix this, without sticking my nose into the operations? »

As a NED, what Kyle needs to be is a guide to the CEO, providing a calm and supportive environment for the CEO to operate in. Kyle needs to consult with the CEO, and get her on side, to ensure she’ll devote whichever resources she does have, to deal with this issue. This won’t be a Band-Aid solution, but a solution which will require collaboration of several parts of the organisations, orchestrated by the CEO herself.

Raz Chorev is Partner at Orange Sky and Managing Director at CXC Global. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

Julie’s Answer

The Auditor General has asked management to respond and board oversight of management should be done by and through the CEO.

Kyle cannot help without putting his fingers (or intellect) into the organisation. To do that without causing upset he will need to inform the CEO of the Chairman’s request, offer to help and make sure that he reports to her before he reports elsewhere. Handled sensitively the CEO, who appears to be struggling, should welcome any assistance with the task. Handled insensitively this could be a major issue because the statutory definitions of directors’ roles in public sector companies are less fluid than those in the private sector.

Kyle should also take this as a wake-up call – he assumes a culture of compliance and good governance but that is obviously not correct. The audit committee should regularly review the regulatory and legislative compliance framework and verify that all is as it should be; that has clearly not happened and Kyle should work with the company secretary or chief compliance/legal officer to review the entire framework and make sure nothing else is missing from the regular schedule of reviews. The committee must ask for what it needs to oversight effectively not just read what they are given.

The prevailing attitude should be one of thankfulness that the issue has been found and can be corrected. If Kyle detects a cultural rejection of the need to comply and cooperate with the AG in establishing good governance then Kyle must report to the whole board so remedial action can be planned.

Once management have responded to the AG with their proposed actions to remedy the matter. The audit committee should review to check that the actions have been implemented and that they effectively lead to compliance with the requirements. Likely remedies include amending the position descriptions of staff doing tendering or those setting up vendors in the payments system to include entry of details to the register, training in compliance, design of an internal audit system for routine review of registers and comparison to workloads to ensure that nothing has ‘dropped between the cracks’, and regular reporting of register completion and audit to the board audit committee.

Sean’s Answer

The Audit Risk and Compliance Committee (« Committee ») is to assist the Board in fulfilling its corporate governance and oversight responsibilities in relation to the bodies’ financial reporting, internal control structure, risk management systems, compliance and the external audit function.

The external auditors are responsible for auditing the bodies’ financial reports and for reviewing the unaudited interim financial reports. The Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 calls for auditing financial statements and performance reviews by the Auditor General.

As Committee Chairman Kyle must be independent and must have leadership experience and a strong finance, accounting or business background. So too must the CEO and CFO have appropriate and sufficient qualifications, knowledge, competence, experience and integrity and other personal attributes to undertake their roles.

It should be the responsibility of the Committee to maintain free and open communication between the Committee, external auditors and management. The Committee’s function is principally oversight and review.

The appointment and ongoing assessment, mentoring and discipline of the CEO rests with the board but the delegation of this authority in relation to compliance often rests with the Committee and Board Chairs.

Kyle may invite members of management (CFO and maybe the CEO) or others to attend meetings  and the Committee should have  authority, within the scope of its responsibilities, to seek information it requires, and assistance  from any employee or external party. Inviting the CFO and or CEO to the Committee allows visibility and a holistic and independent forum where deficiencies may be isolated and functions (but not responsibility) delegated to others.

There is a disconnect or deficiency in one or more functions; Kyle should ensure that the Committee holistically review its own charter, discuss with management and the external auditors the adequacy and effectiveness of the internal controls and reporting functions (including the Bodies’s policies and procedures to assess, monitor and manage these controls), as well as a review of the internal quality control procedures (because these are also suspected to be deficient).

It will rapidly become apparent to management, the Committee, Kyle, the board and the Chairman where the deficiencies lie or did lie, and how they have been corrected. Underlying behavioural problems and or abilities to function will also become apparent and with these appropriately addressed similar deficiencies in other areas of the body may be contemporaneously corrected and all reported to the Auditor General.

Sean Rothsey is Chairman and Founder of the Merkin Group. He is based in Cooroy, Queensland, Australia.


*Julie Garland McLellan is a practising non-executive director and board consultant based in Sydney, Australia. www.mclellan.com.au/newsletter.html

Dix stratégies pour se préparer à l’activisme accru des actionnaires


La scène de l’activisme actionnarial a drastiquement évolué au cours des vingt dernières années. Ainsi, la perception négative de l’implication des « hedge funds » dans la gouvernance des organisations a pris une tout autre couleur au fil des ans.

Les fonds institutionnels détiennent maintenant 63 % des actions des corporations publiques. Dans les années 1980, ceux-ci ne détenaient qu’environ 50 % du marché des actions.

L’engagement actif des fonds institutionnels avec d’autres groupes d’actionnaires activistes est maintenant un phénomène courant. Les entreprises doivent continuer à perfectionner leur préparation en vue d’un assaut éventuel des actionnaires activistes.

L’article de Merritt Moran* publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, est d’un grand intérêt pour mieux comprendre les changements amenés par les actionnaires activistes, c’est-à-dire ceux qui s’opposent à certaines orientations stratégiques des conseils d’administration, ainsi qu’à la toute-puissance des équipes de direction des entreprises.

L’auteure présente dix activités que les entreprises doivent accomplir afin de décourager les activistes, les incitant ainsi à aller voir ailleurs !

Voici la liste des étapes à réaliser afin d’être mieux préparé à faire face à l’adversité :

  1. Préparez un plan d’action concret ;
  2. Établissez de bonnes relations avec les investisseurs institutionnels et avec les actionnaires ;
  3. La direction doit entretenir une constante communication avec le CA ;
  4. Mettez en place de solides pratiques de divulgations ;
  5. Informez et éduquez les parties prenantes ;
  6. Faites vos devoirs et analysez les menaces et les vulnérabilités susceptibles d’inviter les actionnaires activistes ;
  7. Communiquez avec les actionnaires activistes et tentez de comprendre les raisons de leurs intérêts pour le changement ;
  8. Comprenez bien tous les aspects juridiques relatifs à une cause ;
  9. Explorez les différentes options qui s’offrent à l’entreprise ciblée ;
  10. Apprenez à connaître le rôle des autorités réglementaires.

 

J’espère vous avoir sensibilisé à l’importance de la préparation stratégique face à d’éventuels actionnaires activistes.

Bonne lecture !

 

Ten Strategic Building Blocks for Shareholder Activism Preparedness

 

Shareholder activism is a powerful term. It conjures the image of a white knight, which is ironic because these investors were called “corporate raiders” in the 1980s. A corporate raider conjures a much different image. As much as that change in terminology may seem like semantics, it is critical to understanding how to deal with proxy fights or hostile takeovers. The way someone is described and the language used are crucial to how that person is perceived. The perception of these so-called shareholder activists has changed so dramatically that, even though most companies’ goals are still the same, the playbook for dealing with activists is different than the playbook for corporate raiders. As such, a corresponding increase in the number of activist encounters has made that playbook required reading for all public company officers and directors. In fact, there have been more than 200 campaigns at U.S. public companies with market capitalizations greater than $1 billion in the last 10 quarters alone. [1]

4858275_3_f7e0_ces-derniers-mois-le-fonds-d-investissement_eccbb6dc5ed4db8b354a34dc3b14c30fIt’s not just the terminology concerning activists that has changed, though. Technologies, trading markets and the relationships activists have with other players in public markets have changed as well. Yet, some things have not changed.

The 1980s had arbitrageurs that would often jump onto any opportunity to buy the stock of a potential target company and support the plans and proposals raiders had to “maximize shareholder value.” Inside information was a critical component of how arbs made money. Ivan Boesky is a classic example of this kind of trading activity—so much so that he spent two years in prison for insider trading, and is permanently barred from the securities business. Arbs have now been replaced by hedge funds, some of which comprise the 10,000 or so funds that are currently trying to generate alpha for their investors. While arbitrageurs typically worked inside investment banks, which were highly regulated institutions, hedge funds now are capable of operating independently and are often willing allies of the 60 to 80 full time “sophisticated” activist funds. [2] Information is just as critical today as it was in the 1980s.

Institutions now occupy a far greater percentage of total share ownership today, with institutions holding about 63% of shares outstanding of the U.S. corporate equity market. In the 1980s, institutional ownership never crossed 50% of shares outstanding. [3] Not only has this resulted in an associated increase of voting power for institutions by the same amount, but also a change in their behavior and posture toward the companies in which they invest, at least in some cases. Thirty years ago, the idea that a large institutional investor would publicly side with an activist (formerly known as a “corporate raider”) would be a rare event. Today, major institutions have frequently sided with shareholder activists, and in some cases privately issued a “Request for Activism”, or “RFA” for a portfolio company, as it has become known in the industry.

It seldom, if ever, becomes clear as to whether institutions are seeking change at a company or whether an activist fund identifies a target and then seeks institutional support for its agenda. What is clear is that in today’s form of shareholder activism, the activist no longer needs to have a large stake in the target in order to provoke and drive major changes.

For example, in 2013, ValueAct Capital held less than 1% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares. Yet, ValueAct President, G. Mason Morfit forced his way onto the board of one of the world’s largest corporations and purportedly helped force out longtime CEO Steve Ballmer. How could a relatively low-profile activist—at the time at least—affect such dramatic change? ValueAct had powerful allies, which held many more shares of Microsoft than the fund itself who were willing to flex their voting muscle, if necessary.

The challenge of shareholder activism is similar to, yet different from, that which companies faced in the 1980s. Although public markets have changed tremendously since the 1980s, market participants are still subject to the same kinds of incentives today as they were 30 years ago.

It has been said that even well performing companies, complete with a strong balance sheet, excellent management, a disciplined capital allocation record and operating performance above its peers are not immune. In our experience, this is true. When the amount of capital required to drive change, perhaps unhealthy change, is much less costly than it is to acquire a material equity position for an activist, management teams and boards of directors must navigate carefully.

Below are 10 building blocks that we believe will help position a company to better equip itself to handle the stresses and pressures from the universe of activist investors and hostile acquirers, which may encourage the activists to instead knock at the house next door.

Building Block 1: Be Prepared

Develop a written plan before the activist shows up. By the time a Schedule 13-D is filed, an activist already has the benefit of sufficient time to study a target company, develop a view of its weaknesses and build a narrative that can be used to put a management team and board of directors on the defensive. Therefore, a company’s plan must have balance and must contemplate areas that require attention and improvement. While some activists are akin to 1980s-style corporate raiders with irrational ideas designed only to bump up the stock over a very short period, there are also very sophisticated activists who are savvy and have developed constructive, helpful ideas. A company’s plan and response protocol need to be well thought through and in place before an activist appears. In some cases, the activist response plan can be built into a company’s strategic plan.

The plan needs inclusion and buy-in from the board of directors and senior management. Some subset of this group needs to be involved in developing the plan, not only substantively, but also in the tactical aspects of implementing the plan and communicating with shareholders, including activists, if and when an activist appears.

This preparatory building block extends beyond simply having a process in place to react to shareholder activism. It should complement the company’s business plan and include the charter and bylaws and consideration of traditional takeover defense strategies. It should provide for an advisory team, including lawyers, bankers, a public relations firm and a forensic accounting firm. We believe that the plan should go to a level of detail that includes which members of management and the board are authorized by the board to communicate with the activist and how those communications should occur.

Building Block 2: Promote Good Shareholder Relations with Institutions and Individual Shareholders

If the lesson of the first block was “put your own house in order,” then the second lesson is, “know your tenants, what they want, and how they prefer to live in your building.” This goes well beyond the typical investor relations function. This is where in-depth shareholder research comes into play. We recommend conducting a detailed perception study that can give boards and management teams a clear picture of what the current shareholder base wants, as well as how former and prospective shareholders’ perceptions of the company might differ from the way management and the board see the company itself.

In a takeover battle or proxy contest, facts are ammunition. Suppositions and assumptions of what management thinks shareholders want are dangerous. It is critical to understand how shareholders feel about the dividend policy and the capital allocation plans, for example. Understand how they view the executive compensation or the independence of the board. Do not assume. Ask candidly and revise periodically.

Building Block 3: Inform, Teach and Consult with the Board

Good governance is not something that can be achieved in a reactive sort of manner or when it becomes known that an activist is building a position. Without shareholder-friendly corporate governance practices, the odds of securing good shareholder relations in a contest for control drops significantly and creates the wrong optics.

There are governance issues that can cause institutional shareholders to act, or at least think, akin to activists. Recently, there have been various shareholder rebellions against excessive executive compensation packages—or say-on-pay votes. In fact, Norges, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has launched a public campaign targeting what it views as excessive executive compensation. The fund’s chief executive told the Financial Times that, “We are looking at how to approach this issue in the public space.” He is speaking for an $870 billion dollar fund. The way those votes are cast can mean the difference between victory and defeat in a proxy contest.

Building Block 4: Maintain Transparent Disclosure Practices

While this building block relates to maintaining good shareholder relations, it also recognizes that activists are smart, well informed, motivated and relentless. If a company makes a mistake, and no company is perfect, the activist will likely find it. Companies have write-downs, impairments, restatements, restructurings, events of change or challenges that affect operating performance. While any one of these events may invite activist attention, once a contest for control begins, an activist will find and use every mistake the company ever made and highlight the material ones to the marketplace.

A company cannot afford surprises. One “whoops” event can be all it takes to turn the tide of a proxy vote or a hostile takeover. That is why it is critical to disclose the good and the bad news before the contest begins rather than during the takeover attempt. It may be painful at the time, but with a history of transparency, the marketplace will trust a company that tells them the activist is in it for its own personal benefit and that the proposal the activist is making will not maximize shareholder value, but will only increase the activist’s short-term profit for its investors. Developing that kind of trust and integrity over time can be a critical factor in any contest for corporate control, especially when research shows that the activist has not been transparent in its prior transactions or has misled investors prior to or after achieving its intended result.

When a company has established good corporate governance policies, has been open and transparent, has financial statements consistent with GAAP and effective internal control over financial reporting and knows its shareholder base cold, what is the next step in preparing for the challenge of an activist shareholder?

Building Block 5: Educate Third Parties

Prominent sell-side analysts and financial journalists can, and do, move markets. In a contest for corporate control, or even in a short slate proxy contest, they can be invaluable allies or intractable adversaries. As with the company’s shareholder base, one must know the key players, have established relationships and trust long before a dispute, and have the confidence that the facts are on the company’s side. But winning them over takes time and research, and is another area where an independent forensic accounting firm can be of assistance.

For example, when our client, Allergan, was fighting off a hostile bid from Valeant and Pershing Square, we identified that Valeant’s “double-digit” sales growth came from excluding discontinued products and those with declining sales from its calculation. This piece of information served as key fodder for journalists, who almost unanimously sided against Valeant for this and other reasons. Presentations, investor letters and analyst days can make the difference in creating a negative perception of the adversary and spreading a company’s message.

Building Block 6: Do Your Homework

Before an activist appears, a company needs to understand what vulnerabilities might attract an activist in the first place. This is where independent third parties can be crucial. Retained by a law firm to establish the privilege, they can do a vulnerability assessment of the company compared to its peers.

This is a different sort of assessment than what building block two entails, essentially asking shareholders to identify perceived weaknesses. Here, a company needs to look for the types of vulnerabilities that institutional shareholders might not see—but that an activist surely will. When these vulnerabilities such as accounting practices or obscure governance structures are not addressed, an activist will use them on the offensive. Even worse are the vulnerabilities that are not immediately apparent. In any activist engagement, it is best to minimize surprises as much as possible.

Building Block 7: Communicate With the Activist

Before deciding whether to communicate, know the other players.

This includes a deep dive into the activist’s history—what level of success has the activist had in the past? Have they targeted similar companies? What strategies have they used? How do they negotiate? How have other companies reacted and what successes or failures have they experienced?

If the activist commences a proxy contest or a consent solicitation, turn that intelligence apparatus on the slate of board nominees the activist is proposing. Find out about their vulnerabilities and paint the full picture of their business record. Do they know the industry? Are they responsible fiduciaries? What is their personal track record? These are important questions that investigators can help answer.

Armed with information about the activist and having consulted with management, the board has to decide whether to communicate with the activist, and if so, what the rules of the road are for doing so. What are the objectives and goals and what are the pros and cons of even starting that communication process? If a decision is made to start communications with the activist, make sure to pick the time to do so and not just respond to what the media hype might be promoting. Poison pills can provide breathing room to make these determinations.

Always keep in mind that communications can lead to discussions, which in turn can lead to negotiations, which may result in a deal.

Before reaching a settlement deal, a company must be sure to have completed the preceding due diligence. More companies seem to be choosing to appease activists by signing voting agreements and/or granting board seats. Although this will likely buy more time to deal with the activist in private, it may simply delay an undesirable outcome rather than circumvent the issue. Whether or not the company signs a voting agreement with the activist, management and the board of directors should know the activist’s track record and current activities with other companies in great detail as the initial step in considering whether to reach any accommodation with the activist.

Building Block 8: Understand the Role of Litigation

Most of the building blocks thus far have involved making a business case to the marketplace and supporting that case with candid communications. But in many activist campaigns—especially the really adversarial ones—there will come a time when the company needs to make its case to a court or a regulator or both.

As with other building blocks, litigation goes to one of the most valuable commodities in a contest for corporate control: TIME. In most situations, the more time the target has to maintain the campaign, the better. The company’s legal team needs to work with the forensic accountants to understand and identify issues that relate to the activist’s prior transactions and business activities, while ensuring that the company is not living in a glass house when it throws stones. Armed with the facts, lawyers will do the legal analysis to determine whether the activist has complied with or broken state, federal or international law or regulation. If there are causes of action, then one way to resolve them is to litigate.

Building Block 9: Factor in Contingencies and Options

Contingencies can include additional activists, M&A and small issues that can become big issues. This building block is about understanding the environment in which the company is operating.

For example, are there hedge funds targeting the same company in a “wolfpack”, as the industry has coldly nicknamed them? If two or more hedge funds are acting in concert to acquire, hold, vote or dispose of a company’s securities, they can be treated as a group triggering the requirement to file a Schedule 13-D as such. Under certain circumstances, the remedy the SEC has secured for violating Section 13(d) of the Williams Act is to sterilize the vote of the shares held by the group’s members. So, if there is evidence indicating that funds are working together which have not jointly filed a Schedule 13-D, the SEC may be able to help. Or better yet, think about building block eight and litigate.

In the case of a hostile acquisition, consider whether there is an activist already on the board of the potential acquirer? Has the activist been a board member in prior transactions? If so, what kind of fiduciary has that activist shown himself to be?

Another contingency is exploring “strategic alternatives.”

Building Block 10: Understand the Role of Regulators

Despite the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, regulators today may be less inclined to intervene in these kinds of issues than they were 30 years ago.

When an activist is engaging in questionable or illegal practices, contacting regulators should be considered. But this requires being proactive.

The best way to approach the regulators is to present a complete package of evidence that is verified by independent third parties. Determine the facts, apply legal analysis to those facts and have conclusions that show violations of the law. Do not just show one side of the case; show both sides, the pros and the cons of a possible violation. Why? Because if the package is complete and has all the work that the regulator would want to do under the circumstances, two things will happen. First, the regulator will understand that there is an issue, a potential harm to shareholders and the public interest which the regulator is sworn to protect. Second, the regulator will save time when it presents the case for approval to act.

Using forensic accountants before and when an activist appears is one of the major factors that can assist companies today and also help the lawyers who are advising the target company. If other advisors are conflicted, the company needs a reputable, independent third party who can help the company ascertain facts on a timely basis to make informed decisions, and if the determination is made to oppose the activist, make the case to shareholders, to analysts, to media, to regulators and to the courts.

Each of these buildings blocks is important. While they have remained mostly the same since the 1980s, tactics, strategies and the marketplace have changed. Even though activists may appear to act the same way, each is different and each activist approach has its own differences from all the others.

Endnotes

1FactSet, SharkRepellent.(go back)

2FactSet, SharkRepellent.(go back)

3The Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.(go back)

_____________________________________________

*Merritt Moran is a Business Analyst at FTI Consulting. This post is based on an FTI publication by Ms. Moran, Jason Frankl, John Huber, and Steven Balet.

Sept leçons apprises en matière de communications de crise | En rappel


Cette semaine, nous avons demandé à Richard Thibault*, président de RTCOMM, d’agir à titre d’auteur invité. Son billet présente sept leçons tirées de son expérience comme consultant en gestion de crise. En tant que membres de conseils d’administration, vous aurez certainement l’occasion de vivre des crises significatives et il est important de connaître les règles que la direction doit observer en pareilles circonstances.

Voici donc l’article en question, reproduit ici avec la permission de l’auteur. Vos commentaires sont appréciés. Bonne lecture.

Sept leçons apprises en matière de communications de crise

Par Richard Thibault*

La crise la mieux gérée est, dit-on, celle que l’on peut éviter. Mais il arrive que malgré tous nos efforts pour l’éviter, la crise frappe et souvent, très fort. Dans toute situation de crise, l’objectif premier est d’en sortir le plus rapidement possible, avec le moins de dommages possibles, sans compromettre le développement futur de l’organisation.

Voici sept leçons dont il faut s’inspirer en matière de communication de crise, sur laquelle on investit généralement 80% de nos efforts, et de notre budget, en de telles situations.

communication-de-crise-1-728

(1) Le choix du porte-parole

Les médias voudront tout savoir. Mais il faudra aussi communiquer avec l’ensemble de nos clientèles internes et externes. Avoir un porte-parole crédible et bien formé est essentiel. On ne s’improvise pas porte-parole, on le devient. Surtout en situation de crise, alors que la tension est parfois extrême, l’organisation a besoin de quelqu’un de crédible et d’empathique à l’égard des victimes. Cette personne devra être en possession de tous ses moyens pour porter adéquatement son message et elle aura appris à éviter les pièges. Le choix de la plus haute autorité de l’organisation comme porte-parole en situation de crise n’est pas toujours une bonne idée. En crise, l’information dont vous disposez et sur laquelle vous baserez vos décisions sera changeante, contradictoire même, surtout au début. Risquer la crédibilité du chef de l’organisation dès le début de la crise peut être hasardeux. Comment le contredire ensuite sans nuire à son image et à la gestion de la crise elle-même ?

(2) S’excuser publiquement si l’on est en faute

S’excuser pour la crise que nous avons provoqué, tout au moins jusqu’à ce que notre responsabilité ait été officiellement dégagée, est une décision-clé de toute gestion de crise, surtout si notre responsabilité ne fait aucun doute. En de telles occasions, il ne faut pas tenter de défendre l’indéfendable. Ou pire, menacer nos adversaires de poursuites ou jouer les matamores avec les agences gouvernementales qui nous ont pris en défaut. On a pu constater les impacts négatifs de cette stratégie utilisée par la FTQ impliquée dans une histoire d’intimidation sur les chantiers de la Côte-Nord, à une certaine époque. Règle générale : mieux vaut s’excuser, être transparent et faire preuve de réserve et de retenue jusqu’à ce que la situation ait été clarifiée.

communication-de-crise-3-agence-yourastar

(3) Être proactif

Dans un conflit comme dans une gestion de crise, le premier à parler évite de se laisser définir par ses adversaires, établit l’agenda et définit l’angle du message. On vous conseillera peut-être de ne pas parler aux journalistes. Je prétends pour ma part que si, légalement, vous n’êtes pas obligés de parler aux médias, eux, en contrepartie, pourront légalement parler de vous et ne se priveront pas d’aller voir même vos opposants pour s’alimenter.  En août 2008, la canadienne Maple Leaf, compagnie basée à Toronto, subissait la pire crise de son histoire suite au décès et à la maladie de plusieurs de ses clients. Lorsque le lien entre la listériose et Maple Leaf a été confirmé, cette dernière a été prompte à réagir autant dans ses communications et son attitude face aux médias que dans sa gestion de la crise. La compagnie a très rapidement retiré des tablettes des supermarchés les produits incriminés. Elle a lancé une opération majeure de nettoyage, qu’elle a d’ailleurs fait au grand jour, et elle a offert son support aux victimes. D’ailleurs, la gestion des victimes est généralement le point le plus sensible d’une gestion de crise réussie.

(4) Régler le problème et dire comment

Dès les débuts de la crise, Maple Leaf s’est mise immédiatement au service de l’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments, offrant sa collaboration active et entière pour déterminer la cause du problème. Dans le même secteur alimentaire, tout le contraire de ce qu’XL Foods a fait quelques années plus tard. Chez Maple Leaf, tout de suite, des experts reconnus ont été affectés à la recherche de solutions. On pouvait reprocher à la compagnie d’être à la source du problème, mais certainement pas de se trainer les pieds en voulant le régler. Encore une fois, en situation de crise, camoufler sa faute ou refuser de voir publiquement la réalité en face est décidément une stratégie à reléguer aux oubliettes. Plusieurs années auparavant, Tylenol avait montré la voie en retirant rapidement ses médicaments des tablettes et en faisant la promotion d’une nouvelle méthode d’emballage qui est devenue une méthode de référence aujourd’hui.

(5) Employer le bon message

Il est essentiel d’utiliser le bon message, au bon moment, avec le bon messager, diffusé par le bon moyen. Les premiers messages surtout sont importants. Ils serviront à exprimer notre empathie, à confirmer les faits et les actions entreprises, à expliquer le processus d’intervention, à affirmer notre désir d’agir et à dire où se procurer de plus amples informations. Si la gestion des médias est névralgique, la gestion de l’information l’est tout autant. En situation de crise, on a souvent tendance à s’asseoir sur l’information et à ne la partager qu’à des cercles restreints, ou, au contraire, à inonder nos publics d’informations inutiles. Un juste milieu doit être trouvé entre ces deux stratégies sachant pertinemment que le message devra évoluer en même temps que la crise.

(6) Être conséquent et consistant

Même s’il évolue en fonction du stade de la crise, le message de base doit pourtant demeurer le même. Dans l’exemple de Maple Leaf évoqué plus haut, bien que de nouveaux éléments aient surgi au fur et à mesure de l’évolution de la crise, le message de base, à savoir la mise en œuvre de mesures visant à assurer la santé et la sécurité du public, a été constamment repris sur tous les tons. Ainsi, Maple Leaf s’est montrée à la fois consistante en respectant sa ligne de réaction initiale et conséquente, en restant en phase avec le développement de la situation.

(7) Être ouvert d’esprit

Dans toute situation de crise, une attitude d’ouverture s’avérera gagnante. Que ce soit avec les médias, les victimes, nos employés, nos partenaires ou les agences publiques de contrôle, un esprit obtus ne fera qu’envenimer la situation. D’autant plus qu’en situation de crise, ce n’est pas vraiment ce qui est arrivé qui compte mais bien ce que les gens pensent qui est arrivé. Il faut donc suivre l’actualité afin de pouvoir anticiper l’angle que choisiront les médias et s’y préparer en conséquence.

En conclusion

Dans une perspective de gestion de crise, il est essentiel de disposer d’un plan d’action au préalable, même s’il faut l’appliquer avec souplesse pour répondre à l’évolution de la situation. Lorsque la crise a éclaté, c’est le pire moment pour commencer à s’organiser. Il est essentiel d’établir une culture de gestion des risques et de gestion de crise dans l’organisation avant que la crise ne frappe. Comme le dit le vieux sage,  » pour être prêt, faut se préparer ! »


*Richard Thibault, ABCP

Président de RTCOMM, une entreprise spécialisée en positionnement stratégique et en gestion de crise

Menant de front des études de Droit à l’Université Laval de Québec, une carrière au théâtre, à la radio et à la télévision, Richard Thibault s’est très tôt orienté vers le secteur des communications, duquel il a développé une expertise solide et diversifiée. Après avoir été animateur, journaliste et recherchiste à la télévision et à la radio de la région de Québec pendant près de cinq ans, il a occupé le poste d’animateur des débats et de responsable des affaires publiques de l’Assemblée nationale de 1979 à 1987.

Richard Thibault a ensuite tour à tour assumé les fonctions de directeur de cabinet et d’attaché de presse de plusieurs ministres du cabinet de Robert Bourassa, de conseiller spécial et directeur des communications à la Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail et de directeur des communications chez Les Nordiques de Québec.

En 1994, il fonda Richard Thibault Communications inc. (RTCOMM). D’abord spécialisée en positionnement stratégique et en communication de crise, l’entreprise a peu à peu élargi son expertise pour y inclure tous les champs de pratique de la continuité des affaires. D’autre part, reconnaissant l’importance de porte-parole qualifiés en période trouble, RTCOMM dispose également d’une école de formation à la parole en public. Son programme de formation aux relations avec les médias est d’ailleurs le seul programme de cette nature reconnu par le ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec, dans un contexte de communication d’urgence. Ce programme de formation est aussi accrédité par le Barreau du Québec.

Richard Thibault est l’auteur de Devenez champion dans vos communications et de Osez parler en public, publié aux Éditions MultiMondes et de Comment gérer la prochaine crise, édité chez Transcontinental, dans la Collection Entreprendre. Praticien reconnu de la gestion des risques et de crise, il est accrédité par la Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII).

Spécialités :Expert en positionnement stratégique, gestion des risques, communications de crise, continuité des affaires, formation à la parole en public.

http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=46704908&locale=fr_FR&trk=tyah

Les conséquences juridiques du Brexit


Au lendemain du référendum mené en Grande-Bretagne (GB), on peut se demander quelles sont les implications juridiques d’une telle décision. Celles-ci sont nombreuses ; plusieurs scénarios peuvent être envisagés pour prévoir l’avenir des relations entre la GB et l’Union européenne (UE).

Ben Perry* de la firme Sullivan & Cromwell a exploré toutes les facettes légales de cette nouvelle situation dans un article paru hier sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

C’est un article très poussé sur les répercussions du Brexit. On doit admettre que le processus de retrait de l’UE est complexe, qu’il y a plusieurs modèles dont la GB peut s’inspirer (Suisse, Norvégien, Islandais, Liechtenstein), et que le vote n’a pas d’effets légaux immédiats. En fait, le processus de sortie et de renégociation peut durer trois ans !

Je vous invite à lire ce très intéressant article afin d’être mieux informés sur les principales avenues conséquentes au retrait de la GB de l’UE.

Bonne lecture !

 

In a referendum held in the UK on June 23, 2016, a majority of those voting voted for the UK to leave the EU. This post briefly summarizes some of the main legal implications of the “leave” vote and is primarily for the benefit of those outside the UK who have not followed the referendum campaign in detail.

The “leave” vote has no immediate legal effect under either UK or EU law

The UK currently remains a member of the EU and there will not be any immediate change in either EU or UK law as a consequence of the “leave” vote. EU law does not govern contracts and the UK is not part of the EU’s monetary union.

brexit-800x500

However, the “leave” vote now heralds the beginning of a lengthy process under which (i) the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the EU are negotiated and (ii) legislation to implement the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is enacted (primarily in the UK, but also at the EU level and in other EU member states to the extent necessary).

The terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will need to be negotiated

The ultimate legal impact of the “leave” vote will depend on the terms that are negotiated in relation to the UK’s future relationship with the EU, as described below. This is currently the principal source of uncertainty as to the legal implications of the “leave” vote. Each of the UK government and the EU will need to formulate their respective positions for the withdrawal negotiations over the coming months. Once this is done, the likely direction for the UK’s future relationship with the EU will become clearer, allowing for a sharper focus on the legal implications.

It is not yet clear what terms the UK will seek to negotiate with the EU (or what the EU will offer to the UK) in relation to its withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the EU. To date, there has been no consensus, even among “leave” campaigners, as to the terms which the UK should seek in these negotiations. The key factor is the extent to which the UK wishes to continue to benefit from any part of the EU single market (i.e., the current EU regime which allows for free movement of goods, services, capital and persons, and freedom of establishment, within the EU).

There are several different existing models that could be adopted, either alone or in combination with one another. These include the following:

Total exit: the UK leaves the EU and does not continue to benefit from any part of the single market. The UK either relies solely on the rules of the World Trade Organization (which include rules governing the imposition of tariffs on goods and services) as the basis for trading with the EU or negotiates a new bilateral trade deal with the EU.

The Norwegian model: the UK leaves the EU but joins the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is constituted by the EEA Agreement among the 28 EU member states and three countries which are not EU member states (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), and extends the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons beyond the EU to those three countries. Under this arrangement, EU law relating to these four freedoms (which could be modified by the EU without the UK’s consent) would largely continue to apply to the UK, and the UK would continue to have full access to the single market.

The Swiss model: the UK leaves the EU and does not join the EEA as described above. It may instead rejoin EFTA (an intergovernmental organization comprised of European countries who are not members of the EU—the UK was a member of EFTA before it joined the EU in 1973). Currently, only Switzerland is a member of EFTA but not a member of the EEA. Switzerland has (on its own behalf rather than as a member of EFTA) negotiated a large number of sector-specific bilateral agreements with the EU and has access to some parts of the single market, but is excluded from the single market in some major sectors (for example, Switzerland is not part of the single market in the financial services sector).

Although the EU treaty provides a framework for a member state to withdraw from the EU, this particular framework has never been used before and it is therefore not certain how it will operate in practice

The EU treaty provides (in article 50) a mechanism whereby a member state can withdraw from the EU and notify the European Council of its intention to do so. The giving of such a notice triggers the start of a two year time period for the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement between that member state and the EU. The withdrawal agreement is required to be approved by (i) the 27 EU member states excluding the withdrawing member state (by qualified majority rather than unanimously) and (ii) the European Parliament (by simple majority).

No announcement has yet been made by the UK government as to when it intends to deliver any notice of withdrawal under article 50.

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU would take effect either on the effective date of the withdrawal agreement or, in the absence of agreement, two years after the article 50 notice referred to above, unless the UK and all the other EU member states agreed to extend this date.

Although the timescale is not at all clear at this stage, it appears likely that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU (both the conclusion of a withdrawal agreement and the arrangements for the UK’s future relationship with the EU) will take more than two years to negotiate and conclude. Even the withdrawal of Greenland (an autonomous country within the state of Denmark) from the EU, where the issues were far more limited, took three years from the relevant referendum vote to come into effect.

The UK will need to decide the extent to which existing EU law should continue to apply in the UK

Since 1973, the UK has implemented a vast number of EU directives into UK law. These will remain effective as UK law unless they are amended or repealed. This means that, in a total exit, or if the Swiss model were to be adopted, there will of necessity be a massive exercise, spanning several years, in which the UK government will need to determine which aspects of these EU directives it wishes to either (i) retain, (ii) amend or (iii) repeal.

In addition, the UK would need to enact new laws to the extent it wished to retain:

  1. any EU laws which had been enacted by means of EU regulations, which are currently directly applicable in the UK without any implementing measures; or
  2. any other EU laws which had direct effect in the UK without any implementing measures (e.g., provisions of the EU treaty, or EU directives which had not been implemented in the UK within the required timeframe but which were sufficiently clear and precise, unconditional and did not give member states substantial discretion in their application).

This is because those EU laws would, absent any such further UK laws being enacted, automatically cease to have effect in the UK on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU becoming effective.

The current relationship between EU law and UK law is principally governed by a UK statute (the European Communities Act 1972) which, among other things:

  1. provides for the direct application of EU regulations and the direct effect of those EU laws which are stated to have direct effect;
  2. gives the UK government power to introduce delegated legislation to implement EU law generally; and
  3. provides for the supremacy of EU law over UK law.

However, repealing the European Communities Act on its own would not avoid the need for the extensive review of existing UK laws implementing EU directives as described above. There have been some suggestions by “leave” campaigners prior to the referendum that the UK government should seek to repeal the European Communities Act prior to an agreement having been reached on the withdrawal arrangements and future relationship of the UK with the EU, although this would be a politically charged move.

If the Norwegian model were adopted, however, EU law relating to the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons would be likely to continue to largely apply in the UK.

If the UK were not a full participant in the single market, the ability of EU nationals to work in the UK, or the ability of UK nationals to work in the EU, would likely be affected

In a total exit, EU nationals would lose the automatic right to work in the UK, and UK nationals would lose the automatic right to work in the EU, subject to transitional arrangements which would presumably need to be put in place for an interim period. New immigration rules would therefore need to be implemented (i) in the UK in relation to EU nationals and (ii) in the other EU member states in relation to UK nationals.

If the Norwegian model were adopted, as part of having full access to the single market, the UK would likely continue to be bound by the EU treaty principle of free movement of persons, which would continue to enable EU nationals to work in the UK without requiring authorization.

If the Swiss model were adopted, the UK would need to enter into an agreement with the EU setting out the extent to which EU nationals would have the right to work in the UK, and UK nationals would have the right to work in the EU.

There are two related areas which, as they are matters of UK national sovereignty, would not be affected in the same way as the right of non-EU nationals to work in the UK.

First, the current visa requirements for non-EU nationals to work in the UK would remain in place, although additional restrictions on immigration from outside the EU could be imposed by the UK government in any event, and to the extent that nationals of any country had the right to work in the UK as a result of a bilateral agreement between that country and the EU (e.g., Switzerland) that right would cease to apply and new arrangements would need to be negotiated between the UK and that country.

Second, the UK’s current tax regime for individuals who are resident but not domiciled in the UK is not a creation of EU law and would not fall away as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

One of the areas of law potentially most affected will likely be the regulation of financial services

Those areas which will be potentially most affected will be those where the EU has embarked on its most significant harmonization efforts in recent years, in particular the regulation of financial services.

Unless the Norwegian model were adopted, the UK government would need to decide whether to retain, amend or repeal a number of significant pieces of EU financial services legislation, notwithstanding that many of these are Basel-based. These include, among others, the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD) IV and other aspects of the bank supervisory regime, the Markets in Financial Instruments (MiFID) II and other aspects of the investment firms’ supervisory regime, the Solvency II Directive and other aspects of the insurance supervisory regime, the Alternative Investment Fund Managers’ Directive (AIFMD) and other aspects of the alternative investment management supervisory regime, the cap on bankers’ bonuses, the Prospectus Directive and the Transparency Directive and other aspects of the capital markets regime, and the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) and other aspects of the derivatives regime.

In addition, unless the Norwegian model were adopted or the application of the Norwegian model had been specifically negotiated for a transitional period as part of the withdrawal arrangements, there would be no right for UK-authorized firms or individuals to provide financial services in the EU on a “passported” basis. Any non-EU financial institution currently using a UK-authorized person to provide financial services elsewhere in the EU would need to obtain authorization from an EU member state by either establishing an authorized branch in an EU member state or obtaining authorization for one of its subsidiaries in an EU member state. The impact of any loss of “passporting” rights would be more serious for some financial institutions than for others.

It is very difficult to predict the overall impact on the UK financial services sector as a whole because, irrespective of whether the UK remains part of the single market for financial services, there are other factors which have historically helped the development of the financial services sector in the UK (such as the availability of talent, support services and other infrastructure and the use of English as the global language for financial services) which will continue to be present.

Other areas of law which would potentially be affected include, among others: M&A and corporate law; capital markets; competition law; and tax. In each of these areas, the extent of the impact will depend on the model which is adopted for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

There is potential for contractual disputes to arise

While it is not possible to anticipate all of the events which may arise as a consequence of the “leave” vote, there may, in some cases, be circumstances which arise which cause parties to claim that provisions either excusing the performance of contractual obligations, or triggering a right to terminate contracts, are capable of being invoked. Any such issues will require careful consideration in light of the relevant contracts as a whole and the possibility that circumstances may continue to change rapidly.

______________________________

*Ben Perry is a partner in the London office of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication.

Le scandale de Volkswagen vu sous l’angle de la gouvernance corporative | Raymonde Crête


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un article paru dans la revue European Journal of Risk Regulation (EJRR) qui scrute le scandale de Volkswagen sous l’angle juridique, mais, surtout, sous l’angle des manquements à la saine gouvernance.

Me Raymonde Crête, auteure de l’article, est professeure à la Faculté de Droit de l’Université Laval et elle dirige le Groupe de recherche en droit des services financiers (GRDSF).

Le texte se présente comme un cas en gouvernance et en management. Celui-ci devrait alimenter les réflexions sur l’éthique, les valeurs culturelles et les effets des pressions excessives à la performance.

Vous trouverez, ci-dessous, l’intégralité de l’article avec le consentement de l’auteure. Je n’ai pas inclus les références, qui sont très abondantes et qui peuvent être consultées sur le site de la maison d’édition lexxion.

Bonne lecture !

The Volkswagen Scandal from the Viewpoint of Corporate Governance

par Me Raymonde Crête

I. Introduction

Like some other crises and scandals that periodically occur in the business community, the Volkswagen (“VW”) scandal once again highlights the devastating consequences of corporate misconduct, once publicly disclosed, and the media storm that generally follows the discovery of such significant misbehaviour by a major corporation. Since the crisis broke in September 2015, the media have relayed endless détails about the substantial negative impacts on VW on various stakeholder groups such as employees, directors, investors, suppliers and consumers, and on the automobile industry as a whole (1)

The multiple and negative repercussions at the economic, organizational and legal levels have quickly become apparent, in particular in the form of resignations, changes in VW’s senior management, layoffs, a hiring freeze, the end to the marketing of diesel-engined vehicles, vehicle recalls, a decline in car sales, a drop in market capitalization, and the launching of internal investigations by VW and external investigations by the public authorities. This comes in addition to the threat of numerous civil, administrative, penal and criminal lawsuits and the substantial penalties they entail, as well as the erosion of trust in VW and the automobile industry generally (2).

FILE PHOTO: Martin Winterkorn, chief executive officer of Volkswagen AG, reacts during an earnings news conference at the company's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday, March 12, 2012. Volkswagen said 11 million vehicles were equipped with diesel engines at the center of a widening scandal over faked pollution controls that will cost the company at least 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion). Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Martin Winterkorn
FILE PHOTO: Martin Winterkorn, chief executive officer of Volkswagen AG, reacts during an earnings news conference at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday, March 12, 2012. Volkswagen said 11 million vehicles were equipped with diesel engines at the center of a widening scandal over faked pollution controls that will cost the company at least 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion). Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Martin Winterkorn

A scandal of this extent cannot fail to raise a number of questions, in particular concerning the cause of the alleged cheating, liable actors, the potential organizational and regulatory problems related to compliance, and ways to prevent further misconduct at VW and within the automobile industry. Based on the information surrounding the VW scandal, it is premature to capture all facets of the case. In order to analyze inmore depth the various problems raised, we will have to wait for the findings of the investigations conducted both internally by the VW Group and externally by the regulatory authorities.

While recognizing the incompleteness of the information made available to date by VW and certain commentators, we can still use this documentation to highlight a few features of the case that deserve to be studied from the standpoint of corporate governance.

This Article remains relatively modest in scope, and is designed to highlight certain organizational factors that may explain the deviant behaviour observed at VW. More specifically, it submits that the main cause of VW’s alleged wrongdoing lies in the company’s ambitious production targets for the U.S. market and the time and budget constraints imposed on employees to reach those targets. Arguably, the corporate strategy and pressures exerted on VW’s employees may have led them to give preference to the performance priorities set by the company rather than compliance with the applicable legal and ethical standards. And this corporate misconduct could not be detected because of deficiencies in the monitoring and control mechanisms, and especially in the compliance system established by the company to ensure that legal requirements were respected.

Although limited in scope, this inquiry may prove useful in identifying means to minimize, in the future, the risk of similar misconduct, not only at VW but wihin other companies as well (3). Given the limited objectives of the Article, which focuses on certain specific organizational deficiencies at VW, the legal questions raised by the case will not be addressed. However, the Article will refer to one aspect of the law of business corporations in the United States, Canada and in the EU Member States in order to emphasize the crucial role that boards in publicly-held companies must exercise to minimize the risk of misconduct (4).

II. A Preliminary Admission by VW: Individual Misconduct by a few Software Engineers

When a scandal erupts in the business community following a case of fraud, embezzlement, corruption, the marketing of dangerous products or other deviant behaviour, the company concerned and the regulatory authorities are required to quickly identify the individuals responsible for the alleged misbehaviour. For example, in the Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and Adelphia scandals of the early 2000s, the investigations revealed that certain company senior managers had acted fraudulently by orchestrating accounting manipulations to camouflage their business’s dire financial situation (5).

These revelations led to the prosecution and conviction of the officers responsible for the corporations’ misconduct (6). In the United States, the importanace of identifying individual wrongdoers is clearly stated in the Principles of Federal Prosecutions of Business Organizations issued by the U.S. Department of Justice which provide guidelines for prosecutions of corporate misbehaviour (7). On the basis of a memo issued in 2015 by the Department of Justice (the “Yatesmemo”) (8), these principles were recently revised to express a renewed commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for corporate wrongdoing.While recognizing the importance of individual prosecutions in that context, the strategy is only one of the ways to respond to white-collar crime. From a prevention standpoint, it is essential to conduct a broader examination of the organizational environment in which senior managers and employees work to determine if the enterprise’s culture, values, policies, monitoring mechanisms and practices contribute or have contributed to the adoption of deviant behaviour (9).

In the Volkswagen case, the company’s management concentrated first on identifying the handful of individuals it considered to be responsible for the deception, before admitting few weeks later that organizational problems had also encouraged or facilitated the unlawful corporate behaviour. Once news broke of the Volkswagen scandal, one of VW’s officers quickly linked the wrongdoing to the actions of a few employees, but without uncovering any governance problems or misbehaviour at the VW management level (10).

In October 2015, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the VW Group in the United States, Michael Horn, stated in testimony before a Congressional Subcommittee: “[t]his was a couple of software engineers who put this for whatever reason » […]. To my understanding, this was not a corporate decision. This was something individuals did » (11). In other words, the US CEO considered that sole responsibility for the scandal lay with a handful of engineers working at the company, while rejecting any allegation tending to incriminate the company’s management.

This portion of his testimony failed to convince the members of the Subcommittee, who expressed serious doubts about placing sole blame on the misbehaviour of a few engineers, given that the problem had existed since 2009. As expressed in a sceptical response from one of the committee’s members: « I cannot accept VW’s portrayal of this as something by a couple of rogue software engineers […] Suspending three folks – it goes way, way higher than that » (12).

Although misconduct similar to the behaviour uncovered at Volkswagen can often be explained by the reprehensible actions of a few individuals described as « bad apples », the violation of rules can also be explained by the existence of organizational problems within a company (13).

III. Recognition of Organizational Failures by VW

In terms of corporate governance, an analysis of misbehaviour can highlight problems connected with the culture, values, policies and strategies promoted by a company’s management that have a negative influence on the behaviour of senior managers and employees. Considering the importance of the organizational environment in which these players act, regulators provide for several internal and external governance mechanisms to reduce the risk of corporate misbehaviour or to minimize agency problems (14). As one example of an internal governance mechanism, the law of business corporations in the U.S., Canada and the EU Member States gives the board of directors (in a one-tier board structure, as prescribed Under American and Canadian corporation law) and the management board and supervisory board (in a two tier board structure, as provided for in some EU Member States, such as Germany) a key role to play in monitoring the company’s activities and internal dealings (15). As part of their monitoring mission, the board must ensure that the company and its agents act in a diligent and honest way and in compliance with the regulations, in particular by establishing mechanisms or policies in connection with risk management, internal controls, information disclosure, due diligence investigation and compliance (16).

When analysing the Volkswagen scandal from the viewpoint of its corporate governance, the question to be asked is whether the culture, values, priorities, strategies and monitoring and control mechanisms established by the company’s management board and supervisory board – in other words « the tone at the top »-, created an environment that contributed to the emergence of misbehaviour (17).

In this saga, although the initial testimony given to the Congressional Subcommittee by the company’s U.S. CEO, Michael Horn, assigned sole responsibility to a small circle of individuals, « VW’s senior management later recognized that the misconduct could not be explained simply by the deviant behaviour of a few people, since the evidence also pointed to organizational problems supporting the violation of regulations (18). In December 2015, VW’s management released the following observations, drawn from the preliminary results of its internal investigation:

« Group Audit’s examination of the relevant processes indicates that the software-influenced NOx emissions behavior was due to the interaction of three factors:

– The misconduct and shortcomings of individual employees

– Weaknesses in some processes

– A mindset in some areas of the Company that tolerated breaches of rules » (19).

Concerning the question of process,VW released the following audit key findings:

« Procedural problems in the relevant subdivisions have encouraged misconduct;

Faults in reporting and monitoring systems as well as failure to comply with existing regulations;

IT infrastructure partially insufficient and antiquated. » (20)

More fundamentally, VW’s management pointed out at the same time that the information obtained up to that point on “the origin and development of the nitrogen issue […] proves not to have been a one-time error, but rather a chain of errors that were allowed to happen (21). The starting point was a strategic decision to launch a large-scale promotion of diesel vehicles in the United States in 2005. Initially, it proved impossible to have the EA 189 engine meet by legal means the stricter nitrogen oxide requirements in the United States within the required timeframe and budget » (22).

In other words, this revelation by VW’s management suggests that « the end justified the means » in the sense that the ambitious production targets for the U.S. market and the time and budget constraints imposed on employees encouraged those employees to use illegal methods in operational terms to achieve the company’s objective. And this misconduct could not be detected because of deficiencies in the monitoring and control mechanisms, and especially in the compliance system established by the company to ensure that legal requirements were respected. Among the reasons given to explain the crisis, some observers also pointed to the excessive centralization of decision-making powers within VW’s senior management, and an organizational culture that acted as a brake on internal communications and discouraged mid-level managers from passing on bad news (23).

IV. Organizational Changes Considered as a Preliminary Step

In response to the crisis, VW’s management, in a press release in December 2015, set out the main organizational changes planned to minimize the risk of similar misconduct in the future. The changes mainly involved « instituting a comprehensive new alignment that affects the structure of the Group, as well as is way of thinking and its strategic goals (24).

In structural terms, VW changed the composition of the Group’s Board of Management to include the person responsible for the Integrity and Legal Affairs Department as a board member (25). In the future, the company wanted to give « more importance to digitalization, which will report directly to the Chairman of the Board of Management, » and intended to give « more independence to brand and divisions through a more decentralized management (26). With a view to initiating a new mindset, VW’s management stated that it wanted to avoid « yes-men » and to encourage managers and engineers « who are curious, independent, and pioneering » (27). However, the December 2015 press release reveals little about VW’s strategic objectives: « Strategy 2025, with which Volkswagen will address the main issues for the future, is scheduled to be presented in mid 2016 » (28).

Although VW’s management has not yet provided any details on the specific objectives targeted in its « Strategy 2025 », it is revealing to read the VW annual reports from before 2015 in which the company sets out clear and ambitious objectives for productivity and profitability. For example, the annual reports for 2007, 2009 and 2014 contained the following financial objectives, which the company hoped to reach by 2018.

In its 2007 annual report,VW specified, under the heading « Driving ideas »:

“Financial targets are equally ambitious: for example, the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand aims to increase its unit sales by over 80 percent to 6.6 million vehicles by 2018, thereby reaching a global market share of approximately 9 percent. To make it one of the most profitable automobile companies as well, it is aiming for an ROI of 21 percent and a return on sales before tax of 9 percent.” (29).

Under the same heading, VW stated in its 2009 annual report:

“In 2018, the Volkswagen Group aims to be the most successful and fascinating automaker in the world. […] Over the long term, Volkswagen aims to increase unit sales to more than 10 million vehicles a year: it intends to capture an above-average share as the major growth markets develop (30).

And in its 2014 annual report, under the heading « Goals and Strategies », VW said:

“The goal is to generate unit sales of more than 10 million vehicles a year; in particular, Volkswagen intends to capture an above-average share of growth in the major growth markets.”

Volkswagen’s aim is a long-term return on sales before tax of at least 8% so as to ensure that the Group’s solid financial position and ability to act are guaranteed even in difficult market periods (31).

Besides these specific objectives for financial performance, the annual reports show that the company’s management recognized, at least on paper, the importance of ensuring regulatory compliance and promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability (31). However, after the scandal broke in September 2015, questions can be asked about the effectiveness of the governance mechanisms, especially of the reporting and monitoring systems put in place by VW to achieve company goals in this area (33). In light of the preliminary results of VW’s internal investigation (34), as mentionned above, it seems that, in the organizational culture, the commitment to promote compliance, CSR and sustainability was not as strong as the effort made to achieve the company’s financial performance objectives.

Concerning the specific and challenging priorities of productivity and profitability established by VW’s management in previous years, the question is whether the promotion of financial objectives such as these created a risk because of the pressure it placed on employees within the organizational environment. The priorities can, of course, exert a positive influence and motivate employees to make an even greater effort to achieve the objectives (35). On the other hand, the same priority can exert a negative influence by potentially encouraging employees to use all means necessary to achieve the performance objectives set, in order to protect their job or obtain a promotion, even if the means they use for that purpose contravene the regulations. In other words, the employees face a « double bind » or dilemma which, depending on the circumstances, can lead them to give preference to the performance priorities set by the company rather than compliance with the applicable legal and ethical standards.

In the management literature, a large number of theoretical and empirical studies emphasize the beneficial effects of the setting of specific and challenging goals on employee motivation and performance within a company (36). However, while recognizing these beneficial effects, some authors point out the unwanted or negative side effects they may have.

As highlighted by Ordóñez, Schweitzer, Galinsky and Bazerman, specific goal setting can result in employees focusing solely on those goals while neglecting other important, but unstated, objectives (37). They also mention that employees motivated by « specific, challenging goals adopt riskier strategies and choose riskier gambles than do those with less challenging or vague goals (38). As an additional unwanted side effet, goal setting can encourage unlawful or unethical behaviour, either by inciting employees to use dishonest methods to meet the performance objectives targeted, or to “misrepresent their performance level – in other words, to report that they met a goal when in fact they fell short (39). Based on these observations, the authors suggest that companies should set their objectives with the greatest care and propose various ways to guard against the unwanted side effects highlighted in their study. This approach could prove useful for VW’s management which will once again, at some point, have to define its objectives and stratégies.

V. Conclusion

In the information released to the public after the emissions cheating scandal broke, as mentioned above, VW’s management quickly stated that the misconduct was directly caused by the individual misbehaviour of a couple of software engineers. Later, however, it admitted that the individual misconduct of a few employees was not the only cause, and that there were also organizational deficiencies within the company itself.

Although the VW Group’s public communications have so far provided few details about the cause of the crisis, the admission by management that both individual and organizational failings were involved constitutes, in our opinion, a lever for understanding the various factors that may have led to reprehensible conduct within the company. Based on the investigations that will be completed over the coming months, VW’s management will be in a position to identify more precisely the nature of these organizational failings and to propose ways to minimize the risk of future violations. During 2016, VW’s management will also announce the objectives and stratégies it intends to pursue over the next few years.

Éthique, démission et parachutes dorés | une délicate alchimie


Le séminaire à la maîtrise de Gouvernance de l’entreprise (DRT-7022) dispensé  par Ivan Tchotourian*, professeur en droit des affaires de la Faculté de droit de l’Université Laval, entend apporter aux étudiants une réflexion originale sur les liens entre la sphère économico-juridique, la gouvernance des entreprises et les enjeux sociétaux actuels.

Le séminaire s’interroge sur le contenu des normes de gouvernance et leur pertinence dans un contexte de profonds questionnements des modèles économique et financier. Dans le cadre de ce séminaire, il est proposé aux étudiants de l’hiver 2016 d’avoir une expérience originale de publication de leurs travaux de recherche qui ont porté sur des sujets d’actualité de gouvernance d’entreprise.

Cette publication numérique entend contribuer au partage des connaissances en gouvernance à une large échelle. Le présent billet expose le résultat des recherches de Margaux Mortéo et de Léonie Pamerleau sur les liens entre la rémunération des dirigeants, les effets de la démission du PDG et les questions éthiques sous-jacentes.

Dans le cadre de ce billet, les auteurs reviennent sur l’affaire Volkswagen, notamment sur la légitimité des parachutes dorés dans les cas de démission « obligée ». Ils se questionnent également sur les valeurs éthiques dans de tels cas.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Éthique, démission et parachutes dorés | une délicate alchimie

par

Margaux Mortéo et Léonie Pamerleau

 

La légitimité des parachutes dorés : Le cas de Volkswagen

Volkswagen, une entreprise automobile leader sur le marché, a fait face à l’un des plus gros scandales dans ce secteur[1]. À la suite de la découverte des tricheries utilisées par la firme afin de commercialiser des véhicules diesel tout en cachant leurs effets polluants, le PDG de Volkswagen (Martin Winterkorn) a décidé le 23 septembre 2015 de démissionner de son poste. Or, cette démission, qui s’inscrit dans un processus quasi habituel des dirigeants face à de telles circonstances, ne semble pas si légitime au regard de certains aspects en raison de l’énorme parachute doré, aussi appelé golden parachute. Cela soulève en effet plusieurs aspects, notamment la responsabilité d’un dirigeant face à des dégâts causés à l’environnement et ce que cela engendre au regard de la réputation de l’entreprise, « actif stratégique le plus important sur le plan de la création de valeur » [2].

Une démission en quête de légitimité ?

Cette pratique est loin d’être un cas isolé. En juillet dernier, le PDG de Toshiba (Hisao Tanaka) a démissionné de ses fonctions suite à un scandale comptable [3]. Cette pratique démontre une quête de légitimité de la part des puissants dirigeants de sociétés. La raison est simple : ces derniers semblent entachés d’une immunité du fait de leur position, mais décident cependant de céder leur place pour le bien-être de leur entreprise, en portant sur leurs épaules le poids de l’entière responsabilité. Martin Winterkorn a même déclaré que son départ avait pour but de permettre à Volkswagen de « (…) prendre un nouveau départ ».

h-CEO-PAY-640x362

Cette décision, très médiatisée, tente de redorer l’image de l’entreprise, sans compter le fait que le PDG n’a pas tout perdu dans l’affaire.

L’étonnante attribution d’un parachute doré confortable

Démissionner semble honorable, mais quand Martin Winterkorn a la garantie d’obtenir près de 28,5 millions d’euros et de prétendre jusqu’à 60 millions d’euros, les objectifs de son départ peuvent avoir le mérite d’être revus. Bien que paraissant légitime, la démission d’un dirigeant de société cotée est souvent accompagnée de golden parachute. Ce qui est intéressant c’est que le contrat qui instituait Winterkorn à la tête d’une des plus importantes sociétés automobiles prévoyait que ce parachute doré lui serait accordé… quelles que soient les raisons de son départ.

La presse n’a pas manqué à son devoir d’information du public en dénonçant cette situation d’autant plus que « (…) les parachutes dorés ainsi que les bonus et primes des dirigeants sont de plus en plus élevés et dépassent ce que l’on peut imaginer » [4] et que l’échec (et le départ) d’un dirigeant fait « (…) partie des risques normaux du métier de patron » [5].

Face à d’énormes scandales, comme celui de Volkswagen, il est normal de se questionner sur la légitimité de telles sommes. Bien que le dirigeant ait pour ambition un nouveau départ de la société, pourquoi dans ce cas bénéficier de bonus qui coûtent à la société ? L’illusion est bonne, mais elle n’est somme toute pas parfaite. Martin Winterkorn a laissé croire que son intérêt n’était porté que vers les actionnaires, les administrateurs et les parties prenantes, mais le fait de pouvoir prétendre à 60 millions d’euros remet tout en cause.

Et l’éthique dans tout cela ?

Si la loi permet de telles sommes de départ, et ce même en cas de fraude, quand est-il de l’éthique ? Ces indemnités de départ, quel que soit leur nom sont-elles légitimes dans un contexte de prise de conscience de la responsabilité sociétale des entreprises (RSE) ? Les parties prenantes sont-elles respectées face à ce genre de comportement ?

Sachant qu’à l’heure actuelle il est impossible d’ignorer complètement les enjeux entourant la RSE, il est normal de se questionner relativement à la légitimité de parachutes dorés [6]. Dans le cas de Volkswagen plus précisément, il est possible de voir les actionnaires se lever et tenter d’empêcher le président d’obtenir son golden parachute, notamment au regard des résultats boursiers moyens de l’entreprise [7].

Vont-ils le faire ? Ne sont-ce pas aux administrateurs eux-mêmes à réagir [8] ? Tant de questions et d’interrogations en réponse au scandale du géant automobile allemand restent en attente de réponses.


[1] Frank Zeller, « Tests manipulés : Volkswagen savait », LaPresse, 27 septembre 2015, en ligne : http://auto.lapresse.ca/actualites/volkswagen/201509/27/01-4904281-tests-manipules-volkswagen-savait.php (consulté le 30 novembre 2015).

[2] Olivier Mondet, « La réputation de l’entreprise est-elle un actif spécifique ? », CREG Versailles, vendredi 21 mars 2014, en ligne : http://www.creg.ac-versailles.fr/spip.php?article732 (consulté le 30 novembre 2015).

[3] « Démission du patron de Toshiba, impliqué dans un vaste scandale comptable », L’OBS à la une, 21 juillet 2015, en ligne : http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/topnews/20150721.AFP4308/scandale-toshiba-demission-du-pdg-hisao-tanaka-et de-deux-de-ses-predecesseurs.html (consulté le 30 novembre 2015).

[4] Ivan Tchotourian, « Une décennie d’excès des dirigeants en matière de rémunération : repenser la répartition des pouvoirs dans l’entreprise : une solution perse porteuse de risques », Paris, LGDJ, 2011, p. 9, en ligne : https://papyrus.bib.umontreal.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1866/5208/ChapitreRemunerationetPouvoirs2011_IT.pdf (consulté le 10 décembre 2015).

[5] J. El Ahdab, « Les parachutes dorés et autres indemnités conventionnelles de départ des dirigeants : approche pluridisciplinaire et comparée », Rev. Sociétés, 2004, p. 18.

[6] Christine Neau-Leduc, « La responsabilité sociale de l’entreprise : quels enjeux juridique ? » Droit social, 2006, p. 956.

[7] Jena McGregor, « Outgoing Volkswagen CEO’s exit package could top $67 million », Washington Post, 24 septembre 2015.

[8] « Boards are responsible for limiting excess pay », Financial Times, 17 avril 2016, en ligne : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/194a5de6-02fa-11e6-af1d-c47326021344, Authorised=false.html?siteedition=uk&_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F194a5de6-02fa-11e6-af1d-c47326021344.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&_i_referer=&classification=conditional_standard&iab=barrier-app#ixzz4677JCobn (consulté le 18 avril 2015).

______________________

*Ivan Tchotourian, professeur en droit des affaires, codirecteur du Centre d’Études en Droit Économique (CÉDÉ), membre du Groupe de recherche en droit des services financiers (www.grdsf.ulaval.ca), Faculté de droit, Université Laval.

Mieux connaître la relation entre l’anxiété et la performance | Congrès de l’Ordre des administrateurs agréés


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose de méditer sur le billet de Scott Stossel*, paru le 6 janvier 2014 dans HBR Blog Network, que j’avais déjà publié en janvier 2014. Celui-ci aborde un sujet intrigant et très pertinent à quiconque se préoccupe de performance optimale.

Ce sujet de discussion est particulièrement approprié à l’aube du Congrès de l’Ordre des administrateurs agréés (OAAQ) des 18 et 19 février 2016, dont le thème est : « La performance | Au-delà des chiffres ! », auquel je vous invite à participer.

 

adma

 

On connaît la relation entre l’anxiété (ce sentiment diffus d’appréhension souvent injustifiée et infondée) et la performance — dans l’accomplissement d’une tâche. La performance est optimale lorsque l’on réussit à équilibrer l’intensité de l’anxiété : généralement, trop d’anxiété est nuisible à l’exécution de l’activité ; peu d’anxiété conduit à une plus faible performance.

English: Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety
English: Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

La maîtrise de l’anxiété est très importante dans la conduite de nos vies, plus particulièrement dans les activités liées à la performance au travail. Les administrateurs et les managers doivent apprendre à en bien connaître la manifestation, eux dont les tâches consistent à assurer une solide performance et une gouvernance exemplaire.

Si vous croyez être sujets à des accès d’angoisses immotivées, vous n’êtes pas les seuls… et il existe des moyens pour y faire face. Cet article vous ouvrira plusieurs voies d’accommodement possibles ; bref, si vous expérimentez ce sentiment diffus d’anxiété — et que cela influence négativement votre travail — cet article est pour vous. Je vous invite aussi à lire les excellents commentaires à la fin de l’article.

En quoi ce sujet concerne-t-il la gouvernance ?

Donnez votre point de vue. Bonne lecture !

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance

An influential study conducted a hundred years ago by two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, demonstrated that moderate levels of anxiety improve performance in humans and animals: too much anxiety, obviously, impairs performance, but so does too little. Their findings have been experimentally demonstrated in both animals and humans many times since then.

“Without anxiety, little would be accomplished,” David Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, has written. “The performance of athletes, entertainers, executives, artisans, and students would suffer; creativity would diminish; crops might not be planted. And we would all achieve that idyllic state long sought after in our fast-paced society of whiling away our lives under a shade tree. This would be as deadly for the species as nuclear war.”

So how do you find the right balance? How do you get yourself into the performance zone where anxiety is beneficial? That’s a really tough question. For me, years of medication and intensive therapy have (sometimes, somewhat) taken the physical edge off my nerves so I could focus on trying to do well, not on removing myself from the center of attention as quickly as possible. For those who choke during presentations to board members or pitches to clients, for example, but probably aren’t what you’d call clinically anxious, the best approach may be one akin to what Beilock has athletes do in her experiments: redirecting your mind, in the moment, to something other than how you’re comporting yourself, so you can allow the skills and knowhow you’ve worked so hard to acquire to automatically kick into gear and carry you through. Your focus should not be on worrying about outcomes or consequences or on how you’re being perceived but simply on the task at hand. Prepare thoroughly (but not too obsessively) in advance; then stay in the moment. If you’re feeling anxious, breathe from your diaphragm in order to keep your sympathetic nervous system from revving up too much. And remember that it can be good to be keyed up: the right amount of nervousness will enhance your performance.


* Scott Stossel est l’éditeur de la revue The Atlantic et l’auteur du volume My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Knopf 2014).

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