Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger is well known as the partner of CEO Warren Buffett and also for his advocacy of “multi-disciplinary thinking”—the application of fundamental concepts from across various academic disciplines to solve complex real-world problems. One problem that Munger has addressed over the years is the optimal system of corporate governance. How should an organization be structured to encourage ethical behavior among organizational participants and motivate decision-making in the best interest of shareholders? His solution is unconventional by the standards of governance today and somewhat at odds with regulatory guidelines. However, the insights that Munger provides represent a contrast to current “best practices” and suggest the potential for alternative solutions to improve corporate performance and executive behavior. In our paper, Corporate Governance According to Charles T. Munger, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine this solution in greater detail.
Posts Tagged ‘Management’
While hundreds of research papers discuss earnings quality, there is no agreed-upon definition. We take a unique perspective on the topic by focusing our efforts on the producers of earnings quality: Chief Financial Officers. In our paper, The Misrepresentation of Earnings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we explore the definition, characteristics, and determinants of earnings quality, including the prevalence and identification of earnings misrepresentation. To do so, we conduct a large-scale survey of 375 CFOs on earnings quality. We supplement the survey with 12 in-depth interviews with CFOs from prominent firms.
Excessive risk-taking by financial institutions and overly generous executive pay are widely regarded as key factors in the 2007-09 crisis. In particular, it has become commonplace to blame banks and securities companies for compensation packages that reward managers (and more generally, other risk-takers such as traders and salesmen) generously for making investments with high returns in the short run but large risks that emerge only in the long run. As governments have been forced to rescue failing financial institutions, politicians and the media have stressed the need to cut executive pay packages and rein in incentives based on options and bonuses, making them more dependent on long-term performance and in extreme cases eliminating them outright. It is natural to ask whether this is the right policy response to the problem. It is crucial to ask what is the root of the problem—that is, precisely which market failure produced excessive risk-taking.
In our recent ECGI working paper, Are Female Top Managers Really Paid Less?, we focus on the gender wage gap of executive directors in the UK. In particular, we ask the question whether female top managers are paid less than their male counterparts, whether the gender wage gap is higher in male dominated industries (such as financial services etc.), and what effects female non-executive directors and remuneration consultants exert on pay.
Delay in confronting crises is deadly. Corporate leaders must have processes for learning of important safety issues. Then they must seize control immediately and lead a systematic response. Crisis management is the ultimate stress test for the CEO and other top leaders of companies. The mantra for all leaders in crisis management must be: “It is our problem the moment we hear about it. We will be judged from that instant forward for everything we do—and don’t do.”
These are key lessons for leaders in all types of businesses from the front page stories about Toyota’s and GM’s separate, lengthy delays in responding promptly and fully to reports of deadly accidents possibly linked to product defects.
The news focus has been on regulatory investigations and enforcement relating to each company, but the ultimate question is why the company leaders didn’t forcefully address the possible defect issues when deaths started to occur.
Many corporate executives and board members view activist investors as little more than bullies with calculators: they seem to hunt in packs, force disruptive and risky changes, and use simplistic benchmarks as their call to action.
Yet their ranks have grown rapidly, and activist investors now attack even the largest and most successful companies. Worldwide, the assets managed by activist investors have increased sevenfold over the past decade, from $12 billion to $85 billion. Since 2005, the number of activist campaigns in the U.S. has increased 15 percent per year, reaching a total of 144 in 2012. These investors have pushed for the return of excess cash to shareholders at Apple; urged restructuring through spinoffs and divestitures at PepsiCo, Sony, Timken, and McGraw-Hill; and called for the replacement of senior management or board members at Abercrombie & Fitch, Yahoo, and Sotheby’s.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) litigation activity associated with failed financial institutions increased significantly in 2013, according to Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014, a new report by Cornerstone Research. The FDIC filed 40 director and officer (D&O) lawsuits in 2013, compared with 26 in 2012, a 54 percent increase.
The surge in FDIC D&O lawsuits stems from the high number of financial institution failures in 2009 and 2010. Of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009, the directors and officers of 64 (or 46 percent) either have been the subject of an FDIC lawsuit or settled claims with the FDIC prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Of the 157 institutions that failed in 2010, 53 (or 34 percent) have either been the subject of a lawsuit or have settled with the FDIC.
In our paper, CEO Job Security and Risk-Taking, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use the length of employment contracts to estimate CEO turnover probability and its effects on risk-taking. Protection against dismissal should encourage CEOs to pursue riskier projects. Indeed, we show that firms with lower CEO turnover probability exhibit higher return volatility, especially idiosyncratic risk. An increase in turnover probability of one standard deviation is associated with a volatility decline of 17 basis points. This reduction in risk is driven largely by a decrease in investment and is not associated with changes in compensation incentives or leverage.
As the fallout from the financial crisis recedes and both institutional investors and corporate boards gain experience with expanded corporate governance regulation, the coming year holds some promise of decreased tensions in board-shareholder relations. With governance settling in to a “new normal,” influential shareholders and boards should refocus their attention on the fundamental aspects of their roles as they relate to the creation of long-term value.
Institutional investors and their beneficiaries, and society at large, have a decided interest in the long-term health of the corporation and in the effectiveness of its governing body. Corporate governance is likely to work best in supporting the creation of value when the decision rights and responsibilities of shareholders and boards set out in state corporate law are effectuated.
The recent announcement of the formation of the Shareholder-Director Exchange, a new group that aims to facilitate direct communication between institutional shareholders (namely, mutual funds and pension programs) and non-management directors of the U.S. public companies they own, has been accompanied by a flurry of articles regarding the purposes and possibilities of this new group. From my perspective, the Shareholder-Director Exchange has tremendous potential to help improve corporate governance and performance in this country.