This is timely as Colin McLean, managing director of SVM Asset Management, said recently that with half the FTSE 100 facing binding votes on pay, he expects to see changes takes place. Large investors including Henderson, Aberdeen and Calpers are also reported to be expecting to take tougher action on excessive bonuses in 2017 as protests gather pace.
In January, French Connection was mired in controversy after US shareholder activist Gatemore Capital Management warned the retailer may run out of cash and needed an executive shake-up, while Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (PIRC) released a document guiding how pension funds and asset managers should vote over executive pay at Franklin Templeton’s annual meeting next week.
While good governance and transparency may not be the sexiest terms for companies to crow about as part of their messaging framework, they are without doubt two terms that really should be embedded into the heart of what companies do and how they operate.
A recent report by Schulte Roth & Zabel / Activist Insight suggests that the mood is only going in one direction, with a 13% increase globally in the number of companies being publicly targeted by activists last year. Interestingly, activism in Europe, which has until now been fairly slow relative to the US, is rapidly changing, with the number of public companies facing activist demands up 35% last year.
In an age where opaqueness is simply no longer an option, if regulation doesn’t force you to be responsible then the threat of activist shareholders – or even tenacious journalists – may well give you no choice.
A solid communications plan, as part of a broader marketing strategy, enables a company to quickly respond to such issues should they arise; the question is whether they should be arising in the first place. Understanding changing industry sentiment and being at the forefront of change rather than the back of the crowd, is a good first step.