Emphatically yes, says the highly influential CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, in his latest annual letter to CEOs. BlackRock, according to the NYT, now manages $10 trillion in assets, so the company would be persuasive even if its CEO never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but for a number of years, Fink has staked out positions in his annual letters on a variety of social and environmental issues that made companies (and media) pay attention. At the Northwestern Law Securities Regulation Institute in 2021, former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro said that, at companies where she was on the board, Fink’s 2020 statement (which announced a number of initiatives designed to put “sustainability at the center of [BlackRock’s] investment approach”) had had “an enormous impact last year.” However, he has also had his denigrators, and this year’s letter allocates a lot of terrain to deflecting criticism that his positions are more aligned with “woke” politics than with making money for shareholders. Not so, he contends, stakeholder capitalism is capitalism: BlackRock’s conviction “is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.” Ultimately, he asserts, cultivating these beneficial relationships will drive long-term value. How will this year’s letter land?
Last week, the NYT, reporting from Davos, said that the “business titans” at the annual World Economic Forum seemed to show a “newfound enthusiasm” for the cause of climate change, rallying “around a consensus that accelerating global temperatures pose a significant risk to society—and to business. Missing, though, was a clear answer to the question of what exactly they would do about it and how quickly. ‘It’s an increase in rhetoric, absolutely,’ said one commentator, ‘Will we see a walking of the talking? The jury is out.’” One way that a group of some of the largest businesses at Davos, together with the Big Four accounting firms, have been trying to “walk the talking” is through an effort “to develop a core set of common metrics to track environmental and social responsibility.” Is it just virtue-signaling or will the effort toward creation of new metrics make a difference?
Consultant Russell Reynolds Associates opens this report on 2020 corporate governance trends by observing that, “[f]or the first time, in 2020, we see the focus on the ‘E’ and the ‘S’ of environment, social and governance (ESG) as the leading trend globally, including in the United States, where it traditionally has not received as much attention by boards.” That conclusion—that sustainability has now ascended to the forefront of corporate governance trends—is reinforced by this year’s annual letter to CEOs from BlackRock CEO, Laurence Fink, announcing initiatives to put “sustainability at the center of [BlackRock’s] investment approach,” as well as the Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which outlined a “modern standard for corporate responsibility” that makes a commitment to all stakeholders. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) For its report, RRA interviewed over 40 governance professionals, including institutional and activist investors, pension fund managers and proxy advisors to “identify the corporate governance trends that will impact boards and directors in 2020.” Those trends are summarized below.
What does good governance really mean? What does it mean to follow best practices? Are there really best practices that make sense for all companies? Do we tend to latch onto easily identified and measured structural features that may not really be effective for good governance and ignore qualities that may be more effective but are not as easily identified or measured? Do we even have a common understanding of the meaning of concepts central to governance? These are some of the questions addressed in an interesting paper, “Loosey-Goosey Governance Four Misunderstood Terms in Corporate Governance,” from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford.
BDO identifies questions companies may need to address at annual meetings of shareholders this season
Just in time to get ready for those annual meetings of shareholders, accounting firm BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting has developed a list of topics that companies should be prepared to address at their annual meetings of shareholders this season. The broad themes include the impact of efforts by the current administration regarding protectionism, taxes and deregulation, as well as corporate accountability and compliance.
by Cydney Posner This year, in his annual letter to corporate CEOs, Laurence D. Fink, CEO of asset manager BlackRock, challenges companies to address the impact of significant political, economic, societal and technological changes on their current strategies for long-term value creation: “As BlackRock engages with your company this year, […]