Tag Archives: stockholders

More Evidence of the Damage Done by Kleptocrat CEO Pay

I have been writing about the problems of overpaid executives that has lately become so bad that verbiage understand the nature of the problem. Today I see many CEO’s are acting as kleptocrats do – taking food out of others mouths to build their castles. The damage done to everyone else involved is of no concern. Both groups love bankers that flood them with cash for new and larger castles at the expense of the futures of their company (or country).

This paper does a very good job of providing more evidence of the damage done by these kleptocrat CEOs and their apologists.

Are Top Executives Paid Enough? An Evidence-Based Review by Philippe Jacquart and J. Scott Armstrong

Our review of the evidence found that the notion that higher pay leads to the selection of better executives is undermined by the prevalence of poor recruiting methods. Moreover, higher pay fails to promote better performance. Instead, it undermines the intrinsic motivation of executives, inhibits their learning, leads them to ignore other stakeholders, and discourages them from considering the long-term effects of their decisions on stakeholders. Relating incentive payments to executives’ actions in an effective manner is not possible. Incentives also encourage unethical behaviour. Organizations would benefit from using validated methods to hire top executives, reducing compensation, eliminating incentive plans, and strengthening stockholder governance related to the hiring and compensation of executives.

Many of the problems with the poor thinking around executive pay stem from the failure to grasp ideas Dr. Deming wrote about decades ago.

Executives are often evaluated on the basis of the success or failure of the business units for which they are responsible. In practice, many internal and external factors influence outcomes for firms, and assessing the role played by a given executive is not possible. For example, should a manager get credit for a firm’s success when the economy is booming or blame for the firm’s losses during a recession? When answering such questions, evaluators are biased toward ignoring contextual factors and overly attributing outcomes to leaders. This bias was illustrated in a laboratory experiment in which groups of participants had to solve a coordination task. In the experiment, group size varied, and participants could perceive that the task was harder when the group was larger. Despite this, participants credited group leaders for the success of small groups and blamed them for the failure of large groups (Weber et al. 2001).

The quote from their paper show a failure to understand variation (attributing variation to those near the variation at the time – good marks when the variation is good, bad marks when it is bad). And a failure to understand the organization as a system (the results of any subsystem are greatly influenced by the whole system and the conditions outside the system (the economy, the macro-economic conditions for the industry…). And a failure to understand the theory of knowledge: people should know our brains leap to causation explanations when the evidence doesn’t support it. Then confirmation bias and psychology lead us to accept the data that supports our biases.

Nonexperimental studies also find that increases in CEO compensation occur following increases in firm performance that result from factors beyond the CEO’s control—CEOs are paid for being lucky. For example, CEOs in the oil industry were compensated for increased profits resulting from fluctuations in the price of crude oil—a factor beyond their control (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001).

You see this just looking at the money heaped onto executives (in addition to the already huge payments taken) in industries whenever those industries (not individual companies, the entire industry) have macro-economic windfalls.

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The Market Discounts Proven Company Leadership Far Too Quickly

Developing a strong executive leadership culture is not a short term effort. It isn’t based on one person. It almost never deteriorates quickly. Yet markets continually overact to minor blips on the long term success of companies. I think this is mainly due to a failure to appreciate systems and a failure to appreciate variation along with plenty of other contributing factors.

The market’s weakness does provide investment opportunities. Though taking advantages of them is much more difficult than spotting a general weakness. While excellent management almost never becomes pitiful overnight (regardless of how often talking heads would have you believe) business can change very quickly due to rapidly changing market conditions. Avoiding the purchases when the underlying business has sustained a significant blow that excellent management will deal with but which will reduce the value of the enterprise going forward is key to taking advantage of the market’s silly overreaction to bad news (or even calling things “bad news” that are not actually bad just not as awesome as some were hoping for).

My positive opinion of Toyota’s management has continued for a long time. A few years ago an amazing number of people were all excited about the “decline of Toyota” and wrote about how Toyota’s ways had to change. I wrote at the time was this is needless hysteria and if Toyota just focused a bit more on applying the Toyota’s management methods they would be in great shape. The problems were due to Toyota’s mistakes in practicing the Toyota Production System not in a weakness of those practices.

Looking at a chart of Toyota’s stock price from 2007 to today it peaks at about $137 in January 2007 and bottoms at $58 in early 2009 and now is at $96. Toyota’s stock price has been priced richly due to respect for management and consistently strong cash flow. As it fell below $75 there you no longer had to pay a premium for excellent management, but that management was still there. I like getting bargains when I buy stocks. One of the things I have learned I am too focused on bargains and I should be more willing to accept less of a bargain to get great management systems – so I have adjusted, and have improved my results. When I can get a great bargain and great management it is wonderful, though sadly a rare occurrence. Toyota’s price now seems reasonable, but not a huge bargain.

The market continually gets overly excited by either actual problems or perceived problems. I wrote about this happening with Netflix 2 years ago. Netflix made some mistakes and faced some tough business issues. The evidence of sound, sensible, effective management vastly outweighed the evidence for management failure – yet there were hundreds of articles about the pitiful failure of Netflix management.

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Sometimes Micro-managing Works

Sometimes micro-managing works. That doesn’t mean it is a good strategy to replicate. If you benchmark Apple you might decide that you should have a tyrannical obsessive involved CEO who is directly involved in every detail of products and services. After all Apple is now the second most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization of $324 billion (Exxon Mobil is the top at $433 billion) and a huge part of that is Steve Jobs.

Nice quote from How to beat Apple

Apple products & services that Apple does well are the ones that Steve Jobs uses

An interesting point, and really it doesn’t matter if it is completely true it illustrates a point that Steve Jobs is the rare leader that helps by being completely involved in nearly every detail. And at the same time he provides strategic leadership rivaled by very few others. But if you try to benchmark this (simplistically – as most benchmarking is done) you will fail. This works with Steve Jobs and maybe a handful of other people alive today. But with most leaders and organizations it would fail completely.

On another point Jason Kottke makes, I would normally suggest the opposite approach:

Openness and secrecy. Competitors should take a page from Apple’s playbook here and be open about stuff that will give you a competitive advantage and shut the hell up about everything else. Open is not always better.

I think you may well be better off doing the opposite and countering Apple’s secrecy with openness. It would depend on your organization, but, I think you might be better off trying to exploit Apple’s weakness instead of trying to do what they do well. Now things are never this simple but on a cursory level I think that is where I would look.

Google now has a market cap of $171 billion, Apple is almost double that – just 3 years ago Apple first exceeded Google’s value.

Related: Leadership is the act of making others effective in achieving an aimThe CEO is Only One PersonJeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterRespect for PeopleDee Hock on Hiring

Corporations Do Not Exist Solely to Maximize the Bottom Line

Do corporations exist solely to maximize their bottom lines? We don’t think so. [The broken link was removed]

When Bill Gates suggested recently that corporations should sacrifice profits to the public welfare, practicing what he called “creative capitalism,” he wasn’t the first robber baron with the idea. Henry Ford made a similar proposal in 1916, but he was defeated in court by shareholders who preferred he simply issue dividends. The countervailing view, famously expounded by Milton Friedman, is that the only responsibility of business is to increase profits.

Customers are also demanding products that show a commitment to the public welfare. About 10% of new product introductions are environmentally sensitive–green lightbulbs and cars, for example.

Starbucks pays Ethiopian coffee farmers a 75% premium over market prices, believing this is better than passing out the equivalent in welfare. Pfizer is spending $570 million to develop and deliver treatment in the Third World for fungal infections caused by AIDS. This outlay won’t be recovered in product sales.

They don’t mention the importance of other stakeholder (employees, customers, suppliers – other than the Starbucks example) but still it is nice to read some support for the principles Deming supported: the corporation seeking to benefit all stakeholders.

Related: Curious Cat management search engineDeming on ManagementFocus on Customers and Employees

Amazon’s Amazing Achievement

I have mentioned I like the way Amazon, and Jeff Bezos, have been managing in several posts. Recently Amazon has added very strong financial results to that portfolio of things they do well. Amazon earnings announcement:

Net sales increased 35% to $2.89 billion in the second quarter, compared with $2.14 billion in second quarter 2006. Excluding the $46 million favorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, net sales grew 33% compared with second quarter 2006.

Operating income increased 149% to $116 million in the second quarter, compared with $47 million in second quarter 2006. Net income increased 257% to $78 million in the second quarter, or $0.19 per diluted share, compared with net income of $22 million, or $0.05 per diluted share in second quarter 2006.

Pretty impressive. It seems Amazon might be able to begin delivering strong current financial performance (they have done so at least twice, and maybe longer depending on how you look at it…) and continue to build and innovate for the future. That is when a company really sets itself apart from the crowd. Previously, from the investing perspective, the argument was largely based on the belief that the steps taken today were building for the future (a fine thing, but risky – without the evidence of success actually making real profit it is often easy to make a good case for why the future will be good). In an investment it is more comforting when current earning provide some evidence the profits predicted in the future have some basis in reality.

Since the beginning of April Amazon’s share price has gone from $40 a share to $70. And based on the after hours trades today it is going to be in the $80s tomorrow (though after hours trades can often be misleading – there is some more confidence based on the large volume of hour trades in Amazon, but still…). I must admit this price does seem like it might be getting a bit ahead of itself but Amazon is making an impressive case for strong future performance.

Related: Amazon Innovation10 stocks for 10 years (April 2005)12 Stocks for 10 Years Update (June 2007)Very Good Amazon EarningsBezos on Lean ThinkingIs Amazon a Bargain?