“Efficient Engagement” in Japan: A Sample Engagement Letter

A while back I spent some time writing an engagement letter (in both English and Japanese) that I myself would use if I was the head of governance and proxy voting at an investing institution that held positions in more than a handful of Japanese companies, and did not have enough time to meet with all of them, say, six or more times a year so as to do detailed “engagement” mainly via face-to-face meetings.   This actually includes most institutional investors, when you think about it.  I thought it might be helpful for friends of mine.

It has always seemed to me that in order for engagement to be efficient, you need to write down in detail your suggestions for companies, and send it out to them as early as you can – giving them a year or more of lead time to put new practices in place, if that is what one hopes.   Otherwise, in Japan very much gets “lost in translation”, and even less will reach the board.  Many governance practices are new in Japan, and just referring to them verbally will usually not be sufficient to fully communicate.  (As the person who proposed Japan’s corporate governance code in order for effective “stewardship” to occur, and having sat on a number of boards,  I have done a lot of thinking about this topic.)

To me, therefore, “efficient engagement” means that: a) you will send a letter or letters to the company’s board, one that will be largely or wholly standardized; but b) you may meet, or may never meet with the company, as you choose. You do not have to have multiple meetings with multiple companies, which for most investing institutions would be a very inefficient way to “engage”, particularly if little is put in writing.

2018.05.10 Seminar ‘Practical Financial Analysis for Directors ~ As taught by an experienced institutional investor ~’

What do sophisticated investors expect of directors when it comes to financial analysis of their own companies? In this seminar, an experienced equity portfolio manager and CIO will cover the basics of “accounting for value” and financial analysis that all directors in Japan should know, including:

• Challenges faced using the accounting information produced by listed Japanese companies
• Cash Flow vs Accrual Accounting and how each relates to performance and valuation
• The limitations of traditional measures of performance, value and returns such as sales growth, operating margins, PER, PBR, ROE, etc.
• Key financial metrics that investors and independent directors should use to evaluate business performance
• How to reformulate your company’s financial statements for purposes of investment and valuation
• How to use analysis to drive and support decision-making

There will be simple case studies, and time allotted to Q&A. For maximum benefit, participants may wish to read “Accounting for Value” by Stephen Penman, either before or after the course. Our speaker will be Campbell Gunn, the former country head of T. Rowe Price in Japan. Mr. Gunn is a fund manager with 30 years of broad experience in Japan equity portfolio management, during which time his teams generated returns that were consistently superior to market indices. Currently he advises PacificData, a leading provider of analytical systems and integrated financial information on Japanese companies.

Please sign up early, as we expect this to be a well-attended event. (Use the link below.)