METRICAL:Reason Behind the Difference in Management Between Family Companies and Others Is the Shareholding

On October 14, the Nikkei Shimbun published an article titled “The Magnetism of “Founder’s Family Companies with Reverse Strategies”: Aggressive Even in a Crisis, Corporate Governance is an Issue.” I would like to think about the points discussed in the article.

The October 14 Nikkei article outlined the following report.
Founding family companies that did not flinch in the face of the crisis and moved to a “reverse strategy” are attracting investors. Companies that made quick management decisions and expanded store openings during the COVID-19 pandemic have been unique in the stock market because of the explosive power of their earnings recovery. Weak governance, which has been a longstanding issue, has also been addressed, and money is flocking to companies that are ahead of the curve.

The Nikkei Stock Average rebounded sharply in the Tokyo market on October 14, ending the day 853 yen higher than the previous day. Compared to the end of last year, it was 6% lower. The market environment remained nervous due to strong concerns about continued U.S. interest rate hikes and economic recession. One company that has seen its share price rise steadily and more than double its appreciation rate is TKP, a major rental meeting room company. In FY02/2021, when face-to-face events decreased due to the Corona disaster, the company fell into the red for the first time since its listing. While reducing fixed costs such as personnel expenses and rent, the company remained on the offensive behind the scenes. The company aggressively purchased prime properties that were undervalued. This “reverse management strategy” is now bearing fruit. With the lifting of restrictions on activities, demand has returned, and the company is back in the black for the March-August period of 2022 for the first time in 3 years. President Takateru Kono, speaking at the October 13 financial results briefing, enthusiastically stated, “We will not only rent out space, but also provide content (such as distribution services) to increase added value.”

Why Leaders Must Adapt To Evolving ESG Demands

By Helle Bank Jorgensen, CEO of Competent Boards

Earlier this year, I took part in a fascinating session with the World Economic Forum as part of the New Champion Dialogues 2022 series. Hosted by Olivier Schwab, Managing Director at WEF, I was joined by Anushka Bogdanov, Chair and founder of Risk Insights and Jason Jay, Senior Director at MIT Sloan School of Management. 

The discussion focused on the rapidly changing picture of environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements for companies as they come under increasing pressure from stock markets to provide transparent, measurable and comparable data on their activities. 

And let’s not forget pressure from employees, suppliers, customers and other societal stakeholders. ESG risks and opportunities are a fast-moving field, with new regulations and expectations coming thick and fast. 

It starts and ends with the board of directors

For companies that want to effectively adapt to these evolving ESG requirements, including climate change, that process must start and end with the board of directors. ESG and climate change are areas where board directors cannot provide oversight if they don’t have the insight.

Redesigning Corporations: Incentives Matter

By Nicholas Benes
(also published in the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance) 

The Birth of the Corporation: Public Interest Organizations

The evolution of the modern corporation is the fascinating story of a series of self-serving legal and societal mutations over hundreds of years, which have morphed the original concept and endowed corporations with freedom of activity, rights, and limitations on liability that would shock their original “inventors”.

As we all know, for many years most corporations were established by way of an exceptional “charter” by a sovereign, granted only in specific cases where: (a) large amounts of capital were needed (b) to conduct investments and activities that served public or national interests and had good profit potential, but (c) where the risks were so large that few parties would invest if their risk were not shared with many others and/or limited to the amount of money they invested.

In the 1600s and 1700s, the activities that sovereign nations felt met those requirements were the exploration of foreign lands on the other side of the globe, the creation and administration of colonies there, and conducting lucrative trade on long (and dangerous) sea routes to and from those colonies. Thus, the most well-known early corporations include organizations such as the British East India Company (the original “too-big-to-fail company), The Dutch East India Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and companies to construct the Erie Canal.

As the industrial revolution gathered steam, the need to raise large amounts of capital increased many times over. Driven by this need, the immense benefits of corporate status for raising financing became increasingly obvious and desirable to investors and managers: easy stock transferability vs. rewriting partnership agreements, separation of ownership from control, legal personhood that simplified large transactions such as loans and large investments (a single counterparty to deal with and sue), and the possibility of receiving a charter that conferred “limited liability” on shareholders. All of these made it much easier to raise funds in large amounts than any other form of business organization.

Message to JR Kyushu Shareholders

Fir Tree Partners submitted a shareholder proposal nominating me as an outside board director for JR Kyushu. This all began as Fir Tree, the largest and longest holding, active shareholder of JR Kyushu since its IPO, was working in dialogue with the Company to find suitable new board candidates. I accepted the nomination because I believe the current needs of the JR Kyushu board fit well with my previous professional experience as well as my knowledge base. In particular, my experience as both analyst and corporate executive should be helpful as I am in favor of dialogue between investors and companies.

In mid-April, I was surprised to learn that JR Kyushu management, after spending months screening and interviewing the various candidates, ultimately decided to reject all candidates that were under consideration with Fir Tree. At this time, Fir Tree asked us to be their shareholder candidates for this year’s annual meeting. Even though being elected to a board as a shareholder proposal candidate is still rare in Japan, I decided to accept the role because I feel strongly about the importance of good governance and the role of completely independent outside directors. As I learned more about JR Kyushu in the past few months, I have concluded that I can add to the JR Kyushu board the diversity, perspective, and expertise that I have developed as an analyst, fund manager, investor relations professional and corporate executive in charge of governance matters. To this end, I believe I can help JR Kyushu in addressing the current challenges caused by Covid-19 as well as fulfill its full potential.

I would also like to publicly state that I am completely independent from Fir Tree and have told them directly that at all times. Fir Tree approached me through the help of a third-party search firm. I previously knew nobody at Fir Tree. There is no financial arrangement between us. I will remain independent from Fir Tree should I be elected as a director of JR Kyushu. I will consider Fir Tree’s opinions as no more or less important than those of any other shareholder, large or small.

If elected to the JR Kyushu board, I would be completely open minded and unbiased. I would review all board matters carefully in consultation with the other board members, management, and shareholders utilizing both public and non-public information in order to form my own opinions. I would endeavor to make well informed decisions that are best for all stakeholders.

Example of UK Pension Voting Policy – Japan Still Has Far to Go

The London Borough of Camden Pension Fund recently updated its voting guidelines. I thought it might be interesting for Japanese readers to see how detailed such guidelines by foreign pension funds are.  It is interesting to note that if you applied these voting criteria to most Japanese companies, almost none of them would pass muster, and the result we would be that many resolutions (and many directors) would not be approved.  Japan is still far, far behind the level of “stewardship” and expected governance practices in many other countries.

London Borough of Camden Voting Guidelines 2020

Very few pension funds in Japan (none that I know of) have voting policies at anything near this level of detail.

 

GoToData by BDTI: Japanese Disclosure, by All listed Firms, Now Easily Accessible in English!

Why wade through 100+ pages of unusable PDF-formatted Japanese jungle, when you can jump directly to the parts you want, read them in English, and quickly cut and paste both text and tables you want to analyze and compare? Why not save 70% of your time and conveniently review the official source documents submitted by all 3,600+ Japanese listed companies?  Click on the center of the image below to view in full screen “flipbook” mode, and contact us at info@bdti.or.jp if you are interested to know more. Qualifying parties may receive demonstrations and trial accounts.
Ready or not, Japanese disclosure has now entered the age of machine-readable digital data! The dream that I presented to Japanese lawmakers in February of 2014 [1] can now be realized: a world where a Corporate Governance Code requires detailed disclosure of the inner workings of companies’ governance black boxes, and that information is seamlessly available to all investors, thus making it possible for them to do the analysis they must do to be good “stewards”.  As a result, the Stewardship Code will be able to function in reality, not just in theory.

[1] 2月6日に自民党の日本経済再生本部の金融調査会に呼ばれて、コードの概念、政策としての位置付け、入れるべき内容の例を「日本経済の復活のため、コーポレート・ガバナンス・コードの早期制定を」というプレゼン資料を使って説明した。その後、議員らにさまざまなアドバイスと提供させていただいた。

Nikkei Asia: Activist Funds Defeated at Kirin and Toshiba Machine

“IFP’s challenge, however, highlighted weaknesses at Kirin, whose expansion has produced mixed results, analysts said. One of the director nominees recommended by IFP, corporate governance expert Nicholas Benes, won 35% of shareholders’ votes despite opposition from Kirin, suggesting some shareholders agreed the board needed more change.

Memo to Shareholders of Kirin HD, from a Director Candidate

Independent Franchise Partners (IFP) has submitted a shareholder proposal nominating Kanako Kikuchi (an experienced global pharmaceutical executive) and myself as independent directors. Glass, Lewis supports electing both of us, but it seems that ISS has “split the baby” and only supports me. If investors could vote for Ms. Kikuchi as well, it would greatly help ensure that the board makes a fully informed, objective and independent assessment of the strategy on an ongoing basis.

Both of us have no past relations with IFP, and take an approach that is completely agnostic and independent of IFP’s dividend proposal. We both believe that if shareholders do not opt for that proposal, – or in any case – it is most prudent to withhold any decisions about the strategy until such time as when we are on the board and can ask questions and are privy to all internal analysis and confidential information. Therefore, we would both join the board with no pre-decision(s) made before knowing all the facts. This is the only logical position to take as a truly independent director. I have informed IFP in no uncertain terms that my philosophy and legal duty is to answer to all shareholders, and that I may well not agree with positions that IFP has taken or may take in the future. IFP has no problem with this.

Many investors may not realize that unless Ms. Kikuchi is elected, there will be no one with global biopharma experience on this board just at the time when that skill set is most needed. Given the company’s proclaimed strategy to “bridge” into health science products (which could be a good one for all I know), this is not wise and is of great concern to me.

CITINDEX 11 : “Our Opinion on Toshiba Machine’s Implementation of Buyout Defense Mechanisms that Do Not Take into Account Shareholder Opinions”

Conclusion paragraph: “We believe that Toshiba Machine’s implementation of its New Buyout Defense Mechanism that does not take into account (but rather opposes) shareholder opinions hinders the development of corporate governance in Japan, which has been built on the efforts of various parties including governmental agencies and self-regulation organizations such as the Ministry of Economy, […]