Thursday morning commenced with a presentation on Share Buy Backs. The City Editor of the Evening Standard gave a broad sweep approach pointing out that Company’s often bought back their own shares for tactical reasons but said that this policy often benefited the Company and its Directors and not necessarily the Shareholders.
This was followed by a presentation by an American author Robert Tietelman who had written a book entitled ‘Bloodsport’ about Company Mergers, Acquisitions and Takeovers in the USA that had influenced the UK markets. He concluded that mergers and acquisitions meant growth for the Company involved whereas share buy backs did not.
This was followed by an interesting presentation entitled Human Capital Management by the Director of Sustainability of SSE one of the bigger Energy Companies. She outlined a whole raft of statistics showing how SSE was evaluating the performance and worth of its workforce under the banner of ‘A Responsible Employer’. As it progressed and developed the Company paid detailed attention to promoting redevelopment and retraining rather than redundancy. There was also a presentation by the Pensions and Life Savings Association focusing on the importance of Human Capital.
The final morning session was on Directors Pay – the Challenge of Quantum. The speaker was a Director of the High Pay Centre who had been giving evidence to a Commons Select Committee charged with the preparation of a Green Paper for Parliamentary debate early in the New Year. His statics proved that top pay fir Directors and more particularly Chief Executive Officers had grown out of all proportion in the past decade – and continued to grow. He sought (perhaps unsuccessfully) to justify this trend but pointed to checks and balances including the recent legal obligation of workers on Boards. He questioned whether a CEO should justify high pay on the basis of having the ‘final decision’ and whether that was justifiable or desirable. Predictably two of the questions from the floor mentioned PRP and professional footballers’ wages.
The afternoon session began with a session entitled ‘Are the Activists Winning?’ Owen Walker from the Financial Times had produced a book entitled ‘Barbarians in the Boardroom’ which related to shareholder activists that had mounted a challenge to targeting and removing some directors and executives from some of the world’s largest Companies and taken their places. Some Companies subsequently suffer asset stripping.
Next came thought provoking presentation entitled Redefining the Responsibilities of the Corporation. The speaker set out in great detail the responsibilities and duties of Company Directors whose main aim should be to create value on behalf of the Company and its Shareholders. He touched on the vexed question of executive pay and related to the inequality of the north/south divide quoting the outgoing HM Inspector of Schools about those ‘north of the Wash’ having less advantageous education. It was a semi-interactive session with audience participation encouraged.
The final session of the day entitled Shareholder Resolutions – the Last Chance Saloon brought together three unlikely bedfellows in the shape of LAPFF Chairman Kieran Quinn, a Climate Change expert and a representative of UNITE – the Union. The UNITE presentation centered on the recent success of Shareholders led by the Unions (including UNISON) who had forced major changes in the working practises, pay rates and Health and Safety implementation for staff of Sports Direct. Kieran Quinn related the success of the well documented campaign against National Express in the USA and the third speaker gave details of the pressure on Exxon Mobil and other American oil/gas Companies.