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董事会采用轮选制,投资者受益匪浅

Ryan Derousseau 2019年05月07日

有些公司定期替换部分董事,给投资者带来了不小的收益。

在上市公司里,股东和职业经理人之间的矛盾是一对永恒的矛盾,同时它也是企业最主要的矛盾之一。不过在某一个方面上,股东已经获得了决定性的胜利。现在的上市公司大幅减少了“轮选制”董事会结构,而该结构可以减轻期待改革的投资者给企业领导者带来的压力。

股东虽然赢得了胜利,但是否却输掉了战争?看来确实是这样。董事会轮选制实际上是可能带来更好的回报的。

董事会轮选制有点像美国参议院选举。董事会成员是分组轮流选举的,一般每年会改选三分之一的董事会成员。非轮选制的董事会更像美国众议院,所有席位在每次选举中都是开放的。在参议院式的结构下,要想取得多数席位,至少要经过两次选举。这样一来,股东要想赶走现有的董事,要求企业做出战略转向,就要难得多了。

根据来自财经信息公司FactSet的数据,2009年的时候,标普500指数公司中有41%采用了轮选制董事会架构。而现在,在标普500指数公司中,采用这种架构的只有54家,约占总数的11%。这种转变一定程度上要归功于安然(Enron)和世通(WorldCom)的倒掉。这两家公司的崩溃与腐败有着千丝万缕的联系,他们的前车之鉴也使加强企业治理改革成了企业界的“政治正确”,而轮选制董事会的“舒适区”也使这种架构很容易成为靶子。到了10年代初,鼓吹股东权益的人开始进一步反对董事会轮选制,称这种架构保护了无能的职业经理人,损害了企业的价值。他们的理论成功说服了100多家公司放弃了这种架构。

不过近年来,采取轮选制架构的公司在业绩上却超过了他们的竞争对手,有的差距还相当明显。过去五年间(截止到三月底)在标普500企业中,采取轮选制架构的公司的平均回报率达到了125%。而作为一个整体而言,标普500企业的平均回报率仅为52%。

当然,这些数据也可能代表了经理学家们所谓的“幸存者偏差”,即一家采用了轮选制架构的公司如果获得的回报率太低,就会更倾向于放弃这种架构。不过更深入细致的研究表明,这种架构也是可以带来回报的。研究人员马尔蒂安·克里默斯、卢博米尔·利托夫和西蒙·塞普等曾对1978年至2015年间改变了董事会架构的3000多家公司进行研究,这些公司要么是由轮选制改为非轮选制,要么反之。研究发现,在轮选制架构下,这些公司的“企业价值”平均增长了3.2%到6.1%——这里的“企业价值”是用诺贝尔经济学奖得主詹姆斯·托宾的Tobin’s Q值衡量的,代表企业的市场价值与资本重置成本之比。无独有偶,哈佛商学院教授查尔斯·王和他的团队进行了类似研究。在1990年,马萨诸塞州因为该州法律修改,总部设在该州的公司都被要求采取轮选制架构。查尔斯·王发现,在接下来的15年里,这些企业的平均Tobin’s Q值增长得非常迅速。

轮选制何以成为企业成功的秘诀?因为它使优秀的经理人不容易受到外界干扰,从而更容易地进行创新,查尔斯·王的研究发现,那些在研发上投入巨资的企业,在轮选制架构下往往表现得更好。他表示:“外部影响一般对这些创新活动较为不利”,因为股东往往更期待管理层拿出短期成绩,而不是着眼长期进行投资。(值得一提的是,在标普500企业中现存的54家采用轮选制架构的公司中,有16家从事医疗行业,包括生物技术和制药行业。)

现在,越来越多的公司倾向于在上市时采取轮选制董事会架构,在2008年,只有38%的IPO公司采取了这一架构。而到了2016年,这个比例上升到了81%。(今年迄今为止最受瞩目的IPO公司Lyft也采取了轮选制董事会架构。)

不过,投资者也不能想当然地以为董事会轮选制是包治百病的灵丹妙药。查尔斯·王指出,轮选制虽然给董事会挖了一道“护城河”,但如果企业以此来隔绝所有合理的批评,则这种架构也会起负面效果。(而赋予了公司高管和创始人“超级投票权”的双层股权结构则会带来更大风险,参见侧边栏)。如果管理层的表现确实大家深感失望,那么非轮选制架构确实更便于股东对公司施压,实现管理层的换血。

下面的三家公司都采用了轮选制架构,他们的运营非常稳健,而且基本都成功避免了上面所说的“护城河”心态。

很少有实体零售商在电商时代还能像Ulta Beauty这样蓬勃发展。在轮选制董事会的支持下,该公司CEO玛丽·狄龙瞄准了商业街等商场以外的购物场所,因为这些地方并不像传统购物中心一样面临客流下降的问题。过去3年间,Ulta Beauty开设了313家新店,约占旗下门店总数的27%。它的店内购物体验也是网店无可比拟的,比如顾客可以来店享受其独家产品和“美容吧”等设施。奥本海默公司分析师鲁比什·帕里克表示:“我们非常看好该公司的前景。”他表示,虽然该公司股价去年上涨了67%,但其走势还是符合其历史平均水平的。

过去10年间,医疗保险公司Anthem将它的药品福利管理服务(PBM)外包给了Express Scripts公司。这笔交易已于今年3月结束。现在Anthem正在推出自己的PBM服务。这也是该公司战略上的一次飞跃,该公司管理层认为,此举带来的利益将远远超过风险。巴克莱分析师史蒂文·瓦莱奎特认为,这一举措将在未来3到5年内,给予Anthem每年10%至12%的收入增长空间。

IDEXX实验室是一所行业领先的兽医诊断机构。随着人们越来越注重宠物健康,这家公司也受益颇丰。据Can­accord Genuity公司分析师马克·马萨罗称,IDEXX实验室的研发支出独占整个动物健康诊断行业的80%,推动了“业内几乎所有的创新”。该公司的顾客保留率接近99%。它的股票也价格不菲,过去三年间上涨了183%。不过马萨罗表示,它的股票完全值这个价钱。

双重股权困局

这些公司虽然可能拥有光明的未来,然而“双重股权”结构赋予其创始人的绝对投票权,却有可能上其他股东感到不安。

Facebook

创始人、CEO马克·扎克伯格通过强大的B股控制着60%的股东投票权。这种控制权帮助Facebook承担了盈利风险,同时在扎克伯格因数据安全和隐私问题受到抨击时,也使他免于遭受了来自投资者的压力。

雅诗兰黛

兰黛家族控制了87%的股东投票权。另外他们也表明了自己愿意信任像CEO法布里齐奥·弗雷达这样强势的领导者。但与此同时,兰黛家族还占据了董事会的四分之一席位,公司的事谁说了算,再明显不过了。

环球健康服务

环球健康服务公司是一家医院运营商,它的A股和C股共计拥有87%的投票权,主要控制在其创始人、CEO艾伦·米勒及其家人手中。近些年,该股表现远逊于标普500医疗指数。公司发展方向的任何调整都取决于米勒之手。(财富中文网)

本文的另一版本载于2019年5月刊的《财富》杂志。

作者:Ryan Derousseau

译者:朴成奎

The eternal battle for control at public companies between executives and shareholders is one of the most important narratives in business. And on one front, shareholders have won decisively: They’ve sharply reduced the use of “staggered” boards of directors, which can help protect business leaders from the pressures of reform-minded investors.

But in winning the victory, did they lose the war? Seems so. Staggered boards may actually deliver better returns.

A staggered board is like the U.S. Senate: Directors are elected on a rotating basis, typically with one out of three facing election each year. A non-staggered board is more like the House: Every seat is up for grabs in each election. With a Senate-like structure, it takes two elections to replace a majority of the board—making it far more difficult for shareholders to oust directors and demand a shift in strategy.

In 2009, 41% of S&P 500 boards used such setups. Today, only 54 companies in that index, or 11%, have non-annual voting, according to FactSet. For that sea change, you can partly thank Enron and WorldCom. The corruption-driven collapses of those companies made corporate-governance reform a cause célèbre—and the perceived coziness of staggered boards made them an easy target. Research at the time also suggested that firms that reelected all directors annually were better performers. By the early 2010s, shareholder-rights advocates were lobbying against staggering, on the grounds that it hurt value by shielding bad managers. Their efforts helped persuade more than 100 companies to abandon the practice.

But in recent years, staggered-board companies have wound up outperforming their peers—and significantly at that. For the five years through March, S&P 500 companies that utilized non-annual voting registered an average total return of 125%; for the index as a whole, the figure was 52%.

These figures may represent what economists call “survivorship bias”: A company that’s reaping lousy returns with a staggered board is more likely to ditch it. Still, more nuanced studies also suggest that the structure can pay off. Researchers Martijn ­Cremers, Lubomir Litov, and Simone Sepe looked at more than 3,000 companies that changed their boards from staggered to unstaggered or vice versa from 1978 to 2015. They found that those companies’ “firm values” increased by 3.2% to 6.1% under a staggered structure, as measured by Tobin’s Q, a metric that divides a company’s enterprise value by the value of its assets. Similarly, Harvard Business School professor Charles Wang and his coauthors evaluated companies headquartered in Massachusetts that were required to adopt staggered voting in 1990, owing to a change in state law. In the 15 years that followed, Wang found, their average Tobin’s Q value grew sharply.

What makes staggering a secret sauce? It appears to make it easier for good managers to innovate, free of outside pressure. Wang’s research found that businesses that spend heavily on R&D tend to perform better under alternating-election boards. “External influence is more likely bad for these types of innovative activities,” says Wang, because shareholders may lean on management for short-term results rather than giving an investment with a long time-horizon the support it needs. (Tellingly, of today’s staggered S&P 500 companies, 16 of 54 are in health care, including biotech and pharmaceuticals.)

It’s potentially a good sign that companies launching initial public offerings are increasingly likely to have staggered boards. In 2008, 38% of IPO companies had such structures; in 2016 that figure was 81%. (This year’s best-known IPO debutant so far, ride-share company Lyft, has a staggered board.)

Still, investors shouldn’t assume staggering is a panacea. Building a moat around the board, says Wang, can have negative consequences as well, if companies use staggering to insulate themselves from justified criticism. (Dual-class share structures, which give “super­voting” rights to executives and founders, present even greater risks; see sidebar.) An unstaggered board can make it easier for investors to press for change if management starts to drastically disappoint.

Here are three companies that are in the middle of solid runs under staggered boards—and have so far avoided the moat mentality.

Few brick-and-mortar retailers have thrived in the e-commerce era like Ulta Beauty (ulta, -0.44%). Backed by a staggered board, CEO Mary Dillon has targeted “off-mall” locations like strip malls, which haven’t lost traffic as traditional malls have. Ulta has opened 313 new locations over the past three years, about 27% of its store count. It also emphasizes in-store experiences that online rivals can’t match, including exclusive products and sit-down “beauty bars.” “We’re very bullish on the company’s prospects,” says Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh, who says the stock trades in line with historical averages, despite climbing 67% over the past year.

For the past decade, health insurer Anthem outsourced its pharmacy benefits management (PBM) services to Express Scripts. That deal ended in March, and now Anthem is launching its own PBM service, a long-term strategic leap with benefits that management believes will far outweigh the risks. Barclays analyst Steven Valiquette says the move will give Anthem room to grow revenues between 10% and 12% annually over the next three to five years.

IDEXX Laboratories, a leader in veterinary diagnostics, has benefited from our willingness to spend on our pets’ wellness. It also accounts for as much as 80% of the animal-health diagnostic market’s R&D spending, driving “almost all innovation in the industry,” says Mark Massaro, an analyst at Can­accord Genuity. The company boasts customer retention rates near 99%. Its stock is pricey, having jumped 183% over the past three years, but it deserves to trade at a premium, says Massaro.

Dual-Class Dilemma

These companies may have bright futures, but the voting control their “dual-class” stock gives to their founders can make other investors uneasy.

Facebook

Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg controls about 60% of the shareholder vote through powerful B shares. That control has helped Facebook take profitable risks. It also insulates Zuckerberg from investor pressure as he battles questions about data security and privacy.

Estée Lauder

The Lauder ­family controls 87% of shareholder voting power. They’ve shown a willingness to trust strong leaders like CEO Fabrizio Freda. But with family also accounting for 25% of the board, it’s clear where the final decisions lie.

Universal Health Services

The hospital operator’s A and C shares, which account for 87% of voting power, are largely controlled by founder and CEO Alan Miller and his family. The stock has sharply underperformed the S&P 500 Health Care Index in recent years; any big course correction is in Miller’s hands.

A version of this article appears in the May 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “When a Shuffled Deck Means a Better Hand.”

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