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CEO们如何重建信任

Eleanor Bloxham 2013年03月20日

如今,CEO的形象已经受损。如何重建社会对CEO的信任?提高信息披露的透明度是一个关键,其中一个重要问题在于CEO的薪酬及其薪酬相对普通员工薪酬的比率。

    应该信任什么人?谁又能回答这个问题?据世界海洋保护组织(Oceana)最近的一项研究显示,标识为鲷鱼的鱼类,有87%并不是真正的鲷鱼。而假冒金枪鱼的比例高达59%。在购买体香剂或防晒霜时,消费者必须到环境工作组(Environmental Working Group,EWG)的化妆品数据库,确定这些产品是否有毒。再也没有人愿意去吃宜家(Ikea)的肉丸,因为这会让人想起《黑骏马》(Black Beauty)。

    当下,消费者并不是信息披露不充分的唯一受害者。公司股东同样深受其害。最近,美国证监会(SEC)委员路易斯•阿奎拉鼓励公司在即将到来的股东大会季进行更全面的披露,令人耳目一新。阿奎拉写道:“与许多投资者一样,我也希望能获得额外信息,帮助投资者们做出更明智的投票和投资决定。”阿奎拉甚至要求公司提供精确的、强制性的信息披露,甚至鼓励公司走得再远一点。

    很明显,公司领导人可以做很多工作来帮助股东树立信心。爱德曼公司(Edelman)2013年信任调查的31,000名受访者中,约有四分之三表示,他们并不相信公司领导人能够解决社会问题。超过80%的受访者不相信公司领导者能做出伦理决策——或是说出真相,无论真相有多么复杂,多么地不受欢迎。

    最近,笔者参加了大大小小上市公司的董事会议。有一位董事提出了爱德曼调查所涉及的问题,还质疑为什么对CEO的信任度会如此低。有的股东认为公司不当行为是造成这种状况的原因,但另外一个更为显著的解释则涉及薪酬问题。

    这也是阿奎拉敦促上市公司披露CEO与员工薪酬之间比率的原因。虽然《多德—弗兰克法案》(Dodd-Frank)已经就此提出相关规定,但美国证监会并未制定适用规则。阿奎拉写道:“公司内不同级别员工的相对薪酬,比如CEO的薪酬与平均工资之间的比率,可能给公司带来风险,包括造成员工、客户与股东不满的风险。”

    其他方面的披露也能有助于上市公司解决工资差异和股东不满的问题。其中一项便是公司是否向所有员工支付了基本生活工资;若未全部支付,未获得基本生活工资的员工所占比例是多少。

    《守住底线:为基本生活工资而斗争!》( Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage! )一书的作者理查德•特洛克塞尔对基本生活工资的定义是,工作40个小时所获得的满足任何地区基本生活所需的工资。虽然最低工资是一种一概而全的措施,但根据地理位置不同,基本生活工资可能高于最低工资,在个别情况下也会低于最低工资。他说道:“公司支付基本生活工资至少可以避免1,000万名领取最低工资的员工在未来无家可归。通过稳定这些员工的经济状况,公司可以减少人员流动以及因此产生的巨额成本,对公司的财务状况大有好处。”

    另外一种有助于解决薪酬风险的披露是针对潜在薪酬偏见的措施。例如,不同性别与种族的大学毕业生,他们的薪酬存在什么样的差异?一年、五年、十年之后,这种差异在他们的职业生涯中又有哪些变化?女性学会(Institute on Women)CEO朱丽叶•格雷伯最近发表了与性别平等有关的报告。她认为:“对抗偏见需要无可动摇的事实。”通过消除偏见,公司领导人能够证明,自己愿意讲出真相,就算真相可能并不受人欢迎。

    How does anyone know who to trust anymore? Eighty-seven percent of fish labeled snapper really isn't, according to a recent Oceana study. Same for 59% of tuna. When buying deodorant or sunscreen, you have to go to a source like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cosmetics database to find out the product's toxicity. No one will be able to eat a meatball at Ikea again without thinking about Black Beauty.

    Consumers aren't the only ones suffering from poor disclosure today. Shareholders are too. So it was a breath of fresh air when SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar recently wrote to encourage better disclosure by companies in the upcoming proxy season. "I share the desire expressed by many investors for additional information that would enhance their ability to make informed voting and investment decisions," he wrote. Aguilar went beyond asking corporations to provide accurate, mandated disclosures. He encouraged companies to go the extra mile.

    Clearly, business leaders could do a lot more to build trust with their stakeholders. Nearly three-quarters of the 31,000 people polled in the 2013 Edelman trust survey said they did not trust business leaders to solve social or societal issues. And over 80% did not trust business leaders to make ethical decisions -- or tell the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is.

    At a meeting of board members from large and small public companies I attended recently, one director raised the question of the Edelman survey and why there's such low trust in CEOs. Some directors cited corporate misbehavior as the cause -- but compensation was also a prominent explanation.

    That's why Aguilar is urging public companies to implement disclosure of the ratio of CEO to worker pay. While Dodd-Frank already mandates that disclosure, the SEC has not yet written the applicable rules. "The relative pay of different classes of employees, such as the ratio between CEO compensation and median pay, can … create risks to an enterprise, including the risk of employee, customer, and shareholder discontent," Aguilar wrote.

    Other disclosures would also help public companies address the risks of pay differentials and stakeholder dissatisfaction. One such disclosure would be whether the company pays a living wage to all its employees -- and if not, what percentage of workers don't receive it.

    Richard Troxell, author of the book Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage! has defined the living wage as the amount of money, earned in 40 hours of work, that is necessary to cover the basics in any given location. While the minimum wage is a one-size-fits-all measure, the living wage is higher -- or in a few instances even lower -- than the minimum wage, depending on the geography, he told me. "Companies paying a living wage would end homelessness for over one million workers who are now homeless -- and prevent at least 10 million minimum wage workers from becoming homeless in the future," he says. "By stabilizing the economic situation of these employees, companies will benefit their bottom line by reducing their turnover and the significant costs that go with it."

    Another proxy disclosure that would help address the risks of pay would be measures of potential pay bias. For example, what are the differences in pay for college grads right out of school, by gender and by ethnicity. How does that evolve over their career cycle -- one year later, five years, ten years later, and so on. "Fighting bias requires hard facts," says Julie Graber, CEO of the Institute on Women, which publishes research related to gender equality. By addressing this issue head on, business leaders would be demonstrating that they are willing to tell the truth, even if it's not popular.

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