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Source: The Wall Street Journal MoneyBeat, March 11, 2015 article

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL   |

 MARKETS & FINANCE



2:20 pm ET
Mar 11, 2015

Funds  

BlackRock’s Fink, McKinsey Lead Group Fighting Wall Street Myopia

 

By David Benoit

Getty Images

A group of executives and investors sought the answer to the “scourge” of short-term thinking on Wall Street, Washington and across businesses in a New York conference room overlooking Central Park on Tuesday.

The group, calling itself Focusing Capital on the Long Term, batted around ideas on what concrete steps they and their powerful organizations can take to give executives breathing room to make the kinds of decisions that may drive growth down the road but might also draw flak from investors wondering about the here and now.

Among the steps discussed were changing compensation for both corporations and fund managers and about how to improve dialogue between both sides.

What exactly the group concluded in their closed-door meeting hasn’t yet been announced. It plans to release more specifics, but in interviews, the co-chairs portrayed the forum as a first step toward implementing goals that are still being ironed out. The co-chairs acknowledged they need to convince players that their solutions can actually help even.

“The most important concrete step was bringing greater awareness,” said Laurence Fink, the head of BlackRock Inc. and one of the co-chairs.

Among the topics Mr. Fink raised at the meeting, he said, was whether changes should be made to the definition of fiduciary duty – the requirement that investment managers are beholden to seek to grow their clients’ money above all else. Mr. Fink wanted discussion about whether the definition could expand to give leeway to fund managers to think about topics like job creation or the environment when making decisions. He said he didn’t know the answer.

Dominic Barton, a managing director at McKinsey & Co. and a fellow co-chair, said one CEO (names were carefully guarded) captivated the group’s imagination when he admitted his pay structure would actually allow him to make more in a few years than his whole career by eliminating research and development spending and instead buying back stock. The company wouldn’t exist after 10 years, the CEO added.

That fits with the group’s call to arms, a study conducted by McKinsey and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, or CPPIB, in late 2013. The study found 63% of executives felt short-term pressure was increasing. And, most memorably to the group, a majority wouldn’t be willing to make an investment to increase their profits by 10% over three years if it meant missing quarterly earnings. The group has labelled this the “scourge” of short-term thinking.

Mark Wiseman, the CEO of CPPIB and the third co-chair, said the forum’s intention was to bring together investors and executives who actually make decisions.

Among those there were Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical Co., Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T Inc., and Eric Cantor, the former congressman now at Moelis & Co.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew discussed his hopes to reform the tax code and support infrastructure spending in order to help businesses grow.

While the group aims at loftier goals, its message counteracts growing pressures from some investors like activists, who the group tends to frown upon. (Mr. Fink has publicly said activists are hurting the economy.)

Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Fink said activists are taking advantage of the void that’s been left by institutional investors, and that the group is looking to fix that by fostering more dialogue between boards and those who drive longer-term growth.

“To me, the fact a holder of 1% of the stock can have that amount of influence [means] shame on the other 99%,” Mr. Wiseman said of activists.

Mr. Lew was asked to address whether activism has gone too far, but delivered the kind of non-answer the group will need to overcome from its own members in order to actually create change.

“I don’t think you can dismiss either short-term or long-term,” Mr. Lew said. “If you are a steward of a company, your responsibility is for both.”

 

Copyright ©2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

 

 

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