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The importance of corporate culture in investing

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing has been in a structural growth phase for some years now. A report by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) notes that 81% of the largest super funds have now embedded a formal commitment to responsible investment, up from 70% in 2016. Additional research conducted by the RIAA found that funds which are implementing core responsible investment strategies are outperforming equivalent Australian and international share funds and multi-sector growth funds over most time horizons.

The corporate culture advantage

Core to ESG is governance. Corporate governance upheld by a robust company culture can help organisations thrive and can become a powerful differentiator. We recently wrote about how focussed on culture the CEOs at Berkshire Hathaway are. The more we look, the more we see companies taking market share and outpacing their competition by placing focus here. A great culture may contribute to outperformance or a generation of long-term shareholder value via attracting and retaining the best staff or improving brand and reputation, whereas poor culture can be costly to a business.

Corporate culture is clearly taken seriously by the world’s leading businesses. A 2018 study published in the Harvard Business Review ‘The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture’ references several high-profile CEOs and their approach to culture, two of our favourite quotes being:

“Most of the greatest companies in the world also have great purposes … Having a deeper, more transcendent purpose is highly energizing for all of the various interdependent stakeholders.” —John Mackey, founder and CEO, Whole Foods

“It is incredibly important to be open and accessible and treat people fairly and look them in the eye and tell them what is on your mind.”—Bob Iger, CEO Disney

In a recent interview, one of the most successful traders in the world, Paul Tudor-Jones, made the following comments on company culture:

“If you have a motivated workforce that you pay and treat well, you produce a high quality and low-cost product that has some benefit, and you treat your customers throughout with respect, this is a winning formula and these companies are outperforming those that don’t. It’s a win-win, go look at the companies that are doing it, they’re outperforming everyone else.

The drivers of socially responsible investing

Mr Jones has gone a step further in redefining the definition of socially responsible investing, believing that capitalism may need modernising. He polled the American public on their definition of ‘just’ behaviour. The poll took 200 socially responsible metrics and combined them into 39, and then aggregated those into seven drivers. Those seven drivers in order of importance are:

  1. How do you pay and treat workers?
  2. How do you treat your customers, do you respect them individually, their privacy?
  3. Do you make high quality, low cost, socially beneficial products?
  4. Environment sustainability
  5. Community awareness
  6. Domestic job creation
  7. Do you serve your shareholders?

Using these seven socially responsible metrics, Mr Jones then created an index based on the 1,000 largest US companies and applied these criteria. Assessing the companies which performed best or in the top half of each sector, he found the following from this group:

  • These companies on average created 20% more jobs
  • These companies pay over 70% less in fines
  • They donate 2.4 times more to the local community and charities
  • And arguably the most important point for investors, these companies had on average 7% higher return on equity (ROE) than the companies in the bottom half of each sector.

Mr Jones presents a strong case for including these questions as part of the investment process or when including a new position in a portfolio.

We agree, and given the significant potential benefit to long-term shareholder returns, these considerations should be of growing importance for all investors.

 

Ben Rundle is a Portfolio Manager at NAOS Asset Management. This material is provided for general information purposes only and must not be construed as investment advice. It does not take into account the investment objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular investor. Before making an investment decision, investors should consider obtaining professional investment advice that is tailored to their specific circumstances.

NAOS is a sponsor of Cuffelinks. For more articles and papers from NAOS, please click here.

 

 

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