Are shareholders only interested in short-term profits?
A key challenge for any company wishing to achieve long-term, sustainable, Good Growth is dealing with shareholder demands for short-term profits. But to what extent is this a real or a perceived problem? In this interview, Professor Malcolm McDonald discusses:
The alignment between profits and long-term success
The reality of sustainable consumer behavior
The future trend towards sustainable corporate behavior
Transcript: Are shareholders only interested in short-term profits?
[00:00:06 –> 00:01:19]Edmund : Hello, everyone. I’m Edmund Bradford. In this short series of videos, we’re going to be talking about a very important subject, which is shareholder value and how it links with marketing and just being a good company. And to help us with that particular topic, I’m delighted (and I mean that from the bottom of my heart) I’m delighted to have my good friend and colleague, Professor Malcolm McDonald with us. Now, I could do a very long introduction, Malcolm, but I will keep it short. I think the only thing people need to know really, is that you’ve been in this business “for 600 years” as you would say, and you’ve written over 50 books on the subject of marketing and finance, etc, etc. You’ve got a very good book – and I don’t mind giving it a plug – called “Marketing and Finance, Creating Shareholder Value” now in its Second Edition. So if anybody wants to know more about the subject, please go and check out that book. And so you’re one of the best people. I think we could have to talk about the subject. So Hello, Malcolm.
[00:01:19 –> 00:01:21]Malcolm: Good morning. Good afternoon. Good day.
[00:01:21 –> 00:01:37]Edmund: Should we start with this simple question of what is a shareholder and are shareholders only interested in short-term profits?
[00:01:38 –> 00:06:18]Malcolm: Wow, Ed, you are a colleague and a friend, but you do ask very difficult questions. So let me think about the answer. First of all, there are many categories of shareholders, as you will know, from the individual to those who belong to things like mutual funds. For example, I’m an individual shareholder in a bank, but I also get to draw pensions from organizations like the University superannuation scheme which they invest on our behalf. And I don’t know how many of us pay attention to where they invest, but we assume that they’re decent human beings and don’t invest in organizations that are not good for our planet and society. But secondly, and I think this is most important, we know that there undoubtedly are shareholders who are not interested only in short term profits. But there’s really no conflict in this because, as I’ll show later, I hope I’ll spell out that most environmentally friendly companies also tend to be the most profitable. So there’s no conflict there. However, let me put one big “definite maybe” in here about all this, as often I perceive a big gap between what people say they’re going to do, what sounds good when being interviewed, and what they actually do. And let me give you an example. I mean, for example, more than 60% of younger consumers, according to Accenture, consider a firm’s ethical values before buying its products. The problem with that is if you look at Boohoo, for example, when it was revealed that they were paying their factory workers less than the minimum wage, did it affect them? Well, sales revenue is up by 41%. Profits increased by 37% to March 2021. And if you look at Amazon, you know, regularly criticized for their harsh employment conditions and aggressive tax avoidance measures. Yet customers spent more than £272 Billion with the company last year. And we’ll give you one last example: Volkswagen. They were found to have cheated on diesel emission tests. And yet, you know, five years later, the group achieved its highest market share ever, 22.1%. The reason, I think, is (perhaps it’s obvious or maybe it’s not obvious) that is if you ask someone, “Do you want brands to be ethical?” Nobody in their right mind is going to say, “No.” But the answer, of course, is that this social purpose will come very low on the list. Perhaps when money is involved and they get their wallets out, they get their purses out. Now, my personal view on this is that shareholders are very similar, but the consequences are grave indeed and just cannot go on. We have to change and we are changing and we will change. For example, the old Take, Make, Waste model for the past 250 years is no longer sustainable. We just don’t have resources such as land, forest, water, metals, and mineral fuels to keep up with demand. In fact, according to Accenture, we’ll consume three planets’ worth of resources every year by 2050. And this will translate into trillion-dollar losses for companies and countries that remain tied to using these natural resources. And one last point, which I will conclude on this first question, let me say that we’re just one small step away from one lucky person, owning more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population. Currently, it’s 62 people. Now that cannot go on. There will be legislation, if nothing else, to change that. The world cannot go on in that mode. So maybe I haven’t answered your question Ed, but they’re my rambling thoughts on the question of, “Are shareholders only being interested in short-term profits?”
[00:06:18 –> 00:07:13]Edmund : I think that was excellent, Malcolm. I just wondered, because of course, you get different types of shareholder. Not all shareholders are created equal. And what some companies are finding is that, of course, some shareholders are actually more receptive to thinking about the long-term view, thinking about sustainability and ethics, for example. Do you think that actually, you could almost segment the shareholder market into different types of shareholders and almost in a way, they look for a balanced portfolio of products? You could also look for a balanced portfolio of shareholders with some that are more interested in the long term and some which are more interested in the short term. Can you borrow some thinking for marketing to do that?
[00:07:14 –> 00:08:11]Malcolm: Possibly that is a possibility, Ed. But all I would say is that by definition, the people who are shareholders tend to be better off people in the main, and they’re probably in the higher echelons of intelligence as well. It occurred to me that there is a change taking place, and increasingly there is a realization that it is those organizations who are good to the planet, who are also the most profitable. And I think that that will begin to come into play increasingly over the next five to ten years. So there is hope for us. And I think this endemic of short-termism is, in my perception, reducing slowly but surely.
[00:08:11 –> 00:08:29]Edmund: Thank you very much, Malcolm. That’s excellent. And in the next video, we’re going to be talking a little bit, and going to go down a little bit into a bit more detail, and talk about what we mean by ‘Shareholder Value Added.’ So for the moment, thank you very much for that Malcolm and I’m sure that has been very helpful to a lot of people.
Professor Malcolm McDonald is one of the world’s top educators in sales and marketing. He has written over 50 books on the subject and hundreds of articles. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and has worked with the senior leadership team of many global organizations to help them grow more effectively. He is an Emeritus Professor at Cranfield University and a Visiting Professor at Henley, Warwick, Aston and Bradford Business Schools.