A Look Back at the Beginnings of Eva and Value‐Based Management
10 Pages Posted: 27 May 2020
Date Written: Summer 2019
In this interview conducted five years ago, one of the pioneers of value‐based management discusses his life's work in converting principles of modern finance theory into performance evaluation and incentive compensation plans that have been adopted by many of the world's largest and most successful companies, including Coca‐Cola, SABMiller in London, Siemens in Germany, and the Godrej Group in India. The issues covered include the significance of dividend payouts (are dividends really necessary to support a company's stock price and, if so, why?) as well as the question of optimal capital structure (whether and why debt might be cheaper than equity). But the most important focus of the interview is corporate performance measurement and the use of executive pay to strengthen management incentives to increase efficiency and value. As Stern never tired of arguing, the widespread tendency of public companies to manage “for earnings”—or in accordance with what he refers to as “the accounting model of the firm”—often leads to value‐destroying decisions. As one example, the GAAP accounting principle that requires intangible investments like R&D and training to be written off in the year the money is spent is likely to cause significant underinvestment in such intangibles. At the same time, the failure of conventional income statements to reflect the cost of equity almost certainly encourages corporate overinvestment. Stern's solution to this problem was an executive incentive compensation plan whose rewards were tied to increases in a measure of economic profit called economic value added, or EVA, which research has shown to have a significance relation to changes both in share value and the premium of market value over book value. Moreover, by combining such a plan with a “bonus bank” that pays out annual awards over a multiyear period, boards could ensure that management will be rewarded not for good luck but for sustainable improvements in performance.
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