MISSION INTANGIBLE

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MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value. MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.

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Diversity for dollars - change at Chrysler

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, November 06, 2009
Earlier today, the Society’s Mission:Intangible® Monthly Briefing by Dr. Judy Giordan of Steel City Re spoke to the demonstrated link between managerial and directorial diversity and corporate enterprise value. Thanks to her data-rich presentation, we better appreciate that diversity under critical conditions can create value through the wisdom of crowds. Apparently, so does Chrysler.

Earlier this week, Chrysler Group LLC Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne laid out plans to revive the struggling Auburn Hills automaker. His plans -- replenishing its lineup with high-quality and attractive models to more than double sales within five years and start generating profit in 2011 – were derided as generic by many analysts.

But not dismissed. This is why. Marchionne and his management team, a mix of executives brought over from Italy and promising managers at Chrysler whom he promoted, have been working in secret on the plan since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in June. This team of diverse individuals is differentiating itself from generic auto strategy teams in other ways. David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, notes "the youth of the team kind of brings energy and enthusiasm to the process."

Score one for subtly signaling the intangible asset value of diversity.

There’s more. Chrysler is working hard to improve quality. "We're not in denial in relation to the public perception of quality at Chrysler," said quality chief Doug Betts, who worked previously at Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Chrysler now has 1,500 people addressing its poor quality, focusing on manufacturing.

There are skeptics. "Their quality reputation is dismal right now, and you don't change that in a couple of years," said Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book.

Well, maybe not usually. But reputation can be restored quickly if stakeholders find compelling reasons to expect change. After all, reputation is an expectation of future behavior.  This is why. Reputation grows out of the totality of information stakeholders receive about a company — information that creates the cumulative impression of how the company manages all its business processes. These are the business processes that create an ethical work environment, drive innovation, assure quality, uphold safety, promote sustainability, and provide security. Along with their embodiment in brands, trademarks, and patents, these processes are the intangible assets which have become the primary determinants of corporate success or failure today.

Industry experts were impressed by Chrysler’s forthright emphasis on the quality issue, just as they were impressed by the composition of the management team. The Company is signaling unambiguously a commitment to new and improved processes – commitments that are evidently reshaping reputation at this very moment.

Lighter shade of green

Nir Kossovsky - Wednesday, November 04, 2009
In the Society’s pantheon of intangible assets that create enterprise value, one has defied efforts to build for it a universally compelling business case. Sustainability, unlike ethics, innovation, quality, safety and security, is not a practice that in our experience reliably has created enterprise value for its practitioners. Further, if one subscribes to the theory that there is wisdom in crowds, than the murkiness surrounding the value of sustainability persists. This is why. According to a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, two-thirds of CFOs don't expect to boost sustainability efforts in next 12 months.

When asked whether they expect their companies’ emphasis on green initiatives to increase, decrease or remain the same in the next 12 months, 68 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed said they anticipate no changes. More than a quarter (28 percent), however, said they expect an increased focus on the issue.

When we first saw this report, we assumed that those expecting to increase their focus would be companies that distributed product through Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). More generally, we expected retailers and and their supply chains would be investing in green to conform with Wal-Mart’s sustainability requirements – or at least remain competitive.

We were not wrong. Looking horizontally at the data, while overall 28% expected to increase investments, 33% of the CFOs from companies in the retail sector expected to do so. Furthermore, while overall 5.15% expected to increase investments significantly, 6.3% of the CFOs from the retail sector were gearing up for bigger green initiatives.

However, we were surprised by some of the findings. First, the sector from which a plurality of CFOs expected to increase investments the most was finance – nearly 36%. At the other end of the spectrum was transportation – only 19%. However, nearly half of those in the transportation sector expected to make significant increases.

Growth and/or maintaining the status quo were not on everyone’s agenda. Sectors planning to cutback, according to the CFOs surveyed, include business services, construction and – ready for this – retail at 5.2, 4.8, and 3.8% respectively.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources.

Case studies in IA Finance

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, November 02, 2009
The Society's mission is to increase the visibility, transparency, and positive impact of intangible asset finance through education, the promulgation of standards, and advocacy. The Athena Alliance, a friend of the Society, specializes in advocacy. Its President, Ken Jarboe, provided us with the following:

As innovative companies struggle to raise funds, intellectual property and intangible assets are providing alternative ways of financing innovation. But greater awareness of them as an asset class is needed. Raising that awareness is the focus of a new report from Athena Alliance, Maximizing Intellectual Property and Intangible Assets: Case Studies in Intangible Asset Finance by Ian Ellis, a former U.S. Department of Commerce official specializing in intellectual property and international trade.

The report outlines increasing, but still nascent, means of financing innovation based on these assets in public, private and venture capital markets. As industry has invested capital in research and development to develop new technology and advance other creative activities, intellectual capital has become a valuable asset class, according to the paper. In response, firms specializing in intangible-based financing are springing up, using them to raise capital for the next round of innovation.

The paper details equity, equity-debt, debt, and sale-leaseback transactions, both private and public, that have helped companies raise capital, based on careful, rigorous analysis and conservative underwriting standards. For example, the author notes that in 2000, there were two public deals using royalty securitization, raising $145 million. In 2007-08, $3.3 billion was raised in 19 deals.

Unlike some of the exotic financial vehicles, however, the financial products discussed in this paper are some of the most basic financing mechanisms in business. The innovation is in recognizing the value of intangible assets for corporate finance. These new financial firms are using traditional financial techniques in new ways to help innovative companies.

But more should be done.

One important step would be developing sound, industry-wide, underwriting standards, according to the report. For example, Small Business Administration (SBA) rules permit its loans to be used for acquisition of intangible assets when buying on-going businesses. Rules are unclear on whether those assets can be used as collateral. The paper recommends that SBA work with commercial lenders to develop standards for using intangible assets as collateral.

The report builds on earlier Athena Alliance papers, notably Intangible Asset Monetization: The Promise and the Reality.

Galleon's wake

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, October 30, 2009
Thirteen days have now passed since the Chairman of the Galleon Group, the hedge fund at the center of a suspected insider trading ring, and several executives, have been charged. The fund has liquidated about 90 percent of its nearly $3.7 billion portfolio of technology stocks and other securities and will be consigned to history, shortly. 

Three of the companies caught in this scandal are going concerns. Their executives are accused of divulging confidential non-public information. Those companies are McKinsey & Company, IBM (NYSE:IBM), and Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC). Of the three, McKinsey & Company has a widely held reputation for discretion – an intangible asset that is essential to their operational effectiveness.

We hypothesized that this reputation would help mitigate McKinsey’s headline risk. Evidence of this mitigation would be fewer articles in the business and legal press relative to the other two firms.

Society member Jim Singer of the Pepper Hamilton law firm, and author of the blog IP Spotlight, helped us with the analysis. Lexis Nexis searches were conducted combining 2 comprehensive databases - Business News Publications and Legal News Publications for the dates 10/1/2009-10/29/2009. The first search was for the pairing of “Galleon and Rajaratnam.” Jim then searched the resulting 112 articles for the additional terms of McKinsey, IBM, or Intel.



The data show that McKinsey’s name is less frequently associated than the other two firms with the disgraced hedge fund. This observation is statistically significant. It is consistent with our general contention that companies with strong reputations based on rigorous business processes make for sympathetic actors that are treated as victims rather than culpable agents when adverse events occur. In short, reputations arising from superior intangible asset stewardship help mitigate headline risk.

NB: Statistical analysis using the Chi Square test yields a p<.03 (statistically significant).

Life saving value

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, October 27, 2009
In each blog piece, we champion intangible asset management on the premise that superior stewardship creates enterprise value. We point out that management entails the adoption and conformance with specified business processes. We often provide enterprise-level data showing intangible asset value creation.

Today's note on safety also enumerates process steps and provides more granular value data. First, the value: 18 months, 1500 lives, $200 million.

Now the back story and process steps. This past Friday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced the award of $8 million to fund a national expansion of the Keystone Project.

The Michigan Keystone Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Project, a partnership between the Michigan Health & Hospital Association and Johns Hopkins University, sought to change clinicians’ behaviors when inserting catheters into ICU patients. It was hypothesized that introducing best practices in the execution of an invasive medical procedure on relatively infection-prone patients would reduce the incidence of health care-associated infections.

Health care associated infections are among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. Such life-threatening infections significantly drive up the cost of health care by nearly $28 to $33 billion per year.

These are the process changes the team deployed. First, the team made a process checklist, measured infection rates, and changed hospital culture. The checklist’s components consisted of hand washing; using a cap, gown, and mask; cleaning the patient’s skin with a disinfectant; avoiding placing catheters near the groin; and removing unnecessary catheters. These five steps were associated with a 66-percent reduction in these infections throughout the state. The ROI calculation: for every dollar invested, $200 was saved.

The take home message: to effect business process changes, defining and measuring key metrics, deploying processes (train, observe, and encourage conformance), and communicate benefits arising comprise the best practices. Follow this sequence, and you will be able to show a favorable ROI and maybe even save lives.

McKinsey is mum

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, October 23, 2009
Of the various companies caught up in the Galleon Hedge Fund matter, the headline that caught our attention was from Reuters and exclaimed, “McKinsey shocked by insider-trading allegations.” It has a whiff of Claude Rains, in the role of Captain Renault, expressing shock at the gambling in Casablanca. This is why.

One one hand, McKinsey has strict standards barring its consultants from trading stocks or funds that relate to the companies they are advising, a source close to the company said. The company's partners sign off each year on the policies. On the other hand, according to the Reuter’s story, McKinsey was aggressively recruiting college graduates by offering them new investment options, including getting a stake in a pool of McKinsey clients that gave the firm equity instead of cash for their consulting services. “A slippery slope,” says Lawrence White, a professor at the New York University's Stern School of Business.

McKinsey is looking at headline risk. The Financial Times' Newssift sentiment index reports that for the past week, the 9 article in the business press on McKinsey that included the word reputation were evenly divided at 33% each positive, negative, and neutral giving a positive/negative ratio of 1.0. For the month before the scandal broke, of the 11 articles, four were positive and two were negative for a p/n ratio of 2.0. (For comparison, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), the reputation leader for early 2009, had a one-year p/n ratio of 8.3)

Ironically, earlier this year, consultants from McKinsey authored an article on the importance of reputation management. The article called for substantive business process controls, and highlighted the limitations of public relations. Perhaps this is why McKinsey, so far, has been tight lipped?

Hedge fund homily

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Former Fed Chairman Greenspan noted last year that in a market system based upon the intangible asset of trust, reputation has significant value. Madoff aside, trust is having a hard time on Wall Street. We share two recent stories of reputation malignment (vilification?) in the Financial services sector.
 
The first, reported by the Financial Times last Thursday, is that one in five hedge fund managers misrepresents their fund or its performance to investors during formal due diligence investigations, according to research from New York University's Stern School of Business. Researchers found that the most common misrepresentations by hedge fund managers was the amount of money they had entrusted to their funds; Performance and regulatory and legal histories are also often misrepresented.
 
The second, which broke widely on Friday, involves allegations of trading on insider information at the hedge fund, Galleon Group. According to prosecutors, co-conspirators of fund founder Raj Rajaratnam include a McKinsey & Co. consultant, an IBM (NYSE:IBM) senior vice president, an Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) treasury manager and two executives from the New Castle hedge fund group of the defunct Bear Stearns.

The reputation angle obviously interests the Society. But there is more. What really interests us is how McKinsey, IBM, and Intel will manage the headline risk. Will their intangible asset risk management systems allow them to characterize the malfeasance as the product of rogue actors? Or will they be held culpable for the non-compliance of their employees?

Stay tuned.

P&G looks forward

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) serves four billion of the world's seven billion consumers with products comprising one of the strongest portfolios of trusted, quality, leadership brands. The have consistently scored in the top tenth percentile of the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index. The Financial Times’ Newssift sentiment metric reports that of the 218 news stories mentioning P&G’s reputation this past year, favorable stories outweigh unfavorable by a ratio of 8:1.

Brands are material to the Company. According to the 2009 annual report,

P&G is the brand-building leader of our industry. We’ve built the strongest portfolio of brands in the industry with 23 billion-dollar brands and 20 half-billion-dollar brands. These 43 brands account for 85% of sales and more than 90% of profit. Twelve of the billion-dollar brands are the #1 global market share leaders of their categories. The majority of the balance are #2. As a group, P&G’s billion-dollar brands have grown sales at an average rate of 11% per year for the entire decade.

In view of the above, and with a price to book ratio of 2.7, the lion’s share of the Company’s value comprises superiorly managed intangible assets. We felt therefore it would be instructive to see how this Company discloses its financial risks. In this basic analysis, we looked at the boilerplate blue sky Forward Looking Statement that trails any financial announcement in compliance with the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. In our analysis, we looked at the 15 enumerated items that represent “certain factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated” by the financial announcement, and we analyzed each to determine if the risk involved a physical asset or an intangible asset (business process).

This is what we found. Of the 15 enumerated risks, 14 centered on intangible asset management. The lone physical asset risk was the Company’s IT system. Among the 14 business process risks, we found three references each to the business processes of sales, marketing and supply chain management. We found two references each to innovation, intellectual property, finance processes, and business processes in general. Last, we found one reference each to brand management, human resource management, and geopolitical risk management. Reputation risk is specifically noted. Interestingly, and consistent with our observation that only risk managers look at the world from a risk perspective, is that the descriptive language of the risks comprised neutral-to-positive managerial verbs rather than disastrous end-state nouns.

From the above, it appears that even in risk management, a superior intangible asset manager such as P&G focuses on executing the business processes that are central to its enterprise value. And given their a 170 year history, perhaps this is their intangible secret to longevity?

Government motors, not! (and we'll prove it)

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, October 09, 2009
Ninety days ago today, on 10 July, General Motors (fomerly NYSE:GM) emerged from bankruptcy. At an auto show this past weekend, Robert Lutz, the ‘new”  General Motors vice chairman of marketing and communications, said, “The world does not realize how great today’s GM products are." Lutz said GM is not afraid to back up those comments. He is heading the team that has started a new “may the best car win” ad campaign, “Our products are equal or superior to the competitors.”

While some members of our Society may know much about cars, as a group we share common interest in the concepts of quality and reputation, and we recognize that communications are an integral step in the process by which stakeholders form impressions that culminate in a company's reputation. In view of Bob Lutz's challenge, we thought it would be interesting to baseline business sentiment in the media covering the Automotive sector. As before, we use use the Financial Times' Newssift engine for the sentiment analysis.

We searched for articles in the business press covering both reputation and one of these five automobile companies: General Motors (GM), Ford (NYSE:F), Toyota (NYSE:TM), Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Daimler (NYSE:DAI). We broke down the data into the 90 days prior to GM's emergence from bankruptcy, and the 90 days following, and using the Newssift engine, sorted articles by sentiment: positive, neutral, or negative. Here are the results.

With respect to business press articles that had a positive angle, GM and Daimler showed little change. Positive articles comprised about 1/3 and 1/2 of the news stories, respectively. Positive articles about Ford and Toyota increased from about 1/3 to nearly 1/2. Positive articles about Honda dropped from nearly 1/2 to less than 1/4, although the total number of articles about Honda in each case, 25, is small compared to the total of 1139 articles analyzed.



With respect to business press articles that had a negative angle, GM and Daimler again showed little change at around 20% and 11% respectively. Negative articles about Ford dropped from 25% to 13%; they rose for Toyota from 13% to 20%. At Honda, they remained the same at 4% which represented only one article for each period. For those of you keeping score in the reputation sweepstakes, the current winner following GM's emergence from bankruptcy is Ford.

 

Turning now to the economic returns over the 180-day period, looking at the chart adapted from BigCharts.com, so far Ford is leading with an ROE of about 70% followed by Daimler at 40%. The S&P500 is up about 20%. As they say in the business, the race is on. And as Bob Lutz says, may the best car company win. Stay tuned.

New fundamentals

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, October 05, 2009
Nell Minow, editor and co-founder of the Corporate Library, a provider of corporate governance research, ratings and investment risk analysis, penned a Financial Times op ed piece on 2 October suggesting that going forward, fund managers and analysts will look at four new fundamental elements “that will become as important as cash flow and return on investment.” To no surprise around here, these four comprise intangible asset metrics and business processes. While we do not necessarily agree with Minow's views, her comments are worth noting. This is what she wrote, briefly:

1. Accounting: Investors will demand better information about human and intellectual capital, risk management processes, and sustainability. Our friend, Ken Jarboe of the Athena Alliance, has been delving into this topic for years. You can link to the Athena Alliance here.

2. Boards of Directors: Investors will demand greater competence and selfless engagement from members of the Boards of their companies. They will want from Directors what private equity firms demand of early stage company executives: "skin in the game." This notion compresses to the concept of Governance, about which the Society has organized a Committee chaired by Cathy Reese. Without leaving with us a pound of flesh, you can download her 6 Feb 09 "how to" presentation on this subject from our Events page.

3. Compensation: We read Minow’s comments in this light: executive compensation must better align the interests of senior management with the long-term interests of the firm and its stakeholders. Compensation processes, writes Minow, are a key indicator of risk. While we still see benefits in incentives and material compensation, notwithstanding the growing chant of mobs with pitchforks, we like the part in Minow's piece about processes and risk management. In fact, we like anything that links risk management to overall corporate reputation. This is especially when a company uses financial instruments to signal superior risk management. The Society presented a Mission:Intangible Monthly Briefing on Risk and Reputation Management 10 July 09 that you can download from our Events page.

4. Investors: Going forward, investors will look to see if the existing investors are providing sufficient oversight to ensure that the Board of Directors is providing sufficient oversight to ensure that management is providing sufficient oversight of the firm’s operations. Did you follow that? The business process is oversight; the intangible asset affected is trust. To us, the take home message is this. The greater the trust (a product of transparency), the less oversight burden for all. And how can investors signal trust? According to Minow, investors can signal trust by being "overweight relative to the index." In other words, extra skin in the game. See #2 and #3 above. 

The bottom line is this. Investors will seek companies that have their business processes under better control, can quantify and report the value of these proceses to their stakeholders, can manage their risks, and can signal their material conformance with the preceding  through non-traditional channels. The Society provides a working environment for best-practices discovery for executives seeking to accomplish the above. Won't you join us?

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