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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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HP: Ethics takes a holiday?

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, January 27, 2011
There's never a dull moment in the HP (NYSE:HPQ) boardroom. At the firm that just released its last CEO for ethical issues, the National Association of Corporate Directors newsletter this morning cites a story from the Denver Business Journal raising concerns about the close business ties between the ostensibly independent directors and the new CEO.

The Journal (Jan. 26, Schubarth) cites the concerns of several corporate governance experts that Hewlett-Packard Co. recently recruited executives to its board of directors who all have business ties to CEO Leo Apotheker. Consequently, they will need to prove they can act independently.

Dominique Senequier, for instance, manages an investment buyout arm of French insurer AXA SA, where Apotheker is on an advisory board. Three other new directors -- former General Electric Co. Chief Information Officer Gary Reiner, former Alcatel-Lucent CEO Patricia Russo, and ex-eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman -- all did business with SAP AG while Apotheker was on staff.

Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, comments, "If directors have significant relationships with the CEO or other directors of a company on whose board they sit, it's harder for them to be objective. Directors are supposed to be representing shareholders, not the CEO or one another, and that's why companies typically try to recruit directors who are independent of one another and management."

It  is an interesting problem, and one that will confront any CEO who's business (or prior business) has a large global footprint. After all, it could be argued that anyone coming from a firm that did not work with, or use, SAP products is coming from a business still operating in the dark ages. And that appears to be the reaction of the majority of stakeholders, as reflected in the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index metrics. In a word, no impact. No change in the relative ranking among 18 peers in the Computer Processing Hardware sector, no change in reputation volatility, and no change in reputation vector or velocity.

Yet given the governance challenges HP has faced over the past few years, the concerns in this instance merit deeper consideration.

SAP AG: Blind to intangible risks

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, December 01, 2010
SAP is the dominant solution provider in the $8 billion enterprise management and business intelligence software sector. The company's products provide businesses with an integrated view of their operations for cost and asset value optimization, and predictive analytics to help identify opportunities and risks. But their software doesn't manage intangible assets, and the risk their software didn't help them see was a breach of ethics and intellectual property management best practices by a partner company that they subsequently acquired.

Cutting to the chase, Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) last week won a $1.3 billion jury verdict against rival SAP (NYSE:SAP), netting the biggest copyright-infringement award ever. According to Bloomberg News, the jury delivered the verdict Tuesday, after an 11-day trial in federal court in Oakland. The lawsuit started in 2007, with Oracle claiming the German company's TomorrowNow business made hundreds of thousands of illegal downloads and several thousand copies of Oracle's software as part of a plan to steal customers.

SAP acquired the TomorrowNow in 2005 and closed it in 2008. SAP had hoped to use the unit to lure thousands of customers of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards, which Oracle had acquired, to purchase SAP software, according to evidence presented at trial. The unit garnered 358 customers.

The award was more than analysts had estimated - and far beyond the $160 million that SAP had set aside for the litigation.The immediate equity costs -- SAP is underperforming the mean of its 217 peers in the Systems and Subsystems sector by 7.71% -- are therefore understandable. What about the long-term reputation effects?

One week out from the verdict,  the signals are mixed. Over the trailing twelve months, The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index has risen from the 92nd to the 96th percentile. The Exponentially Weighted Moving Average of the volatility of the Index, which had been falling for most of the past six months, has been rising over the past few weeks to .4%. This is a negligible amount. On the other hand,  the trailing twelve week Index velocity is negative and the vector is negative, and these are worrying signs. The intangible asset fraction is unchanged at around 93% beating the sector mean of around 80%.

If the stakeholder community looks at SAP and concludes that they are really a good company that had a rogue unit, then they will come through this period with a loss equal to the cash costs of litigation. If the stakeholders view SAP as a behemoth that may harbor other TomorrowNow-like risks, then there will be significant long-term costs.

Hewlett-Packard: Silicon Valley smackdown

C. HUYGENS - Friday, October 08, 2010
The most recent “gotcha last, no tagbacks” comes from the Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) team who named former SAP boss Leo Apotheker as its new chief executive 30 Sep.

Team HPQ sued its rival, team Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) recently when the latter hired briefly-disgraced HPQ CEO Mark Hurd. The grounds: misappropriation of trade secrets. ORCL is now enraged. This is why. Not only did HPQ just name Ray Lane, former Oracle president and COO, as nonexecutive chairman of HP's board, it turns out that Mr. Apotheker had been in charge of SAP (NYSE:SAP) at a time when it was stealing Oracle’s software. The case of ORCL v SAP is scheduled for trial soon.

On the basis of reputation and financial metrics, Oracle is winning this spat. A side by side comparison of metrics from the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index, with a customized peer group comprising relevant hardware and software companies totalling 132 in all, shows that HPQ’s reputation ranking (on the left) has slid over the trailing twelve months 27 points from the 97th percentile to the 70th percentile, while ORCL’s (on the right) has slid only 18 points from the 84th to the 66th.

While the former’s slide has been chronic and steady -- the most recent six months shown in the second set of graphs -- the bulk of ORCL’s reputation change has occurred only amidst the sturm und drang of the past few weeks. Hence HPQ is underperforming this peer group by a respectable 18% (yellow line, top graph, left)while the now volatile ORCL is currently outperforming this peer group by 21% (yellow line, top graph, right).

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