In this prologue to his new book, Curing Corporate Short-Termism, the founder and CEO of Fortuna Advisors presents a fictional account of a corporate turnaround—a “composite” reflection of the author’s many years of consulting experience that dramatizes the pressure to meet near-term earnings targets and other kinds of “agency” problems facing a public company called Blue Dynamics Corp. The tale begins with the puzzlement of the incoming CEO, Betty Manning, at finding the company’s highest-return business unit starved for investment, even as the low-return units continue to receive and spend capital with little success. At the core of the company’s capital allocation and “underinvestment” problems, she finds a corporate-wide performance measurement and reward system focused on setting and beating budgets and growth in EPS and ROE.
Manning’s solution is to divorce the performance and reward system entirely from the budgeting process and implement new annual incentives and target-setting practices that result in both more reliable budgeting and forecasting and a longer-term view of value creation. The new measure of economic profit, called BDVA (short for Blue Dynamics Value Added), is based on a customized measure of EBITDA less a capital charge. The adoption of the new measure has the effect of encouraging her team to take a number of decisive steps: make an objective, “fact-based” case for a strategic acquisition whose price appears to be too high (at least using conventional measures like EPS accretion); pull the trigger on a divestment that appears to have been adding value, but is more valuable outside the firm; and, more generally and most important, guide operating managers toward an ideal balance of overall growth and return on capital.