George Serafeim

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Who Is the Chief Sustainability Officer?

There are only a few dozen chief sustainability officers in American companies, although their number has been growing rapidly. A new study by George Serafeim and Kathleen Miller explains who they are, where they come from, and how to make them more effective. Open for comment; 5 Comments posted.

Chief Sustainability Officers: Who Are They and What Do They Do?

A number of studies document how organizations go through numerous stages as they increase their commitment to sustainability over time. However, we still know little about the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) in this process. Using survey and interview data, the authors of this paper analyze how CSOs' authority and responsibilities differ across organizations that are in different stages of sustainability commitment. The study documents the increased authority that CSOs have in companies that are in more advanced stages of sustainability. But while CSOs assume more responsibilities initially as the organization's commitment to sustainability increases, CSOs decentralize decision rights and allocate responsibilities to the different functions and business units. Furthermore, the authors document that a firm's sustainability strategy becomes significantly more idiosyncratic in the later stages of sustainability, a factor that influences significantly where in the organization responsibility for sustainability issues is located. The study also reflects on the best avenues for future research about CSOs and transformation at the institutional, organizational, and individual levels. This article is a chapter of the forthcoming book Leading Sustainable Change (Oxford University Press). Read More

The Role of the Corporation in Society: An Alternative View and Opportunities for Future Research

Neoclassical economics and several management theories assert that the corporation's sole objective is maximizing shareholder wealth. Despite these theoretical approaches, however, actual corporate conduct in some cases is inconsistent with shareholder value maximization as the sole objective of the corporation. In fact, corporations are now engaging in environmental and social causes with multiple stakeholders in mind and this is especially true for the world's largest corporations. Overall, the author presents an alternative view of the role of the corporation in society where the objective of the corporation is a function of its size. Specifically, the largest corporations are forced to balance different stakeholders' interests instead of simply maximizing shareholder wealth. The author attributes this change in the role of the corporation to the increasing concentration of economic activity and power in a few corporations which has resulted in 1) a few companies having a very large impact on society, 2) corporations and influential actors which are easier to locate, and 3) increasing separation of ownership and control. These events have led to what scholars Berle and Means (1932) predicted more than 80 years ago: both owners and "the control" accepting public interest as the objective of the corporation. Further research on the topics outlined in this paper may increase our understanding of corporate behavior and the role of these corporations in society. Read More

Corporate and Integrated Reporting: A Functional Perspective

Corporate reporting plays two functions. The first is an "information function" that enables counterparties, such as investors, employees, customers, and regulators, to enter into an exchange of goods and services under specific terms. Companies also benefit from the information function by comparing their performance against peers, thereby informing internal resource allocation decisions. The second is a "transformation function," the result of a company engaging with stakeholders to get their input on the company's resource allocation decisions. The authors argue that integrated reporting is more likely to perform effectively these two functions than separate financial and sustainability reporting. Moreover, as the authors argue, these two functions vary in terms of how important the role of regulation is. Regulation and standard setting is likely to improve the information function but could well impede the transformation function. If regulation is too prescriptive and "rules-based," the risk is that integrated reporting becomes more of a compliance exercise. Read More

Integrated Reporting and Investor Clientele

As a relatively new phenomenon in the world of corporate reporting, integrated reporting (IR) has gained traction across both the corporate and investor community in the last 10 years. A recent pilot program of the International Integrated Reporting Council, for example, included more than 100 large multinational companies supported by an investor network with more than 40 members. Although IR has the potential to fundamentally change corporate reporting, we still know relatively little about its causes and consequences. Proponents of IR argue that the attraction of long-term investors is a benefit of adopting IR. While anecdotal evidence has suggested the presence of a link, no empirical evidence to date has been provided to establish such a relation. In this paper, the author examines how the practice of IR affects the investor base of the firm. Specifically, analyzing data on more than 1,000 firms between 2002 and 2010, he finds that firms practicing IR have a more long-term investor base and fewer transient investors. In addition, evidence supports a causal mechanism from IR to the investor base of a firm. Investor activism on sustainability issues is shown to be effective in improving IR, but such investor-induced changes in IR do not affect the composition of the investor base. Overall, the paper contributes to emerging scholarship that seeks to understand the causes and consequences of sustainability and integrated reporting. It also contributes to studies examining how companies cater to different types of investors. Read More

The Real Cost of Bribery

George Serafeim finds that the biggest problem with corporate bribery isn't its effect on a firm's reputation or the regulatory headaches it causes. Rather, bribery's most significant impact is its negative effect on employee morale. Closed for comment; 22 Comments posted.

Firm Competitiveness and Detection of Bribery

Bribery is widespread around the world, illegal, detrimental to economic progress and social stability, and at the same time it can have clear economic benefits for a firm. While the benefits of bribery for a firm, through acquisition of contracts or avoidance of government bureaucracy, are intuitive and well documented, the costs after detection are less well understood. In this paper the author examines how the impact on firm competitiveness from the detection of bribery varies with the identity of the initiator, the method bribery was detected, and the firm's response after detection. All three dimensions are significantly associated with the impact on firm competitiveness. In addition, the data suggest that the most significant impact is on employee morale, followed by business relations and reputation, and then regulatory relations. Read More

Pay for Environmental Performance: The Effect of Incentive Provision on Carbon Emissions

Research has shown that reducing carbon emissions and exhibiting good environmental performance are important for corporations. But how exactly are these environmental goals carried out within organizations? In this paper, the authors analyze the incentive structures of climate change management for a sample of large, predominantly multinational organizations. The authors then characterize and assess the effectiveness of different types of incentive schemes that corporations have adopted to encourage employees to reduce carbon emissions. Results suggest that contrary to widespread belief in the effectiveness of monetary incentives, in fact the adoption of monetary incentives is associated with higher carbon emissions. By contrast, the use of nonmonetary incentives is associated with lower carbon emissions. Overall, the study suggests that socially positive tasks significantly impact the effectiveness of different types of incentives and should be considered in the design of accounting and control systems. Read More

FIN Around the World: The Contribution of Financing Activity to Profitability

A basic premise of financial economics is that financial markets aid the flow of capital to its best use. In a frictionless world, every firm's return on equity (ROE) would equal the firm's cost of equity capital. However, numerous frictions at the firm and country level cause return on equity to vary considerably within and across countries. In this paper, the authors study one prominent friction―the availability of domestic credit from banks―and investigate how differences in the availability of domestic credit across countries influences the resulting leverage, spread, and the net financing contribution to firms' return on equity. Results show that the influence of domestic credit in a country, the rate that trade credit and financial credit substitute for each other, and how operating performance flows through to the financial performance, all depend critically on the relative size of the firm in its home economy. Read More

The Effect of Institutional Factors on the Value of Corporate Diversification

How does the value of corporate diversification vary with institutional development? Using data on diversified firms from 38 countries over a 15-year period, the authors explore the effect of capital market efficiency, labor market efficiency, and product market efficiency on the excess value of diversified firms relative to their single segment peers. Specifically, the paper analyzes whether these institutional variables explain the variance in the value of diversified firms across different countries. Findings show that the value of diversified firms relative to their single-segment peers is higher in countries with less efficient capital markets. In addition, there is evidence that the efficiency of the country's labor market also has a significant effect on the excess value of diversified firms. Read More

The High Risks of Short-Term Management

A new study looks at the risks for companies and investors who are attracted to short-term results. Research by Harvard Business School's Francois Brochet, Maria Loumioti, and George Serafeim. Closed for comment; 4 Comments posted.

The Stock Selection and Performance of Buy-Side Analysts

Important differences between buy- and sell-side analysts are likely to affect their behavior and performance. While considerable research during the last twenty years has focused on the performance of sell-side analysts (that is, analysts who work for brokerage firms, investment banks, and independent research firms), much less is known about buy-side analysts (analysts for institutional investors such as mutual funds, pension funds, and hedge funds). This paper examines buy recommendation performance for analysts at a large, buy-side firm relative to analysts at sell-side firms throughout the period of mid-1997 to 2004. The researchers find evidence of differences in the stocks recommended by the buy- and sell-side analysts. The buy-side firm analysts recommended stocks with stock return volatility roughly half that of the average sell-side analyst, and market capitalizations almost seven times larger. These findings indicate that portfolio managers (buy-side analysts' clients) prefer that buy-side analysts cover less volatile and more liquid stocks. The study also finds that the buy-side firm analysts' stock recommendations are less optimistic than their sell-side counterparts, consistent with buy-side analysts facing fewer conflicts of interest. This and future studies may help sell-side and buy-side executives to allocate their financial and human resources more strategically. Read More

Causes and Consequences of Firm Disclosures of Anticorruption Efforts

Academic research on corruption has typically focused on its macro causes and consequences. While the country level is certainly important to understand, it is at the firm level where many questions remain unanswered. This study examines 480 of the world's largest companies, using ratings by Transparency International of firms' public disclosures of strategy, policies, and management systems for combatting corruption. Professors Paul Healy and George Serafeim find that firm disclosures are related to enforcement and monitoring costs, such as home country enforcement, US listing, big four auditors, and prior enforcement actions. Disclosures also reflect industry and country corruption risks. Meanwhile the financial implications of fighting disclosure are more nuanced. Read More

Short-Termism, Investor Clientele, and Firm Risk

In recent decades, commentators have argued that many corporations exhibit short-termism, a tendency to take actions that maximize short-term earnings and stock prices rather than the long-term value of the corporation. The authors develop a proxy for short-termism at the company level using conference call transcripts and then examine whether companies with more short-term horizons have (i) an investor base that is more short-term oriented, (ii) higher stock return volatility, and (iii) higher equity beta. The authors find that short-term oriented firms have more short-term oriented investors and higher risk. This paper contributes to the literature on the capital market effects of managerial and investor horizons. Read More

What Impedes Oil and Gas Companies’ Transparency?

Oil and gas companies face asset expropriations and corruption by foreign governments in many of the countries where they operate. In addition, most of these companies operate in multiple host countries. What determines their disclosure of business activities and hence transparency? Paul Healy, Venkat Kuppuswamy, and George Serafeim examine three forms of disclosure costs that oil and gas managers could potentially consider. Both the US government and the European Union are currently considering laws that would require oil and gas companies to disclose information about operations in host countries. Read More

The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance

Robert G. Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou, and George Serafeim compared a matched sample of 180 companies, 90 of which they classify as High Sustainability firms and 90 as Low Sustainability firms, in order to examine issues of governance, culture, and performance. Findings for an 18-year period show that High Sustainability firms dramatically outperformed the Low Sustainability ones in terms of both stock market and accounting measures. However, the results suggest that this outperformance occurs only in the long term. Managers and investors who are hoping to gain a competitive advantage in the short term are unlikely to succeed by embedding sustainability in their organization's strategy. Overall, the authors argue that High Sustainability company policies reflect the underlying culture of the organization, where environmental and social performance, in addition to financial performance, are important, but these policies also forge a strong culture by making explicit the values and beliefs that underlie the mission of the organization. Read More

Market Interest in Nonfinancial Information

During the past two decades, there have been many ideas for improving business reporting of nonfinancial information such as on a company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. Using data from Bloomberg, authors Robert G. Eccles, Michael P. Krzus, and George Serafeim provide insights into market interest in nonfinancial information at a level of granularity not available until now. They identify exactly what information is of greatest interest, contrasting both the global and U.S. market across the full spectrum of ESG information and for each component of ESG, as well as Carbon Disclosure Project metrics. They also show variation in interest across asset classes and firm types, and present preliminary explanations for these differences. Read More

Market Competition, Government Efficiency, and Profitability Around the World

Understanding whether and how corporate profitability mean reverts across countries is important for valuation purposes. This research by Paul M. Healy, George Serafeim, Suraj Srinivasan, and Gwen Yu suggests that firm performance persistence varies systematically. Country product, capital, and to a lesser extent labor market competition all affect the rate of mean reversion of corporate profits. Corporate profitability exhibits faster mean reversion in countries with more competitive factor markets. In contrast, government efficiency decreases the speed of mean reversion, but only when the level of market competition is held constant. The findings are useful to practitioners and scholars interested in understanding how country factors affect corporate profitability. Read More

Corporate Social Responsibility and Access to Finance

Corporate social responsibility may benefit society, but does it benefit the corporation? Indeed it does, according to a new study that shows how CSR can make it easier for firms to secure financing for new projects. Research was conducted by George Serafeim and Beiting Cheng of Harvard Business School and Ioannis Ioannou of the London Business School. Read More

Leading and Lagging Countries in Contributing to a Sustainable Society

To determine the extent to which corporate and investor behavior is changing to contribute to a more sustainable society, researchers Robert Eccles and George Serafeim analyzed data involving over 2,000 companies in 23 countries. One result: a ranking of countries based on the degree to which their companies integrate environmental and social discussions and metrics in their financial disclosures. Closed for comment; 11 Comments posted.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting: It’s Effective

In a growing trend, countries have begun requiring companies to report their environmental, social, and governance performance. George Serafeim of HBS and Ioannis Ioannou of London Business School set out to find whether this reporting actually induces companies to improve their nonfinancial performance and contribute toward a sustainable society. Open for comment; 12 Comments posted.

The Consequences of Mandatory Corporate Sustainability Reporting

The number of firms reporting sustainability information has grown significantly in the past decade, both due to voluntary actions and to mandates from several national governments and stock exchange authorities. In this paper, London Business School's Ioannis Ioannou and Harvard Business School's George Serafeim investigate whether mandatory sustainability reporting has any effect on a company's tendency to engage in socially responsible management practices. Read More

HBS Faculty Comment on Environmental Issues for Earth Day

Harvard Business School faculty members offer their views on the many business facets of "going green." Open for comment; 4 Comments posted.

Does Mandatory IFRS Adoption Improve the Information Environment?

Created by the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) comprise several principles designed to help public companies increase transparency in their financial reports. But are they worth the hefty compliance costs associated with them? This paper investigates whether adopting the IFRS improves the information environment for firms in which the standards are legally required. Research was conducted by Joanne Horton at the London School of Economics, George Serafeim at Harvard Business School, and Ioanna Serafeim at the Greek Capital Market Commission. Read More

The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment Recommendations

Security analysts are increasingly awarding more favorable ratings to firms with corporate socially responsible (CSR) strategies, according to this paper by Ioannis Ioannou and HBS professor George Serafeim. Their work explores how CSR strategies can affect value creation in public equity markets through analyst recommendations. Read More