Anne Marie Knott from Wash U biz school raises briefly a profound question: how to maintain a major R and D budget when returns are graded quarterly and markets fluctuate by the second. Which always makes me realize how much better, in fact, is our corporate decision-making than it really should be. Out there is one alternative universe in which is really is the current stock price and the next quarterly report that shape every decision.
I’ve written elsewhere that, as it happens, the principal-agent problem (both here and also in the political realm) ends up helping to mitigate short-termism, since executives (like pols) want careers, and careers require reputations for long-term effectiveness. There are other reasons too, the most legitimate of which lie in the minds of long-term investors (of whom there are still a few).
The point Anne Marie Knott makes tellingly here is that what she terms the research quotient (RQ, a way of measuring research commitment/effectiveness) offers a different slant on capitalization. My somewhat broader point would be that the market needs to find ways to place a more reliable value on both such balance sheet commitments and the willingness of the executive team to take short-term hits for long-term value. That might involve polygraphs in the C Suite. It certainly (sigh, don’t we know) involves coming up with salary and bonus structures that deliver what is needed rather than what gluttonous execs feel is their desert for a good day’s work. This may seem like rocket science, but as Elon Musk is demonstrating, rocket science isn’t necessarily, well, rocket science. And the growing shareholder revolt on executive remuneration, reaching most recently to Barclays and now very much a mainstream effort, can’t fail to help.
At the core, it’s all about the long term. And the fact that as change comes faster innovation becomes both more necessary and more risky is driving a very different kind of corporate culture from that to which big companies used to aspire.