Capital Vices

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

Various frameworks are being used to assess the vulnerability of companies to shareholder activism. For example, Darren Novak, a lawyer, discusses the ‘Three V’s’ in a clear and concise National Association of Corporate Directors article:

  • Value: Undervaluation driven by a poor strategy, equity story, operational performance or more simply hidden assets

  • Variety: The number and quality of actionable levers which can be pulled to unlock value; and

  • Votes: Shareholders’ receptivity to a campaign

A complementary framework could be found in theology. Aren’t corporates an extension of individuals? A 4th century Christian monk named Evagrius Ponticus identified deadly sins which the frail and fallible human being tends to fall victim of. They were re-arranged and formalized by Pope Gregory I two centuries later and featured in many works including that of Thomas Aquinas and Dante. Closer to home, they were at the heart of one of the best and darkest thrillers of the 90’s, ‘Se7en.

Consider their application to the corporate world:

  1. Sloth (in Latin, acedia): A lack of care leading to the failure to act with a view to improving a company’s future prospects

  2. Greed (avaritia): The tendency to hoard cash or to hold on to assets which are non-core (including by ascribing too high a value to them, making a disposal difficult to achieve)

  3. Gluttony (gula): An over-active, almost compulsive acquisition strategy followed by a lack of integration driving a company’s health to the ground

  4. Lust (luxuria): The unbridled pursuit of attractive acquisition targets at the expense of other corporate obligations or opportunities

  5. Wrath (ira): The emotional reaction to losses of competitive advantages resulting in the self-destructive poisoning of industry dynamics through predatory pricing

  6. Envy (invidia): The unnecessary distraction caused by the obsession with competitors’ performance, and the joy or sorrow it brings when they under- or outperform, respectively; and last but not least, the father of all sins

  7. Pride (superbia): The over-confidence and lack of self-awareness that leads to the misjudgment of one’s own capabilities, internal corporate dynamics or micro-economic trends through an inability or refusal to observe and listen

After all, these deadly sins are also called capital vices.

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