This article has been updated to include a comment from ADP.
Independent research firm Management CV, in an analyst note published on Sept. 7, criticizes the performance of Automatic Data Processing CFO Jan Siegmund and calls for the company to hire a new CFO from outside the firm.
Management CV says Siegmund manages ADP’s financials too cautiously and that a new CFO is needed “to implement a lean organizational model and implement a more disciplined and aggressive serial acquisition strategy.”
The statement came in a note criticizing the substance of activist investor Bill Ackman’s threatened proxy fight at ADP, which was launched in August.
Management CV calls the proxy fight “misguided”; while Pershing Square (Ackman’s firm) “makes some good points about missed opportunities,” according to Management CV, Ackman “incorrectly” calls for a new chief executive to replace current president & CEO Carlos Rodriguez.
“We do not think that [Rodriguez] is doing a bad job or that the board of directors needs a new slate of Pershing Square nominees,” the report says.
Management CV also says that Pershing Square’s statement that a new CEO and some new directors would generate a 12% increase in EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) margin is “spreadsheet magic that conveys no operating experience or knowledge.”
Instead, Management CV says ADP needs to hire a new finance chief.
Specifically, the research firm says ADP requires a “seasoned” finance chief hired from the outside. Management CV claims that CFO Siegmund is too focused on short-term performance and, because Siegmund is “an ADP lifer (like CEO Rodriguez),” he “is unlikely to be able to exact the hard cost-cuts and restructuring steps that would materially shrink ADP’s cost base and improve operating margins.”
ADP did not respond to a request for comment before this story was published.
But following the article’s posting, ADP shared that Siegmund is a highly respected global executive who brings a sharp and analytical approach to the company and has delivered superior total shareholder returns of 136% compared to 94% for the S&P 500 (measured from November 4, 2012, to July 26, 2017). Siegmund also had a successful career at McKinsey prior to joining ADP.
Management CV defends CEO Rodriguez in saying that he “is already executing on beefing up his sales team to compensate for the decline in [Affordable Care Act] related revenues this year,” and that it likes the “large option grants that the board made to the CEO and senior team last year and [we] think those will do more to drive stock price performance than activist pressure.”
However, Management CV isn’t totally behind ADP’s direction, either: the research firm says that a low, five-year cumulative average growth rate in EBIT per employee “suggests lots of room for better efficiency” and that the board of directors “would benefit from the retirement of Chairman John Jones” and one other board member.
Ackman, for his part, is not uncritical of the other members of CEO Rodriguez’s executive management team. He has labeled them insular and believes the other senior executives are essentially rubber-stamping Rodriguez’s decisions. He has also called out ADP for a lack of financial disclosure about the performance of its individual business units.
ADP’s board has met with Ackman and concluded that the pace at which Ackman thinks ADP can improve its operating margins is “vague and risky.” On Monday, ADP shares were trading about 12% off their 52-week high.
Management CV writes analytical reports on the senior executive teams of publicly held companies. It has a methodology on which it bases its opinions of senior executive teams, which CFO detailed two years ago in a story about Hershey’s.