Future Returns: Seeking Out Tech Trendsetters
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Future Returns: Seeking Out Tech Trendsetters

Where to look for the next big tech trend.

By Abby Schultz
Wed, Jul 28, 2021 11:15amGrey Clock 3 min

While many investors are focused on Facebook, Alphabet’sGoogle, Netflix, and other large tech companies that seem to change society daily, there are hundreds of smaller, under-the-radar companies that are transforming even mundane businesses such as mortgage applications into software companies.

Eaton Vance WaterOak Advisors, a US$14.3 billion registered investment advisor for wealthy individuals, foundations, and institutions, seeks out these smaller “analog-to-digital” companies across all of its investment strategies, says Duke Laflamme, chief investment officer of the firm, an arm of Boston-based asset manager Eaton Vance.

“We think there are a lot of companies out there that are smaller, less followed, and very similar in a lot of regards to some of the larger players that are getting all the attention,” Laflamme says.

Eaton Vance WaterOak owns larger, growth tech companies, too, including Netflix and Facebook, but says they will always be asking, “Is there something that has a clear path to a higher growth rate with great management?”

Penta recently spoke with Laflamme about the investment firm’s approach and the kind of companies it chooses.

Streamlining in Any Sector

Eaton Vance WaterOak’s premise is that “most companies are becoming software companies to a certain degree,” Laflamme says.

They are doing so to be more efficient—and therefore more profitable—and to improve the experience of their customers. These impulses are altering the trajectory of consumer-facing companies and industrial firms that can employ technology to streamline processes.

“We’re looking at it from the perspective of, ‘let’s find great companies that are already great companies, and see what they are doing in terms of some sort of transformation to make them even better,’” Laflamme says.

Take the unwieldy process of applying for a mortgage, which can involve lengthy sittings in legal offices signing documents “that no one really reads,” Laflamme says. “If you can digitize some of that, it’s a great way to improve the efficiency of that process.”

Black Night, a Jacksonville, Fla., company has capitalized on providing that efficiency with mortgage and consumer loans, from the point of origination to loan servicing and processing. The firm also provides mortgage lenders with insight on potential problem loans, Laflamme says. “It’s an end-to-end solution.”

A Pandemic Push

A theme during the height of the pandemic was how lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus speeded the digital transformation of many sectors of the economy. Zoom and Google Meet conferencing became the norm, art fairs and museums went digital, and more restaurants went online.

These dynamics benefited companies that already had been shifting to digital services, and helped others that were able to quickly adjust when the lockdowns went into effect.

Domino’s Pizza is an example of the latter, LaFlamme says. In the midst of the pandemic, “They really transformed the efficiency of their technology through [their] app, website, etcetera,” he says. “They now have a consumer base that is likely to stick with them through post-pandemic.”

Digital Stickiness

The investment firm likes companies that are nimble, and can create a moat around their business with that kind of customer “stickiness” through the use of technology, essentially making themselves the go-to provider in their sector, Laflamme says.

An example is Intuitive Surgical, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company that is a leader in providing robotic surgical equipment. If a doctor is trained by Intuitive Surgical on its machinery, he or she is unlikely to switch to another company that comes along with the same type of product, he says.

While competitors to Intuitive are coming out, they are “behind pace on adoption,” Laflamme says. “If Intuitive is the gold standard and you are a doctor and you get trained on the gold standard, if an equal [company] comes along, there’s no reason to get that training as well.”

Other companies the firm likes include Watsco, an air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration equipment distributor based in Miami, that has created a just-in-time inventory system allowing plumbing and heating providers to get what they need when they need it.

“It’s one of these smaller, sleepy companies that you wouldn’t think of as a tech company that is transforming themselves and getting to be even better companies through that technology,” he says.

Another is Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers in Burnaby, Canada, which sells heavy equipment via auctions. “They’ve done a good job of taking one of the oldest-school processes out there and bringing it into this century,” Laflamme says.

An advantage of the improved efficiencies and lower costs generated by the tech transformation is the deflationary effects it has on the economy. By reducing the amount of time and labour it takes to process a mortgage, for instance, many more mortgages can be processed. “There’s a lot that can be wrung out of the system,” he says.

Reprinted by permission of Penta. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 25, 2021



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The Top 10 highest paid CEOs of the ASX 200 revealed

Along with pay rates, the latest report from the ACSI shows bonuses are no longer based on exceptional results

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The CEOs of the ASX 200 were paid a little less in FY23 compared to the year before, but bonuses appear to have become the norm rather than a reward for outstanding results, according to the Australia Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI). ACSI has released its 23rd annual report documenting the CEOs’ realised pay, which combines base salaries, bonuses and other incentives.

The highest-paid CEO among Australian-domiciled ASX 200 companies in FY23 was Greg Goodman of Goodman Group, with realised pay of $27.34 million. Goodman Group is the ASX 200’s largest real estate investment trust (REIT) with a global portfolio of $80.5 billion in assets. The highest-paid CEO among foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies was Mick Farrell of ResMed with realised pay of $47.58 million. ResMed manufactures CPAP machines to treat sleep apnoea.

The realised pay for the CEOs of the largest 100 companies by market capitalisation fell marginally from a median of $3.93 million in FY22 to $3.87 million in FY23. This is the lowest median in the 10 years since ACSI began basing its report on realised pay data. The median realised pay for the CEOs of the next largest 100 companies also fell from $2.1million to $1.95 million.

However, 192 of the ASX 200 CEOs took home a bonus, and Ed John, ACSI’s executive manager of stewardship, is concerned that bonuses are becoming “a given”.

“At a time when companies are focused on productivity and performance, it is critical that bonuses are only paid for exceptional outcomes,” Mr John said. He added that boards should set performance thresholds for CEO bonuses at appropriate levels.

ACSI said the slightly lower median realised pay of ASX 200 CEOs indicated greater scrutiny from shareholders was having an impact. There was a record 41 strike votes against executive pay at ASX 300 annual general meetings (AGMs) in 2023. This indicated an increasing number of shareholders were feeling unhappy with the executive pay levels at the companies in which they were invested.

A strike vote means 25 percent or more of shareholders voted against a company’s remuneration report. If a second strike vote is recorded at the next AGM, shareholders can vote to force the directors to stand for re-election.

10 highest-paid ASX 200 CEOs in FY23

1. Mick Farrell, ResMed, $47.58 million*
2. Robert Thomson, News Corporation, $41.53 million*
3. Greg Goodman, Goodman Group, $27.34 million
4. Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie Group, $25.32 million
5. Mike Henry, BHP Group, $19.68 million
6. Matt Comyn, Commonwealth Bank, $10.52 million
7. Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto, $10.47 million
8. Rob Scott, Wesfarmers, $9.57 million
9. Ron Delia, Amcor, $9.33 million*
10. Colin Goldschmidt, Sonic Healthcare, $8.35 million

Source: ACSI. Foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies*

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