Home Estate Planning Returns, returns, returns: Auchincloss shows that companies must be run for shareholders

Returns, returns, returns: Auchincloss shows that companies must be run for shareholders

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Who knew that Murray Auchincloss was the boss we’ve been waiting for? Promoted into the top job in unusual circumstances, the new BP chief was a breath of old-fashioned fresh air.

Returns, returns, returns, was the mantra. Shareholders will be thrilled.

Energy companies face an interesting moment. They are better-equipped than just about anybody else to drive forward the green transition, with free cash, developed tech ecosystems and a monopoly on technical knowledge.

They are also barracked by all sides for the foundations of their business models – fossil fuels, usually – despite it being those profits that fund the research and development that will make renewable energy financially viable at scale.

Auchincloss is on a hiding to nothing with the general public, and he surely knows that: if he promised to phase out oil by next Tuesday, he’d have Extinction Rebellion blocking bridges to ensure he did it by Friday.

What Auchincloss displayed yesterday was an occasionally rare understanding of who a company is run for: its shareholders. 

In the year to come it will be more important than ever that CEOs remember that. Politicians are queueing up at the City’s gates to demand more from business under the guise of a ‘partnership’ between the public and private sector.

They will be asked to do the right thing, show some leg on purpose. That’s all fine and dandy but it isn’t what a business is there to do: it is to deliver, day after day, for shareholders. That means, mostly, maximising value.

And that means delivering what investors and shareholders want – regular returns, with long-term prospects. Investors are savvy enough that they are now pricing into their models ESG considerations, but those considerations should only be part of the equation. 

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