« View All Blog Posts

An Intimate Gathering with 50 Billion Dollars
By Laura Isanuk

dollar-1071788_1920This past June, I presented a resolution filed with TJX Companies by NorthStar Asset Management,
Inc., ("NorthStar") a Boston-based socially responsible investment firm. The proposal requested the company link the CEO's compensation to progress on racial/ethnic and gender diversity in senior management. In preparation for the meeting, I met with NorthStar's Coordinator of Shareholder Activism, Mari Schwartzer.  She explained to me that "NorthStar filed at TJX in particular because while the company website states that 77% of the global workforce is female and 55% are people of color, the management of the company is currently and historically all-white, and predominantly male.  At NorthStar, race and gender issues are top priority, and it's clearly in the company's best interest to have its management better reflect the diversity of their employees, as well as the customers they serve."

As I drove to the early summer meeting, I had no idea how the meeting would unfold, but had heard of meetings being very formal, with locked doors and considerable time constraints for those presenting resolutions. Fortunately, this meeting was very welcoming.  Upon my arrival TJX's General Counsel greeted me and took me to a room with refreshments where she explained the meeting procedure, her background, and learned from me more about why I thought this resolution was important and about our overall industry work.

From there, we joined the actual meeting and the regular process began – CEO remarks, company update, and management resolutions. When it was my time to present, I went to the mid-back of the room where a mic was positioned. The speech prepared by NorthStar and myself went well, and the board appeared engaged, looking directly at me while I presented. However, the CEO spent the entire time looking down at his papers. Immediately after my speech, Carol Meyrowitz, the former CEO, and a Forbes Top 100 Most Powerful Woman, emphasized the importance of diversity within the company and that they were very proud of their efforts thus far.

Overall the annual meeting lasted maybe 30 minutes. Afterwards most people immediately left but two members of the board approached me, thanked me for the resolution and echoed the statements about the importance of diversity for the sustainability of the company. Ms. Meyrowitz also personally thanked me. While there appears to be an awareness of diversity issues amongst the management, the board did not support the resolution; it received 4.85% votes in favor.  Mari from NorthStar later described for me that "nearly 5% on a social issue resolution which is not supported by the company is a great result. We are pleased to be able to build upon that for future years."

Mari went on to say, "We're happy to hear that TJX is publicly stating that diversity is an important aspect of the company, but we'd like to see that claim cemented in their proxy statement or other governance documents – an achievement that NorthStar has attained at several other companies." NorthStar says that they will likely file again in 2017, and Mari tells me that they look forward to future engagement with the company.

Posted: August 16, 2016