Corporate Governance Awards 2016: Governance professional of the year (large cap) - Aaron Briggs, GE
Aaron Briggs was originally nominated in the rising star award category, but the strength of his submission prompted the judges to consider him for the governance professional of the year award.
Now in his fourth year with GE, Briggs has made a lasting impact on GE’s governance policies and practices, perhaps most notably in the last two years by playing a leading role in the $20 billion split-off of Synchrony Financial (GE’s consumer credit card business), the largest in corporate history.
‘My team was responsible for handling all the mechanics of the split-off,’ Briggs says. ‘We were offering our shareholders the opportunity to exchange some of their shares for shares in the new company. We have 5 million shareholders globally and we had to contact them, track their responses and ensure their shares were transferred.’
Additional responsibilities in relation to this deal included overseeing the SEC registration and review process, which covered more than 35 SEC filings over the course of the offer period, and developing GE’s solicitation and communications strategy.
During most of this process, GE’s governance team was understaffed as it searched to replace one of its lawyers, who had departed at the end of 2014. Briggs says the experience has been formative for him: ‘I was never a very big delegator of work; I tend to like to control everything. When we were short-staffed I had to figure out how to rely on others and develop other people within the group. It’s a new skill I learned as a result of the experience.’
Briggs has also had a notable impact on the presentation and readability of GE’s reporting. His work was recognized at the Corporate Governance Awards 2014, when GE took home the award for best use of technology by a corporate secretary or general counsel for its forward-thinking approach to introducing graphics, colors and new design elements.
Briggs has continued this crusade, spearheading GE’s interactive proxy website for 2016, which has five videos featuring the company’s lead director.
This year GE also launched the world’s first integrated summary report, which consolidates more than 350 pages of corporate reporting (drawing on the company’s 10K, proxy statement and sustainability website) into a 65-page, graphics-heavy report. Downloads of GE’s annual reporting documents have increased by 300 percent since the launch of the summary.
‘The strength I bring to the team is that I try to think about making every communication as easy as possible for people to understand,’ Briggs says. ‘So often lawyers make great points but because the person they’re trying to tell isn’t listening, they don’t get heard. To combat that you really need to work hard to make them hear your story.’