Parent Company Makeovers?

The addition of historical parent data to Violation Tracker, including a list of the most penalized corporations based on that data, may have led some p.r. executives to hope that their employer would look better on the new tally. Many of them will end up disappointed.

In last week’s Dirt Diggers, I compared the 100 most penalized current parents to the 100 most penalized historical parents and found limited differences. This week I expand the focus to the top 1,000.  

Among that larger group, nearly half have penalty totals based on historical parent-subsidy linkages that are lower than their totals based on current ownership relationships.

Yet the median difference for those with lower historical totals is just $14 million. Only 34 of the 1,000 companies ended up with zero penalties using the historical basis; another 33 ended up with totals below $1 million. The biggest beneficiary of the different approach is Viatris, almost all of whose $1 billion in penalties based on current linkages were incurred by Mylan and Upjohn before they merged in 2020 to form the new company.

Other parents that look good when switching from current to historical linkages include: Equitable Holdings, whose big penalties occurred when it was owned by AXA, and Daimler Truck, just about all of whose penalties date from the period when it was still part of Daimler AG, now known as Mercedes-Benz Group.

Among the 1,000 most penalized current parents there are more than 400 whose historical total is exactly the same, reflecting the fact that they neither acquired nor spun off penalized subsidiaries. Those in this group with the largest penalty amounts are Deutsche Bank, Purdue Pharma, GlaxoSmithKline, Toyota, Allianz, PG&E, and Barclays. The median penalty total for all the zero-difference parents in the top 1000 list is $59 million.

Sixty-seven of the top 1,000 parents look worse when switching from the current to the historical basis. That is because they divested a heavily penalized subsidiary. Those with the biggest penalty differences include: Abbott Laboratories, which spun off AbbVie with its $1.5 billion in penalties; AXA, which spun off Equitable and its $651 million in penalties; and Daiichi Sankyo, which sold Ranbaxy USA, which had accumulated more than $500 million in penalties.

Another 11 companies—such as BP, which sold its heavily penalized operations in Texas City, Texas to Marathon Petroleum, and General Electric, which has been downsizing in numerous sectors—have historical penalty totals at least $100 million lower than their current totals. Yet all of those still end up with historical totals of more than $300 million, and in four cases—BP, Johnson & Johnson, GE and Boehringer Ingelheim—the amount is above $1 billion.

The upshot of all this is that switching the focus from current to historical parent linkages does not show a dramatic difference in the misconduct track record of most large companies. While the new data may not help much for company makeovers, I hope it will prove useful for those taking a critical look at corporate behavior.

Note: the historical parent data now in Violation Tracker is accessible only to those who purchase a subscription. Searching and displaying the other data remain free of charge.