If recent allegations against Royal Dutch/Shell Group CFO Judith Boynton are true—that she knew about massive shortfalls in the company’s oil and gas reserves two years before they were made public—then, say some, it wouldn’t be the first time she helped keep potentially material information under wraps.
During Boynton’s previous job, as Polaroid Corp.’s CFO, some dubious accounting maneuvers helped keep some bad financial news off the year-end books, thus ensuring a clean audit opinion, according to a special examiner’s report compiled in the wake of Polaroid’s 2001 bankruptcy. The report alleged that in fourth-quarter 2000, the company improperly reversed $5.8 million in restructuring charges related to layoffs, charges it ended up taking again the next year. Without the reversal, it could have been in default of covenants on more than $500 million in bonds. The examiner also alleged that the company failed to reclassify $500 million in long-term debt as short term, a change that “might have been appropriate” as early as December 2000. The artificially low short-term debt was a “significant” reason the company’s December 31, 2000, financial statement was clear of a “going concern” warning from its auditors, the examiner determined. Polaroid has defended its accounting for both items.
Boynton resigned from Polaroid in January 2001, one day before the company’s fiscal 2000 conference call.
The British press has been intrigued by Boynton, a woman CFO in a male-dominated industry. She rose quickly at Shell, and in 2003 was the first woman ever named to its Committee of Managing Directors.
But back home, analysts have a bone to pick with her. “The moment [Boynton] joined Shell,” says Ulysses Yannas, an analyst with Buckman, Buckman & Reid Inc. who followed Polaroid for more than 30 years, “I said, these are two stocks to avoid, Shell and Royal Dutch. I’m not surprised by what she’s facing now. She was not a success story at Polaroid.”
Boynton is a defendant in several shareholder suits alleging she helped manipulate Polaroid’s numbers during her tenure to make the company look far healthier than it was. —Kris Frieswick
Chuck Hill’s insights on the impact of restructurings on corporate earnings were sought by everyone from Congress to CFO magazine. The veteran director of research for Thomson Financial First Call just never expected to experience it firsthand.
That changed on March 2, when the struggling unit of Thomson Corp. unceremoniously reorganized its research divisions and booted out Hill in the process. As a result, the financial-data provider shed its company’s very public persona and arguably Wall Street’s most respected prognosticator of corporate earnings announcements.
Chuck Hill “put the face on First Call,” says longtime professional acquaintance Samuel B. Jones Jr., chief investment officer for Boston-based Trillium Asset Management corp., referring to Hill’s many appearances on TV and in other media, analyzing consensus numbers. “What he brought to First Call and to the process was not a commodity,” he adds. Sarah Dunn, chief content officer at Thomson Financial, sees it differently.
While she characterizes Hill as a “significant contributor,” she says it is the organizations that use the company’s data that are “the real strength and power” behind First Call.
Still, the breadth of analysis that the 66-year old brought to the industry will be sorely missed. So it’s not surprising that Hill, a rugby player in his spare time, has no plans to retire and is confident that enough offers will come in “over the transom” that he won’t be idle for long. One thing is certain” he doesn’t want to be the public face of anything anymore.
“When I saw [my] black-and-white sketch in the Wall Street Journal”, he says, “I knew why they wanted to replace me as the face of First Call.” —Lori Calabro
CFOs on the Move
T. Rowe Price has named Kenneth V. Moreland CFO, succeeding Cristina Wasiak, who stepped down as finance chief in December but has stayed on as a VP…. Hilton Hotels Corp. has named former CFO Matthew Hart president. He takes over one of the jobs held by Stephen F. Bollenbach, who will retain the title of CEO. Bollenbach, also a former CFO, adds the role of co-chairman, which he’ll share with current chairman Barron Hilton…. Susan J. Riley was named the new CFO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co., succeeding interim finance head Seth Johnson.