RPT-GMI Ratings drops governance expert Hodgson, costs cited

Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:59am EST

* GMI spokesman says NY firm puts new focus on revenue growth

* Hodgson: move is "just business"

By Ross Kerber

Dec 17 (Reuters) - GMI Ratings is dropping widely followed governance expert Paul Hodgson as the research firm seeks to boost revenue in the competitive field.

Hodgson, 50, had been GMI's chief research analyst and helped build up the firm from its obscure roots in Maine to an influential voice in New York with deep dives into financial filings and a no-holds-barred blogging voice.

But lately the company has focused on boosting its sales of higher-priced services like GMI Analyst, a web-based product used to judge risk in public companies.

"In terms of the resources we have and how we're using them, we want to use the capital we have to drive more robust revenue growth," said Lev Janashvili, GMI's marketing director, in an interview.

Hodgson said in a separate interview that his termination "was connected to their need to cut expenses" but said he did not know more details.

While it may be ironic that someone often critical of corporate spending should be let go as a cost-saving measure, Hodgson said he regards GMI's action as "just business."

"There's no rancor on either side, so describing the separation as amicable is true - though it does leave me without a job, which is unfortunate," Hodgson said.

Hodgson said he plans to stay in Maine while exploring other corporate-governance work.

In 2001 Hodgson had joined a predecessor firm of GMI known as The Corporate Library, one of several companies that combined in 2010. The Corporate Library was founded by Nell Minow and Robert Monks who had built their own resumes as influential shareholder activists. They remain directors of closely held GMI.

But in recent years Hodgson became known as a voice of the firm through its widely followed reports and blog posts.

Among other things he awarded "Golden Hellos" to new executives hired with stock options that vested on short schedules, and zeroed in on hot issues like whether to separate the jobs of chief executive and chairman at public companies. There is "no balance of power" in boardrooms when the roles are combined, he wrote in a report in June.

The reviews reflected rising scrutiny of corporate practices. In return companies and trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have begun to focus criticism on their reviewers, though much of this has centered on other firms like MSCI Inc governance unit ISS and Glass, Lewis & Co.

GMI's Janashvili said despite Hodgson's departure the company is not under cost pressures in general. It does not disclose financial details but he said GMI has about 55 employees now and has hired about six since he joined the firm in the spring.

Hodgson's critical voice did not lead to his departure, Janashvili said, and he said other GMI analysts will keep the same critical tone. The idea GMI wanted to tone itself down "would be very easy to rebut," he said.

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