Culture costs company big money. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) says probably its equipment sparked the deadliest wildfire in California history.
The company is taking a $11.5 billion charge against earnings as a result. The company has warned it may not survive as a going concern. Credit agencies have stripped the company of its investment-grade rating.
But for five years the PG&E delayed a safety overhaul of the century-old high voltage line that is a prime suspect in the huge Camp fire which killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise last November.
The delay reflected decisions consistent with company leadership priorities. In other words, delay flowed from core company values. Those values, part of the company’s social capital, were financially speaking a source of risk and so a detriment to, and so a reduction of, its comprehensive asset valuation. The company’s culture was a balance sheet liability (an equity loss) for its owners.
Such a loss to its present value should have been measured and recorded somewhere to provoke remedial management response.
The PG&E case reminds us of the BP accident at the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, a failure of company culture which cost the company and its owners billions.