Proxy Access at Whole Foods Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Proxy Access at Whole Foods case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Proxy Access at Whole Foods case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Jay W. Lorsch, Emily McTague. The Proxy Access at Whole Foods (referred as “Proxy Access” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Organizational Development. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Corporate communications, Organizational culture.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Proxy Access at Whole Foods Case Study

Proxy access grants shareholders meeting certain ownership requirements the right to nominate directors for election to the board without going through a typical proxy contest. In August 2010 the SEC approved a rule granting proxy access for shareholders meeting specific ownership requirements. The rule was challenged by US Chamber of Commerce and overturned in July 2011. Shortly after the rule was overturned, rules governing shareholder proposal process were amended so that shareholders could put forward proposals on proxy access at individual companies. Proxy access did not garner significant attentional during the first two proxy seasons after the rule was amended. However in the 2015 proxy season, over 100 companies received proxy access proposals. This case chronicles the debate on proxy access from the perspective of institutional investors, shareholders, and US company's board of directors and management.

Case Authors : Jay W. Lorsch, Emily McTague

Topic : Organizational Development

Related Areas : Corporate communications, Organizational culture

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Proxy Access at Whole Foods Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10009044) -10009044 - -
Year 1 3466503 -6542541 3466503 0.9434 3270286
Year 2 3966964 -2575577 7433467 0.89 3530584
Year 3 3970533 1394956 11404000 0.8396 3333736
Year 4 3236059 4631015 14640059 0.7921 2563262
TOTAL 14640059 12697868

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2688824

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Internal Rate of Return
2. Net Present Value
3. Payback Period
4. Profitability Index

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Proxy Access have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.
2. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Proxy Access shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Proxy Access at Whole Foods

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Organizational Development Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Proxy Access often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Proxy Access needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10009044) -10009044 - -
Year 1 3466503 -6542541 3466503 0.8696 3014350
Year 2 3966964 -2575577 7433467 0.7561 2999595
Year 3 3970533 1394956 11404000 0.6575 2610690
Year 4 3236059 4631015 14640059 0.5718 1850227
TOTAL 10474862

The Net NPV after 4 years is 465818

(10474862 - 10009044 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10009044) -10009044 - -
Year 1 3466503 -6542541 3466503 0.8333 2888753
Year 2 3966964 -2575577 7433467 0.6944 2754836
Year 3 3970533 1394956 11404000 0.5787 2297762
Year 4 3236059 4631015 14640059 0.4823 1560599
TOTAL 9501950

The Net NPV after 4 years is -507094

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9501950 - 10009044 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Proxy Access to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Proxy Access has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Proxy Access can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Proxy Access, then the stock price of the Proxy Access should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Proxy Access should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Jay W. Lorsch, Emily McTague (2018), "Proxy Access at Whole Foods Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.