In 2010, the principal Brazilian stock exchange, BM&F Bovespa, drew up proposals to improve governance of public companies. This was in response to the financial crisis, various large-scale losses and several scandals.

In an unusual step, BM&F Bovespa put these proposals to the vote. It was the companies themselves that would decide which proposals became part of reform efforts.

Professor Ania Zalewska is now investigating how and why Brazilian companies voted for these corporate governance reforms. She is collaborating with Ricardo Pereira Câmara Leal, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and Alexandre Di Miceli da Silveira, from the Foundation School of Commerce Alvares Penteado (FECAP).

A life in numbers

Ania completed her first PhD, in Mathematics, at the Polish Academy of Sciences. She transitioned to finance when a chance encounter with an economics professor led to her writing a paper examining stock markets.

A year later, she had started her second PhD, in Economics, at the London Business School. Her research there focused on developing econometric methods to allow a better understanding of the time-varying properties of emerging stock markets. It was this work that started Ania on the path to her current research.

Revealing the hidden stories behind the votes

In an ideal world, companies would vote in the most ‘socially responsible’ way. This would encourage others to become more responsible and increase the credibility of the stock market.

But the reality may be different. Companies might have put their individual, short-term interests before those of the market as a whole. It's possible, for example, that some companies in Brazil voted to reject proposals that would be expensive to put in place.

Ania and her colleagues have now started to investigate the underlying factors behind companies’ voting patterns. By probing the voting data, Ania hopes to identify such hidden stories.

The team will look at what impact rejection or acceptance of proposals has had on corporate governance practices and business performance.

It is also important to know if different ownerships structures might explain voting attitudes. The impact of various ownership models is a focus of worldwide debate, as is the role of institutional investors in promoting good corporate governance.

‘Squeezing juice’ out of data

Ania is an expert in empirical econometrics. She uses a wide range of econometric methods to get the ‘best reading’ from the data. In her own words, she ‘squeezes juice out of the data to see what flavours are in it.’

The project is developing and Ania is looking forward to getting into the problem. She has the raw data and will be able to start squeezing it once she’s got all the information she needs.

‘Understanding what is happening once you have the data is a bit like sudoku,’ says Ania.

‘You have all these numbers and all these empty squares and you can’t wait to fill them in to understand how it all fits together and what the evidence can tell you about the world.’

The collaboration with Ricardo Leal and Alexandre Silveira began during Ania’s visit to The Coppead Graduate School of Business in Rio de Janeiro last summer.

She gave a talk on her current research at a conference for young academics and PhD students. As part of a panel of experts, she shared her publishing experience and commented on current trends in finance.

‘It was fantastic,’ she said of her two-week visit, ‘I really liked it. Everyone was very friendly, enthusiastic and ambitious. They were interested in collaboration and developing common research agendas. It was a truly positive experience.’