Building a leadership position in ESG standards
Building a leadership position in ESG standards 2020 underscored how integral Bell is to how Canadians live and work. Since 1880, we have led the way in communications while setting a standard for excellence in how we deliver. Today, this means dedication to leadership in environmental, social and governance standards (ESG).
Bell’s goal to advance how Canadians connect with each other and the world is the core of our commitment to all the stakeholders we serve, supported by our unparalleled investments in the country’s core network infrastructure, ongoing broadband service innovation, and adherence to the highest financial, operational and data governance standards. I am pleased to note that oversight of this purpose will be added to the Corporate Governance Committee’s responsibilities in 2021.
Bell networks and services help to enable a clean economy, with 5G wireless poised to be a major factor in helping multiple sectors reduce emissions. In 2020, Bell became the first communications company in North America to achieve ISO 50001 certification for our energy management system, and we are proud to build on that leadership and announce our objective to achieve carbon neutral operations in 2025.
At the same time, Bell Let’s Talk is supporting mental health action in communities throughout Canada. We accelerated the initiative in 2020 with $5 million in additional funding to respond to the unique mental health challenges of COVID-19, and a new Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund to help address the impact of systemic racism on the mental health of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities.
Our diverse national team is building an inclusive workplace, fostering innovation and creativity as we work to eliminate any systemic impediments to team members reaching their full potential. We undertook meaningful actions to foster a more diverse workplace in 2020, including new targets for BIPOC representation in Bell’s senior management team (25% by 2025) and graduate and student hiring (at least 40%), as well as forging new technology, education and employment partnerships to enable our diversity objectives.
BCE is also a member of the 30% Club and a signatory to the Catalyst Accord 2022, which aim to increase the proportion of women serving on Canadian corporate boards to at least 30%. At our annual shareholders meeting, we expect to exceed that objective.
Bell is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s Top Employers, and in 2020 as one of the greenest, most family-friendly and best diversity employers in the country, and a top workplace for young professionals.
Solid financial performance in uncertain times
Significant declines in commercial activity during COVID-19, including reduced spending by both consumers and businesses, significantly impacted BCE’s financial results throughout most of 2020. However, consistently strong strategic execution by the Bell team resulted in consecutive quarterly performance improvements throughout the COVID crisis, including achieving 96% of our 2019 revenue and adjusted EBITDA results in 2020.
We also generated $3.35 billion in free cash flow to enable Bell’s unmatched network, service and content investments, as well as returns to the shareholders who have invested in our strategy. BCE remains on a very sound financial footing, with $3.8 billion in liquidity at the end of 2020, fully funded pension plans, and ready access to financial markets, with no significant debt maturities until 2022.
As a result, BCE was proud to announce both an acceleration in capital investment of at least an additional $1 billion over the next 2 years while also increasing our common share dividend 5.1% to $3.50 effective with the Q1 2021 payment on April 15, 2021. This is the 13th consecutive year that BCE has increased the dividend by 5% or more, and total shareholder return over that timeframe has been 307%.
Changes to your BCE Board
Directors Barry Allen, Robert Brown and Paul Weiss will be retiring from the Board at our annual shareholder meeting this year, and I would like to thank them for their dedication and outstanding service to you and our great company over more than a decade.
I am also very pleased to announce the nominations of Jennifer Tory and Cornell Wright to your Board.
A renowned corporate strategist, Jennifer was Chief Administrative Officer for Royal Bank of Canada until her retirement in 2019, previously RBC’s Group Head, Personal and Commercial Banking, and serves as Chair of the Toronto International Film Festival and on the Board of the Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation. Cornell is Chair of the Corporate Department at Torys LLP, previously co-head of its Mergers & Acquisitions practice, and is Chair of the National Ballet of Canada, a trustee of University Health Network, and Executive in Residence at the Rotman School of Management.
As your Chair, and on behalf of every member of the BCE Board of Directors, I thank our shareholders for your support and confidence in our company. I trust that you share our pride in BCE’s accomplishments over the course of 2020, and our excitement about the tremendous opportunities ahead.