As we approach the 2019 proxy season, developments since September 2017 prompt a brief updated review of the state of play.
- The threat of activism remains high, and has become increasingly global.
- Activist assets under management remain at elevated levels, encouraging continued attacks on many large successful companies in the U.S. and abroad.
- In the current robust M&A environment, deal-related activism is prevalent, with activists instigating deal activity, challenging announced transactions (g., the “bumpitrage” strategy of pressing for a price increase) and/or pressuring the target into a merger or a private equity deal with the activist itself.
… Read more
While “The Accountable Capitalism Act” introduced on August 15 by Senator Elizabeth Warren contains several very worthwhile provisions, it is premised on the federalization of all public corporations with revenues in excess of $1 billion. Mandatory federal incorporation and the creation of a federal office to make regulations and supervise compliance would be a major incursion into state corporation law. It is reminiscent of proposals by Ralph Nader some half-century ago to achieve control of major corporations by mandatory federal incorporation. Warren’s proposal should not receive any more support than Nader’s. However, like Nader’s proposal led to significant changes in … Read more
The Financial Reporting Council on July 16 issued a revised corporate governance code and announced that a revised investor stewardship code will be issued before year-end. The code and related materials are available at www.frc.org.uk.
The revised code contains two provisions that will be of great interest. They will undoubtedly be relied upon in efforts to update the various U.S. corporate governance codes. They will also be used to further the efforts to expand the sustainability and stakeholder concerns of U.S. boards.
First, the introduction to the code makes note that shareholder primacy needs to be moderated and that … Read more
The ever-evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompt an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have equivalent influence on board and company behavior. Today, boards are expected to:
• Oversee corporate strategy and the communication of that strategy to investors, keeping in mind that investors want to be assured not just about current risks and problems, but threats to long-term strategy;
• Be aware that sustainability has become a major, mainstream governance topic that encompasses a wide … Read more
Whether the purpose of the corporation is to generate profits for its shareholders or to operate in the interests of all of its stakeholders has been actively debated since 1932, when it was the subject of dueling law review articles by Columbia law professor Adolf Berle (shareholders) and Harvard law professor Merrick Dodd (stakeholders).
Following “Chicago School” economics professor Milton Friedman’s famous (some might say infamous) 1970 New York Times article announcing ex cathedra that the social responsibility of a corporation is to increase its profits, shareholder primacy was widely viewed as the purpose and basis for the governance of … Read more
The past year has seen continued evolution in the political, legal and economic arenas as technological change accelerates. Innovation, new business models, dealmaking and rapidly evolving technologies are transforming competitive and industry landscapes and impacting companies’ strategic plans and prospects for sustainable, long-term value creation. Tax reform has created new opportunities and challenges for companies too. Meanwhile, the severe consequences that can flow from misconduct within an organization serve as a reminder that corporate operations are fraught with risk. Social and environmental issues, including heightened focus on income inequality and economic disparities, scrutiny of sexual misconduct issues and evolving views … Read more
As 2017 draws to a conclusion and we reflect on the evolution of corporate governance since the turn of the millennium, a recurring question percolating in boardrooms and among shareholders and other stakeholders, academics and politicians is: what’s next on the horizon for corporate governance? In many respects, we seem to have reached a point of relative stasis. The governance and takeover defense profiles of U.S. public companies have been transformed by the widespread adoption of virtually all of the “best practices” advocated to enhance the rights of shareholders and weaken takeover defenses.
While the future issues of corporate … Read more
As we approach the start of the 2018 proxy season, developments since January 2015 prompt a brief review of the state of play.
- There has been no slowdown in the U.S.; there has been a significant increase in other countries.
- Perhaps the most cogent description of what can be expected is contained in a must-read Bloomberg article, “The World’s Most Feared Investor”. “Aggressive, tenacious and litigious to a fault, Paul Singer may be the most feared activist investor in the world—by hedge fund rivals, companies and even countries. Singer’s Elliott Management Corp., which manages $34 billion of
… Read more
Professor Lucian Bebchuk has engaged in two rounds of law-review-article duels with Professor Martijn Cremers and Professor Simone Sepe over classified boards. The weapons were statistics (and common sense). Cremers and Sepe wore the classified-board-stakeholder colors; Bebchuk, the agency-model-shareholder-democracy colors. Cremers’ and Sepe’s riposte was decisive.
The field for these duels was chosen by Bebchuk in 2011 when he chartered the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (the “Harvard Project”). Bebchuk described the Harvard Project as an academic program designed to “contribute to education, discourse, and research related to efforts by institutional investors to improve corporate governance arrangements at publicly … Read more
This past year witnessed a number of new corporate governance initiatives. Among the most significant:
… Read more
A January 2016 study, Short-Term Investors, Long-Term Investments, and Firm Value, by Martijn Cremers, Ankur Pareek and Zacharias Sautner, provides substantial “empirical” evidence for the fact that, in the current corporate governance environment, short-term investors possess the undue ability to pressure companies into maximizing near-term gains at the expense of long-term growth.
The study finds that after short‐term investors become shareholders of companies, those companies tend to decrease spending on R&D, and tend to experience temporarily increased earnings and stock prices. The results further indicate that when the short-term investors leave, these trends are all reversed, “so that … Read more
Recent econometric studies (“empirical evidence”) definitively rebut the position taken by the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) that classified boards are associated with lower firm value and inferior outcomes for shareholders. After correcting serious statistical and econometrical flaws in the studies put forth to support declassification, these new studies conclude that staggered boards result in long-term value creation:
- A 2014 study, “Staggered Boards and Firm Value, Revisited” found that, when measured across the “time series,” firm value improves after firms stagger, and declines after firms destagger, with the effects stronger at firms seemingly more focused
… Read more
The ISS Report on the DuPont-Trian proxy contest calls attention to a number of important insights into ISS policies and practices and those of many of its institutional investor clients. Concomitantly, these policies illustrate the realities of the sharp increase in activist activity and the steps corporations can, and should, take to deal with the activist phenomena.
ISS and major institutional investors will be responsive to and support well-presented attacks on business strategy and operations by activist hedge funds on generally well managed major corporations, even those with an outstanding CEO and board of directors.
Trian Fund Management and its … Read more
Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2015
The challenges that directors of public companies face in carrying out their duties continue to grow. The end goal remains the same, to oversee the successful, profitable and sustainable operations of their companies. But the pressures that confront directors, from activism and short-termism, to ongoing shifts in governance, to global risks and competition, are many. A few weeks ago we issued an updated list of key issues that boards will be expected to deal with in the coming year (accessible at this link: The Spotlight on Boards). Highlighted below are a few … Read more
The Pershing Square-Valeant hostile bid for Allergan has captured the imagination. Other companies are wondering whether they too will wake up one morning to find a raider-activist tag-team wielding a stealth block of their stock. Serial acquirers are asking whether they should be looking to take advantage of this new maneuver. Speculation and rumor abound of other raider-activist pairings and other targets.
Questions of legality are also being raised. Pershing Square and Valeant are loudly proclaiming that they have very cleverly (and profitably) navigated their way through a series of loopholes to create a new template for hostile acquisitions, one … Read more
In a recent paper, Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson have extended Professor Bebchuk’s extreme and eccentric campaign against director-centric governance into a new realm—that of the Constitution of the United States. They claim that “serious questions” exist about the constitutionality of the poison pill—or, more precisely, “about the validity of the state-law rules that authorize the use of the poison pill.” It is likely, they argue, that these state-law rules violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, and are thus preempted, because they frustrate the purposes of the Williams Act, the 1968 federal statute that governs tender-offer timing … Read more
In the latest instance of proxy advisors establishing a governance standard without offering evidence that it will improve corporate governance or corporate performance, ISS has adopted a new policy position that appears designed to chill board efforts to protect against “golden leash” incentive bonus schemes. These bonus schemes have been used by some activist hedge funds to recruit director candidates to stand for election in support of whatever business strategy the fund seeks to impose on a company.
In its new FAQ, ISS warns that if a board adopts “restrictive director qualification bylaws” designed to prohibit “golden leashes” without submitting … Read more
ISS Proxy Advisory Services recently recommended that shareholders of a small cap bank holding company, Provident Financial Holdings, Inc., withhold their votes from the three director candidates standing for reelection to the company’s staggered board (all of whom serve on its nominating and governance committee) because the board adopted a bylaw designed to discourage special dissident compensation schemes. These special compensation arrangements featured prominently in a number of recent high profile proxy contests and have been roundly criticized by leading commentators. Columbia Law Professor John C. Coffee, Jr. succinctly noted “third-party bonuses create the wrong incentives, fragment the board and … Read more
Harvard Law School Professor Lucian Bebchuk believes that shareholders should be able to control the material decisions of the companies they invest in. Over the years, he has written numerous articles expressing this view, including a 2005 article urging that shareholders should have the power to initiate a shareholder referendum on material corporate business decisions. In addition to his writings and speeches, Prof. Bebchuk has established and directs the Shareholder Rights Project at Harvard Law School for the purpose of managing efforts to dismantle classified boards and do away with other charter or bylaw provisions that restrain or moderate shareholder … Read more