Does Your Executive Pay Plan Create “Drive, Discipline and Speed”?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira KayJohn D. England, and Jeffrey W. Joyce.

At a recent Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) conference, two private equity firms’ operating partners observed that executive compensation programs in each and every company in which they invested had to be completely overhauled. “Of course,” quipped one CHRO, “all you need to do is grant large, upfront stock options as a one-time long-term incentive, and you don’t worry about pay after that.” After the chuckling subsided, the operating partners politely demurred. One replied “Actually, we worry every day about whether our portfolio company pay programs create drive, discipline, and speed, for without these three motivations, our investments won’t create value for our investors. The other added, “You need to worry more about these motivations, too.”

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Delaware Court Faults Committee Process & Advisory Work in Finding Lack of Good Faith

William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savitt, Jonathan M. Moses, and Ryan A. McLeod. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On April 20, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery entered a $171 million post-trial judgment after finding a master limited partnership overpaid for assets from its parent. In re El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P. Derivative Litig., C.A. No. 7141-VCL (Del. Ch. Apr. 20, 2015).

The case concerned a 2010 “dropdown” transaction in which El Paso Pipeline Partners L.P. purchased assets from its controlling parent entity, El Paso Corporation. The limited partnership agreement governing the MLP permitted such transactions so long as they were approved by a conflicts committee whose members believed in good faith that the transaction was in the best interests of the MLP. After the parent proposed a dropdown transaction, the MLP’s committee retained legal and financial advisors and negotiated revised terms. Although the committee members initially expressed reservations about aspects of the proposed transaction in light of an earlier dropdown deal, each testified that he ultimately concluded that the transaction was in the best interests of the MLP, stressing that it was immediately accretive to the holders of the MLP’s common units. After receiving a fairness opinion from its financial advisor, the committee approved the transaction and litigation ensued.

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New Statistics and Cases of CEO Succession in the S&P 500

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director at The Conference Board, Inc. This post relates to CEO Succession Practices: 2015 Edition, a Conference Board report supported by a research grant from Heidrick & Struggles and authored by Dr. Tonello, Jason D. Schloetzer of Georgetown University, and Melissa Aguilar of The Conference Board. For details regarding how to obtain a copy of the report, contact matteo.tonello@conference-board.org.

CEO Succession Practices, which The Conference Board updates annually, documents CEO turnover events at S&P 500 companies. The 2015 edition contains a historical comparison of 2014 CEO successions with information dating back to 2000. In addition to analyzing the correlation between CEO succession and company performance, the report discusses age, tenure, and the professional qualifications of incoming and departing CEOs. It also describes succession planning practices (including the adoption rate of mandatory CEO retirement policies and the frequency of performance evaluations) and disclosure, based on findings from a survey of general counsel and corporate secretaries at more than 300 U.S. public companies.

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The Prudent Investor Rule and Market Risk

Robert H. Sitkoff is the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

In a new working paper, entitled “The Prudent Investor Rule and Market Risk: An Empirical Analysis,” we examine fiduciary management of market risk. The backdrop for our study is a law reform that was meant to overcome a long tradition in fiduciary investment of equating stock with speculation. By focusing categorically on risk avoidance, traditional law did not account for the difference between idiosyncratic risk and market risk, the relationship between risk and return, or beneficiary risk tolerance. Worse still, courts considered the riskiness of each investment in isolation rather than in light of overall portfolio risk.

Twentieth century advances in economics and finance, however, led to extensive reform to the law of trust investment. The centerpiece of this reform is the prudent investor rule, which reorients fiduciary investment from risk avoidance to risk management in accordance with modern portfolio theory. Because the rule has been adopted in every state, because it applies to the entire field of fiduciary investing, including pension funds and charitable endowments, and because it has been adopted across the British Commonwealth, the rule governs the investment of many trillions of dollars in assets.

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Expanding Oversight: SEC Proposes Amendments to Rule 15b9-1

The following post comes to us from Andre E. Owens, partner in the securities practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication.

On March 25, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) proposed an amendment to Rule 15b9-1 (the “Proposal”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) that, if adopted, would close an historical exception to the general requirement that registered broker-dealers must become members of a registered national securities association (“Association”), effectively, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”). [1] In doing so, the SEC intends to require SEC-registered broker-dealers that are members of one or more securities exchanges to also become members of FINRA, subject to FINRA rules and oversight. According to the SEC, FINRA membership would help accomplish a key regulatory goal: enhancing the oversight of off-exchange and cross-market trading activity. [2]

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Conduct of Business Regulation: A Survey and Comparative Analysis

Andrew Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law.

Although recent regulation and scholarship has focused on the financial stability and solvency of financial institutions, the business conduct of these institutions remains an issue of abiding regulatory concern. In a my chapter “Conduct of Business Regulation,” which is in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation, I provide a survey and comparative analysis of conduct of business (COB) regulation in the US, the EU, and Australia. COB regulation governs financial intermediaries’ conduct toward their clients; that is, toward the actors—whether individuals or institutions—with whom financial intermediaries transact in providing financial products and services. While the expression “conduct of business regulation” is not widely employed in the US, it is commonly used by international financial regulatory bodies and by financial regulators in many jurisdictions, including the Member States of the EU. In the US, COB regulation encompasses the regulation of broker-dealers and investment advisors under state and federal law; in the EU, the regulation of investment firms under MiFID I and the proposed MiFID II/ MiFIR regime; and in Australia, the regulation of financial services licensees and individual advisors under federal law. Generally speaking, these various financial intermediaries are in the business of providing securities-related services, including advice and recommendations.

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Regulators Working Together to Serve Investors

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent remarks at the North American Securities Administrators Association Annual NASAA/SEC 19(d) Conference; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

It is my honor to deliver the opening remarks for today’s [April 14, 2015] North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) and Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) 19(d) Conference. For those who are keeping count, this is my seventh year as the SEC’s liaison to NASAA. It has been a privilege to serve you in this role, which I have done since my early days as a Commissioner. Before I begin my remarks, however, let me issue the standard disclaimer that the views I express today are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SEC, my fellow Commissioners, or members of the staff.

NASAA and the SEC have a long history of working together to provide a robust regulatory environment for businesses to grow and to protect the investors who fuel that growth. Today is a clear example of that partnership, where representatives from the SEC and state regulators come together to share ideas for increasing cooperation and collaboration. This partnership is crucial to achieving our common goal of protecting investors, maintaining market integrity, and facilitating capital formation.

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Market (In)Attention and the Strategic Scheduling and Timing of Earnings Announcements

The following post comes to us from Ed deHaan of the Accounting Area at Stanford University; Terry Shevlin, Professor of Accounting at the University of California, Irvine; and Jake Thornock of the Department of Accounting at the University of Washington.

In our paper, Market (In)Attention and the Strategic Scheduling and Timing of Earnings Announcements, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Economics, we revisit a long-standing but still unresolved question: do managers “hide” bad earnings news by announcing during periods of low market attention? Or, conversely: do managers “highlight” good earnings news by announcing earnings during periods of high market attention? We posit three necessary conditions for an effective hiding/highlighting strategy. First, to be able to hide bad news, managers must change their earnings announcement (“EA”) timing somewhat frequently. A deviation from a long-standing pattern of EA timing could attract attention to the very news the manager is trying to hide. Second, there must be variation in market attention that is predictable to the manager ex-ante—random variation in attention would not allow for strategic timing of bad or good news. Third, we must observe that managers do tend to announce more negative (positive) earnings news during periods of lower (higher) market attention. We also examine an additional potential strategy for reducing attention to bad news: by scheduling EAs with less advance notice or “lead-time.”

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Do Proxy Advisors Say On Pay Voting Policies Improve TSR?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira Kay, Brian Johnson, Brian Lane, and Blaine Martin.

The vast majority—98%—of companies have passed their annual say on pay votes (SOP) over the past four years. Proxy advisor voting recommendations remain highly influential on these votes, and many companies, perhaps hundreds, have changed the structure of their executive pay programs to try to comply with proxy advisor policies and to obtain a “FOR” SOP vote recommendation from proxy advisors. Proxy advisors base voting recommendations on quantitative and qualitative tests that are highly tailored to their own perspective of and guidance on what comprises a successful executive pay model. [1] Are these voting recommendations correlated with long-term shareholder value creation as measured by total shareholder returns (TSR)? While correlation does not prove causation, what possible explanations may explain the correlation observed in our research?

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Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms

The following post comes to us from Henry T. C. Hu, Allan Shivers Chair in the Law of Banking and Finance at the University of Texas School of Law.

Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. My new article, Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency (forthcoming in Business Lawyer, Spring 2015) focuses on two phenomena: “decoupling” (e.g., “empty voting,” “empty crediting,” and “hidden [morphable] ownership”) and the structural transparency challenges posed by financial innovation (and by the primary governmental response to such challenges). In decoupling, much has happened since the 2006-2008 series of sole- and co-authored articles (generally with Bernard Black and one with Jay Westbrook) developed and refined the pertinent analytical framework. In transparency, the analytical framework for “information,” developed and refined in 2012-2014, can contribute not only to the comprehensive new SEC “disclosure effectiveness” initiative but also to resolving complications arising from the creation of a new parallel public disclosure system—the first new system since the creation of the SEC.

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