Category Archives: Boards of Directors

Will a New Paradigm for Corporate Governance Bring Peace?

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here); The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here); The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here); and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

The decades-long conflict that is currently raging over short-termism and activist hedge funds strikes me as analogous to the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th Century, albeit fought with statistics (“empirical evidence”), op-eds and journal articles rather than cannon, pike and sword. I decided, after some thirty-six years in the front line of the army defending corporations and their boards, that pursuing the thought might result in an essay more interesting (and perhaps a bit more amusing) than my usual memos and articles.

In 1618, after two centuries of religious disputation and tenuous co-existence, the ascension of the staunchly partisan Ferdinand II as Holy Roman Emperor sparked a revolt that disrupted the balance of power in Europe and began the Thirty Years’ War. The War quickly involved the major powers of Europe. The conflict resulted in the Peace of Westphalia and the redrawing of the religious and political map of Europe, a new paradigm for the governance of Europe.

In 1985, a century of disputation as to the roles of professional management, boards of directors and shareholders of public companies similarly resulted in the disruption of the balance of power and general prosperity. In the two decades immediately preceding 1985, corporate raiders had perfected the front-end-loaded, two-tier, junk-bond-financed, bust-up tender offer, using tactics such as the “Highly Confident Letter” to launch a takeover without firm financing, “greenmail” (accumulating a block of stock and threatening a takeover bid unless the target company repurchases the block at a premium to the market) and litigation attacking protective state laws. Public companies did not have sufficient time or means to defend against corporate raiders. The battles culminated in two key 1985 decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court that restored the balance of power between boards of directors and opportunistic shareholders. In the Unocal case, the court upheld the power of the board of directors to reject, and take action to defeat, a hostile takeover bid, and in the Household case, it sustained the legality of the poison pill, which I had introduced three years earlier in an effort to level the playing field between corporate raiders and the companies they targeted.


Banker Loyalty in Mergers and Acquisitions

Andrew F. Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Tuch, and 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.

As recent decisions of the Delaware Court of Chancery illustrate, investment banks can face conflicts of interest in their role as advisors on merger and acquisition (“M&A”) transactions. In a trilogy of recent decisions—Del Monte[1] El Paso [2] and Rural Metro [3]—the court signaled its concern, making clear that potentially disloyal investment banking conduct may lead to Revlon breaches by corporate directors and even expose bank advisors (“M&A advisors”) themselves to aiding and abetting liability. But the law is developing incrementally, and uncertainty remains as to the proper obligations of M&A advisors and the directors who retain them. For example, are M&A advisors in this context properly regarded as fiduciaries and thus obliged to act loyally toward their clients; gatekeepers, and thus expected to perform a guardian-like function for investors; or simply arm’s length counterparties with no other-regarding duties? [4] The Chancery Court in Rural Metro potentially muddied the waters by labelling M&A advisors as gatekeepers and—in an underappreciated part of its opinion—by also suggesting they act consistently with “established fiduciary norms.” [5]


The Board’s Prerogative and Mergers

Clare O’Brien and Rory O’Halloran are partners at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication by Ms. O’Brien, Mr. O’Halloran, and Gregory Gewirtz. This article first appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Thomson Reuters’ The M&A Lawyer. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Case Against Board Veto in Corporate Takeovers by Lucian Bebchuk. 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.

Under Delaware law, the board of directors of each company executing a merger agreement is required to adopt a resolution approving the merger agreement and declaring its advisability, [1] although Delaware law also provides that a company may “agree to submit a matter to a vote of its stockholders whether or not the board of directors determines at any time subsequent to approving such matter that such matter is no longer advisable and recommends that the stockholders reject or vote against the matter.” [2] Further, under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, for transactions involving a tender offer or exchange offer, the target is required to file a Tender Offer Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9, disclosing the target board’s position as to whether its stockholders should accept or reject the tender offer or defer making a determination regarding such offer. [3]


Cybersecurity: Enter Insurance Regulators

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Sean Joyce, Chris Joline, Adam Gilbert, Joseph Nocera, and Armen Meyer.

Since issuing its Principles of Effective Cybersecurity last July, [1] the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) has been making progress in the development of cybersecurity examination manuals. NAIC’s regulatory guidance is intended to help state insurance regulators identify cybersecurity risks and communicate a uniform set of control requirements to insurers, insurance producers, and related regulated entities (collectively, “Insurance Companies”).

Given the priority regulators are placing on cybersecurity (including NAIC’s Cybersecurity Task Force) and the continued occurrence of high profile data breaches, we expect that cybersecurity examinations will commence as early as 2016 and will be performed by insurance regulators as part of their standard three-year exam cycle. While NAIC’s examination manuals will act as guidelines for state regulators, actual regulation will vary by state. Thus, Insurance Companies should be tracking state regulatory developments to ensure that their cybersecurity programs are rigorous and all-encompassing.


Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors

Joseph Mc Cahery is Professor in the Department of Business Law at Tilburg University. This post is based on an article authored by Prof. McCahery; Zacharias Sautner of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management; and Laura T. Starks of McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.

We currently have little direct knowledge regarding how institutional investors engage with portfolio companies. The reason is that many interactions occur behind the scenes. That is, unless institutional investors publicly express their approval or disapproval of a firm’s activities or management, little is known about their preferences and private engagements with portfolio firms. In our paper, Behind the Scenes: The Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we try to rectify this knowledge gap by conducting a survey among 143 institutional investors.

Institutional investors have two active choices when they become unhappy with a portfolio firm: (i) they can engage with management to try to institute change (“voice” or direct intervention); or (ii) they can leave the firm by selling shares (“exit” or “voting with their feet”). Theoretical models have documented the governance benefits of corrective actions through voice. These theories have recently been complemented by models showing that the threat of exit can also discipline management (e.g., Admati and Pfleiderer (2009), Edmans (2009), and Edmans and Manso (2011)). This raises the question of whether institutional investors, in response to dissatisfaction with portfolio firms, take actions that support the validity of these theories.


Role of the Board in M&A

Alexandra R. Lajoux is chief knowledge officer at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). This post is based on a NACD publication authored by Ms. Lajoux.

What is the current trend in M&A?

Right now, M&A deal value is at its highest since the global financial crisis began, according to Dealogic. In the first half of 2015, deal value rose to $2.28 trillion—approaching the record-setting first half of 2007, when $2.59 trillion changed hands just before the onset of the financial crisis. Global healthcare deal value reached a record $346.7 billion in early 2015, which includes the highest-ever U.S. health M&A activity. And total global deal value for July 2015 alone was $549.7 billion worldwide, entering record books as the second highest monthly total for value since April 2007. The United States played an important part in this developing story: M&A deal value in the first half of 2015 exceeded the $1 trillion mark for announced U.S. targets, with a total of $1.2 trillion.


Proxy Access Bylaw Developments and Trends

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Ms. Geldzahler, H. Rodgin Cohen, Robert W. Reeder III, and Marc Trevino. The complete publication, including Annexes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

The significant success of shareholder proxy access proposals this year is likely to result in even more shareholder proposals for proxy access in the 2016 proxy season. As of August 13, 2015, 82 shareholder proxy access proposals have come to a vote in 2015, and 48 have passed. In many cases, shareholder proposals were approved despite a pre-existing bylaw (most often adopted after the receipt of the shareholder proposal) or a conflicting proposal by the company with modestly more restrictive terms. The average vote in favor of all proposals was 54.4%, and ISS recommended for all shareholder proxy access proposals.

This post summarizes developments in the area of proxy access, including an analysis of the record of company responses to shareholder proxy access proposals received during 2015 (with further detail set forth in Annex A of the complete publication). Those companies that receive a proxy access shareholder proposal or that are evaluating preemptive adoption of a proxy access provision will want to consider the appropriate terms and requirements. In all cases, as a matter of preparedness, companies should be aware of options to respond to potential shareholder proxy access proposals. For more information regarding shareholder proposals generally, our 2015 Proxy Season Review (discussed on the Forum here), which we distributed on July 20, details the results of these proposals during the 2015 proxy seasons.


Board Retirement and Tenure Policies

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters, available here.

Investors’ increasing focus on board composition includes attention to whether boards are continuing to refresh and recruit new directors in line with the company’s changing strategic goals and risk profile. But the challenges of effective board succession planning can go beyond finding new directors whose skill sets, diversity, character, and availability match the board’s needs—they may also include asking long-standing directors to leave the board when appropriate, while protecting directors’ collegiality and relationships.

Based on what the EY Center for Board Matters is hearing from investors and directors, optimal practices for aiding board renewal include robust performance evaluations (including following through on key takeaways), assessments that map director qualifications against a board skills matrix, and creating a board culture where directors do not expect to serve until retirement. [1] Director retirement and tenure policies are also among the tools available to boards to ease transitions. Such policies can help depersonalize the process of asking directors to leave the board.


ISS 2016 Proxy Voting Policy

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, John P. Kelsh, Thomas J. Kim, Rebecca Grapsas, and Claire H. Holland.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) is seeking feedback on policy questions as part of its process for updating its policies for the 2016 proxy season. Corporate issuers should consider communicating company views on proxy voting issues by participating in the survey, which can be accessed here. [1] Feedback is due by September 4, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. ET. Survey results are scheduled to be released in September and draft policy revisions are scheduled to be released for comment in late September or early October.

Survey topics provide an early indicator of potential areas for policy revision. This year’s questions signal that ISS may refine its position on:

  • Proxy access bylaw features
  • Director overboarding
  • Defensive governance provisions adopted pre-IPO or by a board without shareholder approval
  • Sunset provisions for net operating loss poison pills
  • Equity compensation of non-employee directors
  • Use of adjusted metrics in incentive programs
  • Say-on-pay in relation to disclosure by externally-managed issuers
  • Use of financial metrics and financial ratios to assess capital allocation decisions, share buybacks and board stewardship


Do Takeover Defenses Deter Takeovers?

Jonathan Karpoff is Professor of Finance at the University of Washington. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Karpoff; Robert Schonlau, Assistant Professor of Finance at Brigham Young University; and Eric Wehrly, Finance Instructor at Seattle University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes What Matters in Corporate Governance? by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here), The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and The Case Against Board Veto in Corporate Takeovers by Lucian Bebchuk.

The G-index and E-index are workhorses of empirical corporate finance research. Each counts the number of takeover defenses a firm has and is often used as a summary measure of the firm’s protection from unsolicited takeover bids. But do these indices actually measure takeover deterrence?

This is an important question because a substantial number of empirical findings and their interpretations are based on the assumption that takeover defense indices do indeed measure takeover deterrence. For example, researchers have used the G-index and E-index to examine whether takeover defenses are associated with various firm outcomes including low stock returns, low firm value, acquisition returns, takeover premiums, increased risk taking, internal capital markets, credit risk and pricing, operating performance, the value and use of cash holdings, and corporate innovation. Researchers also have used takeover indices to examine whether takeover defenses serve primarily to entrench managers at shareholders’ expense, or to increase firm value through bargaining or contractual bonding.


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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
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    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
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    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
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