Category Archives: Corporate Elections & Voting

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.

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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

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2016 ISS Policy Survey

Linda Pappas and Maggie Choi are Consultants at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum.

In August 4, 2015, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) released its annual policy survey for the 2016 proxy voting season. The survey encompasses its global proxy voting policies across all potential topic areas. The responses elicited from the survey are used to assist ISS in developing changes to its proxy voting policy guidelines, and will be open for one month (until September 4, 2015). Upon closing of the survey, there will be an open comment period prior to the finalization of the updated ISS proxy voting policies which are targeted for release in November 2015.

The key survey areas specifically related to compensation for 2016 include use of adjusted or non-GAAP metrics in incentive compensation programs and equity compensation vehicles for non-executive directors. This post focuses on these two topic areas, and touches on other noteworthy U.S. and global policy areas.

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Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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Preliminary 2015 Proxy Season Review

Subodh Mishra is Executive Director for Communications and Head of Governance Exchange at Institutional Shareholder Services. This post is based on an ISS white paper by Patrick McGurn, Special Counsel and Head of Strategic Research and Analysis, and Edward Kamonjoh, U.S. Head of Strategic Research and Analysis. The complete publication is available here.

Momentum is the buzzword that best describes the 2015 Proxy Season in the U.S. market. Some issues, such as proxy access, hit the ground running and emerged as ballot box juggernauts. Other topics, such as calls for independent board chairs and heightened scrutiny of human rights, stumbled and lost ground. Some new ideas, such as hybrid climate change risk initiatives aimed at impacting board deliberations on compensation and CAPEX, failed to catch fire. Despite the rising proxy access tide, E&S proposals swamped their governance and compensation cousins in the pre-season family reunion headcount. However, big submission numbers failed to translate into growing support. Just one environmental proposal managed to win majority support in the year’s first six months.

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2015 Activism Update

Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert. The full publication, including tables, is available here. 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.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving publicly traded domestic companies during the first half of 2015. At the midway point of 2015, shareholder activism shows no signs of slowing. In fact, our survey for the first half of 2015 includes nearly as many activist campaigns as did our survey for all of 2014.

Although funds continue to make news with activist campaigns involving large domestic companies, the most notable trend is the sheer number of funds involved in activist campaigns that are captured by our survey: 42 funds in just the first half of 2015 versus 35 funds for all of 2014.

In all, our 2015 Mid-Year Activism Update covers 56 public activist campaigns at 50 unique domestic companies by 42 unique investors during the period from January 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015. Ten of those companies faced advances from at least two activist investors. Market capitalizations of the targets range from just above our study’s $1 billion minimum to approximately $120 billion.

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Proxy Access: Best Practices

This post is based on a report from the Council of Institutional Investors. The complete publication, including charts, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access include 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 Council of Institutional Investors (CII) believes that proxy access is a fundamental right of longterm shareowners. Proxy access—a mechanism that enables shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy card—gives shareowners a meaningful voice in board elections.

CII’s members-approved policy on proxy access states, in part:

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CII on Proxy Access

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Lori Zyskowski, and Ronald O. Mueller.

[On August 5, 2015] the Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”), a nonprofit association of corporate, public and union employee benefit funds and endowments that seeks to promote effective corporate governance practices for U.S. companies and strong shareholder rights and protections, published a report titled “Proxy Access: Best Practices” that describes CII’s views on seven provisions that companies typically address when implementing proxy access. The CII report is available here, and was discussed on the Forum here.

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Special Meeting Proposals

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Shareholders petitioning the board for the special meeting right propose either to create the right or, in circumstances where the right already exists, to lower the minimum share ownership threshold required to exercise the right. As of June 30, 2015, 339 companies in the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 already provided their shareholders with the right to call a special meeting outside of the usual annual meeting. During the 2015 proxy season, 20 special meeting shareholder proposals went to a vote at Russell 3000 companies. Of these, six proposed to create the right, and 14 proposed to lower the ownership threshold with respect to an existing right. Only four special meeting shareholder proposals received majority support: three created the right for the first time and one lowered the threshold for an existing right to 25%. Overall, shareholder proposals relating to special meetings received average shareholder support of 43.6% this proxy season.
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Proxy Access Proposals

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn. The complete publication, including footnotes, 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).

This year was a break-through year for shareholder proposals seeking to implement proxy access, a mechanism allowing shareholders to nominate directors and have those nominees listed in the company’s proxy statement and on the company’s proxy card. It is estimated that over 100 proxy access proposals were submitted to public companies during the 2015 proxy season, 75 of which were submitted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on behalf of the New York City pension funds he oversees. Stringer’s “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project” affected companies in diverse industries and with a range of market capitalizations, but explicitly targeted companies with purportedly weak track records on board diversity, climate change or say-on-pay. The Comptroller’s proposals, which were precatory and identical regardless of the company’s market capitalization, generally called for the right of shareholders owning three percent of the company’s outstanding shares for at least three years to nominate up to 25% of the board in the company’s proxy materials.
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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward