Category Archives: Practitioner Publications

Public Pension Funds’ Shareholder-Proposal Activism

James R. Copland is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. The following post is based on a report from the Proxy Monitor project; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

America’s largest publicly traded companies are facing more shareholder proposals in 2015, driven principally by a “proxy access” campaign led by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees the city’s $160 billion pension funds for public employees. Elected in 2013, Stringer has launched a Boardroom Accountability Project seeking, in part, proxy access, which grants shareholders with a certain percentage of a company’s outstanding shares the right to list a certain number of candidates for the company’s board of directors on the company’s proxy statement. As noted in an earlier finding, Comptroller Stringer’s proxy-access campaign has won substantial shareholder support at most companies where his proposal was introduced.

Although it is too soon to assess the impact of Comptroller Stringer’s push for proxy access, we can evaluate shareholder-proposal activism by state and municipal public employee pension funds in previous years. From 2006 to the present, state and municipal pension funds have sponsored 300 shareholder proposals at Fortune 250 companies. More than two-thirds of these were introduced by the pension funds for the public employees of New York City and State.

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The Role of Chief Compliance Officers Must be Supported

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; 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.

Chief Compliance Officers of Investment Advisers (CCOs) play an important and crucial role in fostering integrity in the securities industry. They are responsible for making sure that their firms comply with the rules that apply to their operations. As part of that effort, CCOs typically work with senior corporate leadership to instill a culture of compliance, nurture an environment where employees understand the value of honesty and integrity, and encourage everyone to take compliance issues seriously. CCOs of investment advisers (as with CCOs of other regulated entities) also work to prevent violations from occurring in the first place and, thus, prevent violations from causing harm to the firm, its investors, and market participants. Given the vital role that CCOs play, they need to be supported. Simply stated, the Commission needs capable and honest CCOs to help protect investors and the integrity of the capital markets.

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Some Lessons from BlackRock, Vanguard and DuPont

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 by Mr. Lipton. 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).

Recent statements by the CEOs of BlackRock and Vanguard rejecting activism and supporting investment for long-term value creation and their support of DuPont in its proxy fight with Trian, prompt the thought that activism is moving in-house at these and other major investors and a new paradigm for corporate governance and portfolio oversight is emerging.

An instructive statement by the investors is that they view a company’s directors as their agents; that they want to know the directors and have access to the directors; that they want their opinions heard; and that their relations with the company and their support for its management and board will depend on appropriate discussion of, and response to, their opinions.

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Amendments to the DGCL

Gregory P. Williams is chair of the Corporate Department at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, 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.

Senate Bill 75, which contains several important amendments to the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware (the “DGCL”), was signed by Delaware Governor Jack Markell on June 24, 2015. As described in this post, the 2015 legislation includes, among other things:

  • Prohibition on Fee Shifting. The legislation amends Sections 102 and 109 to prohibit “fee shifting” provisions in certificates of incorporation and bylaws of stock corporations.
  • Authorization of Delaware Forum Selection Clauses. The legislation adds new Section 115 to validate provisions in certificates of incorporation and bylaws that select the Delaware courts as the exclusive forum for “internal corporate claims.”
  • Flexibility in Stock and Option Issuances. The legislation amends Section 152 to provide greater flexibility in stock issuances, and makes corresponding amendments to Section 157 in respect of the authorization of rights and options to purchase stock.
  • Ratification of Defective Corporate Acts and Stock. The legislation amends Sections 204 and 205 to clarify and streamline the procedures for ratifying defective corporate acts and stock.
  • Public Benefit Corporations. The legislation amends Section 363 to loosen the restrictions on (x) an existing corporation becoming a “public benefit corporation” and (y) a public benefit corporation ceasing to be a public benefit corporation. It also adds a “market out” exception to the appraisal rights provided in Section 363(b) in connection with a corporation becoming a public benefit corporation.

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Delaware Court: Seating Board Designee Subject to Reasonable Conditions Not a Breach

Steven Epstein is a partner and Co-Head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Epstein, Robert C. Schwenkel, John E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. 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.

In Partners Healthcare Solutions Holdings, L.P. v. Universal American Corp. (June 17, 2015), the Delaware Chancery Court granted summary judgment to defendant Universal American Corp. (“UAM”), rejecting the contentions of one of UAM’s largest stockholders, Partners Healthcare Solutions Holdings (“Partners”), that UAM had breached a board seat agreement by imposing conditions on the seating of Partners’ designee to the UAM board that were not provided for in the agreement. Partners, a subsidiary of a private equity firm, acquired its stake in UAM through, and the board seat agreement had been entered into in connection with, UAM’s acquisition of a subsidiary of Partners (the “Portfolio Company”). The dispute relating to the seating of Partners’ board designee arose at the same time that UAM and Partners were involved in a separate fraud litigation arising from the Portfolio Company’s performance after the merger.

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DOJ Provides “Best Practices” for Corporate Internal Investigations

Eugene Illovsky is a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP. This post is based on a Morrison & Foerster publication by Mr. Illovsky.

What does the Department of Justice think is a high-quality internal investigation? How does DOJ decide whether an investigation was good enough to help a company avoid, or at least mitigate, criminal charges? In recent speeches, DOJ has provided important guidance on its view of best practices, and some useful common-sense reminders, for our clients’ counsel and their investigating board committees. Much of that guidance came in May 19, 2015 remarks by Criminal Division head Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, as well as in other recent speeches.

AAG Caldwell made clear that DOJ does indeed take the time to scrutinize and “evaluate the quality of a company’s internal investigation.” She explained that the Department does this evaluation “through our own investigation” as well as “in considering what charges to bring against a company.”

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A Threefold Cord—Working Together to Meet the Pervasive Challenge of Cyber-Crime

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent address at SINET Innovation Summit 2015; 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.

Cybersecurity is an issue of profound importance in today’s technology-driven world. What was once a problem only for IT professionals is now a fact of life for all of us. I say “us” because, as you may know, hackers breached a government database a few weeks ago and stole the personal information of roughly four million government employees, which may well include me.

There’s hardly a day that goes by that we don’t hear of some new cyberattack. These incidents are clear illustrations of how the internet has become an integral part of our professional and personal lives. And while the benefits have been enormous, so, too, have the risks.

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Building Meaningful Communication and Engagement with Shareholders

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at the national conference of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am honored to be with you here in Chicago at the Society’s 69th National Conference. Over the years, the Society has consistently provided thoughtful comments to the Division of Corporation Finance and the Commission on a wide variety of issues and proposed rules. You understand the complexities that can affect multiple parties and recognize the importance of the interests of shareholders. All of you play a critical role in corporate governance. It is the decisions you make, the practical solutions you advance and the views you share with your boards that can, in large part, dictate the relationship between shareholders and companies.

Because of your central roles in your companies, many of the Commission’s initiatives are of interest to you: our disclosure effectiveness review; the audit committee disclosures concept release the staff is working on; and any number of our rulemakings. My hope is that you will see near-term activity in these and other areas, including rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, such as the clawbacks rule as required by Section 954, the pay ratio rule under Section 953(b) and the joint rulemaking on incentive compensation as required by Section 956. So stay tuned for those developments.

But today my focus is on a selection of proxy-related issues, another area of particular interest to you. And my overall theme complements the theme of your conference, “Connect, Communicate, Collaborate.” Be proactive in building meaningful communication and engagement with your shareholders.

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Corporate Litigation: Disinterested Directors and “Entire Fairness” Cases

Joseph M. McLaughlin is a Partner in the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. The post is based on a Simpson Thacher client memorandum by Mr. McLaughlin, 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.

Under Delaware law, where a controlling shareholder stands on both sides of a corporate transaction that is challenged by minority stakeholders, the controller presumptively bears the burden of proving the entire fairness of the transaction, i.e. “both fair dealing and fair price.” Conversely, disinterested directors—those with no financial stake in the transaction—may be liable for breach of fiduciary duty only where they have breached a non-exculpated duty in connection with the negotiation or approval of the transaction.

Delaware General Corporation Law §102(b)(7) authorizes corporations to include a provision in the certificate of incorporation exculpating their directors from money damages claims based on breach of the duty of care, but not the duty of loyalty. Delaware courts have long held that a §102(b)(7) charter provision “entitles directors to dismissal of any claims for money damages against them that are based solely on alleged breaches of the board’s duty of care.” [1] The overwhelming majority of Delaware corporations have adopted exculpatory provisions.

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Getting to Know You: The Case for Significant Shareholder Engagement

F. William McNabb III is Chairman and CEO of Vanguard. This post is based on Mr. McNabb’s recent keynote address at Lazard’s 2015 Director Event, “Shareholder Expectations: The New Paradigm for Directors.”

I’ll begin my remarks with a premise. It’s a simple belief that I have. And that is: Corporate governance should not be a mystery. For corporate boards, the way large investors vote their shares should not be a mystery. And for investors, the way corporate boards govern their companies should not be a mystery. I believe we’re moving in a direction where there is less mystery on both sides, but each side still has some work to do in how it tells its respective stories.

So let me start by telling you a little bit about Vanguard’s story and our perspective. I’ll start with an anecdote that I believe is illustrative of some of the headwinds that we all face in our efforts to improve governance: “We didn’t think you cared.” A couple of years ago, we engaged with a very large firm on the West Coast. We had some specific concerns about a proposal that was coming to a vote, and we told them so.

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