Category Archives: Practitioner Publications

US Proxy Season Halftime Report—Governance Trends

Frank B. Glassner is the Chief Executive Officer of Veritas Executive Compensation Consultants, LLC (Veritas). This post is based on a Veritas publication.

As we hit the halfway point for the 2015 U.S. proxy season, a number of trends related to governance practices are carrying through from recent years, an analysis of ISS Voting Analytics data shows.

Director Elections

Shareholders have largely endorsed directors standing for election in 2015, with average support levels of upwards of 96 percent, similar to last year. However, as is the case every year, a number of directors have not fared well at the ballot box. Fourteen directors have failed to receive majority support so far this season, compared with 12 board members at this time last year.

The lion’s share (12 of the 14) of year-to-date 2015 failed director votes have been at firms outside the Russell 3000 index. On a sector basis, most of the failed director elections have occurred at firms in the Technology Media and Telecom sector (with seven failed votes) and financial services firms (3 failed votes). Companies in the financial services sector topped last year’s list with the most failed director votes.

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Shareholders Defeat Mandatory Deferral Proposal

John R. Ellerman is a founding Partner of Pay Governance LCC. The following post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Ellerman, Lane T. Ringlee, and Maggie Choi.

Many large U.S. based multinational banking and financial services corporations have implemented executive compensation clawback policies that require the cancellation and forfeiture of unvested deferred cash awards or performance share unit awards. These policies typically condition the cancellation of deferred compensation if it is determined that an executive engaged in misconduct, including failure to supervise or monitor individuals engaging in inappropriate behaviors that caused harm to the organization’s operations. Policies also apply to unvested deferred awards that could be vested and paid based on inaccurate financial statements. Most of the clawback policies have been implemented in response to the Dodd-Frank financial legislation of 2010 that requires public companies to adopt clawback policies to protect shareholder interests. The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to release final guidance with respect to clawbacks later this year.

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Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process

Stephen Erlichman and Catherine McCall are Executive Director and Director of Policy Development, respectively, at Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG). This post is based on a CCGG policy publication, titled Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process: Enhanced Engagement and Proxy Access; the complete publication is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Proxy access is the corporate governance cause célèbre in the 2015 U.S. proxy season. There has been a concerted push on the part of institutional shareholders and others to convince companies to adopt proxy access, most commonly in the form of a trigger of 3% of outstanding voting shares held for 3 years. Shareholders have responded very favourably to the proxy access shareholder proposals put forward by institutions such as the New York City Pension Funds through its Board Accountability Project. A surprising (to many) number of companies [1] have adopted proxy access on the 3%/3 year basis, including some of the largest, best known and established of U.S. companies, some voluntarily and without a majority approved shareholder proposal on the matter. In Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG), an organization which represents institutional shareholders that collectively own or manage approximately Cdn $3 trillion of assets and which has a mandate to promote good corporate governance at Canadian public companies, has just released its own proxy access policy. The policy, entitled Shareholder Involvement in the Director Nomination Process: Enhanced Engagement and Proxy Access (available here), has been developing for over a year following widespread input and consultation among CCGG’s members and other market participants.

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Related Party Transactions—Lessons from the El Paso MLP Decision

Christopher E. Austin is a partner focusing on public and private merger and acquisition transactions at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum by Mr. Austin. 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 his recent decision in In Re: El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation [1], Vice Chancellor Laster awarded $171 million in damages to the limited partners of a master limited partnership (“MLP”) that had challenged the MLP’s acquisition of assets from a related party. The transaction at issue—a so-called “dropdown” of assets—involved the sale to the MLP by its controller and general partner (El Paso Corporation) of certain LNG-related assets in exchange for approximately $1.41 billion in cash.

One of the important stated benefits of using MLP structures is the ability to “contract away” from normal Delaware fiduciary duty principles and instead provide that related-party transactions will be evaluated under standards specified in the partnership agreement for the MLP. The relevant standard for the El Paso MLP was on its face quite challenging for the plaintiffs. In particular, the partnership agreement simply

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Lazard v. Qinetiq: Important Lessons for Structuring Earn-Outs

David W. Healy and Douglas N. Cogen are partners and co-chairs of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group at Fenwick & West LLP. The following post is based on a Fenwick publication by Mr. Healy and Mr. Cogen. 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.

A recent Delaware Supreme Court case authored by Chief Justice Strine upholds the literal meaning of an earn-out provision that limited the buyer from taking action “intended to reduce or limit an earn-out payment.” The court rejected the argument that buyer’s actions, which it likely knew would reduce the likelihood of an earn-out payment, met the intent-based standard the parties had agreed on in lieu of various affirmative post-closing covenants that had been rejected by the buyer. The court also rejected the seller’s argument that it could rely on the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to impose an objective standard and thereby avoid the burden to prove that the buyer intentionally violated such provision. The case has implications for buyers’ and seller’s negotiating strategies around post-closing operations covenants related to earn-outs and as to the impact of such covenants on the interpretation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The case is Lazard Technology Partners, LLC, v. Qinetiq North America Operations LLC, April 23, 2015, Strine, L., 2015 WL 1880153, and it can be found at http://business.cch.com/srd/LazardTechnology-v-Qinetiq.pdf.

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Fed Supervision: DC in the Driver’s Seat

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Mike Alix, Kevin Clarke, Adam Gilbert, and Armen Meyer.

On April 17th, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“Fed”) issued a better-late-than-never Supervisory Letter, SR 15-7, describing its governance structure for supervising systemically important financial institutions under its so-called Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee (“LISCC”). [1] Though much of the structure has been in place for years, the Fed had not publicly explained in detail its supervisory process, leading some in Congress and elsewhere to criticize its secrecy.

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Guiding Principles of Good Governance

Stan Magidson is President and CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors and Chair of the Global Network of Directors Institutes (GNDI). This post is based on a recent GNDI perspectives paper, available here.

The Global Network of Director Institutes (GNDI), the international network of director institutes, has issued a new perspectives paper to guide boards in looking at governance beyond legislative mandates.

The Guiding Principles of Good Governance were developed by GNDI as part of its commitment to provide leadership on governance issues for directors of all organisations to achieve a positive impact.

Aimed at providing a framework of rules and recommendations, the 13 principles laid out in the guideline cover a broad range of governance-related topics including disclosure of practices, independent leadership and relationship with management, among others.

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Dealing with Director Compensation

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the views of the partners of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz or the firm as a whole. 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.

Due to a recent Delaware Chancery Court ruling, the topic of director compensation currently is facing an uncharacteristic turn in the spotlight. Though it receives relatively little attention compared to its higher-profile cousin—executive compensation—director compensation can be a difficult issue for boards if not handled thoughtfully. Determining the appropriate form and amount of compensation for non-employee directors is no simple task, and board decisions in this area are subject to careful scrutiny by shareholders and courts.

The core principle of good governance in director compensation remains unchanged: Corporate directors should be paid fair and reasonable compensation, in a mix of cash and equity (as appropriate), to a level that will attract high-quality candidates to the board, but not in such forms or amounts as to impair director independence or raise questions of self-dealing. Further, director compensation should be reviewed annually, and all significant decisions regarding director compensation should be considered and approved by the full board.

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Delaware Court: Compensation Awards to Directors Subject to Entire Fairness

Robert B. Schumer is partner, chair of the Corporate Department, and co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss Client Memorandum. 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 Calma v. Templeton, the plaintiff alleged that a board of directors breached their fiduciary duties in awarding themselves restricted stock units (RSUs) pursuant to a stockholder-approved equity incentive compensation plan. The Court of Chancery held on a motion to dismiss that (i) the directors were interested in the award of the RSUs, and (ii) although the stockholders had approved the plan under which the RSUs were awarded, stockholder approval of the plan could not act as ratification because the plan did not include enough specificity as to the amount or form of compensation to be issued. The court, therefore, held that the awards were to be reviewed under the non-deferential entire fairness standard, rather than under the business judgment rule, and declined to dismiss the plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim.

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Human Rights Through A Corporate Governance Lens

George Dallas is Policy Director at International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN). The following post is based on an ICGN publication by Mr. Dallas and Lauren Compere, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management; the complete publication, including annexes, is available here.

Human rights [1] are attracting increasing attention from a corporate governance perspective as a dimension of both business ethics and enterprise risk management for companies. Indeed, the ethical and risk dimensions are in many ways intertwined, insofar as ethical lapses or inattention to human rights practices by companies may not only breach the human rights of those affected by corporate behaviour, but may also have material commercial consequences for the company itself. In extreme cases human rights problems can pose a franchise risk to companies [2]; in lesser cases these can increase costs and damage valuable relationships with stakeholders.

In a broad governance context human rights cannot be simply framed as a reputational or “non-financial” risk; the consequences of poor human rights practices can materially impact a company’s stakeholder relations, financial performance and prospects for sustainable value creation. Accordingly, human rights is an issue warranting greater attention from long-term investors as a matter of investment analysis, valuation and engagement with companies.

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