Boardroom Perspectives: Oversight of Material Litigation in Four Practical Steps

Jeff G. Hammel is a partner and member of the Litigation Department at Latham & Watkins LLP. This post is based on a Latham publication by Mr. Hammel, Steven B. Stokdyk, Joel H. Trotter, and Jenna B. Cooper.

Public companies in the United States are subject to litigation in various areas, including: shareholder litigation; government investigations and enforcement actions; environmental litigation and intellectual property disputes. While certain litigation may be frivolous or merely routine, other claims may be costly and potentially damaging to the company’s bottom line, reputation, or both. It is important that boards be equipped to manage and mitigate risks associated with litigation deemed material to the company. The following tips are designed to give boards a framework from which to approach litigation oversight.

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What the Allergan/Valeant Story Teaches About Staggered Boards 

Arnold Pinkston is former General Counsel at Allergan, Inc. and Beckman Coulter, Inc. This post comments on the work of institutional investors working with the Shareholder Rights Project, (discussed on the Forum here, here, and here) which successfully advocated for board declassification in about 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.

Until March 2015, I was the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Allergan, Inc. For much of 2014 my job was to address the hostile bid launched by Valeant and Pershing Square to acquire Allergan.

With that perspective, I followed with interest the debate surrounding staggered boards, and in particular the success of institutional investors working with the Shareholder Rights Project in bringing about board declassification in over 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies. From my perspective, the debate did not seem to fully reflect the complexity of the relationship between a company and its shareholders—i) that each company and each set of shareholders is unique; ii) that destaggering a board can affect the value of companies positively, negatively or hardly at all; and iii) that shareholders, each from their own unique perspective, will be searching for factors that will determine whether annual elections are in their own best interests—not the company’s. For that reason, I respectfully offer my thoughts regarding the campaign to destagger boards.

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The Changing Dynamics of Governance and Engagement

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, 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.

As anticipated, the 2015 proxy season has been the “Season of Shareholder Engagement” for U.S. public companies. Activist attacks, high-profile battles for board seats, and shifting alliances of major investors and proxy advisors have created an environment in which shareholder engagement is near the top of every well-advised board’s to-do list. There is no shortage of advice as to how, when, and why directors should pursue this agenda item, and there is no doubt that they are highly motivated to do so. Director engagement is a powerful tool if used judiciously by companies in service of their strategic goals. As companies and their advisors study the lessons of the recent proxy season and look ahead, it is worth examining recent shifts in corporate governance dynamics. With an awareness of the general trends, and by taking specific actions as appropriate, boards can prepare and adapt effectively to position themselves as well as possible to achieve their strategic objectives.

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SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.

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Angels and Venture Capitalists: A Match Made in Heaven?

Thomas Hellmann is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Oxford University. This post is based on two recent articles authored by Mr. Hellmann, Veikko Thiel, Assistant Professor of Business Economics at Queen’s University; Paul Schure, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Victoria; and Dan Vo, Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Carrots & Sticks: How VCs Induce Entrepreneurial Teams to Sell Startups, by Jesse Fried and Brian Broughman (discussed on the Forum here) and Delaware Law as Lingua Franca: Evidence from VC-Backed Startups, by Jesse FriedBrian Broughman, and Darian Ibrahim (discussed on the Forum here).

Are angel investors and venture capitalists friends or foes? Are they synergistic partners in the process of funding entrepreneurial value creation? Or are they distinct funding mechanisms where entrepreneurs have to decide which camp they want to be part of? In a series of two recent papers (Friends or Foes? The Interrelationship between Angel and Venture Capital Markets; and Angels and Venture Capitalists: Substitutes or Complements?), we examine these questions both from a theoretical [1] and an empirical [2] perspective.

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Are Public Companies Required to Disclose Government Investigations?

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg.

For many public companies, the first issue they have to confront after they receive a government subpoena or Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) is whether to disclose publicly that they are under investigation. Curiously, the standards for disclosure of investigations are more muddled than one would expect. As a result, disclosure practices vary—investigations are sometimes disclosed upon receipt of a subpoena or CID, sometimes when the staff advises a company that it has tentatively decided to recommend an enforcement action, sometimes not until the end of the process, and sometimes at other intermediate stages along the way. In many cases, differences in the timing of disclosure may reflect different approaches to disclosure. We discuss below the standards that govern the disclosure decision and practical considerations. We then provide five representative examples of language that companies used when they disclosed investigations at an early stage.

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Employment Protection and Takeovers

Andrey Golubov is Assistant Professor of Finance at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. This post is based on an article by Professor Golubov; Olivier Dessaint, Assistant Professor of Finance at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; and Paolo Volpin, Professor of Finance at Cass Business School, City University London.

Cost reductions in the pursuit of economies of scale and scope are commonly believed to be a major driver—and a key source of synergies—in corporate takeovers. Restructuring the workforce, largely in the form of layoffs, is presumed to be one of the primary channels through which such cost reductions are obtained. However, despite the central role of labor force issues in takeovers, there is no systematic empirical evidence on the importance of workforce restructuring as a driver of the market for corporate control and as a source of merger synergies. This is partly because labor regulations are largely uniform within countries, and any cross-country variation comes with a host of other pertinent differences. Our new paper, entitled Employment Protection and Takeovers, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, fills this void and provides the first systematic evidence on the link between labor regulation and takeovers.

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Delaware Court Relies Exclusively on Merger Price in Appraisal Action

Toby Myerson is a partner in the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and co-head of the firm’s Global Mergers and Acquisitions Group. The following post is based on a Paul Weiss memorandum authored by Matthew W. Abbott, Angelo Bonvino, Justin G. Hamill, and Jeffrey D. Marell. 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 a recent appraisal proceeding, the Delaware Court of Chancery concluded that the company had engaged in a thorough sales process, and therefore found that it was appropriate to determine fair value of the company’s stock by relying exclusively on the merger price less net synergies. The court found that a discounted cash flow (or “DCF”) analysis was an inappropriate method to value the company’s stock in this instance, as the DCF analyses relied upon by the parties were derived from unreliable management projections.

In Longpath Capital, LLC v. Ramtron International Corporation, Cypress Semiconductor Corporation (“Cypress”) issued a bear hug letter to acquire all of the shares of Ramtron International Corporation (“Ramtron”), a semiconductor company, for $2.48 per share. After the Ramtron board rejected this offer as inadequate, Cypress initiated a tender offer for Ramtron’s shares at $2.68 per share (which it later raised to $2.88 per share). During the time that Cypress pursued its tender offer, Ramtron authorized its financial advisor to market the company. The advisor contacted twenty-four potential buyers and Ramtron executed nondisclosure agreements with six of those potential buyers. Ultimately, however, none of the potential buyers made a firm bid for Ramtron. Eventually, Ramtron and Cypress engaged in active negotiations, which resulted in Cypress raising its offer price twice before the parties settled on a final transaction price of $3.10 per share. Approximately two months following the signing of the merger agreement, the merger was approved by a vote of Ramtron’s stockholders. Longpath Capital, LLC (“Longpath”), a Ramtron stockholder, properly demanded appraisal of the fair value of its Ramtron stock under Section 262 of the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware and filed an appraisal action in the Court of Chancery against Ramtron.

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The UK’s Final Bonus Compensation Rule

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Roozbeh Alavi, Mike Alix, Adam Gilbert, and Armen Meyer. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Regulating Bankers’ Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Holger Spamann (discussed on the Forum here); The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman 2000-2008 by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen, and Holger Spamann; and How to Fix Bankers’ Pay by Lucian Bebchuk.

On June 23rd, the UK’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) [1] finalized a joint bonus compensation rule that was proposed last July. While the industry (including subsidiaries and branches of US banks in the UK) had hoped for a more lenient approach, the final rule generally retains the proposal’s stringent requirements, especially with respect to bonus deferral periods and clawbacks. [2]

The rule applies to “senior managers” [3] and other “material risk takers” [4] at UK banks and certain investment firms. As finalized, the rule establishes the toughest regulatory approach to bonus compensation of any major jurisdiction, going beyond the EU-wide CRD IV. [5] Therefore, unless regulators in other major jurisdictions take a similar approach, institutions that are active in the UK are placed at a competitive disadvantage compared to their peers elsewhere.

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“Pay Versus Performance” Rule Proposed by SEC Under Dodd-Frank

Joseph E. Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder which first appeared in the New York Law Journal. Andy Tsang, a senior financial analyst with the firm, assisted in the preparation of this column. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

 

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” —E.O. Wilson [1]

On April 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its proposal to add a new Item 402(v), captioned “Pay versus Performance,” to Regulation S-K. [2] The SEC announced the proposed rule pursuant to Dodd-Frank Section 953(a). [3] Section 953(a) directs the SEC to adopt rules requiring that proxy statements and certain “consent solicitation material” [4] provide “information that shows the relationship between executive compensation actually paid and the financial performance of the issuer, taking into account any change in the value of the shares of stock and dividends of the registrant and any distributions.” This is in addition to information already provided under Item 402 of Regulation S-K.
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