Tag: Board composition


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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Failing to Advance Diversity and Inclusion

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.

Today [June 9, 2015], the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to take meaningful steps to advance diversity and inclusion in the financial services industry, as required by Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Accordingly, I have no choice but to dissent from the Final Interagency Policy Statement Establishing Joint Standards for Assessing the Diversity Policies and Practices of Entities Regulated by the Agencies (the “Final Policy Statement”) that was issued today by the SEC and a number of other financial regulators.

The financial services industry has a long history of failing to promote diversity in its workforce. The industry has consistently failed to recruit and retain a diverse workforce over the years, and the need is particularly acute at the executive and senior management levels. This lack of diversity has persisted despite the mounting evidence that diversity makes the American workforce more creative, more diligent, and more productive—and, thus, makes U.S. companies more profitable.

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The Trend Towards Board Term Limits is Based on Faulty Logic

Robert Pozen is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article by Mr. Pozen and Theresa Hamacher that originally appeared in the Financial Times.

In the business world, experience is generally considered to be positive. When it comes to corporate directors, however, tenure is increasingly viewed with suspicion. Yet the trend towards board term limits is based on faulty logic and threatens performance.

The movement towards director term limits is global. In France, directors are not considered independent if they have served on the company’s board for more than 12 years. In the UK, publicly traded companies must either comply or explain: terminate a director after nine years of service, or explain why long tenure has not compromised director independence.

In the US, the Council of Institutional Investors, which represents many public pension funds, urges its members to consider length of tenure when voting on directors at corporate elections. The council is concerned that directors become too friendly with management if they serve for extended periods.

Institutional Shareholder Services, the proxy voting advisory firm that is a powerful force in corporate governance, penalises companies with long-serving directors by reducing their “quick score” governance rating. Under the current methodology, a company loses points if a substantial proportion of its directors has served for more than nine years. Although ISS recognises that there are divergent views on this, it concluded that “directors who have sat on one board in conjunction with the same management team may reasonably be expected to support that management team’s decisions more willingly”.

But the assumption that lengthy director service means cozy relationships with management simply is not supported by the facts.

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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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2015 Proxy Season Insights: Board Composition

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

Heading into the 2015 proxy season, board composition and renewal are once again in the spotlight for a number of reasons.

  • Investors increasingly seek confirmation that boards have the skill sets and expertise needed to provide strategic counsel and oversee key risks facing the company, including environmental and social risks.
  • The continued lack of turnover on many boards and slow progress on increasing diversity, including by gender and ethnicity, are bringing director tenure and board succession planning under scrutiny.
  • A new widespread push for proxy access could make it easier for shareholders to nominate their own candidates to the board. [1]

These factors make it increasingly important for boards to explain their composition in a compelling way. Meeting this expectation is made all the more challenging by the fact that investors are assessing board composition using different factors.

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Women on US Boards: What Are We Seeing?

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

Despite the value of bringing more women onto corporate boards being increasingly recognized, US companies continue a slow march toward gender diversity. While progress is being made, it is not at the pace needed to compete with public sector approaches being taken in other markets.

This post looks at diversity in US boardrooms at the time of their 2014 annual meetings and, unless otherwise noted, reflects S&P 1500 companies. It is based on the EY Center for Board Matters’ proprietary corporate governance database. It is also part of the Center’s ongoing board diversity series and follows Diversity drives diversity: From the boardroom to the C-suite (2013) and Getting on board: Women join boards at higher rates, though progress comes slowly (2012). For EY’s global perspective, see Women on boards: global approaches to advancing diversity (2014) and Women. Fast forward (2015).

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Beyond Term Limits: Using Performance Management to Guide Board Renewal

The following post comes to us from Stan Magidson, President and CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors and Chair of the Global Network of Directors Institutes. This post is based on portions of an ICD publication titled Beyond Term Limits: Using Performance Management to Guide Board Renewal; the complete survey is available here.

The debate over board renewal is moving into sharper focus in Canada. New public company disclosure requirements demand greater transparency on such things as term limits and other renewal mechanisms, and some large investors are sending the implicit message that companies must renew the board or they will seek to do it instead. The ICD agrees that the composition and renewal of the board are vital processes that demand rigour and analysis and are best undertaken by the board pro-actively.

In the paper Beyond Term Limits: Using Performance Management to Guide Board Renewal we seek to provide a framework for boards to build a renewal process that increases accountability and achieves the right mix of skills and experience to create long-term effectiveness.

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Gender Diversity at Silicon Valley Public Companies 2014

The following post comes to us from David A. Bell and Shulamite Shen White, partner and senior associate in the corporate and securities group at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on portions of a Fenwick publication titled Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley: A Comparison of Large Public Companies and Silicon Valley Companies (2014 Proxy Season); the complete survey is available here.

Fenwick & West has released its annual study about gender diversity on boards and executive management teams of companies in the technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index and very large public companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index. [1] The Fenwick Gender Diversity Survey uses almost twenty years of data to provide a better picture of how women are participating at the most senior levels of public companies in Silicon Valley.

This year’s survey also introduces the Fenwick Gender Diversity Score™, a metric for assessing gender diversity overall within each of the indices. This composite score is based on data at the board and executive management level in the SV 150, top 15 companies of the SV 150 by revenue, and the S&P 100 over the nineteen years surveyed and in a set of categories selected as representative of the overall gender diversity picture.

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Director Tenure: A Solution in Search of a Problem

The following post comes to us from Scott C. Herlihy, partner in the Corporate Department at Latham & Watkins LLP, and is based on an article by Mr. Herlihy, Steven B. Stokdyk, and Joel H. Trotter that originally appeared in NACD’s Directorship magazine.

Director tenure continues to gain attention in corporate governance as term limits become a cause célèbre. Proponents argue directors should no longer qualify as independent after 10 years of service, even though no law, rule or regulation prescribes a maximum term for directors.

We believe director term limits would be misguided and counterproductive. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has increased its focus on the issue. ISS’ governance rating system, QuickScore, views tenure of more than nine years as an “excessive” length that potentially compromises director independence. ISS’ more moderate proxy voting guidelines, while opposing proposals for director term limits and mandatory retirement ages, indicates that ISS will “scrutinize” boards whose average tenure exceeds 15 years.

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Diversity on Corporate Boards: How Much Difference Does “Difference” Make?

The following post comes to us from Deborah L. Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford University, and Amanda K. Packel, the Deputy Director of the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In recent years, increasing attention has focused on the influence of gender and racial diversity on boards of directors. More than a dozen countries now require some form of quotas to increase women’s representation on boards, and many more have voluntary quotas in corporate governance codes. In the United States, support for diversity has grown in principle, but progress has lagged in practice, and controversy has centered on whether and why diversity matters.

In our article, Diversity on Corporate Boards: How Much Difference Does “Difference” Make?, which was recently published in Delaware Journal of Corporate Law, 39, no. 2, Fall 2014, we evaluate the case for diversity on corporate boards of directors in light of competing research findings. An overview of recent studies reveals that the relationship between diversity and financial performance has not been convincingly established. There is, however, some theoretical and empirical basis for believing that when diversity is well managed, it can improve decision-making and enhance a corporation’s public image by conveying commitments to equal opportunity and inclusion. We believe increasing diversity should be a social priority, but not for the reasons often assumed. The “business case for diversity” is less compelling than other reasons rooted in social justice, equal opportunity, and corporate reputation. Our article explores the rationale for diversity and strategies designed to address it.

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