Tag: Board composition

The Pursuit of Gender Parity in the American Boardroom

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s recent Keynote Remarks at the Women’s Forum of New York; the full text, including footnotes, is 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.

The Women’s Forum of New York remains the critical, groundbreaking organization for successful women that it was when it held its first meeting in 1974. That was, by coincidence, the year I graduated from Columbia Law School. As one benchmark of progress, that year’s graduating class was only 17 percent women. Today that number is 45 percent and, in some years, it is higher.

We all have indeed come a long way since 1974. Today, women receive more than half of all bachelors’, masters’ and doctorate degrees, and more than a third of MBAs. Women are approximately half of the total workforce and half of all managers. But there remain areas stubbornly resistant to the progress that objectively should have already occurred. One in the legal profession is the percentage of women who are equity partners at law firms—18 percent. That number has only increased two percent since 2006, and we had achieved 12.9 percent back in 1994. Another resistant area is the financial arena—we now account for 29 percent of senior officials in finance and insurance, and no woman has, for example, ever been CEO of one of the 22 largest U.S. investment banks or financial firms. A third critical area that has been a particular priority for the Women’s Forum of New York is the focus of today’s event: gender diversity in U.S. boardrooms.


2015 Corporate Governance & Executive Compensation Survey

Creighton Condon is Senior Partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on the introduction to a Shearman & Sterling Corporate Governance Survey by Bradley SabelDanielle Carbone, David Connolly, Stephen Giove, Doreen Lilienfeld, and Rory O’Halloran. The complete publication is available here.

We are pleased to share Shearman & Sterling’s 2015 Corporate Governance & Executive Compensation Survey of the 100 largest US public companies. This year’s Survey, the 13th in our series, examines some of the most important governance and executive compensation practices facing boards today and identifies best practices and merging trends. Our analysis will provide you with insights into how companies approach governance issues and will allow you to benchmark your company’s corporate governance practices against the best practices we have identified.


Seven Myths of Boards of Directors

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker and Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment by Alma Cohen and Charles C. Y. Wang.

Corporate governance experts pay considerable attention to issues involving the board of directors. Because of the scope of the board’s role and the vast responsibilities that come with directorship, companies are expected to adhere to common best practices in board structure, composition, and procedures. Our paper, Seven Myths of Boards of Directors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, reviews seven commonly accepted beliefs about boards of directors that are not substantiated by empirical evidence.


The Important Work of Boards of Directors

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 the 12th Annual Boardroom Summit and Peer Exchange. 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.

It’s a great honor to be back again speaking at an event sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange. It has been more than six years since, as a relatively new SEC Commissioner, I had the opportunity to ring the closing bell at the Exchange. Of course, a lot has changed since then.

At the time, the country was in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and our capital markets were in turmoil. Some of our most storied financial institutions had suffered unparalleled economic damage. The money market fund industry was mired in a crisis of confidence, interbank lending had collapsed, and our short-term capital markets had seized up. To stem the bleeding, the federal government engaged in an unprecedented intervention in the financial sector to inject stability and confidence into the capital markets and to the greater economy.

Board Retirement and Tenure Policies

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters, available here.

Investors’ increasing focus on board composition includes attention to whether boards are continuing to refresh and recruit new directors in line with the company’s changing strategic goals and risk profile. But the challenges of effective board succession planning can go beyond finding new directors whose skill sets, diversity, character, and availability match the board’s needs—they may also include asking long-standing directors to leave the board when appropriate, while protecting directors’ collegiality and relationships.

Based on what the EY Center for Board Matters is hearing from investors and directors, optimal practices for aiding board renewal include robust performance evaluations (including following through on key takeaways), assessments that map director qualifications against a board skills matrix, and creating a board culture where directors do not expect to serve until retirement. [1] Director retirement and tenure policies are also among the tools available to boards to ease transitions. Such policies can help depersonalize the process of asking directors to leave the board.


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.


Corporate Governance and Diversity

Aaron A. Dhir is an Associate Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. The post is based on Professor Dhir’s book, Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance, and Diversity (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Earlier this year, Germany joined the ranks of countries such as Norway, France, Italy, Belgium, and Iceland by enacting a quota to increase the number of women in its corporate boardrooms. Starting in 2016, both genders must make-up at least 30 percent of specified German companies’ supervisory boards.

The news from Germany provoked decidedly negative reactions in major media outlets. In the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist, critics questioned the soundness of pursuing positive discrimination in the corporate governance arena. The reality, however, is that we actually know very little about how corporate quotas have worked in practice. Advocates and detractors each suggest that these measures will alter the effectiveness and dynamics of firms in some way—whether for better or worse. But the speculation remains largely uncorroborated and our knowledge is incomplete at best.

Where Women Are On Board: Perspectives from Gender Diverse Boardrooms

Diane Lerner is a Managing Partner and Christine Oberholzer Skizas is a Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum.

Interest in, and momentum toward, greater diversity in the boardrooms of U.S. publicly traded companies is increasing. We believe this is due to a combination of international developments, workplace trends and investor sentiment.

Although all aspects of diversity are meaningful topics, this post is solely focused on gender diversity. Currently, females represent approximately 15% of outside board member seats in the S&P 1500 and about 18% of the S&P 500 seats. This equates to a median of 1-2 female board members in a group of 9-11 board members.

While the overall statistics for U.S. companies are regularly reported, relatively little has been written about those U.S. public company boards that have moved farther down the path of gender diversity. For the purpose of our review, we define “gender diverse” at 30% female directors or more, using a standard typical in countries who have enacted legislation. Assuming more companies will want to reach a 30%+ level of gender diversity over the next decade, we wanted to study companies that have already achieved this level. We wanted to identify any specific similar characteristics that can be found at these companies and to learn more through selected interviews about the paths to a gender diverse board.


Four Takeaways from Proxy Season 2015

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters.

As the 2015 proxy season concludes, some key developments stand out. Most significantly, a widespread investor campaign for proxy access ignited the season, making proxy access the defining governance topic of 2015.

The campaign for proxy access is closely tied to the increasing investor scrutiny of board composition and accountability, and yet—at the same time—the number of votes opposing director nominees is the lowest in recent years.

Also, the number of shareholder proposal submissions remains high, despite the fact that ongoing dialogue between large companies and their shareholders on governance topics is now mainstream. These developments are occurring against a backdrop of increased hedge fund activism, which continues to keep boards on alert.


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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    Lucian Bebchuk
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