Tag: Board independence


Independent Chair Proposals

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn.

During the 2015 proxy season, 64 independent chair proposals were submitted to Russell 3000 companies, 62 of which reached a shareholder vote. This statistic is generally consistent with the number of proposals brought to a vote in 2014 and 2013, respectively. Issuers that received an independent chair proposal this year, however, may have found it more challenging to assess their chances of defeating the proposal, given that, for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) changed its voting policy with regard to independent chair proposals. ISS previously applied a more objective six-factor test, which gave issuers some measure of predictability and allowed them to conform their governance features to ISS’s guidelines in an attempt to obtain an “against” recommendation. This year, however, ISS replaced this policy with a balancing test that takes a more “holistic” approach, which appears to have resulted in an increase in ISS recommendations in favor of independent chair proposals. Interestingly, ISS’s increasing support of independent chair proposals has not had a material impact on the overall outcome of the voting results: only 3.2% of independent chair proposals passed this year, as compared to 5% and 8% in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

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Responding to Institutional Investor Requests for Access to Independent Directors

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 and Karessa L. Cain.

Recent statements by BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard and other institutional investors clearly articulate their expectation that companies should provide access to independent directors and should adopt a structure for regular investor/director communications. In responding to these requests, there is a range of approaches that companies could adopt which, in each case, should be tailored to the specific circumstances of the company. Indeed, institutional investors have specifically stated that they do not seek any particular method to ensure access to, and relationships with, directors. However, they have made it clear that it will color their attitude toward the company if the company first begins to provide access to directors only after the company has been attacked by an activist.

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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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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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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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Delaware Court Strengthens Protections for Independent Directors

J.D. Weinberg is a partner at Covington & Burling LLP. The following post is based on a Covington publication authored by Mr. Weinberg and Daniel Alterbaum. 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.

The Delaware Supreme Court held last week that a plaintiff seeking monetary damages from an independent, disinterested director protected by an exculpatory charter provision must specifically plead a non-exculpated claim against the director to survive a motion to dismiss. [1] This rule applies regardless of the standard of review applied to the board’s conduct in respect of a challenge to a corporate transaction and includes directors of any special committee negotiating a transaction with a controlling stockholder. As a result, for any corporation whose charter includes a director exculpation clause that mirrors Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law, an independent director can obtain dismissal of any claim seeking only monetary damages that does not specifically allege a breach of the fiduciary duties of loyalty and good faith or the prohibition against self-dealing.

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Governance Issues in Spin-Off Transactions

The following post comes to us from Stephen I. Glover, Partner and Co-Chair of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn M&A Report by Mr. Glover, Elizabeth Ising, Lori Zyskowski, and Alisa Babitz. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Spin-off transactions require a focused, intensive planning effort. The deal team must make decisions about how best to allocate businesses, assets and liabilities between the parent and the subsidiary that will be spun-off. It must address complex tax issues, securities law questions and accounting matters, as well as issues related to capital structure, financing and personnel matters. In addition, it must resolve a long list of governance issues, including questions about the composition of the spin-off company board, the importance of mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest and the desirability of robust takeover defenses.

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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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ISS 2015 Independent Chair Policy FAQs

Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS independent chair voting policy guidelines for 2015.

1. How does the new approach differ from the previous approach?

Under the previous approach, ISS generally recommended for independent chair shareholder proposals unless the company satisfied all the criteria listed in the policy. Under the new approach, any single factor that may have previously resulted in a “For” or “Against” recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively. Thus, a holistic review of all of the factors related to company’s board leadership structure, governance practices, and performance will be conducted under the new approach.

For example, under ISS’ previous approach, if the lead director of the company did not meet each one of the duties listed under the policy, ISS would have recommended For, regardless of the company’s board independence, performance, or otherwise good governance practices.

Under the new approach, in the example listed above, the company’s performance and other governance factors could mitigate concerns about the less-than-robust lead director role. Conversely, a robust lead director role may not mitigate concerns raised by other factors.

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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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