Tag: Classified boards

ISS Proposed 2016 Policy Changes

Howard B. Dicker is a partner in the Public Company Advisory Group of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. This post is based on a Weil publication by Mr. Dicker, Lyuba Goltser, and Megan Pendleton. The complete publication is available here.

Yesterday [October 27, 2015], Institutional Shareholder Services released its key draft proposed proxy voting policy changes for the 2016 proxy season. ISS is seeking comments by 6:00 p.m. EDT on November 9, 2015. ISS expects to release its final 2016 policies on November 18, 2015. [1] The policies as updated will apply to meetings held on or after February 1, 2016.

Proposed Amendments to ISS Proxy Voting Policies for 2016

ISS’s proposed voting policy changes for U.S. companies would:


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.


ISS Preliminary 2016 Voting Policy Updates

Andrew R. Brownstein is partner and co-chair of the Corporate practice group at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Brownstein, David M. SilkDavid A. KatzSabastian V. Niles, and S. Iliana Ongun.

Today [October 26, 2015], ISS announced it is considering changing its U.S. voting policies in three areas heading into the 2016 proxy season: (i) when a sitting CEO or a non-CEO director will be viewed as “overboarded “on account of service on multiple boards, (ii) unilateral board actions that reduce shareholder rights (with a focus on newly classified boards and supermajority voting provisions) and (iii) compensation disclosure at externally managed issuers. Notably, the areas highlighted for change in the U.S. market do not address proxy access, “responsiveness” to majority-supported shareholder proposals or other current topics. ISS is also proposing changes to non-U.S. policies, including with respect to Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong & Singapore, India, Japan, the Middle East & Africa and the U.K. & Ireland.


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.


Why Do Dual-Class Firms Have Staggered Boards?

The following post comes to us from Mira Ganor, professor at the University of Texas School of Law. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about staggered boards includes: How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment (discussed on the Forum here).

The paper, Why Do Dual-Class Firms Have Staggered Boards?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, identifies a relatively high incidence of the combination of two of the strongest anti-takeover mechanisms: a dual-class capital structure with a staggered board. On its face this combination seems superfluous and redundant. If we already have a dual-class capital structure, why do we need a staggered board?

Even more puzzling are the results of the empirical studies of the combined use of staggered boards and dual class capital structures that find a negative correlation between staggered boards and firm value (as measured by Tobin’s Q) similar to the correlation found in firms with single class capital structures. This statistically significant and economically meaningful correlation persists even when controlling for special cases such as founder firms and family firms. Similarly, there are no significant changes in the results when controlling for effective dual class structures, i.e., dual class structures that grant de jure control and not merely the likelihood of de facto control.


Proxy Advisory Firms and Corporate Governance Practices: One Size Does Not Fit All

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier.

The 2014 proxy season, like previous seasons, has provided shareholders of public US companies with an opportunity to vote on a number of corporate governance proposals and director elections. Throughout this proxy season, proxy advisory firms have provided shareholder vote recommendations “for” or “against” those proposals and “for” or to “withhold” votes for directors. Certain proxy advisory firms, such as Institutional Shareholders Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., LLC (“Glass Lewis”), have also published updated corporate governance ratings reports on public companies, including evaluations of a company’s corporate governance risk profile.


ISS Recommends Shareholders Withhold Votes for 6 Ashford Trust Directors

The following post comes to us from JJ Fueser, Research Coordinator at UNITE HERE.

UNITE HERE proposals to opt out of Maryland Unsolicited Takeover Act have received resounding support from shareholders of Ashford Hospitality Prime.

Over the past two years, activist shareholder UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers’ union, has been winning corporate governance reforms at lodging REITs, which are nearly all incorporated in Maryland.

Several proposals ask boards to opt out of Maryland statutes which provide a range of anti-takeover tools. The Maryland Unsolicited Takeover Act (MUTA), for example, allows boards to classify at any time without shareholder approval.

UNITE HERE has argued that without opting out of MUTA—and requiring shareholder approval to opt in—a Maryland REIT has not truly declassified its board. The proposals to opt out of Maryland’s anti-takeover statutes have gained traction, with six proposals withdrawn after full or substantial implementation.


Board Refreshment and Director Succession in Investee Companies

The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication, including appendix, is available here.

State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) believes that board refreshment and planning for director succession are key functions of the board. Some markets such as the UK, have adopted best practices on a comply-or-explain basis that aim to limit a director’s tenure to nine years of board service, beyond which, investors may question a director’s independence from management. Such best practices have helped lower average board tenure, and have encouraged boards to focus on refreshment of director skills and plan for director succession in an orderly manner.


75% of 2014 Engagements Have Already Produced Agreements to Declassify

Lucian Bebchuk is the Director of the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), Scott Hirst is the SRP’s Associate Director, and June Rhee is a counsel at the SRP. The SRP, a clinical program operating at Harvard Law School, works on behalf of public pension funds and charitable organizations seeking to improve corporate governance at publicly traded companies, as well as on research and policy projects related to corporate governance. Any views expressed and positions taken by the SRP and its representatives should be attributed solely to the SRP and not to Harvard Law School or Harvard University. The work of the SRP has been discussed in other posts on the Forum available here.

In a news alert released last week, the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), working with SRP-represented investors, announced the high level of company responsiveness to engagements during the 2014 proxy season. In particular, as discussed in more detail below, major results obtained so far include the following:

  • Following active engagement, about three-quarters of the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies that received declassification proposals for 2014 annual meetings from SRP-represented investors have already entered into agreements to move towards board declassification.
  • This outcome reinforces the SRP’s expectation (announced in a blog post available here) that, by the end of 2014, the work of the SRP and SRP-represented investors will have resulted in about 100 board declassifications by S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.


Staggered Boards and Firm Value, Revisited

The following post comes to us from Martijn Cremers, Professor of Finance at the University of Notre Dame; Lubomir P. Litov, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Arizona; and Simone M. Sepe, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about staggered boards 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.

Staggered boards have long played a central role in the debate on the proper relationship between boards of directors and shareholders. Advocates of shareholder empowerment view staggered boards as a quintessential corporate governance failure. Under this view, insulating directors from market discipline diminishes director accountability and encourages self-serving behaviors by incumbents such as shirking, empire building, and private benefits extraction. On the contrary, defendants of staggered boards view staggered boards as an instrument to preserve board stability and strengthen long-term commitments to value creation. This debate notwithstanding, the existing empirical literature to date has strongly supported the claim that board classification seems undesirable, finding that, in the cross-section, staggered boards are associated with lower firm value and negative abnormal returns at economically and statistically significant levels.


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