Tag: Glass Lewis


Special Meeting 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. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Shareholders petitioning the board for the special meeting right propose either to create the right or, in circumstances where the right already exists, to lower the minimum share ownership threshold required to exercise the right. As of June 30, 2015, 339 companies in the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 already provided their shareholders with the right to call a special meeting outside of the usual annual meeting. During the 2015 proxy season, 20 special meeting shareholder proposals went to a vote at Russell 3000 companies. Of these, six proposed to create the right, and 14 proposed to lower the ownership threshold with respect to an existing right. Only four special meeting shareholder proposals received majority support: three created the right for the first time and one lowered the threshold for an existing right to 25%. Overall, shareholder proposals relating to special meetings received average shareholder support of 43.6% this proxy season.
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Proxy Access 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. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

This year was a break-through year for shareholder proposals seeking to implement proxy access, a mechanism allowing shareholders to nominate directors and have those nominees listed in the company’s proxy statement and on the company’s proxy card. It is estimated that over 100 proxy access proposals were submitted to public companies during the 2015 proxy season, 75 of which were submitted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on behalf of the New York City pension funds he oversees. Stringer’s “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project” affected companies in diverse industries and with a range of market capitalizations, but explicitly targeted companies with purportedly weak track records on board diversity, climate change or say-on-pay. The Comptroller’s proposals, which were precatory and identical regardless of the company’s market capitalization, generally called for the right of shareholders owning three percent of the company’s outstanding shares for at least three years to nominate up to 25% of the board in the company’s proxy materials.
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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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Is Proxy Access Inevitable?

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, John P. Kelsh, Thomas J. Kim, Rebecca Grapsas, and Claire H. Holland. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access include Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Efforts by shareholders to directly influence corporate decision-making are intensifying, as demonstrated by the significant increase over the past three years in financially focused shareholder activism and the more recent efforts by large institutional investors to encourage directors to “engage” with shareholders more directly.

Through the collective efforts of large institutional investors, including public and private pension funds, shareholders at a significant number of companies are likely within the next several years to gain the power to nominate a portion of the board without undertaking the expense of a proxy solicitation. By obtaining proxy access (the ability to include shareholder nominees in the company’s own proxy materials) activists and other shareholders will have an additional weapon in their arsenal to influence board decisions.
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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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Proxy Advisors Clarify Proxy Access and Bylaw Amendments Voting Policies

The following post comes to us from Ariel J. Deckelbaum, partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

On the heels of SEC Chair White’s direction to the Division of Corporation Finance to review its position on proxy proposal conflicts under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have issued clarifying policies on proxy access, entering the fray of what is becoming the hottest debate this proxy season. The publication of ISS’s updated policy in particular means that market forces may have outpaced the SEC’s review process. In order to avoid risking a withhold or no-vote recommendation from ISS against their directors, many companies will be faced with the choice of (i) including any shareholder-submitted proxy access proposal in their proxy materials (either alone or alongside a management proposal) (ii) excluding the shareholder submitted proposal on the basis of a court ruling or no-action relief from the Division of Corporation Finance on a basis other than Rule 14a-8(i)(9) (conflict with management proposal) or (iii) obtaining withdrawal of the proposal by the shareholder proponent.

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Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating 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 complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The rise of shareholder activism in the realm of corporate governance has increasingly focused on board performance and the right of shareholders to replace those directors who are perceived to underperform. One proposed approach to facilitate the replacement of underperforming directors is to give shareholders direct access to the company’s proxy materials, including permitting the inclusion of a shareholder-proposed director nominee (or slate of nominees) and a statement in support thereof in the company’s proxy statement (which such approach is more commonly referred to as “proxy access”). Although current U.S. securities regulations do not grant shareholders access to company proxy materials, proxy access may be available to shareholders by way of a company’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or corporate governance guidelines), as permitted by state corporate law.

While proxy access did not garner significant attention over the past two proxy seasons, it is one of the most notable early developments of the 2015 proxy season. It has been reported that shareholders have submitted an estimated 100 proxy access proposals to U.S. companies, a considerable number of which will be voted upon by shareholders over the next several months. Proxy access will very likely be one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this proxy season.

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ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have both released updates to their respective proxy voting guidelines. [1] ISS’s revised policies will take effect for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015. Glass Lewis’s new policies will take effect for meetings occurring after January 1, 2015, while its clarifications of existing policies are effective immediately.

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ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko T. Lin and Ning Chiu.

ISS and Glass Lewis, two influential proxy advisory firms, have both released updates to their policies that govern recommendations for how shareholders should cast their votes on significant ballot items for the 2015 proxy season, including governance, compensation and environmental and social matters.

ISS policy updates are effective for annual meetings after February 1, 2015. We understand that the new Glass Lewis policies are effective for annual meetings after January 1, 2015, but clarifications to existing policies are effective immediately.

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Important Proxy Advisor Developments

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.

As 2014 winds down and 2015 approaches, proxy advisory firms—and the investment managers who hire them—are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. Staff guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of June and a working paper published in August by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher both indicate that oversight of proxy advisory services will be a significant focus for the SEC during next year’s proxy season. Under the rubric of corporate governance, annual proxy solicitations have become referenda on an ever-widening assortment of corporate, social, and political issues, and, as a result, the influence and power of proxy advisors—and their relative lack of accountability—have become increasingly problematic. The SEC’s recent actions and statements suggest that the tide may be turning. Proxy advisory firms appear to be entering a new era of increasing accountability and potentially decreasing influence, possibly with further, more significant, SEC action to come.

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    Lucian Bebchuk
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