Tag: ISS

Does Majority Voting Improve Board Accountability?

Edward B. Rock is the Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law at University of Pennsylvania Law School. This post is based on a paper, Does Majority Voting Improve Board Accountability?, authored by Professor Rock, Stephen J. Choi, Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law, Jill E. Fisch, Perry Golkin Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Marcel Kahan, George T. Lowy Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.

Directors have traditionally been elected by a plurality of the votes cast (the Plurality Voting Rule or PVR). This means that the candidates who receive the most votes are elected, even if a candidate does not receive a majority of the votes cast. Indeed, in uncontested elections, a candidate who receives even a single vote is elected. Proponents of “shareholder democracy” have advocated a shift to a Majority Voting Rule (MVR), under which a candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast to be elected. This, proponents say, will make directors more accountable to shareholders.


ISS 2016 Voting Policies

Andrew R. Brownstein is partner and co-chair of the Corporate practice group, and David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activism, and crisis management at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Brownstein, Mr. Katz, David M. Silk, Trevor S. NorwitzSabastian V. Niles, and S. Iliana Ongun.

[November 20, 2015], ISS announced its final U.S. voting policies for the 2016 proxy season. ISS had previously released draft proposals on several of the topics in October. Changes to non-U.S. policies were also announced, including with respect to Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong & Singapore, India, Japan, the Middle East & Africa and the U.K. & Ireland. ISS also released an updated equity plan scorecard “FAQ,” which contains a new model index for large companies that are newly public or emerging from bankruptcy, as well as other minor adjustments to scorecard factors.


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:


Recap of the 2015 Proxy Season

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 presentation by Mr. Kess, Yafit Cohn, Arthur B. Crozier and Lissa Perlman. The complete presentation is available here.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP recently released a PowerPoint deck, titled “Recap of the 2015 Proxy Season: What Happened, Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead to 2016.”  The deck (available here) provides an overview of the 2015 proxy season, as well as in-depth analysis regarding key developments, proposals and trends from the proxy season.


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.


ISS Global Policy Survey 2015-2016

Stuart H. Gelfond is a partner in the Corporate Department at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Gelfond, Amy L. Blackman, Donald P. Carleen, and Jared Heady.

Recently, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) released the results of its global policy survey for 2015-2016 (the “Survey”). [1] The Survey reflects the results of 421 responses from a combination of institutional investors, corporate issuers, asset managers, pension funds, mutual funds, endowments and others. Each year, ISS typically considers the results of its annual global policy surveys when formulating proposed amendments to its Proxy Voting Guidelines. Below, we discuss some of the highlights of the Survey which may be a prelude to changes to be made by ISS to its Proxy Voting Guidelines in its next update.


Observations on Short-Termism and Long-Termism

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. This post responds to a post by Robert C. Pozen, titled Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism. 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), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The debate about whether U.S. public companies are afflicted by short-termism rather than more beneficial longer-term behavior and, if so, its effect on our economy is ubiquitous. It occupies increasing attention in corporate board rooms, executive suites and investment management businesses from the smallest to the largest. The debate is a commonplace topic in the legal and academic worlds as well as the financial press, and it is rapidly spreading to more general news outlets and the political scene—to the point where at least one Presidential candidate has made the debate a focal point of her tax reform platform.

A complicating factor in the debate is that there is no consensus about what short-term and long-term refer to. Is or should the debate be about:

  • investor behavior (e.g., short-term traders versus long-term holders),
  • investor objectives (e.g., increases in portfolio value in the short-term at the cost of foregoing better long-term fund performance),
  • corporate behavior (e.g., focusing on short-term profitability to meet or better quarterly performance goals to the detriment of greater long-term profitability), or
  • corporate objectives and strategy (e.g., engaging in financial engineering to generate short-term value creation, thereby precluding long-term investment in building the business through research and development, improved plants and production methods or product and market expansion)?

In this post we offer some observations on the debate, as well as its rhetoric and assumptions, in an effort to bring some clarity to the topic, identify the important issues and resolve at least some of them.

Will a New Paradigm for Corporate Governance Bring Peace?

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. 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.

The decades-long conflict that is currently raging over short-termism and activist hedge funds strikes me as analogous to the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th Century, albeit fought with statistics (“empirical evidence”), op-eds and journal articles rather than cannon, pike and sword. I decided, after some thirty-six years in the front line of the army defending corporations and their boards, that pursuing the thought might result in an essay more interesting (and perhaps a bit more amusing) than my usual memos and articles.

In 1618, after two centuries of religious disputation and tenuous co-existence, the ascension of the staunchly partisan Ferdinand II as Holy Roman Emperor sparked a revolt that disrupted the balance of power in Europe and began the Thirty Years’ War. The War quickly involved the major powers of Europe. The conflict resulted in the Peace of Westphalia and the redrawing of the religious and political map of Europe, a new paradigm for the governance of Europe.

In 1985, a century of disputation as to the roles of professional management, boards of directors and shareholders of public companies similarly resulted in the disruption of the balance of power and general prosperity. In the two decades immediately preceding 1985, corporate raiders had perfected the front-end-loaded, two-tier, junk-bond-financed, bust-up tender offer, using tactics such as the “Highly Confident Letter” to launch a takeover without firm financing, “greenmail” (accumulating a block of stock and threatening a takeover bid unless the target company repurchases the block at a premium to the market) and litigation attacking protective state laws. Public companies did not have sufficient time or means to defend against corporate raiders. The battles culminated in two key 1985 decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court that restored the balance of power between boards of directors and opportunistic shareholders. In the Unocal case, the court upheld the power of the board of directors to reject, and take action to defeat, a hostile takeover bid, and in the Household case, it sustained the legality of the poison pill, which I had introduced three years earlier in an effort to level the playing field between corporate raiders and the companies they targeted.


Proxy Access Bylaw Developments and Trends

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Ms. Geldzahler, H. Rodgin Cohen, Robert W. Reeder III, and Marc Trevino. The complete publication, including Annexes, 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).

The significant success of shareholder proxy access proposals this year is likely to result in even more shareholder proposals for proxy access in the 2016 proxy season. As of August 13, 2015, 82 shareholder proxy access proposals have come to a vote in 2015, and 48 have passed. In many cases, shareholder proposals were approved despite a pre-existing bylaw (most often adopted after the receipt of the shareholder proposal) or a conflicting proposal by the company with modestly more restrictive terms. The average vote in favor of all proposals was 54.4%, and ISS recommended for all shareholder proxy access proposals.

This post summarizes developments in the area of proxy access, including an analysis of the record of company responses to shareholder proxy access proposals received during 2015 (with further detail set forth in Annex A of the complete publication). Those companies that receive a proxy access shareholder proposal or that are evaluating preemptive adoption of a proxy access provision will want to consider the appropriate terms and requirements. In all cases, as a matter of preparedness, companies should be aware of options to respond to potential shareholder proxy access proposals. For more information regarding shareholder proposals generally, our 2015 Proxy Season Review (discussed on the Forum here), which we distributed on July 20, details the results of these proposals during the 2015 proxy seasons.


ISS 2016 Proxy Voting Policy

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.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) is seeking feedback on policy questions as part of its process for updating its policies for the 2016 proxy season. Corporate issuers should consider communicating company views on proxy voting issues by participating in the survey, which can be accessed here. [1] Feedback is due by September 4, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. ET. Survey results are scheduled to be released in September and draft policy revisions are scheduled to be released for comment in late September or early October.

Survey topics provide an early indicator of potential areas for policy revision. This year’s questions signal that ISS may refine its position on:

  • Proxy access bylaw features
  • Director overboarding
  • Defensive governance provisions adopted pre-IPO or by a board without shareholder approval
  • Sunset provisions for net operating loss poison pills
  • Equity compensation of non-employee directors
  • Use of adjusted metrics in incentive programs
  • Say-on-pay in relation to disclosure by externally-managed issuers
  • Use of financial metrics and financial ratios to assess capital allocation decisions, share buybacks and board stewardship


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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    David Fox
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    Jack B. Jacobs
    Paula Loop
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Morton Pierce
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward