Tag: Proxy advisors


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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2015 Proxy Season Review

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel and Marc Trevino is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on the Summary of a Sullivan & Cromwell publication; the complete publication is available here.

Our 2015 Proxy Season Review summarizes significant developments relating to shareholder proposals to date during the 2015 proxy season. Although shareholder activists pursuing strategic or management changes continue to dominate the headlines, they do not choose to wage those campaigns through shareholder proposals made under Rule 14a-8, which are addressed by the complete publication, choosing instead private or public pressure, and often a threatened or actual proxy contest. Nonetheless, the widespread governance changes brought about through successful 14a-8 proposals have played no small part in the continued growth and success of shareholder activism.

During the 2015 proxy season, proxy access has been the most significant development. Far more proposals have been made and support has been substantially stronger. There have been 82 proxy access proposals to date in 2015, as opposed to 17 in all of 2014. In 2015, shareholders have approved 48 proposals to date (as opposed to five for all of 2014), and the average votes cast in favor have risen to 55% from 33% in 2014. Perhaps most significantly, modestly more restrictive management-enacted proxy access provisions apparently did not deter shareholders from proposing, and, in many cases, winning on the now standard shareholder proposal format of 3%/3-year/25% of board.

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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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Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players

Robert C. Clark is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard Law School. His article, Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players, was recently published in the Spring 2015 issue of The Business Lawyer and is available here.

There are numerous players who have ideas about what are good or best corporate governance practices, but different players have different themes. My article, Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players, originally delivered as a special lecture and recently published in The Business Lawyer, asks questions concerning ideas about what constitutes good corporate governance that are espoused by different players.

The article dwells briefly on seven categories of players: (1) academics, such as financial economists and law professors who resort heavily to empirical studies; and more worldly players such as (2) legislators, (3) governance rating firms, (4) large institutional investors, (5) corporate directors, (6) law firms that represent corporate clients on the defensive, and (7) courts. Are there discernible trends and patterns in the views espoused by these different categories of actors, despite all the differences among individual actors within each category? I believe there are such patterns, and offer some initial thoughts about the characteristic themes and different patterns of ideas about good corporate governance that we observe among the different categories of players. I then hypothesize about the reasons for these differences. My approach focuses on the motives and incentives driving the different players and how they take shape in the occupational situations inhabited by the players.

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Winning a Proxy Fight—Lessons from the DuPont-Trian Vote

Andrew R. Brownstein, Steven A. Rosenblum, and David A. Katz are partners, and Sabastian V. Niles is counsel, in the Corporate Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz client memorandum by Messrs. Brownstein, Rosenblum, Katz, and Niles. 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.

DuPont’s defeat of Trian Partners’ proxy fight to replace four DuPont directors is an important reminder that well-managed corporations executing clearly articulated strategies can still prevail against an activist, even when the major proxy advisory services (ISS and Glass-Lewis) support the activist. As with AOL’s success against Starboard Value, Agrium’s against JANA Partners, Forest Laboratories’ against Carl Icahn and other examples, DuPont’s victory is a notable exception to the growing trend of activist victories.

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Some Lessons from DuPont-Trian

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. 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 ISS Report on the DuPont-Trian proxy contest calls attention to a number of important insights into ISS policies and practices and those of many of its institutional investor clients. Concomitantly, these policies illustrate the realities of the sharp increase in activist activity and the steps corporations can, and should, take to deal with the activist phenomena.

ISS and major institutional investors will be responsive to and support well-presented attacks on business strategy and operations by activist hedge funds on generally well managed major corporations, even those with an outstanding CEO and board of directors.

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Do Proxy Advisors Say On Pay Voting Policies Improve TSR?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira Kay, Brian Johnson, Brian Lane, and Blaine Martin.

The vast majority—98%—of companies have passed their annual say on pay votes (SOP) over the past four years. Proxy advisor voting recommendations remain highly influential on these votes, and many companies, perhaps hundreds, have changed the structure of their executive pay programs to try to comply with proxy advisor policies and to obtain a “FOR” SOP vote recommendation from proxy advisors. Proxy advisors base voting recommendations on quantitative and qualitative tests that are highly tailored to their own perspective of and guidance on what comprises a successful executive pay model. [1] Are these voting recommendations correlated with long-term shareholder value creation as measured by total shareholder returns (TSR)? While correlation does not prove causation, what possible explanations may explain the correlation observed in our research?

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A Say on “Say-on-Pay”: Assessing Impact After Four Years

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

The 2015 proxy season is the fifth one in which shareholders of thousands of publicly traded corporations have cast non-binding votes on the executive pay programs of the companies in which they are invested. The holding of such a vote, commonly known as Say-on-Pay, is required under Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank law. [1] That requirement applies to most publicly traded companies. Following are some observations on Say-on-Pay.

Results of Votes

In each of the four years of Say-on-Pay—2011-2014 proxy seasons—at the Russell 3000 companies holding Say-on-Pay votes (i) the executive pay program received favorable votes from over 90 percent of the shareholders voting at 75 percent of those companies and (ii) 60 or fewer companies had a majority of votes cast disapproving the executive pay program. [2]

Evaluating the Impact

Following are two propositions on how well Say-on-Pay is working.

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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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2015 US Compensation Policies FAQ

Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS compensation policy guidelines for 2015. The complete publication is available here.

US Executive Pay Overview

1. Which named executive officers’ total compensation data are shown in the Executive Pay Overview section?

The executive compensation section will generally reflect the same number of named executive officer’s total compensation as disclosed in a company’s proxy statement. However, if more than five named executive officers’ total compensation has been disclosed, only five will be represented in the section. The order will be CEO, then the second, third, fourth and fifth highest paid executive by total compensation. Current executives will be selected first, followed by terminated executives (except that a terminated CEO whose total pay is within the top five will be included, since he/she was an within the past complete fiscal year).

2. A company’s CEO has resigned and there is a new CEO in place. Which CEO is shown in the report?

Our report generally displays the CEO in office on the last day of the fiscal year; however, the longer tenured CEO may be displayed in some cases where the transition occurs very late in the year.

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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

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    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
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    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward