Tag: Shareholder voting


Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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Foreign Antitakeover Regimes

Daniel Wolf is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on mergers and acquisitions. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Case Against Board Veto in Corporate Takeovers by Lucian Bebchuk.

The confluence of a number of overlapping factors—including an uptick in global and cross-border M&A activity, a resurgence in unsolicited takeover offers, the continued flow of tax inversion transactions, and the growth of activism in non-U.S. markets—means that U.S. companies and investors are more often facing unfamiliar takeover (and antitakeover) regimes as they evaluate and pursue offers for foreign targets. While experienced dealmakers are often well-versed in the nuances of friendly transactions with a foreign seller, the defenses available, and sometimes unavailable, to foreign companies facing unsolicited or hostile offers occasionally come as a surprise and complicate the pursuit or defense of these bids.

While a comprehensive survey of antitakeover regimes in various foreign jurisdictions is well beyond the scope of this post, it is instructive to highlight a number of examples where the regime—mandatory or permissive—departs significantly from U.S. practices, even in countries with well-developed legal systems and capital markets.

In a number of jurisdictions, the applicable takeover rules can be seen to facilitate, or even encourage, offerors in taking rejected overtures to the public shareholders:

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Proxy Access: Best Practices

This post is based on a report from the Council of Institutional Investors. The complete publication, including charts, 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).

 

The Council of Institutional Investors (CII) believes that proxy access is a fundamental right of longterm shareowners. Proxy access—a mechanism that enables shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy card—gives shareowners a meaningful voice in board elections.

CII’s members-approved policy on proxy access states, in part:

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CII on Proxy Access

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Lori Zyskowski, and Ronald O. Mueller.

[On August 5, 2015] the Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”), a nonprofit association of corporate, public and union employee benefit funds and endowments that seeks to promote effective corporate governance practices for U.S. companies and strong shareholder rights and protections, published a report titled “Proxy Access: Best Practices” that describes CII’s views on seven provisions that companies typically address when implementing proxy access. The CII report is available here, and was discussed on the Forum here.

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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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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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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.

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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
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    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
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    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
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