Monthly Archives: November 2014

Making It Easier for Directors To “Do The Right Thing”

The following post is based on a recent Harvard Business Law Review article by Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. The article, Making It Easier For Directors To “Do The Right Thing”, is available here. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, and the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, has recently published an article in the Harvard Business Law Review. The essay, titled Making It Easier For Directors To “Do The Right Thing”, is available here. The essay posits that benefit corporation statutes have the potential to change the accountability structure within which managers operate and thus create incremental reform that puts actual power behind the idea that corporations should “do the right thing.”

The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:

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ISS, Share Authorizations, and New Data Verification Process

The following post comes to us from John R. Ellerman, founding partner of Pay Governance, and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Ellerman.

Publicly traded companies are required by the SEC and the stock exchanges to obtain shareholder approval when such companies seek to implement a new long‐term equity plan or increase the share reserve pursuant to such plans.

Companies comply with this requirement by seeking shareholder approval through the annual proxy process. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the large proxy advisory firm retained by many institutional investors for proxy voting advice, offers its services to institutional clients by evaluating such proposals. One of the tools used by ISS in developing its voting advice is a financial model referred to as the Shareholder Value Transfer (SVT) Model that attempts to assign a cost to each company’s equity plan. ISS’ proprietary SVT model contains numerous hidden values and algorithms a company cannot readily replicate. If the SVT Model results in an assigned cost that falls outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to ISS, ISS will submit a negative vote recommendation.

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Proxy Access Proposals for the 2015 Proxy Season

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

A number of U.S. companies have recently received “proxy access” shareholder proposals submitted under SEC Rule 14a-8. Many of the recipients have been targeted under the New York City Comptroller’s new “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project,” which is seeking to install proxy access at 75 U.S. publicly traded companies reflecting diverse industries and market capitalizations. Underlying the Comptroller’s selection of targets is a stated focus on climate change, board diversity and executive compensation.

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Delaware Court Dismisses Action Against Seller’s Directors and Financial Advisor

The following post comes to us from Jason M. Halper, partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper, Peter J. Rooney, and Natalie Nahabet. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On October 24, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision, In Re: Crimson Exploration Inc. Stockholder Litigation, addressing when: (i) a stockholder with less than majority voting power may be deemed a controlling stockholder, and (ii) the controlling stockholder’s actions trigger “entire fairness” review of a challenged merger. The court also rejected criticisms of the seller’s financial advisor based on supposed conflicts of interest and flawed valuation methodologies.

The decision provides important guidance for directors and their advisors in merger transactions where one stockholder or a cohesive group of stockholders holds a sizable share of company stock.

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The Corporation in Society

Bill George is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and former Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic.

On Monday, at the invitation of Professor Lucian Bebchuk, it was my privilege to conduct a discussion on the role of the corporation in society in his Harvard Law School course. Here are the charts I used to stimulate the discussion (see attachment). These led to a thought-provoking debate on some crucial issues that are being debated in corporate governance these days.

Dealing With Activist Hedge Funds

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 and Sabastian V. Niles. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism 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.

This year has seen a continuance of the high and increasing level of activist campaigns experienced during the last 14 years, from 27 in 2000 to nearly 250 to date in 2014, in addition to numerous undisclosed behind-the-scenes situations. Today, regardless of industry, no company can consider itself immune from potential activism. Indeed, no company is too large, too popular or too successful, and even companies that are respected industry leaders and have outperformed peers can come under fire. Among the major companies that have been targeted are, Amgen, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Hess, P&G, eBay, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, and PepsiCo. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds have approximately $200 billion of assets under management. They have become an “asset class” that continues to attract investment from major traditional institutional investors. The additional capital and new partnerships between activists and institutional investors have encouraged increasingly aggressive activist attacks.

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The Institutions of Federal Reserve Independence

The following post comes from Peter Conti-Brown of Stanford Law School.

On December 23, 2013, the Federal Reserve System celebrated its centennial. Over the course of that century, the Fed has become one of the most important governmental agencies in the history of the American republic, a transformation one scholar has labeled “the most remarkable bureaucratic metamorphosis in American history.” Its policies influence nearly every aspect of public and private life. Given this importance and influence, “[n]o one can afford to ignore the Fed.”

At the core of that “remarkable bureaucratic metamorphosis” is a much-invoked but as often misunderstood set of institutional arrangements that constitute the Fed’s unique independence. In the standard popular and academic account, law is at the center of that independence: indeed, it is the statute itself, under this view, that defines that independence. Economists and political scientists interested in central bank independence—having written enough on the phenomenon to give it an acronym (CBI)—take as given that law defines central bank independence. And legal academics, in the exceptional event that they have taken note of the Fed, have analyzed its independence within the context of administrative law and agency independence generally. Again, unsurprisingly, statutes are at the center of that analysis, too.

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Federal Court Decision Undermines Legality of Valeant/Pershing Square Bid

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Katz and William Savitt.

A federal district court today ruled that serious questions existed as to the legality of Pershing Square’s ploy to finance Valeant’s hostile bid for Allergan. Allergan v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals Int’l, Inc., Case No. SACV-1214 DOC (C.D. Cal. November 4, 2014).

As we wrote about in April, Pershing Square and Valeant hatched a plan early this year attempting to exploit loopholes in the federal securities laws to enable Pershing Square to trade on inside information of Valeant’s secret takeover plan, creating a billion dollar profit at the expense of former Allergan stockholders that could then be used to fund the hostile bid. Since then, Pershing Square and Valeant have trumpeted their maneuver as a new template for activist-driven hostile dealmaking.

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The Risky Business of Cybersecurity

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.

The national and economic security of the United States depends on the reliable functioning of critical infrastructure. Cybersecurity threats exploit the increased complexity and connectivity of critical infrastructure systems, placing the Nation’s security, economy, and public safety and health at risk. Similar to financial and reputational risk, cybersecurity risk affects a company’s bottom line. It can drive up costs and impact revenue. It can harm an organization’s ability to innovate and to gain and maintain customers.

—National Institute for Standards and Technology, Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, Version 1.0

In today’s technology driven environment, public companies must constantly confront the challenge of cybersecurity, in its complex, varied, and ever-adapting forms. Cybersecurity breaches regularly fill the headlines, the costs of cybercrime are skyrocketing, and the repercussions of corporate cyber-attacks are felt all the way from chief executives to retail customers. President Barack Obama has stated that “the private sector and the government can, and should, work together to meet this shared challenge,” while FBI Director Robert S. Mueller has described “the critical role the private sector must play in cyber security.” As companies become increasingly dependent on networked technology, and as an expanding number of people conduct transactions and other activities online, cybersecurity will continue to grow in importance for the business community, for the global economy, and for society at large.

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Creeping Acquisitions in Europe

The following post comes to us from Luca Enriques, Allen & Overy Professor of Corporate Law at University of Oxford, Faculty of Law, and Matteo Gatti of Rutgers School of Law–Newark.

Creeping acquisitions—surreptitious grabs of a public company’s control without the prior launch of a formal tender offer—had long been considered a thing from the past in corporate America: poison pills kept this acquisition technique at bay. After Sotheby’s, Allergan and similar “wolf pack”-styled hedge fund activists’ campaigns, some fear creeping acquisitions might be back.

Other than in the U.S., becoming targets of a creeping acquisition has never ceased to be a real possibility for European companies with a dispersed ownership structure: without pills or analogue structural defenses available (or, at least, in place), they run the risk of being taken over through such an acquisition technique. Indeed, acquirers have made significant attempts to that effect over the last decade or so—sometimes successfully (Schaeffler’s takeover of Continental, Lactalis’ acquisitions of Parmalat), sometimes not (LVMH’s failed attack on Gucci, Nasdaq’s attempt at the London Stock Exchange Group). In our paper Creeping Acquisitions in Europe: Enabling Companies to Be Better Safe than Sorry, we analyze the level and type of protections European companies can find in the law (whether EU or national) and via private ordering (which of course is constrained by the law itself).

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