Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Corporation as Time Machine

Lynn Stout is the Distinguished Professor of Corporate and Business Law at Cornell Law School.

My article, The Corporation as Time Machine: Intergenerational Equity, Intergenerational Efficiency, and the Corporate Form, advances an explanation for the rise of the corporate form and an alternative perspective on its economic function. The article argues that the board-controlled corporate entity is a legal innovation that can transfer wealth forward and sometimes backward through time, for the benefit of both present and future generations. The article was written for a symposium organized around the author’s prior work with Margaret Blair.

The corporate form allows natural persons to aggregate and transfer resources to a legal person with the capacity to hold assets in its own name in perpetuity. When the corporate entity is controlled by a board subject to the fiduciary duty of loyalty, corporate assets can be “locked in” and insulated from the demands of natural persons (e.g., the current generation of shareholders) who want to extract and consume them. Asset lock-in thus permits board-controlled corporate entities with perpetual life to invest in and pursue projects that may generate wealth only in later time periods, possibly even after the current cohort of human beings has ceased to exist.


The Evolving Landscape of Shareholder Activism: Developments and Potential Actions

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Jay Clayton, Mitchell S. Eitel, Joseph B. Frumkin, and Glen T. Schleyer.

It is clear that shareholder activism continues to evolve, expand and increase in influence. There is a growing emphasis, in particular by large mutual funds and other institutional investors, on shareholder engagement and shareholder-friendly governance structures that, together with the increased activity of activist hedge funds and other “strategic” activist investors, make shareholder engagement and preparedness an essential focus for public companies and their boards.

Most recently, BlackRock Inc. and the Vanguard Group, the largest and third largest U.S. asset managers with more than $7 trillion in combined assets under management, have made public statements emphasizing that they are focused on corporate governance and board engagement. Vanguard recently sent a letter to many of its portfolio companies cautioning them not to confuse Vanguard’s “predominantly passive management style” with a “passive attitude toward corporate governance.” The letter goes on to emphasize numerous corporate governance principles and to highlight in detail (as discussed further below) the importance of direct shareholder-director interactions. BlackRock recently updated its voting policies to make clear that they are more than just guides to how BlackRock votes–they represent “our expectations of boards of directors.” The new policies continue an emphasis on direct interaction between investors and directors.


Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior

The following post comes to us from Lee Biggerstaff of the Department of Finance at Miami University, David Cicero of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama, and Andy Puckett of the Department of Finance at the University of Tennessee.

Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.


Harvard Convenes the Corporate Governance Roundtable

The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance and the Harvard Law School Program on Institutional Investors convened the Harvard Roundtable on Corporate Governance last Wednesday, March 18. The event brought together for a roundtable discussion 75 prominent experts with a wide range of perspectives on this subject, including those of investors, issuers, advisors, and academics. Participants in the event, and the topics of discussion, are set out below.

The Roundtable, which was co-organized by Lucian Bebchuk, Stephen Davis, and Scott Hirst, was sponsored by a number of co-sponsors (listed here), the supporting organizations of the Program on Corporate Governance (listed on the program site here), and the institutional members of the Harvard Institutional Investor Forum (listed here).

The Roundtable sessions focused on board composition, and other current issues in corporate governance. The Roundtable began with discussion of board composition issues. The participants discussed a variety of issues on the topic, including director experience and skills, director tenure and age, board refreshment, board diversity and board evaluations. The Roundtable then moved to a discussion of proxy access and other current issues in corporate governance, and engagement between issuers and investors on such issues.

The participants in the Harvard Roundtable on Corporate Governance included:


SEC Charges Schedule 13D Filers for Untimely Disclosure

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 Alison Z. Preiss.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last week that it had charged eight directors, officers and major stockholders for failing to timely disclose steps taken to take their respective companies private in their beneficial ownership reports on Schedule 13D. The orders issued by the SEC indicate the SEC staff became aware of the violations in the course of their review of proxy and Schedule 13E-3 transaction statements, which described the steps taken in the required disclosures regarding the background of the transactions. The orders note that emails and other contemporaneous communications clearly indicate the steps taken that had not been properly disclosed. The orders issued by the SEC (to which the offending parties consented) resulted in cease-and-desist orders and payment of civil penalties.


Key Points From the 2015 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR)

The following post comes to us from Dan Ryan, Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and is based on a PwC publication by Mike Alix, Steve Pearson, and Armen Meyer.

The 2015 stress test results published on March 11th as part of the Federal Reserve’s (“Fed”) CCAR follow last week’s release of Dodd-Frank Act Stress Test (“DFAST”) results. [1] CCAR differs from DFAST by incorporating the 31 participating bank holding companies’ (“BHC” or “bank”) proposed capital actions and the Fed’s qualitative assessment of BHCs’ capital planning processes. The Fed objected to two foreign BHCs’ capital plans and one US BHC received a “conditional non-objection,” all due to qualitative issues.


The Role of Academics and Industry in Improving Equity Market Structure

Michael S. Piwowar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Piwowar’s recent remarks at the University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business, Center for the Study of Financial Regulation; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Piwowar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [March 13, 2015], I want to focus my remarks on the equities markets, and specifically equity market structure. Although it may be hard for some of you in this room to believe, in the 20 months since I began this job, some have suggested that I am a so-called “market structure expert.” While such comments are certainly flattering, I cannot accept the compliment. Of course, my academic research, my private and public sector experience, and my current role as a Commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”) have all given me unique insights into the functioning of our equities markets. However, like many people in this room, I still consider myself a “student of markets.” With so many issues to examine and debate, and the continued evolution of the financial markets, I think we can agree there is more for all of us to observe and learn.

It has been fifteen months since I gave my first speech on equity market structure. Both before and since, my colleagues at the Commission have kept the issue of market structure in the forefront through their own public remarks. Congress also has been expressing keen interest in equity market structure, shining a bright light on the issue. And we have had some unsolicited prompting by a bestselling author, who, to put it lightly, does not have flattering things to say about the current state of the equity markets in what many refer to as simply “The Book.” Given all of this attention, I am frankly disappointed that we at the SEC have accomplished very little.


A Few Observations on Shareholders in 2015

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at Tulane’s 27th Annual Corporate Law Institute; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [March 19, 2015], I will share a few observations on three specific areas: the current state of shareholder activism; the shareholder proposal process; and fee-shifting bylaws. I know your next two panels take up aspects of these important topics, but I think the space is lively and big enough for all of us to comment.

The Current Activism Landscape

There are different views on what is meant by “shareholder activism,” but just the word “activism” triggers an adverse reaction from many companies. Reflexively painting all activism negatively is, in my view, using too broad a brush and indeed is counterproductive. To me, the term activism captures the range of efforts by investors to influence a company’s management or decision-making. Some of it is constructive. In certain situations, activism seeks to bring about important changes at companies that can increase shareholder value. Now, some of you may find the juxtaposition of the word “activism” with “shareholder value” does not comport with your sense of reality. Some of you also believe that activists are not interested in increasing long-term value for shareholders and other stakeholders. Still others will assert that activists are simply short-term traders looking to make a quick dollar. I did say this was a lively topic with many different views.


Delaware Innovates to Create a World-Class Arbitration Regime

The following post comes to us from Greg Varallo, Director and Executive Vice President at Richards, Layton & Finger. 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 March 11, 2015, the Delaware State Bar Association gave its formal approval to HB 49, which was filed yesterday in the Delaware Legislature. If passed by the Legislature, the bill, which bears the title the Delaware Rapid Arbitration Act, will establish Delaware as a cutting-edge seat for business arbitrations. Building on the best of the state’s earlier experiment with judicially annexed arbitration, the new legislation was crafted with extensive consultation and input from constituencies around the US and internationally. One thing became clear as a result of those consultations: businesses and their advisors are alarmed at the marked drift in arbitration practice away from timely, efficient dispute resolution.


Correcting Corporate Benefit: Curing What Ails Shareholder Litigation

The following post comes to us from Sean J. Griffith, T.J. Maloney Chair in Business Law at Fordham University School of Law, and 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.

Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease. This, it seems, is the implicit view of the Delaware State Bar Association’s Corporation Law Council (the “Council”) with regard to fee-shifting in shareholder litigation. The Council’s second proposal on fee-shifting, circulated in early March 2015, [1] is much like their first, circulated in May 2014 in the wake of ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund. [2] Both would prevent corporations from seeking to saddle shareholders with the cost of shareholder litigation by means of a fee-shifting provision, whether adopted in the charter or the bylaws.


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