Category Archives: Corporate Elections & Voting

2015 Year-End Activism Update

Barbara L. Becker is partner and co-chair of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions, also at Gibson Dunn. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn M&A Client Alert. The full publication, including charts and survey of settlement agreements, is available here.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving domestically traded public companies with market capitalizations above $1 billion during the second half of 2015, together with a look back at shareholder activism throughout 2015. While many pundits have suggested shareholder activism peaked in 2015, shareholder activism continues to be a major factor in the marketplace, involving companies of all sizes and activists new and old. Activist funds managed approximately $122 billion as of September 30, 2015 (vs. approximately $32 billion as at December 31, 2008). [1] In 2015 as compared to 2014, we saw a significant uptick in the total number of public activist actions (94 vs. 64), involving both a higher number of companies targeted (80 vs. 59) and a higher number of activist investors (56 vs. 34). [2]

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2016 Proxy Season: Engagement, Transparency, Proxy Access

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; the complete publication, including footnotes and appendix, 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).

While shareholders have a wide spectrum of views on corporate objectives, the time horizon for realizing these objectives and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, there is an emerging consensus that—regardless of size, industry or profitability—public companies must achieve greater accountability to their shareholders, through engagement and transparency, than ever before. Corporate engagement and transparency now take two forms: direct dialogue, increasingly involving directors, and enhanced proxy statement and other public disclosure that sheds light on the company’s strategy and the performance of its board, board committees and management, demonstrates responsiveness to shareholder ESG concerns, and justifies the composition of the board in light of the company’s present needs. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions about “what to do now” to meet shareholder expectations about engagement and transparency and to address a host of other new developments for the 2016 proxy season.

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The New Paradigm for Corporate Governance

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), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here). Critiques of the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang study by Wachtell Lipton, and responses to these critiques by the authors, are available on the Forum here.

Since I first identified a nascent new paradigm for corporate governance with leading major institutional investors supporting long-term investment and value creation and reducing or eliminating outsourcing to ISS and activist hedge funds, there has been a steady stream of statements by major investors outlining the new paradigm. In addition, a number of these investors are significantly expanding their governance departments so that they have in-house capability to evaluate governance and strategy and there is no need to outsource to ISS and activist hedge funds. The following is a summary consolidation of what these investors are saying in various forums.

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So You’re Thinking of Joining a Public Company Board

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. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Candidates for directorships on public company boards have much to consider. Potential exposure to legal liability, public criticism, and reputational harm, a complex tangle of applicable regulations and requirements, and a very significant time commitment are facts of life for public company directors in the modern era. The extent to which individuals can effectively manage the risks of directorship often depends on company-specific factors and can be increased through diligence and thoughtful preparation on the part of the director and the company.

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Alternatives to Equity Shares in a Low Stock Price Environment

Steve Pakela is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance publication by Mr. Pakela, Brian Scheiring, and Mike Grasso.

Compensation Committees face the challenge of balancing the tension in motivating their executives to create shareholder value in the current Say on Pay and economic environment. The current pullback in stock prices and the uncertain financial outlook for 2016 at many companies will make this year’s compensation decisions even more challenging. Stock prices at many companies and in many sectors are down 50% or more over the past year and, in particular, since equity awards were last granted to executives. The table below illustrates the effect of a significantly low stock price on the number of shares granted. For companies whose stock price is down 50%, the number of shares required to deliver equivalent value will be double that granted last year. For those companies whose share price is down 67% or 75%, share grants will need to be three or four times greater than the shares granted last year, respectively. This can pose a number of problems ranging from creating potential windfalls when share prices recover to previous levels to exceeding maximum share grant levels contained in a shareholder approved equity incentive plan.

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Corporate Control and Idiosyncratic Vision

Zohar Goshen is the Alfred W. Bressler Professor of Law, Columbia Law School and Professor of Law at Ono Academic College. Assaf Hamdani is the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz Professor of Corporate Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Goshen and Professor Hamdani.

Prominent technology firms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, and Alibaba have gone public with the controversial dual-class structure to allow their controlling shareholders to preserve their indefinite, uncontestable control over the corporation. Similarly, in the concentrated ownership structure, a person or entity—the controlling shareholder—holds an effective majority of the firm’s voting and equity rights to preserve control. Indeed, most public corporations around the world have controlling shareholders, and concentrated ownership has a significant presence in the United States as well. Unlike diversified minority shareholders, a controlling shareholder bears the extra costs of being largely undiversified and illiquid. Why, then, does she insist on holding a control block?

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Compensation Season 2016

Michael J. Segal is senior partner in the Executive Compensation and Benefits Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Segal, Jeannemarie O’BrienAdam J. ShapiroAndrea K. Wahlquist, and David E. Kahan. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

Boards of directors and their compensation committees will soon shift attention to the 2016 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:

  1. Say-on-Pay. If a company anticipates a challenging say-on-pay vote with respect to 2015 compensation, it should proactively reach out to large investors, communicate the rationale for the company’s compensation programs and give investors an opportunity to voice any concerns. Shareholder outreach efforts, and any changes made to the compensation program in response to such efforts, should be highlighted in the proxy’s Compensation Disclosure and Analysis. ISS FAQs indicate that one possible way to reverse a negative say-on-pay recommendation is to impose more onerous performance goals on existing compensation awards and to disclose publicly such changes on Form 8-K, though the FAQs further note that such action will not ensure a change in recommendation. Disclosure of prospective changes to the compensation program will demonstrate responsiveness to compensation-related concerns raised by shareholders.

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The Cost of Supermajority Target Shareholder Approval

Audra Boone is a senior financial economist at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Boone, Brian Broughman, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Law at Indiana University, and Antonio Macias, Assistant Professor of Finance at Baylor University. The views expressed in the post are those of Dr. Boone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commissioners, or the Staff. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Acquisitions via a tender offer can be significantly faster than a traditional merger, but this benefit is only available if the bidder can conduct a short-form merger following the tender, which avoids the need for a proxy statement filing and formal shareholder vote. Until recently this structure was only available if the bidder could convince a supermajority (90%) of shareholders to participate in the tender offer. In August 2013, however, Delaware’s legislature passed a new code provision, section 251(h) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the DGCL), that allows bidders of targets incorporated in Delaware to conduct a short-form merger after achieving only 50% ownership as opposed to 90% that is required in almost all other states. We use this legal change to investigate how the required level of shareholder support affects acquisition outcomes.

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Delaware Rules on “Without Cause” Director Removal

William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum, and is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Court of Chancery recently held that a corporation without a classified board or cumulative voting may not restrict stockholders’ ability to remove directors without cause. In re Vaalco Energy S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 11775-VCL (Dec. 21, 2015). The ruling gives rise to questions for the many companies with similar charter or bylaw provisions.

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Director Removal Without Cause

Daniel Wolf is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf and Matthew Solum. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In a recent bench ruling on a summary judgment motion in a case involving Vaalco Energy, Vice Chancellor Laster held that a provision of a company’s charter or bylaws could not override the default rule under Delaware law that directors serving on a non-classified board (i.e., annually elected) may be removed with or without cause by vote of holders of a majority of the outstanding shares entitled to vote in director elections. While prior Chancery rulings, including Nycal and Rohe, reached largely similar conclusions in related circumstances, VC Laster’s decision in Vaalco clearly articulates his view that this type of charter or bylaw provision that purports to limit director removal for non-classified boards to cases of cause is simply invalid as a matter of Delaware law.

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