Tag: Board independence


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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Reputation Concerns of Independent Directors

Wei Jiang is Professor of Finance at Columbia University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Jiang; Hualin Wan, Associate Professor of Accounting at Shanghai Lixin University of Commerce; and Shan Zhao, Assistant Professor of Finance at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Across the major world markets, institutional investors, stock exchanges and regulators have pushed publically listed firms to increase the number of independent directors on their boards. By 2013, 80% of directors of the S&P 1500 firms are independent, according to RiskMetric. Such a trend reflects a common belief that independent directors are effective monitors of management since they are not formally connected to firm insiders nor do they have material business relationship with the firm. However, it is unclear what incentivizes independent directors to monitor and potentially confront management, given that they are not significant shareholders, do not receive performance-sensitive compensation, and often owe their appointment to the managers they monitor.

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NASDAQ Shareholder Approval Rules

Janet T. Geldzahler is Of Counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Ms. Geldzahler, Robert E. Buckholz, Melissa Sawyer, and Marc Trevino.

Last Wednesday [November 19, 2015], the NASDAQ Stock Market requested public comments on whether and how to improve its rules requiring shareholder approval before a NASDAQ-listed company issues securities in connection with certain acquisitions, changes of control, and certain private placements. The request for comments is being made in light of changes that have occurred in the capital markets, securities laws, and the nature and type of share issuances since the rules were adopted 25 years ago.

The comment period will run until February 15, 2016. The request for comment is available here.

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Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2016

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, Steven A. Rosenblum, and Karessa L. Cain. 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).

 

Over the last two decades, the corporate governance landscape has become increasingly dominated by the view that maximizing the power and influence of shareholders will lead to stronger and better-governed companies. The widespread dismantling of staggered boards and change-of-control defenses, the promulgation of say-on-pay and other governance mandates, and the proliferation of best practices are largely premised on this shareholder rights manifesto. In the aggregate, the changes have been transformative and have precipitated a sea change in the gestalt of Wall Street. Hedge fund activism has exploded as an asset class in its own right, and even the largest and most successful companies are vulnerable to proxy fights and other activist campaigns. In response to short-termist pressures brought by hedge funds and activist shareholders, companies have been fundamentally altering their business strategies to forego long-term investments in favor of stock buybacks, dividends and other near-term capital returns. At this point, theoretical debates about the pros and cons of a shareholder-centric governance model have been superseded by observable, quantifiable trends and behaviors. For example, according to Standard & Poor’s, dividends and stock buybacks in the U.S. totaled more than $900 billion in 2014—the highest level on record, and last December, a Conference Board presentation compiled data demonstrating that capital investment by U.S. public companies has decreased and is less than that of private companies.

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Delaware Courts and the Law Of Demand Excusal

Justin T. Kelton is an attorney specializing in complex commercial litigation at Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller, LLP. 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. 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.

Delaware courts have recently issued critical guidance regarding the contours of the demand excusal doctrine. The following cases outline the Delaware courts’ recent analyses on the issue.

Delaware Supreme Court Clarifies Analysis For Determining Director Independence

In Del. Cty. Emps. Ret. Fund v. Sanchez, Del. No. 702, 10/2/15, the Delaware Supreme Court clarified that, in considering whether a complaint has sufficiently pleaded a lack of independence, the Court of Chancery should not parse facts pled regarding personal relationships and those pled regarding business relationships as categorically distinct issues. Rather, the Court of Chancery must “consider in fully context” all of the “pled facts regarding a director’s relationship to the interested party.” Taking all of the facts together, the Delaware Supreme Court found that the plaintiff’s allegations that “a director has been close friends with an interested party for a half century” was sufficient to raise a pleading stage inference of interestedness because “close friendships of that duration are likely considered precious by many people, and are rare.”

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Quadrant v. Vertin: Determining Rights of Creditors

Steven Epstein is a partner and Co-Head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication by Mr. Epstein, J. Christian Nahr, Brad Eric Scheler, and Gail Weinstein. 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.

In Quadrant Structured Products Company, Ltd. v. Vertin (Oct. 20, 2015), the Delaware Court of Chancery, in a post-trial decision, rejected Quadrant’s challenges to transactions by Athilon Capital Corp., with Athilon’s sole stockholder (private equity firm Merced), after Athilon had returned to solvency following a long period of insolvency. Merced held all of Athilon’s equity and all of its junior notes; and both Quadrant and Merced held the company’s publicly traded senior notes. Quadrant challenged Athilon’s (i) repurchases of senior notes held by Merced (the “Note Repurchases”) and (ii) purchases of certain relatively illiquid securities owned by Merced (the “Securities Purchases”). A majority of the Athilon board that approved the challenged transactions was viewed by the court as non-independent (with two directors affiliated with Merced; the Athilon CEO; and two independent directors). Vice Chancellor Laster, applying New York law, rejected (i) Quadrant’s claims that the Note Repurchases (a) were prohibited by the indenture and (b) were fraudulent conveyances; and (ii) Quadrant’s derivative claim that the Note Repurchases and the Securities Purchases constituted a breach of the directors’ fiduciary duties.

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Corporate Governance Responses to Director Rule Changes

Cindy Vojtech is an Economist at the Federal Reserve Board. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Vojtech and Benjamin Kay, Economist at the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research.

Much of the corporate governance literature has been plagued by endogeneity problems. In our paper, Corporate Governance Responses to Director Rule Changes, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use a law change as a natural experiment to test how firms adjust the choice and magnitude of governance tools given a floor level of monitoring from independent directors. Through this analysis, we can recover the structural relationship between inputs in the governance production function. We study these relationships with a new board of director dataset with a much larger range of firm size.

In 2002, U.S. stock exchanges and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act established minimum standards for director independence. These director rules altered firm choice of other tools for mitigating agency problems. On average, treated firms do not increase the size of their board, instead inside directors are replaced with outside directors.

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Director Independence and Risks for M&A Financial Advisors

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and Gregory Beaman. 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 September 28 and October 1, 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued decisions in Caspian Select Credit Master Fund Limited v. Gohl, C.A. No. 10244-VCN and In re Zale Corporation Stockholders Litigation, C.A. No. 9388-VCP. On October 2, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court decided Delaware County Employees Retirement Fund v. Sanchez, No. 702. The outcome for the director defendants in each case differed: the claims against the Zale directors were dismissed, the claims against directors in Caspian largely survived at the pleading stage, and the claims against the directors in Sanchez, where the Chancery Court had granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, were reinstated when the Supreme Court reversed. These contrasting results largely are attributable to the existence in Zale of an independent board of directors, whereas the pleadings in Caspian and Sanchez sufficiently alleged that a majority of the boards of the companies at issue lacked independence. In addition, the Zale decision underscores again the risks confronting financial advisors to sellers in merger transactions, since the aiding and abetting fiduciary breach claim against the board’s financial advisor survived even though the fiduciary duty claims against the directors themselves were dismissed.

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2015 Corporate Governance & Executive Compensation Survey

Creighton Condon is Senior Partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on the introduction to a Shearman & Sterling Corporate Governance Survey by Bradley SabelDanielle Carbone, David Connolly, Stephen Giove, Doreen Lilienfeld, and Rory O’Halloran. The complete publication is available here.

We are pleased to share Shearman & Sterling’s 2015 Corporate Governance & Executive Compensation Survey of the 100 largest US public companies. This year’s Survey, the 13th in our series, examines some of the most important governance and executive compensation practices facing boards today and identifies best practices and merging trends. Our analysis will provide you with insights into how companies approach governance issues and will allow you to benchmark your company’s corporate governance practices against the best practices we have identified.

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Seven Myths of Boards of Directors

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker and Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment by Alma Cohen and Charles C. Y. Wang.

Corporate governance experts pay considerable attention to issues involving the board of directors. Because of the scope of the board’s role and the vast responsibilities that come with directorship, companies are expected to adhere to common best practices in board structure, composition, and procedures. Our paper, Seven Myths of Boards of Directors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, reviews seven commonly accepted beliefs about boards of directors that are not substantiated by empirical evidence.

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