Tag: Oversight


Failure-of-Oversight Claims Against Directors

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Emil A. Kleinhaus, C. Lee Wilson, and Noah B. Yavitz. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of purported shareholder derivative claims alleging that directors of JPMorgan Chase, a Delaware corporation, failed to institute internal controls sufficient to detect Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Central Laborers v. Dimon, No. 14-4516 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2016) (summary order). The decision represents a forceful application of Delaware law holding that, when directors are protected by standard exculpation provisions in the corporate charter, they will not be liable for alleged oversight failures absent a particularized showing of bad-faith misconduct.

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Public Audit Oversight and Reporting Credibility

Christian Leuz is the Sondheimer Professor of International Economics, Finance and Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is also an Economic Advisor to the PCAOB. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Leuz; Brandon Gipper, Ph.D. Candidate in Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Economic Research Fellow at the PCAOB; and Mark Maffett, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

As the accounting scandals in the early 2000s illustrated, reliable financial reporting is a cornerstone of trust in the stock market, which in turn plays a key role for investor participation (Guiso et al., 2008). In an effort to restore trust in financial reporting after the scandals, the U.S. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (hereafter, “SOX”). One of its core provisions was the creation of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (hereafter, the “PCAOB”) and the requirement that the PCAOB inspect all audit firms (hereafter, “auditors”) of SEC-registered public companies (hereafter, “firms” or “issuers”). The introduction of the PCAOB represents a major regime shift, replacing self-regulation with public oversight.

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Maintaining High-Quality, Reliable Financial Reporting

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent Keynote Address at the 2015 AICPA National Conference; 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.

It is a pleasure to be here to speak to you about our shared and weighty responsibility to maintain high-quality, reliable financial reporting. This audience—preparers, auditors, audit committee members, and their advisors—is a very important one for the SEC. Investors, issuers, and the markets all depend on the work you do and the judgments you make—and how well you do both. You, together with the standard setters and the regulators, have a vital stake in ensuring that our capital markets remain the safest and strongest in the world—and we all share the responsibility.

Key to our mutual success is maintaining high-quality reporting of reliable and relevant financial information that investors can use to make informed investment decisions. If there is even one weak link in the financial reporting chain, investors and the integrity of our markets suffer. We must all work together in order to fulfill the high expectations investors rightly set for financial reporting.

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The Spotlight on Boards

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. Mr. Niles is counsel at Wachtell Lipton specializing in rapid response shareholder activism and preparedness, takeover defense, corporate governance, and M&A.

The ever evolving challenges facing corporate boards, and especially this year the statements by BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard of what they expect from boards, prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have almost as much influence on board and company behavior.

Boards are expected to:

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Role of the Board in M&A

Alexandra R. Lajoux is chief knowledge officer at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). This post is based on a NACD publication authored by Ms. Lajoux.

What is the current trend in M&A?

Right now, M&A deal value is at its highest since the global financial crisis began, according to Dealogic. In the first half of 2015, deal value rose to $2.28 trillion—approaching the record-setting first half of 2007, when $2.59 trillion changed hands just before the onset of the financial crisis. Global healthcare deal value reached a record $346.7 billion in early 2015, which includes the highest-ever U.S. health M&A activity. And total global deal value for July 2015 alone was $549.7 billion worldwide, entering record books as the second highest monthly total for value since April 2007. The United States played an important part in this developing story: M&A deal value in the first half of 2015 exceeded the $1 trillion mark for announced U.S. targets, with a total of $1.2 trillion.

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Board Retirement and Tenure Policies

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters, available here.

Investors’ increasing focus on board composition includes attention to whether boards are continuing to refresh and recruit new directors in line with the company’s changing strategic goals and risk profile. But the challenges of effective board succession planning can go beyond finding new directors whose skill sets, diversity, character, and availability match the board’s needs—they may also include asking long-standing directors to leave the board when appropriate, while protecting directors’ collegiality and relationships.

Based on what the EY Center for Board Matters is hearing from investors and directors, optimal practices for aiding board renewal include robust performance evaluations (including following through on key takeaways), assessments that map director qualifications against a board skills matrix, and creating a board culture where directors do not expect to serve until retirement. [1] Director retirement and tenure policies are also among the tools available to boards to ease transitions. Such policies can help depersonalize the process of asking directors to leave the board.

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SEC and PCAOB on Audit Committees

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, Jack B. Jacobs and Thomas J. Kim.

Public company counsel and audit committee members should be aware of recent activity at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that could lead to additional regulation of audit committee disclosure and to federal normative expectations for how audit committees and their members behave.

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Boardroom Perspectives: Oversight of Material Litigation in Four Practical Steps

Jeff G. Hammel is a partner and member of the Litigation Department at Latham & Watkins LLP. This post is based on a Latham publication by Mr. Hammel, Steven B. Stokdyk, Joel H. Trotter, and Jenna B. Cooper.

Public companies in the United States are subject to litigation in various areas, including: shareholder litigation; government investigations and enforcement actions; environmental litigation and intellectual property disputes. While certain litigation may be frivolous or merely routine, other claims may be costly and potentially damaging to the company’s bottom line, reputation, or both. It is important that boards be equipped to manage and mitigate risks associated with litigation deemed material to the company. The following tips are designed to give boards a framework from which to approach litigation oversight.

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Audit Committees: 2015 Mid-Year Issues Update

Rick E. Hansen is Assistant Corporate Secretary and Managing Counsel, Corporate Governance, at Chevron Corporation.

Board audit committee agendas continue to evolve as companies are faced with a rapidly-changing global business landscape, the proliferation of standards and regulations, increased stakeholder scrutiny, and a heightened enforcement environment. In this post, I summarize current issues of interest for audit committees.

The Audit Committee And Oversight

During her remarks at the Stanford Directors’ College in June 2014, SEC Chair Mary Jo White observed that “audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting.” [1] Since then, various Commissioners of the SEC and its Staff have reinforced this message by reminding companies of the audit committee’s duties under federal securities laws to:

  • oversee the quality and integrity of the company’s financial reporting process, including the company’s relationship with the outside auditor;
  • oversee the company’s confidential and anonymous whistleblower complaint policies and procedures relating to accounting and auditing matters; and
  • report annually to stockholders on the performance of these duties.

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Restraining Overconfident CEOs Through Improved Governance

Mark Humphery-Jenner is Senior Lecturer at the UNSW Business School. This post is based on the article Restraining overconfident CEOs through improved governance: Evidence from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, authored by Mr. Humphery-Jenner, Suman Banerjee, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming, and Vikram Nanda, Professor of Finance at Rutgers University.

In our recent paper, Restraining overconfident CEOs through improved governance: Evidence from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use the joint passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and changes to the NYSE/NASDAQ listing rules to analyze the impact of improved governance in moderating the behavior of overconfident CEOs. Overconfidence can lead managers to overestimate returns and underestimate risk. The literature suggests that while some CEO overconfidence can benefit shareholders, a highly distorted view of risk-return profiles can destroy shareholder value. An intriguing question is whether there are ways to channel the drive and optimism of highly overconfident CEOs while curbing the extremes of risk-taking and over-investment associated with such overconfidence. We explore such a possibility in this paper. Specifically, we investigate whether appropriate restraints on CEO discretion and the introduction of diverse viewpoints on the board serve to moderate the actions of overconfident CEOs and, in the end, benefit shareholders.

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