Tag: Shareholder activism


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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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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REIT and Real Estate M&A in 2016

Adam O. Emmerich is a partner in the corporate department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, focusing primarily on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and securities law matters. Robin Panovka is a partner at Wachtell Lipton and co-heads the Real Estate and REIT M&A Groups. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication authored by Messrs. Emmerich and Panovka.

Following are some of the key trends we are following as we enter 2016, while keeping a weather eye on macro market turmoil:

  1. M&A activity should continue at a steady pace, with a number of public-to-private and public-to-public REIT mergers already in the works.
  2. We are not expecting an avalanche of REIT buyouts a la 2006-7, but many of the same drivers are apparent, as we noted last October in Taking REITs Private, and a number of significant transactions are likely.
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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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Activist Hedge Funds, Golden Leashes, and Advance Notice Bylaws

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Jason D. Schloetzer of Georgetown University. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. For details regarding how to obtain a copy of the report, contact matteo.tonello@conference-board.org. 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).

The tactics used by activist hedge funds to target companies continue to command the attention of corporate executives and board members. This post discusses recent cases highlighting activist efforts to replace directors at target companies. It also examines the use of controversial special compensation arrangements sometimes referred to as “golden leashes,” the arguments for and against such payments, their prevalence, and the parallel evolution of advance notification bylaws (ANBs) to require disclosure of third party payments to directors.

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Ten Topics for Directors in 2016

Kerry E. Berchem is partner and head of the corporate practice group at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. This post is based on a summary of an Akin Gump publication authored by Ms. Berchem, Rick L. Burdick, Tracy Crum, Christine B. LaFollette, and J. Kenneth Menges, Jr. The complete publication is available here.

U.S. public companies face a host of challenges as they enter 2016. Here is our annual list of hot topics for the boardroom in the coming year:

  1. Oversee the development of long-term corporate strategy in an increasingly interdependent and volatile world economy
  2. Cultivate shareholder relations and assess company vulnerabilities as activist investors target more companies with increasing success
  3. Oversee cybersecurity as the landscape becomes more developed and cyber risk tops director concerns
  4. Oversee risk management, including the identification and assessment of new and emerging risks
  5. Assess the impact of social media on the company’s business plans
  6. Stay abreast of Delaware law developments and other trends in M&A
  7. Review and refresh board composition and ensure appropriate succession
  8. Monitor developments that could impact the audit committee’s already heavy workload
  9. Set appropriate executive compensation as CEO pay ratios and income inequality continue to make headlines
  10. Prepare for and monitor developments in proxy access

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