Tag: Shareholder voting


Activist Settlements and Heightened Scrutiny—Ebix

Robert C. Schwenkel is co-chair of the Corporate Department and global head of the M&A and Private Equity Practices at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication by Mr. Schwenkel, Steven EpsteinPhilip Richter, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

The Delaware courts generally apply the heightened scrutiny standard under Unocal to a review of challenged board actions that have been taken in response to a perceived threat that relates to corporate control. Under Unocal, the board has the burden of demonstrating that it reasonably perceived a threat, and that its response was neither preclusive nor draconian and was reasonable in relation to the threat. In In re Ebix, Inc. (Jan. 15, 2016), the Chancery Court:
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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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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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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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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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Corporate Governance and Blockchains

David Yermack is Professor of Finance at the NYU Stern School of Business. This post is based on a recent article authored by Professor Yermack.

In the paper, Corporate Governance and Blockchains, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I explore the corporate governance implications of blockchain database technology. Blockchains have captured the attention of the financial world in 2015, and they offer a new way of creating, exchanging, and tracking the ownership of financial assets on a peer-to-peer basis. Major stock exchanges are exploring the use of blockchains to register equity issued by corporations. Blockchains can also hold debt securities and financial derivatives, which can be executed autonomously as “smart contracts.” These innovations have the potential to change corporate governance as much as any event since the 1933 and 1934 securities acts in the United States.

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