Appeal of No-Action on Proxy Access at Whole Foods Markets

Editor’s Note: James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net.

Shareholders have been engaged in a long struggle to obtain proxy access—the idea that shareowners should be allowed to place their own board nominations on the proxies distributed by management, much as we are allowed to place our own proposals on those proxies. Shareholders should not accept the most recent roadblock, a reactive substitute proposal, by the management of Whole Foods Market (Whole Foods) and acquiescence in the form of a no-action letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The idea of proxy access certainly is not new. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) submitted a proposal in 1988 but withdrew it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.

…continue reading: Appeal of No-Action on Proxy Access at Whole Foods Markets

Corporate Governance Survey—2014 Proxy Season Results

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday December 31, 2014 at 9:12 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from David A. Bell, partner in the corporate and securities group at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on portions of a Fenwick publication titled Corporate Governance Practices and Trends: A Comparison of Large Public Companies and Silicon Valley Companies (2014 Proxy Season); the complete survey is available here.

Since 2003, Fenwick has collected a unique body of information on the corporate governance practices of publicly traded companies that is useful for Silicon Valley companies and publicly-traded technology and life science companies across the U.S. as well as public companies and their advisors generally. Fenwick’s annual survey covers a variety of corporate governance practices and data for the companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index (S&P 100) and the high technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index (SV 150). [1]

…continue reading: Corporate Governance Survey—2014 Proxy Season Results

SEC Allows Exclusion of Conflicting Proxy Access Shareholder Proposal

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday December 21, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

On December 1, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a no-action letter, much awaited by the corporate community, to Whole Foods Market, Inc., concurring with the company that it may omit a proxy access shareholder proposal from its 2015 proxy materials. [1] The shareholder proposal, submitted by James McRitchie pursuant to Rule 14a-8, asked the Whole Foods board to amend the company’s governing documents to allow any shareholder or group of shareholders collectively holding at least three percent of the company’s shares for at least three years to nominate directors, which the company would then be required to list on its proxy statement. The proposal added that parties nominating directors “may collectively make nominations numbering up to 20% of the Company’s board of directors, or no less than two if the board reduces the number of board members from its current size.”

…continue reading: SEC Allows Exclusion of Conflicting Proxy Access Shareholder Proposal

ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Saturday November 29, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have both released updates to their respective proxy voting guidelines. [1] ISS’s revised policies will take effect for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015. Glass Lewis’s new policies will take effect for meetings occurring after January 1, 2015, while its clarifications of existing policies are effective immediately.

…continue reading: ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

The Next Wave of Proxy Access Proposals

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday November 24, 2014 at 9:14 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from David J. Berger, partner focusing on corporate governance at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and is based on a WSGR Alert memorandum.

The Comptroller of the City of New York, who oversees pension funds with a combined $160 billion in assets, recently submitted proxy access shareholder proposals at 75 U.S. public companies as part of its Boardroom Accountability Project. [1] These 75 companies, representing a wide range of industries and market capitalizations, were targeted based on three “priority issues”: climate change, board diversity, and executive compensation.

“Proxy access” proposals seek to provide shareholders with a mechanism for placing their nominees for director in a company’s proxy statement and on its proxy card, thereby avoiding the cost to a shareholder of sending out its own proxy statement. Under a typical proxy access bylaw, shareholders must hold a specified amount of stock in the company (e.g., 3 percent) for a certain period (e.g., 3 years), in addition to meeting other procedural requirements. Proponents of proxy access argue that it provides shareholders with a cost-effective means of running their own candidates for director, providing all shareholders with greater ability to shape the composition of the board.

…continue reading: The Next Wave of Proxy Access Proposals

ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday November 20, 2014 at 9:39 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko T. Lin and Ning Chiu.

ISS and Glass Lewis, two influential proxy advisory firms, have both released updates to their policies that govern recommendations for how shareholders should cast their votes on significant ballot items for the 2015 proxy season, including governance, compensation and environmental and social matters.

ISS policy updates are effective for annual meetings after February 1, 2015. We understand that the new Glass Lewis policies are effective for annual meetings after January 1, 2015, but clarifications to existing policies are effective immediately.

…continue reading: ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

Proxy Access Proposals for the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Friday November 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

A number of U.S. companies have recently received “proxy access” shareholder proposals submitted under SEC Rule 14a-8. Many of the recipients have been targeted under the New York City Comptroller’s new “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project,” which is seeking to install proxy access at 75 U.S. publicly traded companies reflecting diverse industries and market capitalizations. Underlying the Comptroller’s selection of targets is a stated focus on climate change, board diversity and executive compensation.

…continue reading: Proxy Access Proposals for the 2015 Proxy Season

Proxy Access in the US

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday October 22, 2014 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Matt Orsagh, director at CFA Institute, and is based on the summary of a CFA publication, titled Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule; the complete publication is available here.

In this summary of CFA Institute findings, we take a brief look at the history of proxy access, discuss the pertinent academic studies, examine the benefits and limits of cost–benefit analysis, analyze the use of proxy access in non-US jurisdictions, and draw some conclusions.

How We Got Here

Proxy access refers to the ability of shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy ballot. This right is available in many markets, though not in the United States. Supporters of proxy access argue that it increases the accountability of corporate boards by allowing shareowners to nominate a limited number of board directors. Afraid that special-interest groups could hijack the process, opponents of proxy access are also concerned about its cost and are not convinced that proxy access would improve either company or board performance.

…continue reading: Proxy Access in the US

Important Proxy Advisor Developments

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Monday September 29, 2014 at 9:08 am
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, is available here.

As 2014 winds down and 2015 approaches, proxy advisory firms—and the investment managers who hire them—are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. Staff guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of June and a working paper published in August by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher both indicate that oversight of proxy advisory services will be a significant focus for the SEC during next year’s proxy season. Under the rubric of corporate governance, annual proxy solicitations have become referenda on an ever-widening assortment of corporate, social, and political issues, and, as a result, the influence and power of proxy advisors—and their relative lack of accountability—have become increasingly problematic. The SEC’s recent actions and statements suggest that the tide may be turning. Proxy advisory firms appear to be entering a new era of increasing accountability and potentially decreasing influence, possibly with further, more significant, SEC action to come.

…continue reading: Important Proxy Advisor Developments

Preparing for the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday September 26, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Lawrence R. Hamilton, partner in the Corporate & Securities practice at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

It is time for calendar year-end public companies to focus on the upcoming 2015 proxy and annual reporting season. This post discusses the following key issues for companies to consider in their preparations:

  • Pending Dodd-Frank Regulation
  • Say-on-Pay and Compensation Disclosure Considerations
  • Shareholder Proposals
  • Proxy Access
  • Compensation Committee Independence Determinations
  • Compensation Adviser Independence Assessment
  • Compensation Consultant Conflict of Interest Disclosure
  • NYSE Quorum Requirement Change
  • Director and Officer Questionnaires
  • Proxy Advisory Firm and Investment Adviser Matters
  • Conflict Minerals
  • Cybersecurity
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis
  • XBRL
  • Proxy Bundling
  • Foreign Issuer Preliminary Proxy Statement Relief
  • Technology and the Proxy Season

…continue reading: Preparing for the 2015 Proxy Season

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