2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Thursday February 26, 2015 at 9:24 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). The following post relates to ISS’ 2015 Benchmark Proxy Voting Policies.

ISS is providing answers to frequently asked questions with regard to select policies and topics of interest for 2015:

Proxy Access Proposals

1. How will ISS recommend on proxy access proposals?

Drawing on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decades-long effort to draft a market-wide rule allowing investors to place director nominees on corporate ballots, and reflecting feedback from a broad range of institutional investors and their portfolio companies, ISS is updating its policy on proxy access to generally align with the SEC’s formulation.

Old Recommendation: ISS supports proxy access as an important shareholder right, one that is complementary to other best-practice corporate governance features. However, in the absence of a uniform standard, proposals to enact proxy access may vary widely; as such, ISS is not setting forth specific parameters at this time and will take a case-by-case approach when evaluating these proposals.

Vote case-by-case on proposals to enact proxy access, taking into account, among other factors:

…continue reading: 2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday February 24, 2015 at 9:09 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating Partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The rise of shareholder activism in the realm of corporate governance has increasingly focused on board performance and the right of shareholders to replace those directors who are perceived to underperform. One proposed approach to facilitate the replacement of underperforming directors is to give shareholders direct access to the company’s proxy materials, including permitting the inclusion of a shareholder-proposed director nominee (or slate of nominees) and a statement in support thereof in the company’s proxy statement (which such approach is more commonly referred to as “proxy access”). Although current U.S. securities regulations do not grant shareholders access to company proxy materials, proxy access may be available to shareholders by way of a company’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or corporate governance guidelines), as permitted by state corporate law.

While proxy access did not garner significant attention over the past two proxy seasons, it is one of the most notable early developments of the 2015 proxy season. It has been reported that shareholders have submitted an estimated 100 proxy access proposals to U.S. companies, a considerable number of which will be voted upon by shareholders over the next several months. Proxy access will very likely be one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this proxy season.

…continue reading: Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

Ensuring the Proxy Process Works for Shareholders

Posted by Luis A. Aguilar, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday February 20, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today’s [February 19, 2015] Roundtable on Proxy Voting is certainly timely since over the course of the next several months, thousands of America’s public companies will hold annual shareholders meetings to elect directors and to vote on many important corporate governance issues. The start of the annual “proxy season” is an appropriate time to consider the annual process by which companies communicate with their shareholders and get their input on a variety of issues. Whether it’s voting on directors, executive compensation matters, or other significant matters, the annual meeting is the principal opportunity for shareholders—the true owners of public companies—to have their voices heard by the corporate managers of their investments. At these annual meetings, shareholders can express their support, or disappointment, with the direction of their companies through the exercise of their right to vote.

…continue reading: Ensuring the Proxy Process Works for Shareholders

SEC Proposes Proxy Disclosure Rules for Hedging by Directors, Officers and Employees

Editor’s Note: Steven Rosenblum is a partner in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz client memorandum by Mr. Rosenblum, Andrew R. Brownstein, and Sabastian V. Niles.

Pursuant to Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC on February 9, 2015 proposed hedging disclosure rules for public comment and review. These rules, if adopted, would require proxy statements involving the election of directors to disclose whether the company permits employees (including officers), members of the board of directors or their designees to engage in transactions to hedge or offset any decrease in the market value of equity securities that are granted to the employee or board member as compensation or otherwise held, directly or indirectly, by the employee or board member, regardless of source.

…continue reading: SEC Proposes Proxy Disclosure Rules for Hedging by Directors, Officers and Employees

SEC to Review Excluding Conflicting Proxy Proposals under Rule 14a-8

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday February 10, 2015 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Robert B. Schumer, chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White has directed the Division of Corporation Finance (“Corporation Finance”) to review its position on Rule 14a-8(i)(9), which allows a company to exclude a shareholder proposal from the company’s proxy materials if it “conflicts” with the company’s own proposal to be submitted to shareholders at the same meeting. As a result of this direction, Corporation Finance will express “no views” on the application of Rule 14a-8(i)(9) this proxy season.

The catalyst for this development was a shareholder proposal submitted by proponent James McRitchie to Whole Foods Market, Inc., requesting that the company adopt “proxy access” procedures generally to allow one or more shareholders owning at least 3% of the company’s voting securities for three or more years to nominate up to 20% of the board of directors via the company’s proxy materials. Whole Foods countered with its own proposal that included significantly different share ownership and holding period thresholds and director nominee caps, but nevertheless was granted no-action relief by Corporation Finance, allowing it to exclude the McRitchie proposal under Rule 14a-8(i)(9) on the basis that it conflicted with Whole Foods’ proposal and the proposals would “present alternative and conflicting decisions for the Company’s shareholders that would likely result in inconsistent and ambiguous results”. Thereafter, Mr. McRitchie, the Council of Institutional Investors and others have called for the SEC to review its position on these “conflicts”, which SEC Chair White has now done. Corporation Finance has since effectively rescinded its no-action relief to Whole Foods and stated that it has no view of Rule 14a-8(i)(9).

…continue reading: SEC to Review Excluding Conflicting Proxy Proposals under Rule 14a-8

Engagement and Activism in the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Friday February 6, 2015 at 9:02 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 the 2015 proxy season approaches, the dominant theme appears to be the interaction between directors and investors. Though, traditionally, there was little to no direct engagement, recent experience indicates that communication between these two groups is now on the rise, in some cases resulting in collaboration. This is potentially a beneficial development, particularly insofar as it may help companies and long-term investors work together to resist pressure from activist shareholders seeking short-term profits. In the current environment where activists and hedge funds appear to wield unprecedented financial and political leverage, and the influence of proxy advisors is as significant as it is controversial, the predominant trend seems to be “toward diplomacy rather than war.” Organizations such as the Shareholder-Director Exchange, which began last year to offer guidance to shareholders and boards on direct engagement, are promoting policies that may reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of contentious public disagreements.

…continue reading: Engagement and Activism in the 2015 Proxy Season

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

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