In an opinion  issued on September 9, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Glasscock) held that in a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger subject to entire fairness review at the outset, disinterested directors entitled under a company’s charter to exculpation for duty of care violations cannot prevail in a motion to dismiss even though the claims against them for breach of fiduciary duty are not pled with particularity; instead, the issue of whether they will be entitled to exculpation must await a developed record, post-trial. The decision once again highlights the litigation cost that will be imposed on companies engaged in controlling stockholder freeze-out mergers for failing to employ both of the safeguards that Delaware has endorsed to ensure business judgment, instead of entire fairness, review—(1) an up-front non-waivable commitment by the controller to condition the transaction on an informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders and (2) approval of the transaction by a well-functioning and broadly empowered special committee of disinterested directors. At the motion to dismiss stage, disinterested directors effectively will be treated in the same manner as controllers and their affiliated directors.
Archive for the ‘Boards of Directors’ Category
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
- Management’s Discussion and Analysis
- Proxy Bundling
- Foreign Issuer Preliminary Proxy Statement Relief
- Technology and the Proxy Season
Directors’ and officers’ (“D&O”) insurance coverage continues to represent a key element of corporate risk management. See memo of July 28 2009. A decision in the bankruptcy of commodities brokerage MF Global, In re MF Global Holdings Ltd., No. 11-15059 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 4, 2014), provides a recent illustration of how D&O insurance may be treated upon the bankruptcy of the insured company, depending on the specific structure and terms of the insurance at issue.
On September 4, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued two lengthy post-trial opinions,  both authored by Vice Chancellor John W. Noble, finding that recapitalization or restructuring transactions did not satisfy the entire fairness standard of review. Although plaintiffs in each instance had received a fair price, the court found that the defendants had employed unfair processes and breached their fiduciary duties.
Significantly, one of the cases involved a recognizable set of facts: various plaintiff stockholders challenged a recapitalization that was approved at the same time the company conducted an “insider” round of financing as the company was running out of cash. The recapitalization and financing were approved by a five-member board of directors, three of whom were designated by venture capital funds that either participated in the financing or were said to have received a special benefit, with no participation by the company’s other stockholders. While the company received an informal and insider-led valuation of $4 million at the time of the recapitalization, the court found that the company’s equity at that time actually had a value of zero. However, as a result of the recapitalization, the company was able to acquire new lines of businesses. Four years after the recapitalization, the company was sold for $175 million. Following the sale, six years of litigation unfolded.
Financial reports should provide useful information to both shareholders and creditors, according to U.S. accounting principles. However, directors of corporations have fiduciary duties only toward equity holders, and those fiduciary duties normally do not extend to the interests of creditors. In our paper, Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether this slant in corporate governance biases financial reports in favor of equity investors. We show that the likelihood that firms will manipulate their reporting to circumvent debt covenants is higher when directors owe fiduciary duties only to equity holders, rather than when they owe fiduciary duties also to creditors. Covenants limit the amount of new debt that the firm issues, for example, and by that reduce bankruptcy risk, and allow creditors to avoid bankruptcy costs, and to recover more from the borrowing firm in case it approaches insolvency. When managers manipulate financial reports to circumvent these debt covenants, they transfer wealth from creditors to shareholders. Our results suggest that when corporate governance is designed to protect only equity holders, firms’ financial reports serve equity holders’ interests at the expense of other stakeholders. We find that when the legal regime requires directors to consider creditors’ interests, firms are less likely to use structured transactions designed to skirt debt covenant limits, particularly if the board of directors of the firm is independent.
In our June 4, 2014 article on cyber security and cyber governance  we noted that for many reasons, boards of directors and executives of U.S. companies needed to reexamine how they protect (and respond to the successful hacking of) their most critical intellectual property and customer information. One of the reasons was that all signs out of Washington, D.C. pointed towards increasing federal regulation and oversight of cyber security for public and private companies, and particularly for those in the financial services sector. Further, we foresaw not only heightened scrutiny from regulators, but increasing class action litigation, with plaintiffs accusing boards and management of not taking the appropriate steps to protect company and client data. Our predictions were correct on all fronts.
The ever evolving challenges facing corporate 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:
“Proxy season” is stretching longer and longer with each passing year as the “off season” has become the season to engage with institutional shareholders and to prepare for the next season. With 2014’s annual meetings now largely completed and the 2015 proxy season on the horizon, now seems a good time to review lessons learned and themes from 2014. This Corporate Governance Update addresses some of the developments that shaped the proxy season in 2014 and discusses points worth considering as preparations for the 2015 season begin.
This is our second annual report on board leadership.
The numbers and trends are interesting but the subtleties and substance behind them are extremely valuable as the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and Korn Ferry continue their study of high-performing boards. The thoughtful selection and performance of board leaders is one of two pillars of leadership that drive long-term shareholder value—the other being the CEO of the company.
There is universal agreement that each board must have an independent leader but how each company has achieved this takes many shapes.
In this year’s report, we see continued evidence of a slow and deliberate trend toward separation of the roles, higher in mid-cap companies than the large-cap S&P 500. Key catalysts included activism, and a transition of CEO leadership that prompted the board to elect to separate the roles. Between this report and the next, Korn Ferry and NACD will be in active discussion with companies that have changed leadership structures in the last several years and will ask the following questions to uncover what is driving long-term shareholder value:
Why the Cybersecurity Framework was created and why it is so important
Despite the fact that companies are continuing to increase spending on cybersecurity initiatives, data breaches continue to occur. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Global cybersecurity spending by critical infrastructure industries was expected to hit $46 billion in 2013, up 10% from a year earlier according to Allied Business Intelligence Inc.”  Despite the boost in security spending, vulnerabilities, threats against these vulnerabilities, data breaches and destruction persist. To combat these issues, the President on February 12, 2013 issued Executive Order (EO) 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.”  The EO directed NIST, in cooperation with the private sector, to develop and issue a voluntary, risk-based Cybersecurity Framework that would provide U.S. critical infrastructure organizations with a set of industry standards and best practices to help manage cybersecurity risks.