Independent directors are an integral part of corporate governance. Despite the copious scholarly debates surrounding board independence, little progress has been made in studying the inner workings of public boards. Taking China as an empirical site, in our paper, Independent Directors’ Dissent on Boards: Evidence from Listed Companies in China, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we offer one of the first statistical investigations of the circumstances under which so-called “independent” directors voice their independent views. Unlike most of the previous models that view boards as a monolithic entity that “shares a common agenda on all matters” (Hermalin and Weisbach, 2003), our data allow us to see boards as consisting of individuals with different utility functions and to examine board behaviors at the individual director level. We view this as the first step in a long research journey.
Posts Tagged ‘Board independence’
The recent shareholder “campaign” by a coalition of large institutional investors – AFSCME Employees Pension Plan, Hermes Fund Managers, the New York City Pension Funds, and the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds – sought on its face to pressure the JPMorgan Chase & Co. board of directors to amend the bylaws to require that the role of chair be held by an independent director. It became a referendum on two additional issues: Mr. Dimon’s competence as a manager, and the competence of the board’s oversight of risk management. Unfortunately for “good governance,” the three issues become conflated and lead to harangues, heat, and polar positions by all sides, leading to little that’s instructive. It’s worth separating the issues to seek guidelines for the future.
Thoughtful advocates recognize that the board should have flexibility to determine leadership based on the company’s circumstances and rather than seeking to mandate the practice of independent chairmanship, view it as the appropriate default standard – or presumptive model. Even so, very few advocates of the independent chair model favor stripping an extant CEO/chair of the chair title; rather, they urge boards to consider separation upon CEO succession, unless there is an urgent need.
In an important and thoughtful decision that will influence the structure of future going-private transactions by controlling stockholders, Chancellor Strine of the Delaware Court of Chancery applied the business judgment rule—instead of the more onerous entire fairness review—to a going-private merger by a controlling stockholder because the merger was structured to adequately protect minority stockholders. The decision is likely to be appealed, but if affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court on appeal, the case should provide certainty in an area of the law that has been a source of debate and uncertainty for two decades. The decision, In re MFW Shareholders Litigation, provides a detailed roadmap to obtaining the more favorable business judgment rule review and reducing the considerable litigation costs and risks associated with entire fairness review.
The court in MFW held that if the transaction is (1) negotiated by a fully-empowered special committee of directors who are independent of the controlling stockholder and (2) conditioned on the approval of a majority of the minority stockholders, then entire fairness review will not apply. The court noted the following key elements of the process:
As discussed in our previous memo, in January 2013, the SEC approved amendments to the NYSE and Nasdaq listing standards relating to compensation committees and their advisers. Unless they have already done so, companies should begin implementing the new requirements with respect to compensation committees and their advisers that take effect on July 1, 2013. Compensation committee action is required in order to comply with these requirements.
Companies should note that, while the new rules require compensation committees to consider the independence of their advisers, the rules do not require that such advisers be independent, nor is any aspect of the mandated independence review required to be disclosed publicly (other than proxy disclosure concerning compensation consultants to a company or its compensation committee).
Companies should also note that this independent assessment applies only to advisers; there will be a separate independence assessment of directors required later, as noted below.
In the paper, Governance in Executive Suites, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, my co-author (Yao Lu) and I analyze the interplay between governance in executive suites and board monitoring. We find an exogenous shock increasing board independence weakens governance in executive suites. The empirical proxy for the strength of governance in executive suites is based on the governance mechanism identified by Landier et al. (2009), wherein dissenting executives steer CEOs towards more shareholder friendly decisions through “an efficient implementation constraint that disciplines the decision-making process.”
Since 2003, Fenwick has collected a unique body of information on the corporate governance practices of publicly traded companies that is useful for all 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).  In this report, we present statistical information for a subset of the data we have collected over the years. These include:
The high pay of U.S. CEOs relative to their foreign counterparts has been cited as evidence of excesses in U.S. executive compensation practices. This perception of a “pay divide” between the United States and the rest of the world is usually based on estimates provided by professional services firms like Towers Watson that receive a good deal of press coverage. However, attempts to understand the magnitude and determinants of the U.S. pay premium have been plagued by data limitations due to international differences in rules regulating the disclosure of executive compensation.
In our paper, Are U.S. CEOs Paid More? New International Evidence, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use new data to compare CEO pay in 1,648 U.S. firms versus 1,615 firms from 13 foreign countries. Thanks to recently expanded disclosure rules, our sample includes publicly listed firms from both Anglo-Saxon and continental European countries that had mandated disclosure of CEO pay by 2006. It covers nearly 90% of the market capitalization of firms in these markets and, importantly, comprises firms with different corporate governance arrangements.
The 2012 proxy season saw a continued high rate of governance-related shareholder proposals at large U.S. public companies, including proposals on separation of the roles of the CEO and chair, the right to call special meetings, action by written consent, declassified boards and majority voting. As in prior years, these governance-related proposals received high levels of support, and were the category of proposal that had the best chance of receiving shareholder approval. Proposals on social issues (particularly those related to political contributions and lobbying costs) and compensation-related issues (including equity retention policies) also remained common but, as in the past, these proposals rarely received a majority vote, generally had lower levels of support than governance-related proposals, and served primarily as a vehicle for shareholder activists to express their views.
On June 20, 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) released its final rules (the “Final Rules”) implementing Section 952 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”). Section 952 of the Dodd-Frank Act (“Section 952”) added Section 10C to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) and contains a number of provisions generally relating to the independence of compensation committees and their advisers. The Final Rules are in most respects identical to the proposed rules released on March 30, 2011 (the “Proposed Rules”).  Below is a summary of the provisions of the Final Rules, noting the key changes from the Proposed Rules.
The two most authoritative positions in a boardroom are the CEO and the chairman. However, when these roles are combined, all the authority is vested in one individual; there are no checks and balances, and no balance of power. The CEO is charged with monitoring him or herself, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. Indeed, if the CEO is responsible for running the company, and the board is tasked with overseeing the CEO’s decisions in the interests of shareholders, how can the board properly monitor the CEO’s conduct if he or she is also serving as board chair?
While the theory behind separating the two roles has been the subject of much shareholder and governance activist protest and commentary, an analysis of GMI Ratings’ data suggests that other, more practical considerations would support the separation of the two roles. In addition to the inherent conflict of interest already discussed, CEOs who also command the title of chairman are more expensive than their counterparts serving solely as CEO. In fact, executives with a joint role of chairman and CEO are paid more than even the combined cost of a CEO and a separate chairman. Also, companies with a combined CEO and chairman appear to present a greater risk of ESG (environmental, social and governance) and accounting risk than companies that separate the roles. Furthermore, companies with combined CEOs and chairmen also appear to present a greater risk for investors and provide lower stock returns over the longer term than companies that have separated the roles. Thus having a separate chairman and CEO costs less, is less risky and is a better investment. This report focuses on 180 North American mega-caps, those with a market capitalization of $20 billion or more. This group was chosen because, given the relative complexity of running the companies, it might be expected that the resulting differentials between leadership structures in cost structure, performance and risk exposure would be more marked. Here are some of the main findings of the report: