The private equity firm that was the controlling stockholder of Orchard Enterprises effected a squeeze-out merger of the minority public stockholders. Two years later, a Delaware appraisal proceeding determined that Orchard’s shares at the time of the merger were worth more than twice as much as was paid in the merger. Public shareholders then brought suit, claiming that the directors who had approved the merger and the controlling stockholder had breached their fiduciary duties and should be held liable for damages. The Orchard decision  issued by the Delaware Chancery Court this past Friday adjudicates the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment before trial.
Posts Tagged ‘Board independence’
U.S. public companies face a host of challenges as they enter 2014. Here is our list of hot topics for the boardroom in the coming year:
- 1. Oversee strategic planning amid continuing fiscal uncertainty and game-changing advances in information technology
- 2. Address cybersecurity
- 3. Set appropriate executive compensation as shareholders increasingly focus on pay for performance and activists target pay disparity
- 4. Address the growing demands of compliance oversight
- 5. Assess the impact of health care reform on the company’s benefit plans and cost structure
- 6. Determine whether the CEO and board chair positions should be separated
- 7. Ensure appropriate board composition in light of increasing focus on director tenure and diversity
- 8. Cultivate shareholder relations and strengthen defenses as activist hedge funds target more companies
- 9. Address boardroom confidentiality
- 10. Consider whether to adopt a forum selection bylaw
On November 26, 2013, the Nasdaq Stock Market filed a proposal to amend its listing rules implementing Rule 10C-1 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, governing the independence of compensation committee members.  Currently, Nasdaq Listing Rule 5605(d)(2)(A) and IM-5605-6 employ a bright line test for independence that prohibits compensation committee members from accepting directly or indirectly any consulting, advisory or other compensatory fees from the company or any subsidiary. The requirement is subject to exceptions for fees received for serving on the board of directors (or any of its committees) or fixed amounts of compensation under a retirement plan for prior service with the company provided that such compensation is not contingent on continued service.
The Florida State Board of Administration (the “SBA”) takes steps on behalf of its participants, beneficiaries, retirees, and other clients to strengthen shareowner rights and promote leading corporate governance practices among its equity investments in both U.S. and international capital markets. The SBA adopts and reports clearly stated, understandable, and consistent policies to guide its approach to key issues. These policies are disclosed to all clients and beneficiaries.
The SBA supports the adoption of internationally recognized governance practices for well-managed corporations including independent boards, transparent board procedures, performance-based executive compensation, accurate accounting and audit practices, and policies covering issues such as succession planning and meaningful shareowner participation. The SBA also expects companies to adopt rigorous stock ownership and retention guidelines, and implement well designed incentive plans with disclosures that clearly explain board decisions surrounding executive compensation.
Reputation concerns create strong incentives for independent directors to be viewed externally as capable monitors as well as to retain their most valuable directorships. In our paper, Reputation Incentives of Independent Directors: Impacts on Board Monitoring and Adverse Corporate Actions, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we extend this literature significantly by examining the effects of differential reputation incentives across firms that arise when a director holds multiple directorships.
Firms having boards composed of a greater portion of independent directors for whom this directorship represents one of their most prestigious are associated with firm actions known to reward directors and are negatively associated with firm actions known to be costly to director reputations. Specifically, they are associated with a lower likelihood of covenant violations, earnings management, earnings restatements, shareholder class action suits and dividend reductions. In addition, we also find they are positively associated with stock repurchases and dividend increases.
Research on the composition and structure of the board of directors is a thriving subject in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The discussion thus far has assumed that finding the right board members is extremely important because they tend to enhance corporate strategy and decision-making. Consider the case of Apple’s board. Following Steve Jobs’ return to the firm in 1997, he understood well the important role of the board of directors to both improve company productivity and build relationships with its suppliers and customers. In order for the board of directors to become a competitive advantage and help carry Apple forward, its members needed to have a thorough understanding of the computer industry and the firm’s products. Accordingly, a change in the composition of the board of directors was arguably a necessary first step to bring back focus, relevance and interaction (with the outside world) to the company in its journey to introduce disruptive innovations and creative products to its customers. The result was impressive: Between August 6th, 1997 (the day the “new” board was introduced) and August 23rd, 2011 (the last day of Jobs as the CEO of Apple), the stock price soared from $25.25 to $360.30, increasing 1,327 per cent.
At common law, an interested director was barred from participating in corporate decisions in which he had an interest, and therefore “disinterested” directors became desirable. This concept of the disinterested, director developed into the model of an “independent director” and was advocated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) and court decisions as a general ideal in a variety of situations. The SEC’s view of the need for independent directors should be understood in the context of Adolph Berle’s theory of the 1930s that shareholders had abdicated control of public corporations to corporate managers, and fiduciary duties needed to be imposed upon corporate boards in order to compensate for this loss of shareholder control. Berle’s writings laid the foundation for shareholder primacy as the theory of the firm, a theory embraced by the SEC, which viewed itself as a surrogate for investors.
The SEC has generally succeeded in imposing its corporate governance views in the wake of scandals. Following the sensitive payments enforcement program of the 1970s, the SEC embarked on an activist corporate governance reform program. During the merger and acquisition frenzy of the 1980s, the SEC used the Williams Act to foster the view that the market for corporate control constrained incompetent managers. After the bursting of the technology bubble in 2000, and the financial reporting scandals that ensued, the SEC was able to incorporate its views on independent directors into the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (Sarbanes-Oxley). Following the financial crisis of 2008, the SEC further enforced its views on the requirements for independent directors in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank).
The composition and behavior of securities markets and investors has changed drastically since the SEC was established in 1934. Yet, the SEC has persisted in its path-dependent view that independent directors, ever more stringently defined, should dominate the boards of public companies.
It is a privilege to appear before a group that is so important to the strength and integrity of the fund industry. Independent directors have significant responsibilities, and it requires tremendous effort and time on your part to do your job well. I applaud your efforts to learn from the professionals who are participating in this conference. The insights of the panels you heard yesterday and this morning, and those you will hear after lunch will provide valuable information.
The importance of mutual funds in the lives of American investors is clear. Mutual funds hold close to $14 trillion of the hard earned savings of over 53 million American households. The majority of Americans access the markets through mutual funds. They invest in funds, and hope their investments will grow, for many reasons—to make a down payment on a house, to save for a college education, and ultimately to pay for a retirement.
“Can we end the long tradition of the boardroom as a sealed chamber…? Can we move toward more transparency about the boardroom process…?”
—Leon Panetta 
Companies preparing for their annual shareholder meetings in 2014 should be aware of a new governance challenge: opposition to the election of individual directors is becoming a strategy of choice not only for activists but for “responsible” investors seeking change at portfolio companies. Withholding (or threatening to withhold) votes for incumbent directors, supporting short slate campaigns, or voting for dissident candidates in proxy contests are no longer considered hardball tactics for use only in extreme cases. Institutional investors who in the past would routinely support incumbent directors have learned an important lesson from the success of hedge funds and activists: targeting directors gets the immediate attention of companies, promotes dialogue, attracts media coverage and increases pressure on other investors to support shareholder initiatives.
The MFW decision that was issued earlier this year by the Chancellor of the Delaware Chancery Court has been the subject of much discussion with respect to transactions involving controlling shareholders.  But the decision also addressed another important topic: the interplay between the exchange rules and Delaware law with respect to director independence. MFW seemed to align the Delaware law test for director independence with the specific, detailed independence requirements in the exchange rules, but Delaware decisions since MFW continue to reflect highly fact-intensive inquiries that look beyond the bright-line exchange rules. Accordingly, it is important to consider both the exchange rules and the latest guidance from Delaware courts when assessing director independence.