2013 was the strongest year for venture-backed initial public offerings (IPOs) in almost a decade: 82 deals (the most since 2007) generated aggregate proceeds of over $11.2 billion, an average offering amount of $137.2 million. At least one venture-backed company went public each month in 2013, and the pace of IPOs has accelerated in the first three months of 2014.
Posts Tagged ‘Boards of Directors’
In its recent decision in In Re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation,  the Delaware Court of Chancery, in a footnote, touches on what it means for directors to be “fully protected” by §141(e) of the Delaware General Corporation Law when they rely on information, opinions, reports or statements provided to them by officers, employees, board committees or experts. While not central to the Rural Metro decision, this is an issue that should be of interest to conscientious public company directors. Below I suggest that, as currently applied, §141(e) does not sufficiently protect conscientious directors, examine why that may be so, highlight the need for alternative approaches to provide truly full protection without undermining other important conduct imperatives Delaware law imposes on directors and others, and offer some suggestions toward that end.
We published this post last August. Since then there have been several developments that prompt us to revisit it; adding the first three paragraphs below.
First, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. published a brilliant article in the Columbia Law Review, Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law in which he points out the serious defects in allowing short-term investors to override carefully considered judgments of the boards of directors of public corporations. Chief Justice Strine rejects the argument of the academic activists and activist hedge funds that shareholders should have the unfettered right to force corporations to maximize shareholder value in the short run. We embrace Chief Justice Strine’s reasoning and conclusions.
On March 7, 2014, Vice Chancellor Travis Laster of the Delaware Court of Chancery found a financial advisor liable for aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duties by the board of Rural/Metro Corporation in connection with the company’s 2011 sale to an affiliate of Warburg Pincus LLC. In its 91-page, post-trial opinion, the Court concluded that the financial advisor allowed its interests in pursuing buy-side financing roles in both the sales of Rural/Metro and Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) to negatively affect the timing and structure of the company’s sales process, that the board was not aware of certain of these actual or potential conflicts of interest, and that the valuation analysis provided to the board was flawed in several respects. Both the Rural/Metro board of directors and a second financial advisor to Rural/Metro settled before trial for $6.6 million and $5.0 million, respectively.
On March 7, the Delaware Court of Chancery published a post-trial opinion in In Re Rural Metro Corporation Stockholders Litigation (Rural Metro) finding Rural/Metro’s financial advisor RBC liable for aiding and abetting the Rural/Metro’s board of directors’ breach of its fiduciary duties in connection with the acquisition of Rural/Metro by Warburg Pincus. The decision is the latest in a series of Delaware opinions concerning conflicts of interest of banks and investment firms in advising companies in buy-out transactions.
The past year in executive compensation has been marked by two continuing trends: (1) a continuing refinement of conceptions of so-called “best practices” advocated by certain shareholders and responses to those refinements by compensation committees, most notably in the context of the nonbinding, advisory “say-on-pay” vote required by the Dodd-Frank Act (“Dodd-Frank”) and (2) an increased desire by corporations to engage with shareholders to convince them of the appropriateness of their responses and the corporation’s compensation arrangements generally. Against this backdrop, the key challenge for compensation committee members has been to continue to approve compensation programs that directors believe are right for their corporations while maintaining a sufficient understanding of these emerging shareholder views and communicating the appropriateness of their arrangements to avoid attacks that could undermine directors’ abilities to act in their company’s best interest.
The Conference Board, NASDAQ OMX and NYSE Euronext announced last week the renewal of their research collaboration to document the state of corporate governance practices among publicly listed corporations in the United States.
The centerpiece of the collaboration is The 2014 Board Practice Survey, which the three organizations are disseminating to their respective memberships. Findings will constitute the basis for a benchmarking tool searchable by market index, company size (measured by revenue and asset value) and industry sectors. In addition, they will be described in Director Compensation and Board Practices: 2014 Edition, scheduled to be released jointly in the fall.
The 2008 financial crisis and the slow recovery that has followed has brought further evidence tending to support the view that the structure of our corporate sector needs adjustment, and that its faults affect the competitiveness of our economy. The crisis has resulted, as would be expected, in a raft of new rules and regulations, which as usual have been implemented before there emerged any consensus about the nature of the problems. There has also been a vigorous competition of ideas over causes and remedies.
Many corporate executives and board members view activist investors as little more than bullies with calculators: they seem to hunt in packs, force disruptive and risky changes, and use simplistic benchmarks as their call to action.
Yet their ranks have grown rapidly, and activist investors now attack even the largest and most successful companies. Worldwide, the assets managed by activist investors have increased sevenfold over the past decade, from $12 billion to $85 billion. Since 2005, the number of activist campaigns in the U.S. has increased 15 percent per year, reaching a total of 144 in 2012. These investors have pushed for the return of excess cash to shareholders at Apple; urged restructuring through spinoffs and divestitures at PepsiCo, Sony, Timken, and McGraw-Hill; and called for the replacement of senior management or board members at Abercrombie & Fitch, Yahoo, and Sotheby’s.
Last week, the Delaware Court of Chancery reached the rare conclusion that an independent, disinterested board breached its fiduciary duties in connection with an arm’s-length, third-party, premium merger transaction. The decision, In re Rural Metro Corp. Stockholders Litig., C.A. No. 6350-VCL (Del. Ch. Mar. 7, 2014), which relies heavily on findings that the board’s financial advisor had undisclosed conflicts of interest, holds the advisor liable for aiding and abetting the breaches, but does not reach the question of whether the directors themselves could have been liable, as they settled before trial. The decision sends a strong message that boards should actively oversee their financial advisors in any sale process.