Vice Chancellor Laster has been writing for several years about the fiduciary duties of directors who represent the interests of a particular block of stockholders. In his opinion in the Trados Shareholder Litigation he found that directors, elected by the venture capital investors who held Trados’s preferred stock, had a conflict of interest in deciding on a sale of the corporation in which all the proceeds would be absorbed by the liquidation preference of the preferred and nothing would go to the common.  As a result of this finding, Vice Chancellor Laster applied the entire fairness standard of review to the Trados board’s decision. He concluded that while the directors failed to follow a fair process, the transaction was fair because the common stock had no economic value before the sale and so it was fair for the common stock to receive nothing from the sale.  In a recent Business Lawyer article which he co-authored with Delaware practitioner John Mark Zeberkiewicz,  Vice Chancellor Laster extended his Trados conflict of interest analysis to other situations in which directors represent stockholder constituencies with short-term investment horizons, including directors elected by activist stockholders seeking immediate steps to increase the near term stock price of the corporation. He states that such directors can face a conflict of interest between their duties to the corporation and their duties to the activists.
Posts Tagged ‘Controlling shareholders’
Our paper, Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings: Results and Future Perspectives, provides an analysis of the empirical data of shareholders’ say on pay in Italian general meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Say on pay, a shareholders’ advisory vote on a company’s remuneration policy, was introduced in Italy following the European Commission (EC) Recommendations N. 2004/913/EC, N. 2005/162/EC, N. 2009/384/EC and N. 2009/385/EC, which allowed member States to choose between implementing a binding or non-binding advisory shareholder vote on a company’s remuneration policy. Like most European states, Italy has opted for the “weaker” non-binding option. Reference is made to both approval votes (by controlling shareholders) and dissenting votes sometimes casted by minority shareholders (mainly, foreign institutional investors). The dissenting vote, in particular, shows a paramount critical value as originating by shareholders who are independent from the directors involved by the resolution—unlike the controlling shareholders who have nominated and subsequently elected the directors (to whom may often be linked by family or economic ties). In recent years, a significant increase in voting by minority shareholders, mainly foreign institutional investors, regarding—but not limited to—remuneration policies has been noted. This is a direct consequence of the procedural changes introduced by the Shareholder Rights’ Directive n. 36/2007/EC (e.g. record date, reduction of threshold to call special meeting, relaxation of proxy voting and solicitation rules, extension of time—prior to general meeting—to release relevant information for the items of the agenda and translation of documents into English, etc.).
In In re Zhongpin Inc. S’holders Litig., the Delaware Court of Chancery denied motions to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against an alleged controlling stockholder and members of the company’s board of directors, holding that the plaintiffs had raised reasonable inferences that (i) although the stockholder held only 17.3% of the company’s outstanding common stock, as CEO and Chairman of the Board, he possessed “both latent and active control” over the company, and (ii) the sales process was not entirely fair.
Emphasizing the demanding pleading standards a shareholder must meet to show that a minority shareholder controls a board of directors, on November 25, Vice Chancellor Glasscock dismissed claims for breach of fiduciary duties against the directors of Sanchez Energy Corporation in connection with a corporate acquisition of assets. The decision in In Re Sanchez Energy Derivative Litigation, C.A. No. 9132 VEG, reinforces the Chancery Court’s insistence that shareholder plaintiffs plead specific facts to raise reasonable doubts whether directors lack independence, especially when it comes to longstanding personal and business relationships. To sustain a claim that minority shareholders exercised domination and control over a board of directors, plaintiffs must plead specific facts demonstrating actual control of the board in the transaction at issue in the lawsuit.
More than a decade ago, Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried published the seminal work on the role and significance of managerial power theory in executive compensation. Their work cultivated a vivid debate on executive compensation in companies with dispersed ownership. The discourse on the optimality of executive pay in controlled companies, however, has been more monolithic. Conventional wisdom among corporate law theorists has long suggested that the presence of a controlling shareholder should alleviate the problem of managerial opportunism because such a controller has both the power and incentives to curb excessive executive pay.
My Article, Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal, challenges that common understanding by proposing a different view that is based on an agency problem paradigm, and by presenting a comprehensive framework for understanding the relationship between concentrated ownership and executive pay. On the theoretical level, the Article shows that controlling shareholders often have incentives to overpay professional managers instead of having an arm’s-length contract with them, and therefore it suggests that compensation practices in a large number of controlled companies may have their own pathologies.
Two recent Chancery Court decisions, Crimson Exploration and KKR Financial, confirm that Delaware takes a flexible and fact-specific approach to determining whether a stockholder is deemed to be “controlling” for purposes of judicial review of a transaction. It is important for dealmakers to understand when the courts may make a determination of control, both to properly craft a defensible process and to understand the prospects for resulting deal litigation.
On October 24, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a decision, In Re: Crimson Exploration Inc. Stockholder Litigation, addressing when: (i) a stockholder with less than majority voting power may be deemed a controlling stockholder, and (ii) the controlling stockholder’s actions trigger “entire fairness” review of a challenged merger. The court also rejected criticisms of the seller’s financial advisor based on supposed conflicts of interest and flawed valuation methodologies.
The decision provides important guidance for directors and their advisors in merger transactions where one stockholder or a cohesive group of stockholders holds a sizable share of company stock.
Wall Street is eagerly watching what is expected to be one of the largest initial public offerings (IPOs) in history: the offering of the Chinese Internet retailer Alibaba at the end of this week. Investors have been described by the media as “salivating” and “flooding underwriters with orders.” It is important for investors, however, to keep their eyes open to the serious governance risks of investing in Alibaba.
In a New York Times DealBook column, posted today, I analyze these governance risks. I show that Alibaba’s ownership structure does not provide adequate protections to public investors. In particular, such investors should worry that, over time, a significant amount of the value created by Alibaba would not be shared with them. Investors participating in the IPO, I conclude, should recognize the significant governance risks they will be taking.
The column, Alibaba’s Governance Leaves Investors at a Disadvantage, is available here.
On June 25, 2014, the UK Government published the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill  which, among other things, proposes that all UK companies (other than publicly traded companies reporting under the Disclosure and Transparency Rules (DTR5)) be required to maintain a register of people who have significant control over the company. The Bill is part of the UK Government’s initiative to implement the G8 Action Plan to prevent the misuse of companies and legal arrangements agreed at the Lough Erne G8 Summit in June 2013, which we discussed in our client alert entitled “Through the Looking Glass: The Disclosure of Ultimate Ownership and the G8 Action Plan” (June 20, 2013).  In broad terms, the G8 Action Plan is designed to ensure the integrity of beneficial ownership and basic company information and the timely access to that information by law enforcement and tax authorities.
The following amendments to Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) Section 251(h) have been passed by the Delaware legislature, clarifying a number of issues that have arisen since adoption of the law last year. If signed by the Governor (as is expected), the amendments will apply to merger agreements entered into on or after August 1, 2014. Under Section 251(h), a merger agreement can include a provision that eliminates the need for a target stockholder vote for a merger after a tender or exchange offer if, among other conditions, the acquiror then owns at least the number of shares that would be sufficient to approve the merger under the DGCL and the target’s charter. The amendments provide for the following: