Spin-off transactions require a focused, intensive planning effort. The deal team must make decisions about how best to allocate businesses, assets and liabilities between the parent and the subsidiary that will be spun-off. It must address complex tax issues, securities law questions and accounting matters, as well as issues related to capital structure, financing and personnel matters. In addition, it must resolve a long list of governance issues, including questions about the composition of the spin-off company board, the importance of mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest and the desirability of robust takeover defenses.
Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Ising’
Shareholder activism continues to dominate the corporate landscape and attract daily headlines in the financial press. And, as the pace of activism accelerates in 2015, a number of legal battles over the last two years between companies and activists has put in the spotlight the permissible scope and function of advance notice bylaws—a term that we broadly define for these purposes to cover bylaw provisions establishing timing, procedural and informational requirements for shareholders seeking to present director nominations and other business proposals to a shareholder vote. 
A typical advance notice bylaw requires that shareholders submit to the corporate secretary notice of all director nominations and business to be put to a vote at an annual meeting within a thirty-day window that opens and closes on specified deadlines preceding the anniversary date of the prior year’s annual meeting date (or, less common, related proxy statement). Such a notice often must be accompanied by information about the nominee or business, and the proposing shareholder. This information is generally intended to enhance the board’s ability to advise shareholders regarding the nominee or proposal, as well as potential sources of conflict between the proponent and other shareholders.
Last May, Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., the provider of proxy services for over 90% of public companies and mutual funds in North America (“Broadridge”), decided to end its established practice of providing interim vote tallies (sometimes referred to as “preliminary voting results”) to proponents of shareholder proposals. Following this change in practice, the Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”) sent a letter to the SEC asking the Commission to reverse Broadridge’s change in practice. Later in July, Broadridge reviewed its decision, promising to “continue to monitor developments on th[e] issue” and noting that it is contractually obligated to follow client directions regarding release of interim vote tallies.
On January 8, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services, Inc. (“ISS”) announced that it will launch a new version of QuickScore (“QuickScore 2.0”) on February 18, 2014. QuickScore benchmarks a company’s governance risk against other companies in the Russell 3000 Index based on a number of weighted governance factors. QuickScore 2.0 will use a different method to score companies’ governance risk and will automatically reflect changes in companies’ governance structures based on publicly disclosed information.
Gibson Dunn successfully represented DeVry Inc. in obtaining no-action relief from the SEC staff (the “Staff”) for the exclusion of a shareholder proposal requesting that DeVry “annually report to shareholders on the expected ability of students at Company-owned institutions to repay their student loans.” The shareholder proposal, which was submitted by the New York City Comptroller’s Office on behalf of several New York City pension funds, specified particular quantitative and other information to be included in the requested report.
Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), the most influential proxy advisory firm, today launched its annual global policy survey. Each year, ISS solicits comments in connection with its review of its proxy voting policies. At the end of this process, in November 2013, ISS will announce its updated proxy voting policies applicable to 2014 shareholders’ meetings.
Results from the policy survey that ISS posted on its website today will be used by ISS to inform its voting policy review. The survey includes questions on a variety of governance and executive compensation topics, including:
Shareholder proposals continued to attract significant attention during the 2013 proxy season. This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies during the 2013 proxy season, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests  and other Staff guidance, majority votes on shareholder proposals and litigation seeking to exclude shareholder proposals.
1. Shareholder Proposal Statistics and Voting Results
According to data from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), shareholders submitted approximately 820 proposals to date for 2013 shareholder meetings, up from approximately 739 proposals submitted for 2012 shareholder meetings.  The most common 2013 shareholder proposal topics, along with the approximate number of proposals submitted, were:
During the 2012 proxy season, the SEC staff concurred that a number of high profile shareholder proposals could be excluded from company proxy statements because various key terms in the proposals were not adequately defined or explained within the text of the proposal and supporting statement. See e.g., WellPoint, Inc. (SEIU Master Trust) (avail. Feb. 24, 2012, recon. denied Mar. 27, 2012) (concurring with exclusion of an independent chair proposal that referred to the New York Stock Exchange standard of independence without defining it because “neither shareholders nor the company would be able to determine with any reasonable certainty exactly what actions or measures the proposal requires”); Textron Inc. (avail. Mar. 7, 2012) (arguing that a reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements in a proxy access shareholder proposal was vague and indefinite, although the staff ultimately concurred with the exclusion of the shareholder proposal on other grounds); Dell Inc. (avail. Mar. 30, 2012) (concurring with the exclusion of a similar proxy access shareholder proposal because the proposal’s reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements was vague and indefinite). While these no-action letters reflected long-standing SEC staff precedent, in the current proxy season, there has continued to be a large number of no-action requests arguing that various terms in shareholder proposals are undefined or vague and therefore excludable under Rule 14a-8(i)(3).
Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., Inc. (“Glass Lewis”), the two major proxy advisory firms, recently released updates to their proxy voting policies for the 2013 proxy season. The ISS U.S. Corporate Governance Policy 2013 Updates (the “ISS Policy Updates”), which are available at http://issgovernance.com/policy/2013/policy_information, apply to shareholder meetings held on or after February 1, 2013. ISS also has released updated Frequently Asked Questions (the “ISS FAQs”), available at the link above, relating to its 2013 policies. The Glass Lewis Proxy Paper Guidelines for the 2013 Proxy Season (the “Glass Lewis Guidelines”) will be effective for annual meetings held on or after January 1, 2013. A summary of the updates to the Glass Lewis Guidelines is available here. This alert reviews the most significant ISS and Glass Lewis updates and suggested steps for companies to consider in light of these updated proxy voting policies.
With the arrival of fall, calendar-year companies are gearing up for what promises to be another busy proxy season, preparing for new rules that will impact their disclosures and governance practices, and planning their 2013 board and committee calendars. To assist public companies in these endeavors, we discuss below ten key items for corporate secretaries and in-house counsel to consider.