On the heels of SEC Chair White’s direction to the Division of Corporation Finance to review its position on proxy proposal conflicts under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have issued clarifying policies on proxy access, entering the fray of what is becoming the hottest debate this proxy season. The publication of ISS’s updated policy in particular means that market forces may have outpaced the SEC’s review process. In order to avoid risking a withhold or no-vote recommendation from ISS against their directors, many companies will be faced with the choice of (i) including any shareholder-submitted proxy access proposal in their proxy materials (either alone or alongside a management proposal) (ii) excluding the shareholder submitted proposal on the basis of a court ruling or no-action relief from the Division of Corporation Finance on a basis other than Rule 14a-8(i)(9) (conflict with management proposal) or (iii) obtaining withdrawal of the proposal by the shareholder proponent.
Posts Tagged ‘ISS’
US Executive Pay Overview
1. Which named executive officers’ total compensation data are shown in the Executive Pay Overview section?
The executive compensation section will generally reflect the same number of named executive officer’s total compensation as disclosed in a company’s proxy statement. However, if more than five named executive officers’ total compensation has been disclosed, only five will be represented in the section. The order will be CEO, then the second, third, fourth and fifth highest paid executive by total compensation. Current executives will be selected first, followed by terminated executives (except that a terminated CEO whose total pay is within the top five will be included, since he/she was an within the past complete fiscal year).
2. A company’s CEO has resigned and there is a new CEO in place. Which CEO is shown in the report?
Our report generally displays the CEO in office on the last day of the fiscal year; however, the longer tenured CEO may be displayed in some cases where the transition occurs very late in the year.
ISS is providing answers to frequently asked questions with regard to select policies and topics of interest for 2015:
Proxy Access Proposals
1. How will ISS recommend on proxy access proposals?
Drawing on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decades-long effort to draft a market-wide rule allowing investors to place director nominees on corporate ballots, and reflecting feedback from a broad range of institutional investors and their portfolio companies, ISS is updating its policy on proxy access to generally align with the SEC’s formulation.
Old Recommendation: ISS supports proxy access as an important shareholder right, one that is complementary to other best-practice corporate governance features. However, in the absence of a uniform standard, proposals to enact proxy access may vary widely; as such, ISS is not setting forth specific parameters at this time and will take a case-by-case approach when evaluating these proposals.
Vote case-by-case on proposals to enact proxy access, taking into account, among other factors:
The rise of shareholder activism in the realm of corporate governance has increasingly focused on board performance and the right of shareholders to replace those directors who are perceived to underperform. One proposed approach to facilitate the replacement of underperforming directors is to give shareholders direct access to the company’s proxy materials, including permitting the inclusion of a shareholder-proposed director nominee (or slate of nominees) and a statement in support thereof in the company’s proxy statement (which such approach is more commonly referred to as “proxy access”). Although current U.S. securities regulations do not grant shareholders access to company proxy materials, proxy access may be available to shareholders by way of a company’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or corporate governance guidelines), as permitted by state corporate law.
While proxy access did not garner significant attention over the past two proxy seasons, it is one of the most notable early developments of the 2015 proxy season. It has been reported that shareholders have submitted an estimated 100 proxy access proposals to U.S. companies, a considerable number of which will be voted upon by shareholders over the next several months. Proxy access will very likely be one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this proxy season.
1. What is the basis for ISS’ new scorecard approach for evaluating equity compensation proposals?
The new policy will allow more nuanced consideration of equity incentive programs, which are critical for motivating and aligning the interests of key employees with shareholders, but which also fuel the lion’s share of executive pay and may be costly without providing superior benefits to shareholders. While most plan proposals pass, they tend to get broader and deeper opposition than, for example, say-on-pay proposals (e.g., only 60% of Russell 3000 equity plan proposals garnered support of 90% or more of votes cast in 2014 proxy season, versus almost 80% of say-on-pay proposals that received that support level). The voting patterns indicate that most investors aren’t fully satisfied with many plans.
In the paper Understanding Director Elections: Determinants and Consequences, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide an in-depth examination of uncontested director elections. Using a hand-collected and comprehensive sample for director elections held at S&P 500 firms over the 2003–2010 period, we examine the factors driving shareholder votes in uncontested director elections, the effect of these votes on firms’ actions and the impact of these actions on firm value. We make three contributions.
First, it is well known that recommendations by the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) play a key role in determining the voting outcome. Yet, the question of what factors drive ISS recommendations and, thus, shareholder votes in uncontested director elections remains largely unanswered. To fill this gap, we use the reports ISS releases to its clients ahead of the annual meeting and identify the specific reasons underlying negative ISS recommendations. We find that 38.1% of the negative recommendations target individual directors (reflecting concerns with independence, meeting attendance and number of directorships), 28.6% target an entire committee (usually the compensation committee), and the remaining 33.3% target the entire board (mostly for lack of responsiveness to shareholder proposals receiving a majority vote in the past). A withhold recommendation by ISS is associated with about 20% more votes withheld, in line with prior research. More relevant to our study, there is substantial variation in votes withheld from directors conditional on the underlying reason. A board-level ISS withhold recommendation is associated with 25.48% more votes withheld, versus 19.73% and 16.44%, respectively, for committee- and individual-level withhold recommendations. The sensitivity of shareholder votes to ISS withhold recommendations is higher when there are multiple reasons underlying the withhold recommendation for the director (a proxy for more severe concerns) and at firms with poorer governance structures. These results suggest that shareholders do not blindly follow ISS recommendations but seem to take into account their rationale, their severity and other contextual factors (e.g. governance of the firm). However, cases of high votes withheld without a negative proxy advisor recommendation are rare, suggesting that voting shareholders only focus on the issues singled out by proxy advisors, potentially at the expense of other value-relevant factors (e.g. directors’ skill set, expertise and experience) for which proxy advisors have not (yet) developed voting guidelines (perhaps due to lack of sophistication or the inherent complexity of the issue).
1. How does the new approach differ from the previous approach?
Under the previous approach, ISS generally recommended for independent chair shareholder proposals unless the company satisfied all the criteria listed in the policy. Under the new approach, any single factor that may have previously resulted in a “For” or “Against” recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively. Thus, a holistic review of all of the factors related to company’s board leadership structure, governance practices, and performance will be conducted under the new approach.
For example, under ISS’ previous approach, if the lead director of the company did not meet each one of the duties listed under the policy, ISS would have recommended For, regardless of the company’s board independence, performance, or otherwise good governance practices.
Under the new approach, in the example listed above, the company’s performance and other governance factors could mitigate concerns about the less-than-robust lead director role. Conversely, a robust lead director role may not mitigate concerns raised by other factors.
Director tenure continues to gain attention in corporate governance as term limits become a cause célèbre. Proponents argue directors should no longer qualify as independent after 10 years of service, even though no law, rule or regulation prescribes a maximum term for directors.
We believe director term limits would be misguided and counterproductive. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has increased its focus on the issue. ISS’ governance rating system, QuickScore, views tenure of more than nine years as an “excessive” length that potentially compromises director independence. ISS’ more moderate proxy voting guidelines, while opposing proposals for director term limits and mandatory retirement ages, indicates that ISS will “scrutinize” boards whose average tenure exceeds 15 years.
ISS recently issued updated guidelines for several of its benchmark global voting policies, which will be effective for analyses of publicly traded companies with shareholder meetings on or after Feb. 1, 2015. For the 10th year running, ISS gathered broad input from institutional investors, corporate issuers, and other market constituents worldwide as a key part of its policy development process. The 2015 updates reflect the time and effort of hundreds of investors, issuers, corporate directors, and other market participants who provided input through a variety of channels, including ISS’ annual policy survey, topical and regional roundtables, and direct engagements with staff.
Boards of directors will soon shift attention to the 2015 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:
1. Be Prepared for Shareholder Activists. Companies today are more vulnerable to activist attacks than ever before. Companies should therefore ensure that they understand how their change in control protections function if an activist obtains a significant stake in the company or control of the board. A change in board composition can trigger the application of the golden parachute excise tax under Section 280G of the Internal Revenue Code and can result in negative tax consequences for executives and the company. In addition, in the age of performance awards and double-trigger vesting, clarity about the impact of a change in control on performance goals matters more than ever. Appropriate protections ensure that management will remain focused on shareholder interests during a period of significant disruption; inadequate protections can result in management departures at a time when stability is crucial.