In recent years, shareholders of US public companies have increasingly invited dialogue with management, sometimes even demanding personal interaction with directors. This trend is part of a new paradigm in the corporate governance realm. Historically, despite some management engagement with shareholders, companies have seen little in the way of direct dialogue between shareholders and members of the board of directors. For most public companies, governance strategies have seldom included systematic engagement with shareholders beyond quarterly earnings calls, investor conferences and traditional investor relations efforts.
That was then, this is now. More than ever before, institutional shareholders are aggressively exerting their influence in the name of holding companies and management accountable. Emboldened (or pressured) by recent events — high-profile corporate governance and executive compensation controversies, the financial collapse and public criticism of pay disparities — these shareholders increasingly seek to influence board-level decisionmaking, often deploying incendiary buzzwords such as “corporate mismanagement,” “excessive risk taking,” “pay-for-failure” and the like. All told, the new paradigm represents a significant shift for most public companies.
In this Commentary, we discuss:
- The current state of corporate governance and signposts along the way to the existing state of affairs
- How and when public companies can benefit from shareholder engagement
- The components of an effective shareholder engagement program