Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that a current SEC Commissioner and a former SEC Commissioner (now a law professor) have published a lengthy paper challenging the scholarly bona fides—and legality—of the recent efforts by the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) to cause major American corporations to declassify their boards of directors. During the past three proxy seasons, the Harvard SRP has promulgated numerous stockholder-sponsored precatory resolutions calling for declassification of companies with staggered boards, and has succeeded in causing 98 companies to remove their staggered structure and have all their directors stand for election annually.
Posts Tagged ‘Martin Lipton’
On October 22, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services issued a note to clients entitled “The IRR of ‘No’.” The note argues that shareholders of companies that have successfully “just said no” to hostile takeover bids have incurred “profoundly negative” returns. In a note we issued the same day, we called attention to critical methodological and analytical flaws that completely undermine the ISS conclusion. Others have also rejected the ISS methodology and conclusions; see, for example, the November analysis by Dr. Yvan Allaire’s Institute for Governance of Public and Private Organizations entitled “The Value of ‘Just Say No’” and, more generally, a December paper by James Montier entitled “The World’s Dumbest Idea.” Of course, even putting aside analytical flaws, statistical studies do not provide a basis in individual cases to attack informed board discretion in the face of a dynamic business environment. The debate about “just say no” has been raging for the 35 years since Lipton published “Takeover Bids in the Target’s Boardroom,” 35 Business Lawyer p.101 (1979). This prompts looking at the most prominent 1979 “just say no” rejection of a takeover.
The challenges that directors of public companies face in carrying out their duties continue to grow. The end goal remains the same, to oversee the successful, profitable and sustainable operations of their companies. But the pressures that confront directors, from activism and short-termism, to ongoing shifts in governance, to global risks and competition, are many. A few weeks ago we issued an updated list of key issues that boards will be expected to deal with in the coming year (accessible at this link: The Spotlight on Boards, and discussed on the Forum here). Highlighted below are a few of the more significant issues and trends that we believe directors should bear in mind as they consider their companies’ priorities and objectives and seek to meet their companies’ goals.
This year has seen a continuance of the high and increasing level of activist campaigns experienced during the last 14 years, from 27 in 2000 to nearly 250 to date in 2014, in addition to numerous undisclosed behind-the-scenes situations. Today, regardless of industry, no company can consider itself immune from potential activism. Indeed, no company is too large, too popular or too successful, and even companies that are respected industry leaders and have outperformed peers can come under fire. Among the major companies that have been targeted are, Amgen, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Hess, P&G, eBay, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, and PepsiCo. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds have approximately $200 billion of assets under management. They have become an “asset class” that continues to attract investment from major traditional institutional investors. The additional capital and new partnerships between activists and institutional investors have encouraged increasingly aggressive activist attacks.
The ever evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have almost as much influence on board and company behavior.
Boards are expected to:
The experience of the overwhelming majority of corporate managers, and their advisors, is that attacks by activist hedge funds are followed by declines in long-term future performance. Indeed, activist hedge fund attacks, and the efforts to avoid becoming the target of an attack, result in increased leverage, decreased investment in CAPEX and R&D and employee layoffs and poor employee morale.
Several law school professors who have long embraced shareholder-centric corporate governance are promoting a statistical study that they claim establishes that activist hedge fund attacks on corporations do not damage the future operating performance of the targets, but that this statistical study irrefutably establishes that on average the long-term operating performance of the targets is actually improved.
In a memorandum issued by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (Wachtell) last week, Do Activist Hedge Funds Really Create Long Term Value?, the firm’s founding partner Martin Lipton and another senior partner of the law firm criticize again my empirical study with Alon Brav and Wei Jiang, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. The memorandum announces triumphantly that Wachtell is not alone in its opposition to our study and that two staff members from the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) in Montreal issued a white paper (available here) criticizing our study. Wachtell asserts that the IGOPP paper provides a “refutation” of our findings that is “academically rigorous.” An examination of this paper, however, indicates that it is anything but academically rigorous, and that the Wachtell memo is yet another attempt by the law firm to run away from empirical evidence that is inconsistent with its long-standing claims.
About a year ago, Professor Lucian Bebchuk took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to declare that he had conducted a study that he claimed proved that activist hedge funds are good for companies and the economy. Not being statisticians or econometricians, we did not respond by trying to conduct a study proving the opposite. Instead, we pointed out some of the more obvious methodological flaws in Professor Bebchuk’s study, as well as some observations from our years of real-world experience that lead us to believe that the short-term influence of activist hedge funds has been, and continues to be, profoundly destructive to the long-term health of companies and the American economy.
The Pershing Square-Valeant hostile bid for Allergan has captured the imagination. Other companies are wondering whether they too will wake up one morning to find a raider-activist tag-team wielding a stealth block of their stock. Serial acquirers are asking whether they should be looking to take advantage of this new maneuver. Speculation and rumor abound of other raider-activist pairings and other targets.
Questions of legality are also being raised. Pershing Square and Valeant are loudly proclaiming that they have very cleverly (and profitably) navigated their way through a series of loopholes to create a new template for hostile acquisitions, one in which the strategic bidder cannot lose and the activist greatly increases its odds of catalyzing a quick profit-yielding event, investing and striking deals on both sides of a transaction in advance of a public announcement.
Corporate risk taking and the monitoring of risks have remained front and center in the minds of boards of directors, legislators and the media, fueled by the powerful mix of continuing worldwide financial instability; ever-increasing regulation; anger and resentment at the alleged power of business and financial executives and boards, including particularly as to compensation during a time of economic uncertainty, retrenchment, contraction, and changing dynamics between U.S., European and emerging market economies; and consistent media attention to corporations and economies in crisis. The reputational damage to boards of companies that fail to properly manage risk is a major threat, and Institutional Shareholder Services now includes specific reference to risk oversight as part of its criteria for choosing when to recommend withhold votes in uncontested director elections. This focus on the board’s role in risk management has also led to increased public and governmental scrutiny of compensation arrangements and their relationship to excessive risk taking and has brought added emphasis to the relationship between executive compensation and effective risk management. For the past few years, we have provided an annual overview of risk management and the board of directors. This overview highlights a number of issues that have remained critical over the years and provides an update to reflect emerging and recent developments.