Posts Tagged ‘Proxy advisors’

2014 Proxy Season Review

Editor’s Note: H. Rodgin Cohen is a partner and senior chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP focusing on acquisition, corporate governance, regulatory and securities law matters. The following post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Cohen, Glen T. Schleyer, Melissa Sawyer, and Janet T. Geldzahler; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

During the 2014 proxy season, governance-related shareholder proposals continued to be common at U.S. public companies, including proposals calling for declassified boards, majority voting in director elections, elimination of supermajority requirements, separation of the roles of the CEO and chair, the right to call special meetings and the right to act by written consent. While the number of these proposals was down from 2012 and 2013 levels, this decline related entirely to fewer proposals being received by large-cap companies, likely due to the diminishing number of large companies that have not already adopted these practices. Smaller companies, at which these practices are less common, have not seen a similar decline and, if anything, are increasingly being targeted with these types of proposals.

…continue reading: 2014 Proxy Season Review

SEC Staff Releases Guidance Regarding Proxy Advisory Firms

Posted by Amy L. Goodman, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, on Thursday July 3, 2014 at 9:21 am
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Editor’s Note: Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

On June 30, 2014, the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (the “Commission”) Division of Investment Management and Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”) issued much-anticipated guidance regarding proxy advisory firms, in the form of 13 Questions and Answers. Published in Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (“SLB 20″), available at http://www.sec.gov/interps/legal/cfslb20.htm, the Staff’s guidance addresses both (1) investment advisers’ responsibilities in voting client proxies and retaining proxy advisory firms (Questions 1-5), and (2) the availability and requirements of two exemptions to the proxy rules often relied upon by proxy advisory firms (Questions 6-13).

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Pre-Flight Checklist: 2014 Update

Posted by Eric Geringswald, Corporation Service Company, on Thursday July 3, 2014 at 9:19 am
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Editor’s Note: Eric Geringswald is Director of CSC® Publishing at Corporation Service Company. This post is an excerpt from the 2014 Edition of The Directors’ Handbook, by Thomas J. Dougherty of Skadden, Arps.

In this year’s Foreword, Dougherty differentiates the need for directors to focus on their core mission of informed oversight and vigilance rather than merely reacting to the constant influx of “daily corporate governance commentary,” and explores other front-burner issues, such as the marked increase in SEC enforcement actions and other recent SEC initiatives; the continuing trend of class action suits as de facto settlement instruments; proxy advisory firm priorities for directors; and new guidance from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that recommends that audit committee directors discuss internal auditing deficiencies with their auditors.

…continue reading: Pre-Flight Checklist: 2014 Update

Proxy Advisory Firms and Corporate Governance Practices: One Size Does Not Fit All

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday June 18, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier.

The 2014 proxy season, like previous seasons, has provided shareholders of public US companies with an opportunity to vote on a number of corporate governance proposals and director elections. Throughout this proxy season, proxy advisory firms have provided shareholder vote recommendations “for” or “against” those proposals and “for” or to “withhold” votes for directors. Certain proxy advisory firms, such as Institutional Shareholders Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., LLC (“Glass Lewis”), have also published updated corporate governance ratings reports on public companies, including evaluations of a company’s corporate governance risk profile.

…continue reading: Proxy Advisory Firms and Corporate Governance Practices: One Size Does Not Fit All

Best Practice Principles for Proxy Advisors and Chairman’s Report

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday June 10, 2014 at 9:20 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Dirk A. Zetzsche, Propter Homines Chair for Banking and Securities law at the Institute for Financial Services of the University of Liechtenstein and Director of the Center for Business & Corporate Law at Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf/Germany. Following the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA)’s push for self-regulation of the proxy advisory industry, an industry group published its “Best Practice Principles for Providers of Shareholder Voting Research & Analysis”. Professor Zetzsche functioned as independent chairman of the group.

Regulation of proxy advisers is a widely discussed subject matter worldwide. The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the regulator responsible for enforcing European securities regulation, declared in its ESMA Final Report and Feedback Statement on the Consultation Regarding the Role of the Proxy Advisory Industry in February 2013, to favor a self-regulatory approach over mandatory regulation of the industry. “In order to ensure a robust process in developing, maintaining, and updating the Code of Conduct,” ESMA set up a list of key governance for developing a Code of Conduct for the industry (see ESMA, Final Report, at p. 11). These included, inter alia, a transparent composition and the appointment of an independent Chair that possesses the relevant skills and experience. The Code of Conduct was required to “adequately address the needs and concerns of all relevant stakeholders (including proxy advisors themselves, institutional investors, and issuers).” ESMA’s Final Report offered guidance for the detailed elaboration of the Code of Conduct on certain subject matters. In particular, ESMA asked the industry to respond to concerns regarding conflicts of interests and communication with issuers.
…continue reading: Best Practice Principles for Proxy Advisors and Chairman’s Report

Shareholder Voting in an Age of Intermediary Capitalism

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday April 16, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Paul H. Edelman and Randall S. Thomas, Professor of Law and Mathematics and Professor of Law and Business, respectively, at Vanderbilt University, and Robert Thompson, Professor of Business Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Shareholder voting, once given up for dead as a vestige or ritual of little practical importance, has come roaring back as a key part of American corporate governance. Where once voting was limited to uncontested annual election of directors, it is now common to see short slate proxy contests, board declassification proposals, and “Say on Pay” votes occurring at public companies. The surge in the importance of shareholder voting has caused increased conflict between shareholders and directors, a tension well-illustrated in recent high profile voting fights in takeovers (e.g. Dell) and in the growing role for Say on Pay votes. Yet, despite the obvious importance of shareholder voting, none of the existing corporate law theories coherently justify it.

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European Commission Proposes to Moderate Short-termism and Reduce Activist Attacks

Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton.

Two articles (among several) in a comprehensive proposal to revise EU corporate governance would have a significant beneficial impact if they were to be adopted in the United States. In large measure they mirror recommendations by Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr., in two essays: Can We do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, 114 Columbia Law Review 449 (Mar. 2014) and One Fundamental Corporate Governance Question We Face: Can Corporations Be Managed for the Long Term Unless Their Powerful Electorates Also Act and Think Long Term? 66 Business Lawyer 1 (Nov. 2010).

…continue reading: European Commission Proposes to Moderate Short-termism and Reduce Activist Attacks

Current Thoughts About Activism, Revisited

Posted by Martin Lipton, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Tuesday April 8, 2014 at 9:19 am
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Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Steven A. Rosenblum, and Sabastian V. Niles. Wachtell Lipton’s earlier memorandum on current thoughts on activism is available here, their earlier memoranda criticizing an empirical study by Bebchuk, Brav and Jiang on the long-term effects of hedge fund activism are available here and here, and their earlier memoranda criticizing the Shareholder Rights Project are available here and here. The Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang study is available here, Lucian Bebchuk’s earlier response to the criticism of the Shareholder Rights Project is available here, and the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang responses to the Wachtell Lipton criticisms of their study are available here and here.

We published this post last August. Since then there have been several developments that prompt us to revisit it; adding the first three paragraphs below.

First, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. published a brilliant article in the Columbia Law Review, Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law in which he points out the serious defects in allowing short-term investors to override carefully considered judgments of the boards of directors of public corporations. Chief Justice Strine rejects the argument of the academic activists and activist hedge funds that shareholders should have the unfettered right to force corporations to maximize shareholder value in the short run. We embrace Chief Justice Strine’s reasoning and conclusions.

…continue reading: Current Thoughts About Activism, Revisited

Governance Priorities for 2014

Editor’s Note: Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. This post is based on an article that originally appeared in Practical Law The Journal. The views expressed in the post are those of Ms. Gregory and do not reflect the views of Sidley Austin LLP or its clients.

As the fallout from the financial crisis recedes and both institutional investors and corporate boards gain experience with expanded corporate governance regulation, the coming year holds some promise of decreased tensions in board-shareholder relations. With governance settling in to a “new normal,” influential shareholders and boards should refocus their attention on the fundamental aspects of their roles as they relate to the creation of long-term value.

Institutional investors and their beneficiaries, and society at large, have a decided interest in the long-term health of the corporation and in the effectiveness of its governing body. Corporate governance is likely to work best in supporting the creation of value when the decision rights and responsibilities of shareholders and boards set out in state corporate law are effectuated.

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Selected Issues for Boards of Directors in 2014

Posted by Alan L. Beller, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, on Saturday February 1, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Alan L. Beller is a partner focusing on complex securities, corporate governance and corporate matters at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post is based on a Cleary Gottlieb memorandum.

Over the past year, boards of directors continued to face increasing scrutiny from shareholders and regulators, and the consequences of failures became more serious in terms of regulatory enforcement, shareholder litigation and market reaction. We expect these trends to continue in 2014, and proactive board oversight and involvement will remain crucial in this challenging environment.

During 2013, activist investors publicly pressured all types of companies—large and small, high-flyers and laggards—to pursue strategies focused on short-term returns, even if inconsistent with directors’ preferred, sustainable long-term strategies. In addition, activists increasingly focused on governance issues, resulting in heightened shareholder scrutiny and attempts at participation in areas that historically have been management and board prerogatives. We expect increased activism in the coming year. We also expect boards to continue to have to grapple with oversight of complex issues related to executive compensation, shareholder litigation over significant transactions, risk management, tax strategies, proposed changes to audit rules, messaging to shareholders and the market, and board decision-making processes. And, as evidenced in recent headlines, in 2014 the issue of cybersecurity will demand the attention of many boards.

…continue reading: Selected Issues for Boards of Directors in 2014

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