Archive | January, 2014

Video Friday: Margaret Blair – Making The Hard Call: The Unheralded Role of Corporate Boards of Directors

MargaretBlairThe UBC Faculty of Law welcomed its fourth Fasken Martineau Visiting Senior Scholar, Professor Margaret Blair. Professor Blair is an economist who focuses on management law and finance. Her current research focuses on five areas: team production and the legal structure of business organizations, legal issues in the governance of supply chains, the role of private sector governance arrangements in contract enforcement, the legal concept of corporate “personhood,” the historical treatment of corporations by the Supreme Court, and the problem of excessive leverage in financial markets.

Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia. It has become part of the accepted corporate governance wisdom in the U.S., as well as in numerous other countries, that boards of directors of publicly-traded corporations Continue Reading →

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Proxy Access is Needed at Apple

silver-apple-logo-apple-pictureDespite the Apple Board’s best effort to obtain a “no-action” letter to exclude my proxy access proposal, it is included among the items to be voted on at or before the annual meeting to be held on February 28 at our Company’s principal executive offices in Cupertino, CA.  See Apple’s proxy, Proxy Proposal 11, ‘Proxy Access for Shareholders’ on page 63. (A minor gripe – why doesn’t Apple provide a linked index to our proxy so that shareholders can easily flip to the subject they are looking for? Let’s hope part of their strategy isn’t making it too hard to analyze the issues and vote.)

Here’s the thrust of my argument. We need directors who can address the big money pile – not with short-term buyback strategies that facilitate extraction of value but with long-term strategies that create value. Investing $150B in Treasuries or money markets is not efficient use of our money. The returns of Google Ventures, for example, are far above the industry’s mean. There is no reason why Apple couldn’t also put our money to good use though an Apple Ventures type of vehicle or through a revamped and enhanced Blue Sky program.  Continue Reading →

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Take Action: Join Nader's Penny Brigade

RalphNaderSome have argued that Ralph Nader started socially responsible shareholder activism with Campaign GM, when the group filed shareholder proposals to expand GM’s board to include consumer advocates and empower shareholders to place their board nominees on GM’s proxy ballot (proxy access).  According to a recent article in the WSJ, the longtime consumer advocate is now putting together a shareholder-activism group. (Ralph Nader Adds Shareholder Activist to His Portfolio, 1/15/2014) Continue Reading →

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Review: Corporation Nation

Corporation Nation (Haney Foundation Series) by Robert E. Wright  delves into the history of the corporation, particularly in pre-Civil War United States (the antebellum period). Like the earlier reviewed Shareholder Democracies?: Corporate Governance in Britain and Ireland before 1850, Corporation Nation addresses central issues such as agency theory, democracy and public interest through the lens of history.

Despite protests that corporations were potentially corrupting, U.S. state governments early on combined to charter more corporations per capita than any other nation—including Britain—effectively making the United States a “corporation nation.” Robert E. Wright traces the shift in corporate governance from relatively self-governing business republics to the much more regulated entities we are familiar with today. Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: The Myth of Maximizing Shareholder Value With Bill Lazonick

InstituteForNewEconomicThinkingThe Institute for New Economic Thinking has a mission to nurture a global community of next-generation economic leaders, to provoke new economic thinking, and to inspire the economics profession to engage the challenges of the 21st century.  Learn more about the Institute. Read their research papers. Check out their Blog. Join their mailing list.

In the video below, Bill Lazonick talks about government’s historic involvement in the economy and the role of workers. Executives say workers are their most important assets but Lazonick reminds us they are not on the balance sheet; we abolished slavery long ago. Since the 1980s, there has been less emphasis on investing in workers. The ideology of ‘shareholder value’ actually has influenced how business allocates profits. Continue Reading →

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Technology at the Top, the Changes Made in the Boardroom

Amanda-Biggs

Amanda Biggs

Guest post from Amanda Biggs, web manager and governance writer. By participating in the expansion of the Leading Boards portal for boards of directors, she has specialized on issues concerning the arrival of technology inside the boardroom.

All through the last decade new technology solutions and tools have moved from being non-existent to becoming a “must have” for many directors worldwide. Indeed, research and development led to “board portals” which are adapted to the boardrooms’ needs and have become be necessary for the modern challenges that boards face concerning workflow and management. The advent of the iPad with its mobile Continue Reading →

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SEC-IAC to Meet January 31st

SECThe Securities and Exchange Commission Investor Advisory Committee (SEC-IAC), established pursuant to Section 911 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, will hold a public meeting on Friday, January 31, 2014, in Multi-Purpose Room LL-006 at SEC headquarters, 100 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20549. The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m. (EDT) and end at 4:30 p.m. and will be open to the public, except during portions of the meeting reserved for meetings of the Committee’s subcommittees.
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Review: Handbook of Research on Promoting Women's Careers

The march of women into the upper echelon seems inevitable. A few points from the introduction:HandbookOfResearchOnPromotingWomensCareers

  • 60% of recent university graduates have been women, 50% of those graduating with advanced degrees in law and medicine, 1/3 of those with MBAs.
  • There will be labor and skill shortages in all developed countries over the next two decades as baby-boomers retire.
  • Women make 89% of the consumer purchasing decisions.
  • Companies with more women in top management positions are more successful.
  • Women are less greedy, less likely to engage in theft, fraud and corruption, protecting their organizations from failure and poor reputation.
  • Organizations retaining and advancing qualified women have an advantage in the war for talent. Continue Reading →
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Investing in Women & Inalienable Rights: Part II

Yesterday, in Part I, I discussed the most recent UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders: A Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers and how it led me to invest disproportionately in firms with more women CEOs and NEOs. Just how are women different than men and what kind of changes can we expect or hope for?

More Evidence Women Leaders Make Difference

And there is this from a recent article in The Economist (Vive la différence!, 12/7/2013): Men&WomenBrainWiring

MEN and women do not think in the same ways. Few would disagree with that. And science has quantified some of those differences. Men, it is pretty well established, have better motor and spatial abilities than women, and more monomaniacal patterns of thought. Women have better memories, are more socially adept, and are better at dealing with several things at once. There is a lot of overlap, obviously. But on average these observations are true…

the cross-talk between them in women, suggested by the wiring diagrams, helps explain their better memories, social adeptness and ability to multitask, all of which benefit from the hemispheres collaborating. In men, by contrast, within-hemisphere links let them focus on things that do not need complex inputs from both hemispheres. Continue Reading →

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Investing in Women & Inalienable Rights: Part I

UCDstudyCAWomenBusinessLeadersSince starting this blog in 1995, I’ve pushed for greater diversity on boards and in named executive officers (NEOs). Progress has proceeded at a glacial pace, at least in the United States. For the ninth year, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, in partnership with Watermark, published the annual UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders: A Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers. The study found the average Top 25 firms (which have 25+% women at upper levels) makes three times as much revenue and almost 50% more net income than the average company in the study (which has 10.9% women).

After reading the study, I took the plunge, investing in seven of the top 25 California companies with the highest percentage of women leaders. Hopefully, investing in women will reap additional rewards and will help me carry on with my efforts to make corporate governance more democratic. Women obviously bring a different perspective that pays financial dividends. Will women in positions of power also result in a more salubrious environment, recognition of human rights and a more equitable distribution of wealth?

I invested in the following: Annie’s (BNNY), Medivation (MDVN), Genomic Health (GHDX), Bio-Rad Laboratories (BIO), NETGEAR (NTGR), Symantec (SYMC), and Visa (V). I’ve been trying to invest in Yahoo! (YHOO) and SciClone Pharmaceuticals (SCLN) but haven’t been successful at the prices I’ve bid. I already had investments in Walt Disney (DIS). See all my investments under Disclosures. Continue Reading →

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Take Action: Support CII Rulemaking Petition for "Universal" Proxy

CII-logoThe Council of Institutional Investors (CII) filed a rulemaking petition with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking that it amend its rules for contested elections so that “shareholders can vote for any combination of management and dissident nominees they wish to represent them.”  I hope readers will join with me in sending e-mails in support of the petition to the SEC.  Instructions on how to do so can be found at the bottom of this post. 

This petition is a followup to action they took on July 23, 2013 when the Policies Committee of CII approved a draft proposal for a Universal Proxy. Key, was addition of the following sentence to their policy on director elections:

To facilitate the shareholder voting franchise, the opposing sides engaged in a contested election should utilize a proxy card naming all management-nominees and all shareholder-proponent nominees, providing every nominee equal prominence on the proxy card.  Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Board Assessment

Leblanc

Dr. Richard Leblanc

Dr. Richard Leblanc created this week’s video to discuss his board assessment tool that addresses a key deficiency in corporate governance: namely the review of board and individual director performance. Surveys show that many or most boards of directors self-review their own performance, and possibly the performance of individual directors, or do not do so at all. Management often unduly influences and facilitates internal board reviews, setting and managing questions and data, and Continue Reading →

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Quick Bites on CorpGov

UnknownDon’t miss the following great reads:

 Activist shareholders’ top priorities for 2014. A must read for directors and shareowners alike. Here’s the first paragraph.

Many of us free ride on actions taken by active, long-term shareholders. These unsung heroes goad managers and boards to reach better decisions, make available desirable employment opportunities and, overall, push them to act like good corporate citizens. These active investors accomplish these things by talking to companies, preparing proxy proposals for all shareholders to consider, and offering recommendations on director elections and company-sponsored proxy measures.

Ralph Ward digs past the standard bullshit in his 2014 Boardroom Insider. Always plenty to chew on in a few short pages. Here’s a tidbit, which I hope will leave you wanting more, which includes more tips than you’ll find in pages and pages of other publications aimed at directors. Continue Reading →

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Gender Diversity: ICGN's Position

ICGNThe International Corporate Governance Network sent comments to the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) and the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). I think they warrant widespread reading and adoption. What follows are highlights from the OSC letter.

Gender diversity is a competitiveness issue for a company as a whole and a critical dimension of governance, both in the board’s oversight of the enterprise and in the board’s own composition and talent management. Increasing the representation of skilled and competent women on corporate boards will strengthen the corporate governance culture and ultimately contribute to value for all stakeholders. Continue Reading →

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Reeds Inc (REED): Examining The Vote

ReedsTshirt1

Reeds Hippie T-Shirt

ReedsRedAs some readers noted, I put in more effort at Reeds Inc. (REED) than at many of my other holdings, proposing proxy access and writing about the problems at Reeds four times before the annual meeting, even doing a short video.

My rationale is that while I am a small shareowner at both Apple and Reeds, for example, my proportionate share at Reeds is much larger. So, focusing more on Reeds makes sense for me personally. In addition, while other companies in my portfolio get plenty of attention from the financial press and often from other shareowner activists, Reeds does not. Additionally, although Reeds has great products, it is far from reaching its full potential.

I recommended against directors Muffoletto and Fischman because they own no shares, for a say-on-pay frequency of once each year to ensure annual accountability and, of course, I favored my own proxy access proposal to give shareowners a stronger voice going forward. Glancing at the 8-K report filed by Reeds after the AGM, you might think shareowners were in complete agreement with management. However, further analysis reveals otherwise. Continue Reading →

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Job: General Counsel at CalPERS

CalPERS-logoCalPERS is still recruiting to fill its vacant General Counsel position.  This is an exciting opportunity for a visionary in the legal profession to play a key role in a preeminent public pension fund.  Under the direction of the Chief Executive Officer, the General Counsel supports CalPERS in the management of a global portfolio of more than $270 billion, as well as complex financial and actuarial functions. The position is based in Sacramento, California. Continue Reading →

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Job: Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Proxy Research Associate – San Francisco

GlassLewisAs a member of Glass Lewis’ Environmental, Social & Governance Proxy Paper research team, you will analyze company filings, summarize their proposals, and offer voting recommendations to our clients–some of which include the world’s largest institutional investors. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the corporate structure, to research publicly-traded companies and how they are affected by sustainability-related issues and to work at the forefront of the emerging environmental, social & governance field. This will be a particularly valuable experience for those wishing to pursue careers or graduate study in law, business, and public policy, among others. Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Are Corporate Governance Standards Different for Smaller Firms?

MarkkulaCenterKirk O. Hanson, executive director of The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, interviews John W. Noble, vice chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery. Are there different ethical standards depending on the size of the company, and also for entrepreneurial ventures? What about a new company vs an established one? Noble responds: directors must act in an informed way and uphold the needs of the company and its shareholders first and foremost. Directors must keep these principles in mind, whatever the size of the company. But fiduciary responsibilities do vary according to the size of the enterprise. A larger enterprise can do things a smaller one can’t. But the bottom line is directors’ compliance. Continue Reading →

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BNY Mellon & PNC Asked to Drop Lockout Meeting Policies: Take Action

BNYFriends Fiduciary (FFC) took the lead advocate role in sending letters to BNY Mellon and PNC expressing concern over virtual-only shareholder meetings. Virtual-only shareholder meetings are widely criticized for limiting shareholder participation, and bylaw amendments by BNY Mellon and PNC signaled their intent to conduct virtual shareholder meetings exclusively. Continue Reading →

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