As I have mentioned in several other posts (see especially Proxy Access Lite: Victories at Whole Foods, H&R Block), several companies have adopted proxy access ‘lite’ with provisions that make implementation excessively difficult and less effective than anticipated by the SEC’s vacated Rule 14a-11. At the beginning of last season I announced that proxy access was temporarily ‘on sale.’ I was willing to accept some unfavorable provisions in order to establish a track record of ‘wins.’
That mission has largely been accomplished. Proxy access was the hottest topic this year and is fully expected to be so for the next few seasons. Boards now see proxy access as inevitable and are adopting bylaws even without receiving shareholder proposals. Philip Morris is one of the latest. As the next season gears up, it is time to reframe proposals, avoiding proxy access lite from the start.
Fortunately, the Council of Institutional Investors, released an excellent policy paper on August 5, 2015, Proxy Access: Best Practices, which “highlights the most troublesome provisions” of recently adopted bylaw and charter amendments. I used that as a guide to reconstruct last year’s template proposal and have begun submitting this new template to companies that have not adopted proxy access provisions. QUALCOMM (QCOM) is one of the first examples. We only get 500 words for a shareholder’s proposal. Hopefully, this new version addresses most of the previous defects.
Avoiding Proxy Access Lite
RESOLVED: Shareholders of QUALCOMM Incorporated (the “Company”) ask the board of directors (the “Board”) to adopt, and present for shareholder approval, a “proxy access” bylaw. Such a bylaw shall require the Company to include in proxy materials prepared for a shareholder meeting at which directors are to be elected the name, Disclosure and Statement (as defined herein) of any person nominated for election to the board by a shareholder or an unrestricted number of shareholders forming a group (the “Nominator”) that meets the criteria established below. The Company shall allow shareholders to vote on such nominee on the Company’s proxy card.
The number of shareholder-nominated candidates appearing in proxy materials shall not exceed one quarter of the directors then serving or two, whichever is greater. This bylaw shall supplement existing rights under Company bylaws, providing that a Nominator must:
- have beneficially owned 3% or more of the Company’s outstanding common stock, including recallable loaned stock, continuously for at least three years before submitting the nomination;
- give the Company, within the time period identified in its bylaws, written notice of the information required by the bylaws and any Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules about (i) the nominee, including consent to being named in proxy materials and to serving as director if elected; and (ii) the Nominator, including proof it owns the required shares (the “Disclosure”); and
- certify that (i) it will assume liability stemming from any legal or regulatory violation arising out of the Nominator’s communications with the Company shareholders, including the Disclosure and Statement; (ii) it will comply with all applicable laws and regulations if it uses soliciting material other than the Company’s proxy materials; and (iii) to the best of its knowledge, the required shares were acquired in the ordinary course of business, not to change or influence control at the Company.
The Nominator may submit with the Disclosure a statement not exceeding 500 words in support of the nominee (the “Statement”). The Board shall adopt procedures for promptly resolving disputes over whether notice of a nomination was timely, whether the Disclosure and Statement satisfy the bylaw and applicable federal regulations, and the priority given to multiple nominations exceeding the one-quarter limit. No additional restrictions shall be placed on re-nominations.
The SEC’s universal proxy access Rule 14a-11 (https://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2010/33-9136.pdf) was vacated after a court decision regarding the SEC’s cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, proxy access rights must be established on a company-by-company basis. Subsequently, Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule (http://www.cfapubs.org/doi/pdf/10.2469/ccb.v2014.n9.1) a cost-benefit analysis by CFA Institute, found proxy access would “benefit both the markets and corporate boardrooms, with little cost or disruption,” raising US market capitalization by up to $140.3 billion. Public Versus Private Provision of Governance: The Case of Proxy Access (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2635695) found a 0.5 percent average increase in shareholder value for proxy access targeted firms.
Help in Avoiding Proxy Access Lite
If you will be filing proxy access proposals, I hope you will consider using this new version. I welcome comments, especially any suggestions for possible improvements.