Author Archive | James McRitchie

Spending Against Change Heightens Climate Risk

Spending Against Change, a new report from the 50/50 Climate Project, finds that twenty-one of the largest energy and utility companies in the U.S. that have spent at least $670 million over six years to influence elections, regulators and lawmakers have limited board oversight of climate risk and political spending, and lack climate competent board members.

These corporations face the highest exposure to climate risk and are most in need of transformation. Yet, they are at the fore of fighting efforts to combat climate change in a manner that raises their risk profile over the long term. These companies typically have minimal board oversight of climate risk and almost no board members with relevant climate-related expertise. Continue Reading →

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AI: Boards Embracing Technology

Robotics and AI: How will Boards Embrace Tomorrow’s Technologies?

As advertized: AI and Robotics are coming. There is no question that disruptive technologies are going to dominate not only what is introduced into the marketplace but also how our businesses are operated internally. Two evolving, and already disruptive forces, are robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).  From the Board’s viewpoint, how do you get smart on these topics and understand their value to you? What are the implications of enabling a digital workforce within organizations? Are their opportunities for the governance process itself to leverage these technologies? Could you soon be joined in the Boardroom by an AI Bot? The future is already here at some boards. Continue Reading →

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Dual-Class Should Sunset Says Rob Jackson

US stock exchanges should require sunset provisions for dual-class shares, SEC commissioner Rob Jackson said in his first speech since taking office last month.  In the speech at UC Berkeley School of Law, he likened dual-class shares that do not sunset to “corporate royalty” and said such structures were “antithetical to our values as Americans.”

If you run a public company in America, you’re supposed to be held accountable for your work—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.

CII welcomed Jackson’s remarks. “We applaud Commissioner Jackson for using his first major public speech to support CII’s ongoing efforts to address the problem of unequal voting rights,” CII Executive Director Ken Bertsch said in a statement.

A dual-class structure without a sunset provision —‘forever shares’— says to investors, ‘we’ll take your money, but we won’t ever value your vote on how we use your capital to run the business over the long-term.’ That’s not equitable treatment of investors, and it’s certainly not good corporate governance.

CII has endorsed those measures taken by indexes to ban dual-class shares and only reluctantly backed sunset clauses. Jackson did not suggest his fellow commissioners take action, although he did say he hopes they share his views someday. Fellow Democratic appointee Kara Stein already does, saying that dual class listings are “inherently undemocratic.”

I certainly welcome Commissioner Jackson’s remarks. I’ve written many posts on dual-class shares over the last few years. I like the ban indexers are enforcing and also embrace the idea 0f sunset provisions for dual-class shares of two years. However, I don’t see US stock exchanges imposing sunset provisions. That is much more likely to come from the SEC… maybe, under the next administration. Continue Reading →

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Mutualism: Kara M. Stein

Mutualism, the subjects of Kara Stein’s recent talk at Stanford Law, has been a subject that has fascinated me since the 1980’s when I  was awarded an NIMH Fellowship to study what types of corporate governance structures (including mutualism) might be most beneficial to employees, shareholders, and society. I applied many lessons learned in heading California’s Cooperative Development Program (now defunct) and continue to try to apply concepts from cooperatives and mutualism to publicly traded companies, such as Twitter.

Commissioner Stein gave an impassioned speech on mutualism and the symbiotic relationship between companies, employees, and shareholders. Dual-class shares and other mechanisms are eroding mutualism. Such structures are inherently undemocratic. Where is the symbiosis inherent in mutualism? How do stakeholders mutually benefit? Continue Reading →

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Transparent Political Spending: Ford Lost No-Action

The Ford Motor Company ($F) challenged my resolution on Transparent Political Spending and lost. I created a new posting category, “SEC no-action letters.” Posts under this category will include what I believe are precedent setting decisions. By including them on CorpGov.net I will be creating a searchable database going forward of significant decisions for ready future reference. Hopefully, it will reduce the need to recreate the wheel and will save on time defending similar proposals. Read the full no-action file at the SEC. Continue Reading →

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Earning It: Lublin @ Corporate Directors Forum

Earning It: Introductory Notes

Joann Lublin gave the opening keynote at the recent  Corporate Directors Forum 2018 in San Diego. She spoke largely about her new book, Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World. This year the Forum had an overall theme, “How Culture Impacts the Boardroom and Beyond.” Corporate culture is the hot topic, especially after the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission Report on Culture as a Corporate Asset, and within that umbrella topic nothing is more timely than women and diversity. Continue Reading →

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FACT Coalition: US 2nd Largest Tax Haven

The United States has become the second largest tax haven in the world. That’s according to a new report published Tuesday by the Tax Justice Network (TJN), partnering with the FACT Coalition.  TJN’s 2018 Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) finds the U.S. has surpassed the Cayman Islands. Now we are the second largest secrecy jurisdiction, next to Switzerland.  TJN partnered with Transparency International and the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition. They held an event in Washington on Tuesday afternoon. I would love to see the FACT Coalition follow up with research on how this corruption impacts corporate governance and civil society. Continue Reading →

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2018 CES: Northern California NACD Insights

The 2018 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and its impact on boards was the subject of a January 31 meeting of the NACD’s Northern California Chapter. We met at the offices of WilmerHale in Palo Alto. We heard primarily from Maureen Conners, Fashion Incubator San Francisco board director and former director of Deckers Brands (NYSE: DECK); Erin Essenmacher, NACD chief programming officer and founder of the NACD Technology Symposium and the NACD CES® Experience; John Hotta, Kaiser Permanente board advisor and former Microsoft executive; and Sandra Lopez, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Sports Group. Continue Reading →

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AES “Games” SEC: CII Seeks Correction

CII sent an important letter to the SEC on a recent no-action issued to the AES Corporation (AES) (not yet posted). A similar no-action had been granted in 2016 to Illumina (ILMN) on a proposal I (James McRitchie) had submitted. ISS referenced both. From the facts regarding AES, it appears John Chevedden submitted a proposal to lower the required threshold for shareholder to call a special meeting. The current standard is 25%. Chevedden’s proposal requested 10%. The SEC’s no-action letter gave the following rationale: Continue Reading →

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Marrone Bio’s Problematic Behavior

I will not bother taking Marrone Bio Innovations (MBII) to court. The company is young and inexperienced in dealing with SEC rules and shareholder advocates, such as myself. However, I cannot give them a complete pass. Below is a draft of my remarks to be delivered to those attending the January 31 Annual Meeting. Today is the last day to vote online. Please see Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc: Proxy Vote for my recommendations. Continue Reading →

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Lead Director – Non-Executive Chair: Evolving

Today’s lead director and non-executive chair face a seemingly never-ending set of risks, governance decisions and strategic initiatives as a result of investors’ growing emphasis on board transparency, accountability, and independence. This insightful panel focused on the evolving roles of board leaders, specifically, the independent chair and lead director. Drive higher-performing boards through improved processes, strengthened director evaluation, recruitment efforts, and more effective shareholder engagement.

This was yet another great event sponsored by SVDX and Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance. I am so glad I only live 120 miles away, so can easily participate in these events. These are my notes, with no guarantee of accuracy. This one was more packed than usual with lots of on-point participation from the audience. Like a good lead director, Ms. Gomez-Russum did an excellent job moderating. Her job was made a little easier, since none of the panelists seemed compelled to dominate. Each had interesting insights.
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$COST (Costco): Proxy Vote Recommendations

$COST, Costco Wholesale Corporation, together with its subsidiaries, operates membership warehouses. It offers branded and private-label products in a range of merchandise categories. $COST has supermajority vote requirements (66.67%) to amend certain charter provisions, a classified board with staggered terms, and no written consent unless unanimous by all shareholders. In short, reasonable shareholder rights are missing. By way of comparison, Amazon.com ($AMZN) has no supermajority vote requirement, a declassified board elected annually and written consent by majority.

The annual meeting is coming up on January 30, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 43% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Citi to Address Gender Pay Gap

Citi reached an historic agreement to disclose wage data and adjust employee salaries in a company-wide effort to achieve gender pay equity. Arjuna Capital agreed to withdraw its gender pay shareholder resolution after the agreement.

Citigroup (Citi) and Arjuna Capital disclosed that Citi is taking steps to provide gender and ethnicity wage data and commit to closing the gap, making it the first U.S. bank to respond to shareholder concerns. In response to Citi’s steps, Arjuna Capital withdrew its gender pay shareholder proposal on Monday, January 15, 2018. Continue Reading →

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Walgreens Boots Alliance: Proxy Vote

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), operates as a pharmacy-led health and wellbeing company. It operates through three segments: Retail Pharmacy USA, Retail Pharmacy International, and Pharmaceutical Wholesale. Walgreens opposes giving shareholders more effective proxy access to enable us to place nominees on our company’s ballot. Additionally, Walgreens opposes lowering the threshold to enable shareholders to call a special meeting. In short, shareholder rights are lacking. Without changes, Walgreens is likely to continue to lag the Nasdaq, as it has done for the last one and two year time periods.

The annual meeting is coming up on January 17, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 47% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Part 4 28th Annual SRI Conference

Part 4 28th Annual SRI Conference in San Diego. Search  on Twitter to see more posts. See Parts 1, 2, and 3. Yes, I know, this conference was held months ago but I’m still digesting… maybe until the next one. I could spend a productive year just exploring links to the work of the speakers. Mark your calendar for November 1-3, 2018. The SRI Conference returns to the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Get on the mailing list. Continue Reading →

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NTRS Resolution: Victory or Defeat?

The Northern Trust Corporation (NTRS) is moving toward more democratic governance, thanks to a proxy access proposal submitted on my behalf by John Chevedden in November. Since I own no where near 1% of NTRS (market cap $23B), we would have been denied the right to file the proposal if the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and others had their way.

On December 12th, in response to the proposal, the Board of NTRS amended its bylaws to provide for proxy access. From the 8-K: Continue Reading →

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Shared Ownership Can Address Unequal Economy

How Shared Ownership Reforms Can Address Popular Anger about an Unequal Economy

In May 2017, U.S. Senators Sanders, Leahy, Gillibrand, and Hassan introduced legislation intended to help workers become owners. Their bill calls for a national employee ownership bank and helps states develop employee ownership centers. This comes after a dozen major cities and nearly as many states have acted to reduce barriers to shared ownership business models that offer an alternative to the investor-owned corporation. Promising approaches include employee stock ownership plans, worker-owned cooperatives, and community-owned renewable energy cooperatives. Continue Reading →

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2017 Tax Planning: As You Sow

I noticed some 2017 Tax Planning advice from Blank Rome LLP and thought to alert readers.  On December 20, 2017, Congress passed its comprehensive tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“the Act” or “the Bill”), which is expected to be signed into law by President Trump in early January 2018. The Bill represents one of the most extensive modifications to the U.S. tax code in recent history, significantly modifying U.S. taxation for individuals and businesses. Most provisions take effect on January 1, 2018, but the time to act is now. You may not like this legislation but it will go into effect regardless. Now is the time to make a huge tax deductible donation to your favorite 501(c)(3). Mine is As You Sow. Continue Reading →

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Maxine Waters Opposes HR 4015 Proxy Advisors

HR 4015 Statement of Opposition

HR 4015 was opposed yesterday by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services. She gave the following floor statement in opposition to HR 4015, a bill that would undermine sound corporate governance:

Mr. Speaker, HR 4015, the so-called Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act, would create an untested, inappropriate, and burdensome regulatory framework for proxy advisory firms, making it much more difficult for shareholders to obtain unbiased research used to make well-informed voting decisions about the companies they own. Continue Reading →

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Directors Forum 2018: Best Stakeholder Interactions

Directors Forum 2018: Directors, Management & Shareholders in Dialogue brings together investors, directors and management to engage in open, off-the-record dialogue about today’s pressing governance issues. Speakers will put a spotlight on the escalating impact of “corporate culture” on business success.

Hosted by Corporate Directors Forum, Directors Forum 2018 will be held on January 21-23, 2018 at the University of San Diego.  It is designed to encourage interaction between attendees and the nation’s leading corporate governance authorities. Continue Reading →

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CII Highlights Chinese VIE Corporate Structure Risk

A new report from the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) underlines the risks posed to investors by a corporate structure called a variable interest entity (VIE). Sixty two percent of Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges use a VIE, including internet giants Sina, Baidu, Alibaba and JD.com. U.S. exchanges are experiencing a surge of Chinese VIE IPOs, with 20 filings this year, including 15 since September 1, compared to six in 2016 and seven in 2015. Continue Reading →

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CalSTRS Best Place to Work: Survey Could Cinch Fourth Honor

CalSTRS was named a Best Place to Work in Money Management for 2017 by Pensions & Investments magazine. This year’s honor is the third CalSTRS has garnered—the only public pension plan to do so. They could cinch a fourth such honor by surveying member values.

Pensions & Investments, a global news source for money management, created the survey and award program, which is dedicated to identifying and recognizing the best employers in the money management industry. Continue Reading →

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Ordinary Business: Human Rights/GHG, Says Apple

Apple again invokes the ‘ordinary business’ exclusion roadmap provided by SEC Staff Legal Bulletin 14I (SLB 14I) in an attempt to muzzle shareholders. In the face of mounting evidence of inevitable manmade climate change and with the recognition that society has increasingly limited possibilities of mitigating the worst outcome for future generations, Jantz Management LLC submitted a shareholder proposal to Apple, Inc. asking the company to report on the feasibility of achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including Apple’s manufacturing GHG emissions, by a target date of 2030, 2040, or 2050.

Similar to a proposal submitted by Jing Zhao, requesting that Apple establish a Human Rights Committee (see no-action request), the company did not engage in dialogue with the shareholder, but responded by invoking the ordinary business exemption under rule 14a-8(i)(7), asking the SEC to allow the company to omit the Continue Reading →

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Berry Global Group Adopts Majority Vote

The Board at Berry Global Group ($BERY) is moving toward more democratic governance, thanks to the efforts of a retail shareholder who would be denied the right to file proposals if the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and others had their way. The Berry Global Group has adopted proposals submitted by the same small retail shareholder three years in a row. Together, the Board and a small retail shareholder are making a good company even better.

This year, in response to a proposal we filed on behalf of my wife, Myra Young, the Board of the Berry Global Group amended its bylaws and governance guidelines to require a majority vote for directors running in uncontested elections and further requiring that unsuccessful nominees tender their resignation. (8-K filed November 30). We are gladly withdrawing the proposal, which was implemented in full. Continue Reading →

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$UNFI: Proxy Voting Guide

$UNFI, United Natural Foods, Inc. distributes natural, organic, and specialty foods and non-food products in the United States and Canada. The company operates through three divisions: Wholesale, Retail, and Manufacturing and Branded Products. $UNFI opposes giving shareholders effective rights to allow shareholders to call a special meeting and opposes putting change-in-control agreements to a shareholder vote.  Without such changes, $UNFI is likely to continue to lag the Nasdaq, as it has done for the last one, two and five year time periods. (See 5-year returns above.)

Most shareholders don’t vote because reading through 75 pages of the proxy AND many more pages of appendices are not worth the time for the small difference your vote will make. Below, I tell you how I am voting and why. If you have read these posts related to my portfolio for the last 22 years and trust my judgment (or you don’t want to take the time to read it), go immediately to see how I voted my ballot. Voting will take you only a minute or two and every vote counts. The annual meeting is coming up on December 13, 2017. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 50% of the time.  Read Warnings below. Continue Reading →

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