Governance Fundamentals: Understanding Your Company’s Mechanics and Benchmarking. That was the title of the final spring 2019 SVDX/Rock Center program at Stanford Law on April 18. My cryptic notes below. Continue Reading →
Tag Archives | activist
William Steiner recently became the most experienced shareholder activist alive to win majority votes for shareholder proposals at public companies. A few months ago, he celebrated 40 years of shareholder activism with an overwhelming victory at Haemonetics Corporation (HAE). The following is based on an interview with Mr. Steiner by his son, Kenneth Steiner, who works with his father to carry on what has become a family legacy. Continue Reading →
Following publication of two out of three planed posts on recent research (part 1 and part 2), the following was received from Bernard S. Sharfman concerning his availability as a speaker, complete with a PowerPoint Presentation of his most recent paper. Since I believe his article and ideas deserve wide circulation, I reproduce his note below. I would love to hear from other authors as well and would welcome guest posts from all. Continue Reading →
The Deal Professor, Steven Davidoff Solomon, recently discussed voting rules aimed at fostering “long-termism” in his post, France Answers Hostile Bids With the Two-Vote Share. While less damaging than dual-class shares issued at the IPO stage that continue ad infinitum, importing such a scheme to the United States would reinforce the behavior of idiots. Continue Reading →
The passing US proxy season made lots of business headlines as the most turbulent ever (which I’ve found happens every year). But 2015 was still notable for the flood of activist initiatives targeting company boards of directors. Activists sought “no” votes on directors who set executive pay, or said no to stock buyback, dividend, or spinoff plans. They nominated their own candidates for board seats, sometimes even whole board slates. They generally caused a ruckus. Continue Reading →
The second annual Kirkland & Ellis Law Forum at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, brought together a leading academic, legal practitioners, and an investment banker to discuss recent trends in activist investing and their impact on the M&A market. What follows are my cryptic notes. The Center will probably post the video at some point, so view that if interested.
Activism has become a key catalyst for merger and acquisition (M&A) activity and corporate spin-offs (especially in the technology industry), while activist opposition has impacted announced deals.
Disclaimer: I’m sharing a few notes from Directors Forum 2015 held at San Diego University beginning 2/25/2015 and ending 2/27/2015. The Forum is held under the Chatham House Rule, so you won’t read any juicy tidbits here. However, I do hope to give readers some flavor of the topics discussed and a little on the general range of opinions. I have take slight liberties with the rule with regard to individual featured speakers, giving some sense of their talks without revealing the specifics of cases raised or providing quoted material of any substance.
Directors Forum 2015: Jeffrey C. Smith
Smith is managing member, CEO & chief investment officer, Starboard Value LP. Noted that Starboard’s rate of return has been 27.8% v average of 9% for S&P 500 over the same time-period. Only works at companies where he believes shareholders are disgruntled. Discussed various cases, such as Darden. (Darden Shakes Up Its Board After Agitation by Investor Starboard)
When they went in, Darden’s EBITA margin was significantly worse than peers when adjusting for real estate ownership and factoring in a rent subsidy. He wanted to get them more focused on a better return for capital than on growth. Continue Reading →
In case you missed it last weekend, Donna Dabney, Executive Director of the Governance Center at The Conference Board posted this November 14th presentation by Dr. Yvan Allaire presented at the Annual Meeting of The Conference Board Governance Center. His talk was titled Do activist interventions create long term shareholder value?
Allaire reviews a lot of studies and basically disputes the contention that activist interventions lead to long-term shareholder value. While I find his arguments compelling, what we really need in research going forward is much more nuanced than what his overview provides. Yes, I yield to the point that most shareholder activism doesn’t move in the direction I would like. For example, transferring wealth from employees and debt holders to shareholders only aggravates wealth disparity. Agreed – reducing cash, investment and R&D seem more likely to the hurt long-run prospects of a company. Continue Reading →
According to a recent press release, 13D Activist Fund (DDDIX), an event-driven mutual fund focused on 13D filings, was named “Category King” by the Wall Street Journal for the one year period ending July 31, 2014. The Category King recognizes the top 10 performing funds in each equity category for one-year performance, based on total returns. The 13D Activist Fund ranked #2 in the multi-cap growth equity category, out of 585 funds. During this period the fund generated a return of 20.10%. Continue Reading →
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 →
One way to use Sharegate is to announce your proxy votes. Far too many retail shareowners just trash their proxies instead of using them. A common misconception is that shareowners should take the Wall Street Walk and sell if they are displeased with any aspect of a company they own. That is like saying you should pack up and move out of the neighborhood if you think there should be a stop sign at the end of the block. Continue Reading →
Carl Icahn has long championed the interests of shareholders. Yet even many who had watched him for years were surprised by the vehemence of his Wall Street Journal Op-ed after withdrawing from the shareholder vote on Dell’s leveraged buyout. Continue Reading →
Mr. Norton previously served as corporate secretary of The New Economy Fund and SMALLCAP World Fund, Inc., two of Capital’s retail mutual funds, as well as American Funds Insurance Series, which serves Continue Reading →
Activist, John Chevedden pushed for Google to change its capital structure to give all shares an equal vote. Most of us own Class A stock with one vote per share. But Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with Chairman Eric Schmidt, control about 64% of the votes through Class B stock with 10 votes per share.
Chevedden argued the current system allows Google to use shareholders’ capital without giving them the power to hold management accountable for how they run the company. Most shareholders agree with his assessment. Consider the fact that Google insiders control about 70% of votes. Continue Reading →
My say on director pay will be on the Apple proxy (embedded links added):
6 – Shareholder Say on Director Pay
Resolved: Shareholders request that our Board of Directors adopt a policy that provides shareholders the opportunity, at each annual meeting, to vote on an advisory proposal, prepared by the Board of Directors, to ratify the pay given members of our Board of Directors as disclosed in the proxy Continue Reading →
V. Ramesh, Head, Asia-Pacific, CurAlea, Bangalore provides a short guide on habits that would help shareowners successfully manage risks. His audience is mostly Indian, but his advice is universal. In very abbreviated form:
- Learn to think like an owner
- Get familiar with the numbers
- Check if your company is well-governed
- Understand your company’s key risks:
- Read the fine print
- Place a premium on transparency
- Be an active shareholder
And know your rights! via The Hindu Business Line : 7 habits of successful shareholders.
I just returned from ICGN 2010 (and will post on that next week). Among the thousands of e-mails I received during my week of absence, one stands out (although I haven’t gone through them all). Brendan Sheehan, the usually thoughtful Executive Editor of the Corporate Secretary, posits the “Reign of the Shareholder is Over” because 36 members of Congress wrote to BP protesting the company’s announced intention to pay a dividend.
Sheehan argues “that members of Congress are showing their true colors: they care about whatever the hottest topic of the day is. After two years of fighting for the rights of shareholders everywhere, they have turned on them almost overnight.” “So it now appears that the message from Congress is ‘Shareholder be damned.’”
First, when did a “reign” of shareowners begin? If there ever was such a phenomenon during my lifetime, I missed it. True, we are finally to the point where at about 2/3 of S&P 500 shareowners can vote against directors and if those incumbents don’t get a majority of the vote, when running unopposed, they are supposed to turn in a letter of resignation, which boards so far have more frequently refused than accepted. The vast majority of companies still operate under a plurality vote system, much like the old Soviet Union… vote for the party but if you don’t they are in anyway. Congress and the SEC are still moving forward on proxy access, so it isn’t as if Congress has all of a sudden turned against trying to rebalance, in a small way, the huge advantage given CEOs over shareowners.
Of course Congress cares about the hottest topics of the day. They are elected to represent the public. Too often, they are more concerned with taking money and advice from lobbyists. On issues as huge as the Gulf spill, they can’t duck out completely. Congress needs to at least attempt to get BP to hold on to cash needed to pay for cleanining up the oil spill and damages, although it is hard to imagine that any amount of money will undue all the damages to people and to nature.
BP also faces political pressure on their home-front, since dividends funded a good portion of British pensions. Apparently, BP may hold off on paying the dividend, placing the money in an escrow account “until the full scale of the company’s liabilities” from the spill are clear. (BP plans to defer dividend after pressure from Obama, Times of London, 6/1/10)
After purporting to show that Congress has turned against shareowners, Sheehan goes on to argue that giving more power to shareowners is a mistake because in speaking before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Warren Buffett, the largest shareowner at Moody’s, defended their lack of foresight regarding the risk of subprime loans. Since Buffett made the same mistakes and assumptions as the rest of management, “it is a slap in the face to all those who argue that greater shareholder representation on boards would have mitigated some of the problems.”
Sheehan mistakenly lumps all shareowners into a single class. Buffett is widely known for the passivity of his management style, once a company has entered the Berkshire Hathaway fold. Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) aren’t nearly as passive as Buffett. As early as 1993, ICCR members filed six resolutions to more closely regulate subprime mortgages. According to ICCR Executive Director Laura Berry:
When our institutional investor members view their holdings through the lens of justice and sustainability, the priorities for action that emerge frequently anticipate market moves. Time and time again, the prophetic voice of faith has allowed our members to anticipate emerging areas of corporate responsibility, in investment policy as well as in social, economic and environmental policy. For more than a decade before anyone else, our visionary members have been expressing concerns related to predatory lending practices, inappropriate underwriting standards and the potential consequences of securitization of debt instruments.
Of course, it would be nice if proxy access empowered long-term responsible shareonwers like the members of the ICCR. Unfortunately, even a best case scenario is likely to leave ICCR members mostly out of the loop because of the high thresholds that will be required to nominate a small portion of board members.
The government has a role to play in regulating companies and in ensuring corporations are operated more democratically. Certainly, they capture of regulators by businesses doesn’t help avert disasters such as the Gulf spill. Even before Citizen United, active shareowners like ICCR sought to limit the political influence of not just the companies whose stock they own, but all companies. Now, that task is even more urgent.
The reign of shareowners has yet to begin. If it ever does come about, let’s hope activists like ICCR are empowered, rather than pacifists like Buffett. Buffett may make lots of money, but don’t count on shareowners like him to foresee or forestall housing bubbles, oil spills or global climate change. Of course, according to organizations like the Business Roundtable, governance reforms, like even a mild for of proxy access, will only empower “special interests” that will “hurt the U.S. economy.”
It may take a little hurt in the short-run to address long-term problems. I hope Brendan Sheehan and the corporate governance professionals he works for aren’t too short-sighted.