Tag Archives | independent

Egan-Jones Updates Voting Guidelines

Egan-JonesI have been using Egan-Jones Proxy Services (“EJPS”) for several months to help me decide how to vote my proxies and have come to value their advice. For example, I like their policy of withholding votes from the entire compensation committee when voting against say on pay.

Recently Egan-Jones announced the implementation of changes to their proxy voting guidelines for the 2017 Proxy Season. I like the direction they are going. Continue Reading →

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American Express Company (AXP): Proxy Score 42

American ExpressAmerican Express Company (NYSE:AXP) is a global payments and travel company. The company, through its subsidiaries, offers products and services including charge and credit payment card products and travel-related services to consumers and businesses around the world. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 5/11/2015. ProxyDemocracy.org had the votes of four funds when I checked and voted on 5/4/2015. I voted with management 42% of the time and assigned American Express a proxy score of 42.

View Proxy Statement. Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the American Express 2015 proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value. Continue Reading →

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Starbucks Corporation (SBUX): Proxy Score 81

StarbucksStarbucks Corporation $SBUX, which operates as a roaster, marketer, and retailer of specialty coffee worldwide, is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 3/18/2014. ProxyDemocracy.org had the votes of four funds (now more) when I checked and voted on 3/8/2015.  I voted with management 81% of the time and assigned Starbucks a proxy score of 81.

View Proxy Statement. Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the Walt Disney 2015 proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value. Continue Reading →

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The Walt Disney Company (DIS): Proxy Score 79

DisneyThe Walt Disney Company $DIS, which operates as a worldwide entertainment company, is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 3/12/2014. ProxyDemocracy.org had the votes of four funds when I checked and voted on 3/8/2015.  I voted with management 79% of the time and assigned them a proxy score of 79.

View Proxy Statement. Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the Walt Disney 2015 proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value. Continue Reading →

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Groupthink in the Boardroom Context

GroupThink

GroupThink

Corporate boards are entrusted to make sound and informed business decisions on behalf of shareholders and to take their best interest into consideration. Decisions made at the board level are of strategic significance that may perhaps completely transform the future path of corporations. Examples of major strategic decisions include mergers and acquisitions, entering new markets, launching new product lines, selling off company assets, etc.

An effective board deliberation routine signals to the shareholders that the company directors are carrying out their duties diligently. In the absence of a proper board deliberation mechanism and a healthy and constructive exchange of diverse views across the table, the company and its shareholders could inevitably suffer the unfortunate consequence of losing out on great business opportunities, or being exposed to high levels of risk, or enduring financial difficulties, and ultimately risk losing shareholder value. Continue Reading →

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HP Nomination Committee Under Fire

I recently got this from an anonymous member (here are related thoughts from Cydney Posner and Marty Lipton):

You may have seen the stories regarding ISS’ recommendation that shareholders withhold against the entire Hewlett-Packard nominating committee for the way new directors were selected. I haven’t seen the ISS report, but the news stories (eg. WSJ article) probably describe it pretty well.

At issue seems to be the fact that five new directors of H-P were identified by an ad hoc committee, which according to H-P’s proxy statement “consisted of the CEO and three non-employee directors, which was formed in November 2010 to assist in identification of new director candidates and to facilitate the process of evaluating those candidates as potential directors.”

ISS and Glass Lewis criticize the addition of the CEO to this committee, since only the independent directors of the Nominating and Governance Committee are supposed to responsible for director nominations. While CEOs play a role in nominations, it does seem unusual to formally include the CEO on the search committee. It likely also didn’t help that, as according to this Bloomberg article, many of the new directors had connections to the CEO. None of those relationships are disclosed in the proxy, as much of it relates to the CEO’s former company.

In additional soliciting materials filed on Friday, H-P responds to ISS’s recommendation. (How You Find New Directors: “True Independence” Under the Microscope – TheCorporateCounsel.net Blog, 3/14/2011)

Go to theCorporateCounsel.net/Blog article to read the links. I highly recommend the one by Cydney Posner. Personally, I come down on the side of ISS on this one, although their action might have been better with some warning. At least now other companies have it. Don’t involve your CEO in a search committee pre-screening candidates. And some people wonder why shareowners favor split chair/CEO positions and proxy access.

Taking a quick glance at CII corporate governance policies, the action at H-P appears to be at least an attempt to circumvent:

2.5   All-independent Board Committees:  Companies should have audit, nominating and compensation committees, and all members of these committees should be independent.  The board (not the CEO) should appoint the committee chairs and members…

7.2   Basic Definition of an Independent Director: An independent director is someone whose only nontrivial professional, familial or financial connection to the corporation, its chairman, CEO or any other executive officer is his or her directorship.  Stated most simply, an independent director is a person whose directorship constitutes his or her only connection to the corporation.

Much more from J. Robert Brown Jr. on this subject at theRacetotheBottom.org under “The Myth of an Independent System for Nominating Directors” in several posts.

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HKEx Evades ‘Real Problem’

“All of these proposals are just ignoring the real problem, which is that INEDs are only as independent as the controlling shareholder wants them to be, which in most cases, is not at all,” Webb said in an e-mailed reply to Bloomberg News today. “It doesn’t make any difference how many committees you have, or what fraction of the board is labeled ‘independent,’ if they all serve at the pleasure of the king.” (Hong Kong Exchange Evades ‘Real Problem’ With Reform, Says Webb – Bloomberg, 2/8/2011.

This should sound familiar to US shareowner activists. The best solution here appears to be proxy access — without the limitations proposed by the SEC. That may not work in Hong Kong with so many companies controlled by one owner. Indeed, David Webb shared an e-mail with me that he had sent to Bloomberg. Here’s one of the more substantive portions:

To make the system work, independent directors should be elected by independent shareholders. The controlling shareholder, and all of the other directors and their associates, should be required to abstain from voting. If we did that, then the board could still nominate candidates for election, but the candidates would have to be acceptable to independent shareholders, who could always nominate other candidates if they are not satisfied. The INEDs would then have a mandate from, and an accountability to, independent shareholders. If they didn’t look after investors interests, they would be voted out. They would have the authority to ask difficult questions and be the “eyes and ears” of investors in the board room. That’s the way it was for me when I was an INED at HKEx, but only because HKEx is one of the few companies that does not have a controlling shareholder.

For more, see Webb’s February 2002 post, Listing Rules Review: Board Games. Want to know what’s going on with shareowner activism in Hong Kong and beyond? Sign up for a free subscription to webb-site.com and tell a friend.

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Whole Foods: Progress But Still a Lapdog Board

As I previously posted, Whole Foods Splits Positions, WFMI’s shareowners are making progress. Now, I see from their SEC filing they did more than split CEO and Chair positions.

Additionally, our board of directors amended Article IX of our bylaws to provide that, in order for shareholders to approve an amendment to, or a Bylaw inconsistent with, certain bylaw provisions, the amendment or inconsistent Bylaw must be approved by the affirmative vote of a majority of the outstanding shares. This requirement applies to the advance notice bylaws, written consent procedures bylaws, vacancies bylaws, Article III, Section 1 of the Bylaws which pertains to the composition of the Board of Directors, Article VII of the Bylaws which pertains to indemnification, and Article IX of the Bylaws which pertains to bylaw amendments. Previously, the affirmative vote of 75% of the outstanding shares was required to amend, or adopt a Bylaw inconsistent with, those provisions.

That’s great news. Leroy McDowell provided coverage of the change for Westlaw (Corporate Governance Watch: Activist Pushes Whole Foods Toward Simple Majority Voting, 12/29/09). McDowell attributes the change to be the result of “a longer standing shareholder proposal, submitted by the infamous John Chevedden.” McDowell fails to note that Chevedden’s last resolution on the topic won 57% support. Yet, the Board took no action until a few days ago.

Frustrated by the Board’s inaction, I submitted a resolution for the 2010 annual meeting that calls on the Board to establish an independent board committee to meet with me and to obtain any additional information needed before presenting a recommendation to the full Board. Perhaps this pushed the Board to act. While I’m pleased with the move to split positions and do away with supermajority requirements, I’m not so pleased with the explanation offered in the SEC filing.

Whole Foods Market always has strived to maintain high corporate governance standards. In keeping with this goal, the Board added the Lead Director designation in 2000, and since that time, has shifted all of the responsibilities of the Chairman of the Board to the Lead Director. Despite this shift in responsibilities which has rendered the Chairman role to a mere title, the Company repeatedly has received proposals from corporate activists to separate the Chairman and CEO roles. To avoid unnecessary distraction and protect the Company’s corporate governance profile, Mr. Mackey believes giving up the Chairman title to be in the best interests of the Company and its stakeholders. (my emphasis)

From the language, it would appear that Whole Foods is making the changes, not because they believe in good governance but because they want to avoid unnecessary distraction. Additionally, although the changes were made by the Board, it is obvious Mr. Mackey was “the decider,” as our former President would say. On his blog (12/29/09), Mr. Mackey writes, “Was I forced to give up the Chairman’s title? Absolutely not! Both the idea and the decision to give up the title were completely my own… At no time has anyone on the Board or in management ever asked me to give up the title.”

As I indicate in my resolution to Form a Majority Vote Committee, WFMI’s Lead Director, John Elstrott now Chairman, has been on the board for 14-years. That should be a red flag to shareowners. Back in 1996 the relatively conservative National Association of Corporate Directors, in its Report on Director Professionalism, called for term limits. The NACD suggested a term limit of between 10 and 15 years.

After about 10 years, most directors have been completely captured by the CEOs who brought them to the board and who decide their pay and perks. Long-term directors also get too comfortable. They are not generally innovating against themselves.

If Elstrott ever was independent, he should no longer be considered so. Additionally, according to a report from The Corporate Library, three other directors are  outside-related and three owned no stock (Jonathan Sokoloff, Jonathan Seiffer and Stephanie Kugelman). Shareowners should continue to push on directors to invest a substantial portion of their own wealth in the company (not through grants for board service but from their own savings) and should also push on them to act independently.

Mackey was ahead of most with his vision of a shift toward natural food and his adoption of decentralized decision-making, something of an experiment in workplace democracy. Team members meet regularly to decide everything from local suppliers to who should get hired. Democracy seems to have worked well for Whole Foods at the shop floor level. It is time the company also adopted more of a democratic approach with regard to the Board and its shareowners.

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Whole Foods Splits Positions

Whole Foods Market Inc. said co-founder and Chief Executive John Mackey has given up the title of chairman in order to conform with current standards for good corporate governance. As of last spring, about 37% of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index had separate chairmen and CEOs, up from 22% in 2002, according to the Corporate Library, a research firm in Portland, Maine. (Whole Foods CEO Gives Up Chairman’s Post, WSJ, 12/24/09)

Both the Conference Board’s Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprise and the Council of Institutional Investors have long recommended roles of the CEO and Chairman be split to ensure an appropriate balance of power.

CEOs who retain the dual role make it extremely difficult to challenge a powerful chief executive if necessary to protect shareowner interests. When I approached WFMI on this issue several years ago, independent directors didn’t even routinely hold meetings without the CEO present. and be “more likely to have certain troubling governance characteristics than companies where the roles are separated.”

Spearheading the reform effort is the Chairmen’s Forum, an organization of independent chairs convened by The Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at the Yale School of Management. Last spring, Mary Schapiro told the Council of Institutional Investors that the SEC is “considering whether boards should disclose to shareholders their reasons for choosing their particular leadership structure – whether that structure includes an independent chair, a non-independent chair, or a combined CEO/chair.” If such a requirement goes through, expect withhold votes for directors at companies that provide poor explanations of why they haven’t split the roles.

As an activist shareowner of WFMI, I’ve been after them for years to make this change, along with others such as John Chevedden. I’m under no delusion that Mackey is now under the thumb of the board chair. I’m sure he remains the driving force behind WFMI. However, given his track record of blunders like faking his identity on blogs and denying shareowners the right to present resolutions during the business portion of the annual meeting, at least he now has a better chance of not making a mockery of WFMI’s shareowners. The content of Mr. Mackey’s online postings were directly at odds with the Company’s core values of transparency and stewardship. His refusal to allow shareowner resolution proponents an opportunity to speak during the normal business portion of an annual meeting, even though SEC Rule 14a-8(h)(3) requires that a proponent or representative of a resolution contained in the company proxy must present their proposal, also conflicted with our Company’s "Declaration of Interdependence," which "requires listening compassionately, thinking carefully and acting with integrity."

According to Richard Bernstein, chief U.S. strategist at Merrill Lynch, companies in the top 100 of the S&P 500 with split chairman and CEO outperformed those that combine the roles during the last decade. Corporations with split roles posted a 22% annual return since 1994, outpacing the 18% return earned by firms that did not. WFMI is a great company that could be even better if it took the role of shareowners as seriously it does that of customers and employees. Splitting the roles of CEO and chair is a good sign attitudes may be changing. Instead of viewing participation by shareowners as creating a circus atmosphere, as Mackey has characterized it in the past, maybe now we will see real dialogue that will increase long-term value.

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February 2009 Special News Supplement: Corporate Governance Roundup 2009

Yippee-i-o-ki-ay! From the conference flyer, I half expected Will Pryor, Director of the IAFF Local 10Ehnes14 and conference “go-to” guy, to show up in chaps, especially with his e-mail encouraging attendees to dress casually. Well, maybe next year. Suits and jackets prevailed in the fashion arena but there was little in the way of pretense as funds from all over California and beyond shared mostly proxy strategies. The conference was also well attended by consultants, service providers and investment advisors. Jack Ehnes (right) was the emcee and set the tone for moderators by keeping everyone on track and additing insights, without dominating the conversation.

Session One

The fist panel was composed of Bill McGrew of CalPERS, Ann Sheehan of CalSTRS (left), and John Wilson of TIAA-CREF, ASheehanmoderated by Ralph Whitworth of Relational Investors. I was a little surprised to learn that TIAA-CREF, with more than twice the assets of CalPERS, has about half as many staff working on corporate governance issues. (6 vs 11) Maybe the bigger you are, the less you need to spend to influence outcomes. Each discussed their fund’s proxy policies and initiatives. Since I live near Sacramento and am more familiar with CalPERS and CalSTRS, I paid more attention to Wilson discussing TIAA-CREF’s collaborative approach.

They don’t look at themselves as “activists” but as moderates, engaging in private dialogue, using a non-prescriptive approach but having influence behind the scenes. With holdings in about 7,000 companies, they view themselves as universal owners and all that entails, focusing more on driving changes in the market vs at individual companies. Their efforts can largely be broken into three areas: proxy voting, corporate engagement, and thought leadership. Wilson made one of the stronger arguments at the conference that divestment simply allows companies to profit from genocide in Sudan, for example, by selling shares to investors who don’t care. TIAA-CREF emphasizes reputational risk to companies in situations where they aren’t open to other arguments. (Although in the case of the Sudan, it is now mostly Asian companies that continue operating there.)

All three giant funds emphasized their relationship with CII, ICGN, global reporting initiative and other national and international organizations. All are concerned with executive pay and agreed the problem is more the rationale of the pay package, not so much the size. Pay needs to be structured in a way that it can’t be gamed. It should encourage sustainable development of the company. All support proxy access, as did just about everyone at the event.

Session Two

This was a short session with two panelists: Ann Yeger of CII (below, right) and Allen MacDougal of PIRC, HKimmoderated by Hank Kim of NCPERS (left). Is your public pension fund under attack? See Lies, Lies and More Attacks on Pension Plans, as well as other publications from NCPERS.

Yerger discussed CII’s efforts and involvement in economic reforms. For example, the Investors’ Working Group (IWG), led by William Donaldson, and Arthur Levitt Jr., both former SEC chairs. The non-partisan panel of experts is co-sponsored by CII and
the CFA Institute Centre for Financial Market Integrity. An initial report and
recommendations are expected by late spring. In April, CII expects to release a white paper commissioned by their credit rating
agencies subcommittee. I liked this phrase from a handout: “The ability to attract capital and investors, not just listings, is what makes markets competitive… investor interests should always come first.” Top concerns for CII were identified as:Yerger

  • majority voting for directors
  • proxy access
  • broker voting eliminated
  • independent board chairs
  • independent compensation consultants
  • say on pay
  • clawback provisions for unearned bonuses
  • no pay for failure – termination for poor performance

MacDougal (below left), from PIRC went on to discuss “a way out of the crisis.” He brought up the need for asset managers to be subordinate to fund trustees and the need for trustees to get involved in market reform. He also mentioned the United Kingdom Shareholders Association (known as “UKSA”), formed in 1992 to support and to represent the views of private (ie. non institutional) shareholders. UKSA provides investment education and conveys the views of investors to the boards of British companies, to the MacDougallGovernment, to the Stock Exchange, to the media and to other bodies. Wouldn’t it be grand to have something like this in the US?

He also brought up an organization that arose to help get qualified independent directors on boards. ProNed was established in 1981 by the Bank of England, following a series of banking crises in the 1970s. Yes, somewhat similar to what we now face in 2009. With proxy access likely to be granted soon, it would be great to see a clearinghouse like this in the US. Shareowner groups seem much more likely to take action if they can easily coalesce around director candidates already vetted by shareowners. There’s a ProNed in Australia. I’m not sure how involved shareowners are in it, or even how involved they were in the original.

A few of MacDougal’s other ideas involved independence of compensation and audit consultants, collective funding by investors of the effects of incentives on behavior (with regards pay), employee representatives on boards would provide another avenue of oversight (as in European countries), additional investor representation is needed in government commissions and regulatory bodies, and he favors mandatory voting disclosure for all fund managers. “We need to be radical AND practical,” he said. I say, we need to get more speakers, like MacDougal, from outside the US with a fresh perspective. I’m glad he made the long trip for the event.

Session Three

Ralph Whitworth, of Relational Investors, Denis Johnson, of Shamrock Capital, Scott Zdrazil of Amalgamated Bank and Mike Ibarra of Landon Butler presented their investment opportunities, proxy strategies and practices. Dan Pedrotty of the AFL-CIO moderated. Relational Investors and Shamrock take stakes in just a few companies. Relational focuses on:

  • business strategy (long-term value, mitigating risk),
  • capital allocation to maximize return,
  • capital structure (optimal use of debt/equity),
  • governance (transparent, responsive, accountable),
  • board composition (diverse, independent, engaged),
  • compensation (LT alignment, reinforce strategy and risk mgt.),
  • communication (timely, accurate, consistent, realistic)

During thDenis Johnsone Q&A, Whitworth said he doesn’t favor more rights for long-term investors. I haven’t heard anyone from these types of funds who does. I suppose when a fund makes a commitment of time and effort, they want to be heard right away, not ignored for the first few years.

Shamrock’s strategy was similar, although Johnson (left) placed more emphasis on removing anti-takeover provisions and providing shareowners the ability to call a special meeting. Shareowners need to accept more responsibility for removing ineffective directors. Withhold votes should have been greater in the past. Shamrock will help ensure such votes will be higher in the future. Proxy voting policies should place a greater emphasis on poor relative stock performance, he says.

Scott Zdrazil, of Amalgamated Bank, emphasized their resolutions for 2009. They’ve been using resolutions to try to “move the market” since 1992. This year they have over thirty. Zdrazil highlighted the following:

  • majority vote standard for director elections
  • annual election of all directors
  • separation of CEO and chair
  • oversight and disclosure of political contributions
  • curtailing “golden coffins”
  • clawbacks for unearned compensation
  • say on pay
  • double trigger change in control provisions – to kick in, must be change of control and termination of CEO
  • ban gross-up – let CEOs pay their own taxes
  • golden parachutes
  • healthcare reforms – adopt universal principles for national healthcare reform
  • adopt ILO labor standards

Mike Ibarra, of Landon Butler, emphasized the history of their Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT) funded mostly by building trade unions and pensions. He described their Responsible Property Investing as comprehensive in terms of environmental, social and governance, to preserve and enhance economic returns. The MEPT claims to have created 52 million jobs through 2006 and has played a key role in revitalization and historic preservation. They’re beating the comparable indexes, so you can do well by doing good.

Session Four

After a nice lunch, we heard from the AFL-CIO, CTW/SEIU, AFSCME and LIUNA, moderated by Carolyn Widener, of CalSTRS. Dan Pedrotty, of the AFL-CIO said they will shortly issue a rating for registered investment advisors, discussed the need to reregulate capital markets, focus more on risk management, and push for greater disclosure. He then talked about some of their new proposals:

  • golden coffins
  • hold past retirement – retain 75% of comp shares until two years after termination
  • healthcare initiative – universal, continuous, affordable, high quality

Rich Clayton then discussed the focus of Change to Win and SEIU. The focus was broader than most, with initial emphasis on the Investor and Employee Free Choice Act, which is critical to ensuring that higher productivity leads to improved paychecks. He had plenty of graphs to demonstrate our new gilded age and how the increasing disparity on income and benefits has helped fuel our problems and the financial crisis. The proportion of workers wanting to join a union has risen substantially during the last 10 years but intimidation has kept them from doing so. Clayton also touched on the 2009 resolutions being introduced by SEIU’s Capital Stewardship Program. These include:

  • say on pay
  • climate risk and greenhouse emission targets
  • labor standards / ILO compliance
  • regulatory reforms
    • proxy access
    • say on pay, and other exec compensation reforms
    • ending broker votes
    • ESG disclosure and clarification of fiduciary standards
    • reinvigorating long-term ownership discussions

Scott Adams described AFSCME’s top three governance priorities as say on pay, proxy access and vote no or withhold campaigns on directors. They will continue pushing majority vote requirements, board declassification, anti-gross ups, and in attempting provisions to recover solicitation expenses. New initiatives this year are requirements to hold equity shares for several years in escrow and to delete golden coffins. They are also working on reforms to reconstruct bond rating agencies.

Richard Metcalf then described LIUNA’s program. They seem to make more of an effort than most (TIAA-CREF in this bunch excepted) to engage companies before filing. They are using a questionnaire to determine if companies have done adequate succession planning. Turnover of CEOs has increased and there is a growing trend of looking to the outside (presumably for a savior). We’ve seen high exposure misfires, such as at Home Depot. They’re also disturbed by conflicts of interest among executive compensation consultants. LIUNA is seeking annual performance reviews by the board, development of criteria for internal candidates, planning three years in advance and annual disclosures on succession planning. He also described efforts to limit the SEC’s “ordinary business” exclusion, which has been used to exclude proposals like those submitted by LIUNA in 2006 seeking evaluation of risk at mortgage lending by home builders. Others thrown out sought to draw attention to credit rating conflicts, succession planning and evaluation of risk. He quoted former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, “It is impossible for the SEC to determine what the ordinary business of a corporation really is.”

Session Five

The final session saw brief presentations from Glass Lewis, Corpgov.net, ICCR, and the RiskMetrics Group. Bob McCormick of Glass Lewis led off with a comprehensive presentation that touched on the credit crisis, executive compensation, majority vote for directors, say on pay, M&A, contests, the new administration, initiatives from 2008 and those we will see in 2009. The loss of broker votes, combined with majority requirements, will make a difference in director elections. In his handout, McCormick discusses the Waxman Report on Conflicts of Interest Among Compensation Consultants, which found that almost half of the S&P 500 got executive pay advice from conflicted consultants. Another issue he raised that has been too little discussed is redomestications to lower corporate tax rates. Apparently, several are or were looking to Switzerland. For 2009, he discussed many of the same proposals already mentioned above and the likelihood of SEC and Congressional support for proxy access, eliminating broker votes, say on pay, compensation consultant conflicts, etc.

You can pull up a four-up pdf of my presentation, IncreaseVotingClout4 at and a copy of my very brief paper at corpgov.net/news/2009/GRU.doc. My hope is to generate additional interest and involvement in Proxy Democracy and the Investor Suffrage Movement. If you get inspired or have questions, please contact me. At Proxy Democracy we are primarily seeking funds willing to post their votes in advance of annual meetings; including the reason(s) for votes would be even better. ProxyDemocracy will soon beta test the ability of retail shareowners to vote directly through the site based on information posted there, including votes by trusted funds. At the Investor Suffrage Movement we are developing a network of people willing to present shareowner proposals locally, saving proponents, such as public pension funds, substantial expenses for time and travel. We are also helping shareowners write proposals, defend them against no action requests and, as mentioned, present them at annual meetings.

Laura Berry (left) then gave an impassioned presentation on the Interfaith Center on Corporate ResponsibilityLaura Berry. “Inspired by Faith. Committed to Action.” ICCR represents about 300 faith-based institutional investors with over $100 billion in invested capital. She emphasized how their prophetic voice has anticipated emerging areas of corporate responsibility. Over many years prior to the recent market collapse, they introduced 120 resolutions on subprime lending and securitization. Resolutions allow them to begin a conversation and to educate. This year, they filed 292 resolutions but engaged in 350 dialogues. They introduced some on governance issues, such as executive pay, but many more on social issues, such as: adopt human rights policy, reduce emissions, recycle, health care reform. They are making good use of data developed by Trucost to determine which companies to target on climate risk indicators. One example of their successes is that WalMart is now boycotting Uzbekistan cotton over its use of force child labor during harvest. I have bulletins from ICCR going back a dozen years and, of course, they’ve been around since the early 1970s.

The finCBowieal presentation of the day was from Carol Bowie (right) of the RiskMetrics Group. She described their elaborate process to develop policies and requested feedback on information posted on their Policy Gateway, a really great resource. She also highlighted some of the key policy updates for 2009. I’ve got resolutions in at companies to reincorporate to North Dakota because of their shareowner friendly policies, and was a bit disappointed that RMG is taking a case-by-case approach on such resolutions… better than opposing them all. RMG has come out with a strong bias in favor of pay resolutions calling on executives to hold until retirement and “bonus banking,” holding for years. It appears they are taking a much harder look at executive pay, with revised performance tests. Say on pay factors include:

  • alignment of incentive plan metrics with business goals (something which few CD&As address)
  • peer group benchmarking process
  • performance trend vs. pay trends
  • internal pay disparity
  • balance of fixed vs. performance-based pay
  • poor pay practices
  • information/rationales in CD&A regarding pay determination
  • board’s responsiveness to investor input

See also Hot Proxy Season Topics for 2009 and Explorations in Executive Compensation.

All in all, it was a great conference, close to the airport (less hassle), low key and very informative. Sorry for all the clipped head shots. Next year I’ll bring a camera. I went to a similar conference about 15 years ago in Oakland and there were only about twenty people attending, as I recall. This time there were about 150. Next year, I’m sure attendance will be in the hundreds. Three cheers to the Los Angeles Pension Trustees Network for sponsoring the event.

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