Tag Archives | policy

Glass Lewis 2018 Proxy Advice Update

Glass Lewis 2019 proxy advice updates address many issues. See 2019 Proxy Paper Guidelines: An Overview of the Glass Lewis Approach to Proxy Advice.

I have reproduced much of the summary of changes below, leaving off the section discussing clarifying amendments. One that stands out for our small group of so-called ‘gadflies’ addresses our concern that several boards hijacked shareholder proposals this past season by seeking ratification of existing policies and the exclusion of a shareholder proposal though a no-action request. In an email, John Chevedden noted the following: Continue Reading →

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Resolution: Report Public Policy on Climate Change

Climate Risk DisclosureRecently, with the revelations about Exxon’s past support for climate denial organizations hitting the news, there has been a fresh interest in the ways oil companies have used their lobbying and contributions to oppose climate change solutions. For example most oil companies are members of the Chamber and American Petroleum Association, which recently sued the EPA opposing its clean power plan. Their money and reputation line up working to block regulations that would reduce GHG emissions.   Continue Reading →

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ISS Proxy Voting Survey Due Friday at 5:00 pm ET

ISS Proxy Voting Survey - Hall of Mirrors

ISS Proxy Voting Survey – Hall of Mirrors

Attention everyone who thinks ISS has too much say over how proxies are voted. It might be a good time for you to see how those policies are actually developed. No, ISS doesn’t develop its policies by reviewing all the academic research to determine which types of proxy proposals create value or are correlated with value creation (Do ISS Voting Recommendations Create Shareholder Value?David F. Larcker, Brian Tayan) Instead, the ISS proxy voting survey essentially asks subscribers to tell ISS how it should advise their subscribers to vote.

When I first heard about this years ago, it felt like looking down a never ending hall of mirrors. You ask me how shareholders should vote; then, when voting time comes, you remind me what I said. Of course, not all ISS clients will have anything to say about every issue and a large number probably do not have the staff to be researching proxy voting issues and policies. It is a little like one of those Lost on the Moon exercises you may have taken in one of your classes on group dynamics. In most cases, the group will be smarter than the individual participants. The same principles apply in creating a proxy voting policy.  Continue Reading →

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Two Opportunities to Shape the Future

First, the IRRC Deadline of November 18 for Research Entries approaches. This is your chance to change the predominant paradigm of Modern Portfolio Theory.

Second, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) extended the comment period on their 2012 proxy voting policies until November 7th.  Institutional investors, individual investors, corporate issuers, and governance market participants are invited to provide feedback on ISS’ policy updates.  ISS did a specific outreach to CorpGov.net readers, so I Continue Reading →

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"Say on Pay" to be Annual

I believe ISS/Risk Metrics created a policy on the Frequency of Advisory Vote on Executive Compensation (Management “Say on Pay”), a new proxy item required under The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Their Recommendation: Vote FOR annual advisory votes on compensation, which provide the most consistent and clear communication channel for shareholder concerns about companies’ executive pay programs.

Rationale for Update: The Dodd-Frank Act, in addition to requiring advisory votes on compensation (aka management “say on pay” or MSOP), requires that each proxy for the first annual or other meeting of the shareholders (that includes required SEC compensation disclosures) occurring after Jan. 21, 2011, include an advisory voting item to determine whether, going forward, the “say on pay” vote by shareholders to approve compensation should occur every one, two, or three years.

In line with overall client feedback, ISS is adopting a new policy to recommend a vote FOR annual advisory votes on compensation. The MSOP is at its essence a communication vehicle, and communication is most useful when it is received in a consistent and timely manner. ISS supports an annual MSOP vote for many of the same reasons it supports annual director elections rather than a classified board structure: because this provides the highest level of accountability and direct communication by enabling the MSOP vote to correspond to the majority of the information presented in the accompanying proxy statement for the applicable shareholders’ meeting. Having MSOP votes every two or three years, covering all actions occurring between the votes, would make it difficult to create the meaningful and coherent communication that the votes are intended to provide. Under triennial elections, for example, a company would not know whether the shareholder vote references the compensation year being discussed or a previous year, making it more difficult to understand the implications of the vote.

From my understanding, ISS held a conference call on the new policy. I wasn’t on the call but I understand 250 were. I also understand that during the call it came out that CalSTRS, State Street and Vanguard all support annual votes. CalSTRS was expected but State Street and Vanguard supporting annual votes is likely to mean greater success. Annual vote seems headed for the default position.

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CorpGov Bites

ISS Issues 2011 Policy Updates – TheCorporateCounsel.net Blog, 11/22/2010. Broc Romanek provides highlights of ISS policy changes.

Dan Harris provides readers with his recent speech on Emerging Market/China Outsourcing Issues, China Law Blog, 11/21/2010. Also interesting, The China Rich….Are Not Like Us?, 11/19/2010.

Jones, Renee M., Will the SEC Survive Financial Regulatory Reform? (November 18, 2010). University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 3, 2010; Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 211. Available at SSRN. Jones argues President Obama’s reform proposals (the “Obama Plan”) threatens the SEC’s long-term prospects.
The proposal to expand the executive branch’s role in oversight over financial institutions may represent the beginning of an incremental encroachment on SEC authority. Similarly, the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency could absorb a portion of the SEC’s traditional investor protection role. In the end, the SEC’s survival depends on whether its leadership takes effective action to restore its credibility andregain the public trust in the years to come.

On October 21, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced enforcement actions against Office Depot, Inc. and two executive officers for violating Regulation FD by selectively conveying to analysts and institutional investors that Office Depot would not meet analysts’ earnings estimates. (SEC Enforcement Action Under Regulation FD For Implicit Communications To Selected Analysts, Corporate Securities Law blog, 11/17/2010)

Across a matched group of more than 2,000 North American CEOs, annual pay climbed a slight 1.63 percent for the year. When increasing the pay scope to also include option profits and vested stock, compensation declined slightly, by 0.28 percent. Indeed, while we anticipated a second straight year of pay declines as of this spring, it’s evident that pay more or less stayed the same for the matched group as a whole.

(CEO Pay is Treading Water, The Corporate Library, 11/16/2010)

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Review: Rethinking the Board's Duty to Monitor

In “Rethinking the Board’s Duty to Monitor: A Critical Assessment of the Delaware Doctrine,” to be published in 2011 in the Florida State University Law Review (current version available ssrn.com), Prof. Eric Pan of the Cardozo Law School substantially advances the discussion of how corporate governance needs to be improved in order to minimize the macroeconomic impact of poor decision-making at the firm level and the need for costly bailouts. Moving beyond the recent “hot” topics of maximizing director independence, enhancing minority shareholder proxy access and improving the executive compensation process, he focuses on considerations directly impacting the outcome of board deliberations.

This is an essential complement to such topics in that it addresses actual board performance in consideration of issues of business policy – that is, once directors are installed, we need to ensure that they do a good job in addressing company business. Prof. Pan recognizes that the problem of board performance is not solved once we get the “right” people in place.

He correctly observes that to the extent that present Delaware law addresses director performance in its management oversight role at all, it does so by focusing on failure to “monitor” management in order to prevent major legal violations, and almost entirely absolves directors from any responsibility for adverse business outcomes, no matter how disastrous for the single firm or for the economy, so long as appropriate process was utilized. The implications of the Caremark and Citigroup decisions for the former and latter propositions, respectively, are well described. The implications of poor oversight by the Citigroup board for that firm and our economy need no further description. Prof. Pan argues quite persuasively that we need to expand the board’s duty to monitor created in Caremark to encompass management decisions leading to poor business outcomes, even if no laws are violated, irrespective of the process which is utilized.

Rather, boards should be held responsible for business as well as legal outcomes. Courts should shift the burden onto directors to show they made an effort to be informed and to respond to developments leading to such outcomes.

This reviewer has argued in “Dawn Following Darkness: An Outcome-Oriented Model for Corporate Governance,” 48 Duquesne Law Review 33, reviewed on this site in an April 22, 2010 post, that fixing this gap in corporate law with such burden shifting in order to avoid disastrous decisions by our largest firms is a fundamental but overlooked step in the financial reform overhaul currently in process.

Like this reviewer, Prof. Pan argues for a regimen where directors have some – in his view, seemingly undefined – financial responsibility when their firms suffer major losses as a result of management decisions which are not meaningfully challenged by the board, even where there is no legal violation. Presumably, this would apply to situations requiring public bailouts such as the recent financial industry debacles. Prof. Pan would enhance his case by attempting to enumerate specific circumstances, such as a need for governmental assistance, in which such responsibility should attach.

As contemplated in Prof. Pan’s article, the new responsibilities would apply to all firms (or at least to all publicly traded ones). This reviewer strongly disagrees with such breadth.

In that all concerned, including Prof. Pan, agree that such a change would likely reduce business risk-taking, we need to apply it only in cases involving companies of sufficient size and interconnectedness and events of sufficient magnitude, where poor decisions can have significant external effects for the broader economy.

A third concern is that the duty to monitor as advocated in this paper, will usurp the board’s discretion in determining the appropriate degree of monitoring and inhibit risk-taking. We do not want the duty to monitor to prevent corporations from conducting certain activities which may actually be beneficial to the company and its shareholders. In other words, the board may conclude that it is in the best interest of the corporation for it to expose itself to extreme amounts of business risk.

The Citigroup court correctly notes that the present business judgment rule is intended to permit entrepreneurial activity – i.e. risk-taking. While it obviously worked too well for Citigroup, especially today when we face a nascent economic recovery, we should not inhibit risk-taking – and often employment – any more than necessary. There are many large public (and private) companies where the consequences of a poor decision will be limited to that firm and its shareholders without any material ramifications for the economy.

The situation addressed by the Delaware Supreme Court in upholding under the business judgment rule, the actions of Disney’s directors despite their signing off on a wasteful compensation and severance package for a former President illustrate where the current regimen of deference to director business judgment is working effectively. Even though this decision turned out to be a very poor one for Disney, it had no implications elsewhere.
In any event, as Prof. Pan notes in his discussion of how as a result of resistance at the state level, recent innovations in corporate law have largely been under the guise of the federal securities laws, it will be difficult to implement any of the changes he suggests. As such, what is proposed should be as narrow as possible in order to increase the likelihood of its enactment.

Prof. Pan makes a major contribution to the corporate governance discussion by focusing on actual governance issues as opposed to process, compensation and board composition issues, and his ideas should be heeded by those considering changes in this area. However, it is preferable for those ideas to be refined to ensure that they are properly targeted (by firm and event) so as to cause as little disruption to business risk-taking as is possible.

Publisher’s Note: Thanks to guest reviewer Martin B. Robins, an adjunct professor in the Law School of Northwestern University. He is presently, and for the past 10 years has been, the principal of the Law Office of Martin B. Robins where his practice emphasizes acquisitions and financings, technology procurement and licensing, executive employment and business start-ups. The firm represents clients of all sizes, from multinational corporations to medium sized businesses to start-ups and individuals.

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