Tag Archives | proxy access

Chevedden Group Proxy Proposals

For years, the “Chevedden group” (Chevedden, McRitchie/Young and Steiner) has focused almost exclusively on governance proposals. More democratic corporations are likely to listen to their shareholders on other issues as well.  Democracies facilitate voice and the exchange of ideas. Fighting for environmental and social issues, while extremely important, felt like addressing symptoms, rather than root causes.

Chevedden group proposals seek to declassify boards, require majority votes to elect directors, allow proxy access, and allow shareholders to call special meetings. Since many large cap companies have now adopted such provisions, we are broadening our scope to also focus on other issues. Below are some preliminary results for 2018. Continue Reading →

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NAM: Stop Supporting ‘Main Street Investors’ Coalition Say Real Investors

NAM Board Targeted

Investors led by Walden Asset Management, New York Common and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) called on 45 companies sitting on the Executive Committee and Board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to end the trade association’s attacks on shareholders.

The investors’ letter asks the companies to distance themselves from NAM’s recent attempts to discredit shareholder engagement, particularly on climate change. These efforts have been undertaken primarily through NAM’s membership in the Main Street Investors Coalition (MSIC) and through a report NAM funded and distributed that wrongly asserts that shareholder resolutions diminish company value. MSIC represents no investors. In my opinion, it is a front group for corporate managers attempting to generate fake news, stirring public opinion against investor rights.

Quotables on NAM

“The irony is that many companies on the NAM board are active business leaders on climate change,” said Timothy Smith, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management.

They understand the very real risk to our environment and have active forward-looking policies and programs on climate. Yet their dues to NAM are funding an aggressive attack against the very investors they meet with regularly to address climate change. We are appealing to these companies to clearly state their opposition to these positions taken by NAM and Main Street Investors Coalition. It is important to do so to protect their company reputations and integrity.

“Environmental risk consideration is part of the evolution of investing. Whether a retail or institutional investor, assessing the risks of investments is a standard practice,” said CalSTRS Portfolio Manager in Corporate Governance Aeisha Mastagni.

NAM appears out of touch with its own constituents. Over the last decade more than 75 percent of the environmental-related proposals CalSTRS filed were withdrawn because the companies were willing to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome.

The Letter’s Key Paragraph

The MSIC perpetuates the myth that incorporating environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors inherently conflicts with protecting and advancing shareholder value. However, the 1,200 members of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment – including Fidelity, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – with over $70 trillion in assets under management, have committed to consider ESG issues in the investment decision-making process since these factors may affect shareholder value. There is ample evidence that incorporating ESG issues into investment decisions is part of responsible management as a fiduciary. Moreover, hundreds of global companies demonstrate leadership and transparency on sustainability issues. These companies’ action are not guided by “political and social interests” but by what is good for their investors and stakeholders over the long term.

NAM Background

NAM is a trade organization that represents and advocates for manufacturers across industrial sectors. Many NAM members are taking active steps on climate issues as a result of shareholder engagement. Nevertheless, NAM has established significant ties to MSIC, which purports to speak for investors, but which instead appears to be engaged in an attempt to undermine shareholders’ rights by denouncing ESG-related shareholder proposals and by suggesting shareholders’ concerns are politically motivated.

Why NAM is Attacking Shareholders Now

The investor letter noted that, “The emergence of MSIC and the release of this report come at a time when investor support for shareholder proposals is growing” because the “business case behind them is clear and convincing.” The signatories requested that the companies explain their views on MSIC’s public attempts to discredit investor engagement and shareholder proposals.

Over 80 institutional investors, including state and city pension funds, investor trade associations, investment firms and mutual funds, foundations and religious investors added their organization’s names in support of the letter.

Investors are actively engaging companies in their portfolios as concerns over climate risk grow. Most recently, investors representing approximately $30 trillion urged some 150 companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, disclose their assessment of climate risks, and explain what actions they plan in response to climate risk.

Investors like BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street have made it clear that they want the companies in which they own shares to address climate risk.

“It is extremely bad timing for NAM and by implication the members of its board to be attacking investors addressing climate change at a moment when we desperately need to work together,” said Smith.

Historical Perspective

Since I am older than most of my readers, I offer the following historical perspective. The investor letter sent to the Executive Committee and Board NAM is correct in assuming that shareholder rights are under attack because their proposals are winning. The current fight on climate change and social issues reminds me of an older one on proxy access. In 1977 the SEC held a number of hearings to address corporate scandals. At that time, the Business Roundtable (BRT) recommended amendments to Rule 14a-8 that would allow access proposals, noting such amendments

… would do no more than allow the establishment of machinery to enable shareholders to exercise rights acknowledged to exist under state law.

The right to pursue proxy access at any given company was uncontroversial. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies.

One company argued that placing a minimum threshold on access would discriminate “in favor of large stockholders and to the detriment of small stockholders,” violating equal treatment principles. CalPERS participated in the movement, submitting a proposal in 1988 but withdrawing it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.

Early attempts to win proxy access through shareowner resolutions met with the same fate as most resolutions in those days – they failed. But the tides of change turned. A 1987 proposal by Lewis Gilbert to allow shareowners to ratify the choice of auditors won a majority vote at Chock Full of O’Nuts Corporation and in 1988 Richard Foley’s proposal to redeem a poison pill won a majority vote at the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation.

In 1990, without public discussion or a rule change, the SEC began issuing a series of no-action letters on proxy access proposals. The SEC’s about-face was prompted by fear that “private ordering,” through shareowner proposals was about to begin in earnest. It took more than 20 years of struggle to win back the right to file proxy access proposals.

Conclusion

Let’s hope the current attack on shareholder rights by NAM and the fake Main Street Investors Coalition does not set investor rights back by another 20 years.

    
 
 

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Working-Class Shareholder: Review Essay

The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon by David Webber is sure to get readers thinking (purchase).

For far too long, labor and its progressive sympathizers have sought to transform the market from outside the market: from courts, from legislatures, from regulators, from street protests, from strikes. These tools are important. But ultimately, it is not possible to transform the market from the outside. It must be transformed from within. (xiv)

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Netflix Approach to Governance: One-Sided

Netflix Approach to Governance: Genuine Transparency with the Board (download) by David F. Larcker and Brian Tayan takes a look at one aspect of corporate governance at Netflix and finds “a radically different approach to information sharing” by management with the Board. Shareholders are largely left out of the equation.

Netflix Approach to Governance: Management

Netflix Approach to Governance has the appearance of a balanced look at how management shares information with the Board. There is no suggestion the approach can be widely copied. Says Larker,

I think it would be hard to put this type of system in place at older and more mature organizations. Innovative organizations that want and need the insights from board members can clearly adapt this type of approach. You need a CEO who wants a high level of discussion about strategy, etc., and is open to alternative points of view.

Transparency works at Netflix, at least in part, because CEO Reed Hastings understands board members would not have the confidence to make tough calls unless they have a better understanding of the company.

Transparency is hard to argue against, unless it leads to directors leaking information that reaches competitors. Larcker and Tayan interviewed CEO Reed Hastings and most of the board members. They describe two key features of what they appear to believe is remmanagement transparency.

Board members attend monthly and quarterly senior management meetings as observers. Communications to the board take the shape of approximately 30-page memos that are heavy on analysis and contain links to all relevant data on the company’s internal computer systems. (Another Netflix Disruption: A Transparent Board)

More frequent meetings with senior staff and more information allows Netflix directors to work more effectively, since they are better able to assess strategic developments. It is hard to tell what impact transparency is having on the company but,

Netflix has been enormously successful over the last five years. Revenues have nearly tripled, increasing to $11.69 billion from $4.4 billion at the end of 2013, while the market cap soared to $133 billion from $4.4 billion.

Directors like the approach.

The overall tone Reed has set, really from early days, is around transparency. … There is no editorializing. There’s no censorship.

It’s just a deep desire to hear rational, well-argued pros and cons of any decision.

No censorship and frank discussions between management and board; if other companies are not operating that way, why not? Equally important, why does that approach not carry through to the relationship between shareholders and the board?

Netflix Approach to Governance: Shareholders

Their research, part of the informative Stanford Closer Look Series, begins with the following sentence:

The hallmark of good corporate governance is an independent-minded board of directors to oversee management and represent the interests of shareholders.

The only other significant reference to shareholders comes later in the following sentence:

While fiduciary rules allow directors to rely exclusively on information provided by management, dynamics such as these can reduce the quality of that information and impair their ability to make good decisions on behalf of shareholders.

Even through the law allows directors to rely on what the CEO and other senior executives tell them, directors make better decisions when the company is more transparent – when they can observe meetings further down the chain and have more direct access to company relevant data. Yet, the Netflix approach to governance appears one-sided. Transparency and dialogue are missing when it comes to management and shareholders.

As I pointed out in a recent post, Netflix has repeatedly ignored shareholder votes. (Will Netflix Ignore Stockholders Again?) While proxy proposals are generally precatory, most companies implement those receiving a majority vote and often those that do not. The Netflix approach to governance appears to ignore proxy votes whenever legally possible.

  • In 2014 a majority voted to declassify the board and to require a majority vote to elect directors.
  • In 2015 similar proposals were voted and won.  A majority of shareholders also voted against director Barton, who, although he lost, was up for reelection this year.
  • In 2016 a majority of shares were voted in favor of proxy access, reducing supermajority vote requirements, and declassifying the board.
  • In 2017 a majority of shares were voted in favor of proxy access, to declassify the board, to require a majority vote for electing directors and to eliminate all supermajority voting requirements. As far as I know, none of those proposals were implemented by the Board.
  • In 2018 a majority of shares were voted in favor of the following:
    • Reduce Ownership Threshold for Shareholders to Call Special Meeting (57%)
    • Adopt Proxy Access Right (58%)
    • Provide Right to Act by Written Consent (52%)
    • Adopt Simple Majority Vote (85%)
    • Amend Bylaws (72%) This was a binding proposal to require directors in uncontested elections to be elected by a majority of shares voted

Given the Netflix approach to governance with regard to shareholders, I expect the only proposal that will be adopted from this year is the binding proposal to require a majority vote in uncontested directors elections. The vote in favor surpassed the bylaw requirement of a two-thirds threshold.

Although I do not question the scholarship of Larcker and Tayan, their discussion of the Netflix approach to governance would benefit from an examination of shareholder relations with the board. We hope that is on their agenda for a closer look

Netflix Approach to Governance: Other Views

   

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Biogen 2018 Proxy Voting Recommendations

The Biogen 2018 annual meeting is June 12. I voted AGAINST several directors and the pay package. Vote FOR the auditor and both shareholder proposals to enhance value.

Biogen Inc. (BIIB) discovers, develops, manufactures, and delivers therapies for the treatment of neurological and neurodegenerative diseases worldwide. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 80+ pages of the proxy is 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, have values aligned with mine, and trust my judgment, go immediately to see how I voted my ballot. Voting will take you only a minute or two and every vote counts.

I voted with the Board’s recommendations 57% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Tesla Proxy Access: Item 4 Presentation

Tesla Proxy Access, item #4

Tesla shareholders meet Tuesday, June 5, 2018, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, at the Computer History Museum located at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, CA 94043.   In the interest of more accurate press coverage of Tesla Proxy Access, item #4, I (James McRitchie) am posting the text of my draft presentation on Tesla Proxy Access in advance. Continue Reading →

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Alphabet 2018: End Oligarchy

Alphabet 2018 proxy recommendations. Alphabet is run by an Oligarchy. Will $GOOG overlords give up their position as a dictatorship? Are companies governed by dictatorships and oligarchies healthy for democratic governments? Shareholders can vote for change.

Alphabet Inc., through its subsidiaries, provides online advertising services in the United States and internationally. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 80+ pages of the proxy is not worth the time for the small difference your vote will make. Below, I tell you how I voted and why.

If you have read these posts related to my portfolio for the last 22 years, have values aligned with mine, and trust my judgment (or you do not 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 on June 6, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 45% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Netflix 2018 Proxy: Shareholders Still Pushing Basic Rights

Netflix 2018 annual meeting is June 6, 2018. Vote FOR all of the shareholder proposals to enhance long-term value. The Board keeps ignoring our votes. We need to keep reminding them we want the normal shareholders rights.

Netflix (NFLX), an Internet television network, engages in the Internet delivery of television (TV) shows and movies on various Internet-connected screens. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 70+ pages of the proxy is 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, have values aligned with mine, 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.

I voted with the Board’s recommendations 25% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Genomic Health 2018: Will Baker Bros Vote Proxy Access?

Genomic Health 2018 annual meeting is June 6. Will 40% owner Baker Brothers Advisors LP allow proxy access? Genomic Health (GHDX) provides actionable genomic information to personalize cancer treatment decisions worldwide. If Baker Brothers eventually hopes to sell its shares into the market, they would do well to vote for proxy access. Other shareholders will pay a premium for shares of a company with proxy access and other corporate governance provisions that enhance board accountability.

Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 20+ pages of the proxy is not worth the time for the small difference your vote will make, especially when one shareholder has such control. 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, have values aligned with mine, 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.

I voted with the Board’s recommendations 25% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Tesla 2018 Proxy Decisions Crucial

Tesla 2018 annual meeting is June 5, 2018. Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) designs, develops, manufactures, and sells electric vehicles, and energy generation and storage systems in the United States and internationally. If Tesla is to survive and thrive, it needs a more independent board. The vote of shareholders will be crucial in deciding Tesla’s future.

Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 50+ pages of the proxy is not worth the time for the small difference their vote will make. I have done the work for you.

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, have values aligned with mine, and trust my judgment (or you don’t want to take the time to read most of the post), go immediately to see how I voted my ballot. Voting will take you only a minute or two. Every vote does count. I voted against the Board’s recommendations 100% of the time on the Tesla 2018 proxy. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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PayPal Holdings Proxy Recommendations

PayPal Holdings (PYPL), operates as a technology platform company that enables digital and mobile payments on behalf of consumers and merchants worldwide. Its payment solutions include PayPal, PayPal Credit, Braintree, Venmo, Xoom, and Paydiant products.

Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 100+ pages of the proxy is 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, have values aligned with mine, 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 May 23, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 44% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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United-Guardian Proxy Rule Violation

United-Guardian (UG), United-Guardian, Inc. manufactures and markets cosmetic ingredients, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, medical lubricants, healthcare products, and specialty industrial products in the United States and internationally. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through the proxy is not worth the time for the small difference your vote will make, although this one is only 16 pages Below, I tell you how I voted and why. The annual meeting is coming up on May 16, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 0% of the time, since our Company flagrantly violated regulations. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Goldman Sachs Proxy Voting Guide

Goldman Sachs (GS) operates as an investment banking, securities, and investment management company worldwide. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 100+ pages of the proxy is not worth the time for the small difference your vote will make. Below, I tell you how voted 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 May 2, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 37% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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First Hawaiian Proxy Voting Recommendation

First Hawaiian, Inc. (FHB) operates as a bank holding company for First Hawaiian Bank that provides a range of banking services to consumer and commercial customers in the United States. Although First Hawaiian is controlled by BNP Paribas (“BNPP”), it is still worth it for non-controlling shareholders to vote and express our wishes because of the influence that can have. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 70 pages of the proxy is 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 April 25th, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 47% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). If you attend the meeting and read this post, please introduce yourself to me at the meeting.  Continue Reading →

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Starbucks Corp Proxy Voting Recommendation

Starbucks Corp (SBUX), operates as a roaster, marketer, and retailer of specialty coffee worldwide. Most shareholders do not vote because reading through 70 pages of the proxy is 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 March 21, 2018. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 35% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). Continue Reading →

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Disney Proxy Vote Recommendations

The Walt Disney Company (DIS), operates as an entertainment company worldwide. Most shareholders don’t vote because reading through 74 pages of the proxy AND many more pages of appendices is 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 March 8, 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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Apple: CorpGov.net Proxy Vote

Apple Inc. (AAPL) designs, manufactures, and markets mobile communication and media devices, and personal computers to consumers, and small and mid-sized businesses; and education, enterprise, and government customers worldwide. The company also sells related software, services, accessories, networking solutions, and third-party digital content and applications.

The annual meeting is coming up on February 13, 2018 at the new Apple Park. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 69% of the time. I voted against the pay package. I voted for proxy access amendments and for a human rights committee. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). 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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Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc.: Proxy Vote

Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. provides bio-based pest management and plant health products primarily for agricultural and water markets in the United States and internationally. Without changes, Marrone Bio is likely to continue to lag the Nasdaq, as it has done for the last one, two and five year time periods. While the Nasdaq has gone up over 100% in the last five years, Marrone Bio has gone down over 90%. Proxy access could make our board more directly accountable to shareholders.

The annual meeting that was supposed to be held in 2017 is set for January 31, 2018 in Davis, California. There is very little data available though my usual sources because Marrone Bio is such a small company. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 67% of the time. View Proxy Statement via SEC’s EDGAR system (look for DEF 14A). 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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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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CLX: Vote Clorox Proxy Access

The Clorox Company, CLX, manufactures and markets consumer and professional products worldwide. It operates through four segments: Cleaning, Household, Lifestyle, and International. CLX opposes giving shareholders effective proxy access to enable us to place nominees on our company’s ballot. Shareholders have no right to act by written consent. It takes 25% of shareholders to call a special meeting and 80% to amend certain charter amendments. In short, shareholder rights are lacking. Without changes, CLX is likely to continue to lag the S&P 500, as it has done for the last one, two and five year time periods.

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CII: William Hinmam Interviewed

Keynote Interview: William Hinman of the SEC

William Hinman, Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, was interviewed by CII Co-Chair Gregory Smith, Executive Director, Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association at #, I scribbled a few notes.

As you can well imagine for someone speaking from such a sensitive position, there were no bombshell announcements. However, it is certainly good to have a dialogue between CII members and the head of CorpFin. William Hinman did not disappoint. Continue Reading →

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