Tag Archives | retail

Retailers Break New Store Addiction: Video Friday

Retailers Whole FoodsWharton’s Marshall Fisher discusses how retailers can break their ‘addiction’ to top-line growth and adding new stores. Eventually, they run out of new territory and must refocus on building margins by improving same store sales. Fisher describes how 17 retailers did it and the common themes they used.

There are lessons here for companies like Whole Foods Market Inc., although for Sears it may be too late. Retailers like Whole Foods may not have run out of new territory but they certainly have run into competition. Refocus on same store sales to increase margins will not only help at existing stores, but also at stores coming on-line. Continue Reading →

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Society 2015: Part 3 – Driving Retail and Employee Votes

Driving Retail and Employee Votes

The 2015 National Conference in Chicago, 6/24-27, was my first time attending one of the Society’s events. Part 1 and Part 2. Yes, I’m posting notes late but hopefully they are still useful.

Panelists: Lawrence Dennedy, Irving Gomez, Martin Koopman, Theresa Molly

Driving Retail and Employee Votes

Driving Retail and Employee Votes

In 2001 Prudential switched from a mutual to a public company, so they have an unusually high number of registered shareholders. Proactive shareholder engagement. Plant a tree… get a bio-friendly tote bag. Actively ask on proxy for comments.  ‘Starbucks’ incentive – Offered registered shareholders to move to broker (reduce their expense). Continue Reading →

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Retail Shareholder Participation in the Proxy Process: Part 1

Simplified Proxy Voting Diagram

Simplified Proxy Voting Diagram

As mentioned before, I will be on a panel at the 2/19 SEC Roundtable discussing how to increase retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. I’ve been collecting a few thoughts with the help of readers. Time is a major constraint, so I will need to prioritize my main points and will probably end up with a few bullet points by the time Thursday rolls around. In the meantime, I welcome further comments. The SEC agenda is in bold italics.  Our thoughts are in normal type. Continue Reading →

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Deal Professor Equates Filing Proxy Proposals with Terrorism

Most people don’t like their behavior criticized. CEOs and boards almost always fight my proxy proposals aimed at improving corporate governance. Likewise, I wasn’t happy with the Deal Professor’s criticisms of my shareowner activism in his August 19th NYTimes article, Grappling With the Cost of Corporate Gadflies, which also criticizes John Chevedden and William Steiner. I stewed for days but finally took the advice of a good friend, who is Assistant General Counsel & Corporate Secretary at a major company,

Better to be engaged than enraged!

If I had more time available, my response would have been shorter but I have a number of projects that demand attention. When I submit proposals, I want boards to weigh them carefully on the merits. I have tried to do that with the Deal Professor’s criticism. I hope our mutual use of hyperbole doesn’t preclude further engagement. Unlike the character in the cartoon at right, I feel no need to irritate… but I do often question mechanisms in corporate governance that isolate and concentrate power, rather than distributing it. I prefer structures that distribute power, making us of the wisdom found at all levels.  Continue Reading →

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Letter to P&I Re Fiduciary Duty Editorial

P&I-proxy-voters-cartoon Below is an email I sent to Pensions & Investments (P&I) editorial chief Barry Burr praising their editorial enhancing fiduciary duty and opining on how it may speed the arrival of the time when retail investors will vote their values with the simple push of a button or two on their cell phones. I will follow this tomorrow with some additional remarks regarding the advent of open client directed voting, assisted by this expanded fiduciary duty.

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your important editorial, Winning Over Proxy Voters, which argues that institutional investors have a fiduciary duty to announce their proxy votes in advance of annual meetings, if doing so is likely to influence voters.

Votes are assets. Announcing votes in advance of meetings puts the value of those assets to their full use; announcing votes after the meeting does not. Continue Reading →

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Support Petition to Keep Blank Votes Blank

This morning, the SEC held a hearing on proxy access. By a three to two vote, Commissioners voted for proxy access. Democracy in corporate governance will dramatically improve with our right to nominate and elect directors, even if limited to 25% of the board. Directors may actually begin to feel dependent on the will of shareowners.

While waiting to see the actual language of the rule proposal, please take a few minutes to read and submit comments on a rulemaking petition that a group of ten filed with the SEC on Friday, May 15th, to amend Rule 14a-4(b)(1). The petition seeks to correct a problem brought to our attention by John Chevedden. See petition File 4-583 http://www.sec.gov/rules/petitions.shtml. Send comments to [email protected] with File 4-583 in the subject line.

The problem is that when retail shareowners vote but leave items on their proxy blank, those items are routinely voted by their bank or broker as the subject company’s soliciting committee recommends. Current SEC rules grant them discretion to do so. As shareowners who believe in democracy, we have filed suggested amendments to take away that discretionary authority to change blank votes, or non-votes, as they might be termed. We believe that when voting fields are left blank on the proxy by the shareowner, they should be counted as abstentions.

This problem is not the same as “broker voting,” which has already been repealed on “non-routine” matters and, we hope, will soon be repealed for so-called “routine” matters, such as the election of directors. For example, even though “broker voting” has been repealed for shareowner resolutions, if a shareowner votes one item on their proxy and leaves shareowner resolutions blank, unvoted, those blank votes are routinely changed to be voted as recommended by the company’s soliciting committee.

See two examples. At Interface, I voted only to abstain on ratification of the auditors. Yet, you can see ProxyVote automatically fills in my blank votes with votes as recommended by the soliciting committee. A second example, at Staples, shows much the same. You can see blank votes that are changed also include the shareowner proposal to reincorporate to North Dakota, even though such proposals are not considered routine and are not subject to “broker voting.”

Just as broker votes should be eliminated so that votes counted reflect the true sentiment of shareowners, the practice of converting blank votes to votes for management should also end.

In our petition, we also highlight a secondary concern. When shareowners utilizing the ProxyVote platform of Broadridge vote at least one item and leave others blank, the subsequent screen warns them that their blank votes well be voted as recommended by the soliciting committee. This provides an opportunity to the shareowner to change their blank vote before final submission, if they don’t want it to be voted as recommended.

Of course, if we are going to have a system that allows the votes of shareowners to be changed, it is salutary of Broadridge to provide advanced notice. We applaud them for that effort. However, we note that it may fall short of what the SEC requires. Rule 14a-4(b)(1) requires that when a choice is not specified by the security holder, a proxy may confer discretionary authority “provided that the form of proxy states in bold-face type how it is intended to vote the shares represented by the proxy in each such case.” (my emphasis)

Broadridge says that shareowners using ProxyVote are communicating “voting instructions” to their bank/broker. They are not voting a proxy. Since Rule 14a-4(b)(1) pertains to “forms of proxy,” not the “voting instruction form,” there is no violation. However, subdivision (1) refers to the “person solicited” and the need to afford them opportunity to specify their choices. The person being solicited is the beneficial shareowner. Therefore, unless the subdivision applies both to a voting instruction and a proxy, the requirements to indicate with bold-face type how each field left blank will be voted loses meaning.

However the SEC interprets the current rule, we hope they move forward with a rulemaking to remove discretion to change blank votes and to require blank votes to be counted as abstentions. While the petition is being considered for action, we hope Broadridge will modify its system to clearly indicate in red bold-face type how votes will be cast for each item where a blank vote will be changed.

A few months ago, The Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance released Voting Integrity: Practices for Investors and the Global Proxy Advisory Industry. While this important briefing was primarily focused at the proxy process for institutional investors, the need for integrity applies equally to the votes of retail investors:

At the heart of any discussion about proxy voting is the humble shareholder ballot. In its simplest interpretation, the ballot is arguably the principal method by which a company’s shareholders can, while remaining investors in the company, affect its governance, communicate preferences and signal confidence or lack of confidence in its management and oversight. The ballot is the shareholder’s voice at the boardroom table. Shareholders can elect directors (and, in several jurisdictions, have the right to remove them), register approval of transactions, supply advisory opinions and (increasingly) authorize executive pay packages, all through the medium of the ballot. It is one of the most basic and important tools in the shareholder’s toolbox… Safeguarding the intention of a voting instruction is of paramount importance to system integrity.

Co-filing with James McRitchie, Publisher of CorpGov.net, are:

Again, please submit comments on the petition to [email protected] with File 4-583 in the subject line.


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