Tag Archives | Robert Monks

Nell Minow: Only Corporate Governance Can Save the World

Nell Minow is one of my heroes. Her 1991 book with Bob Monks, Power and Accountability: Restoring the Balances of Power Between Corporations and Society, helped me give a name and framework to what I thought was the world’s most important overlooked problem — corporate governance.

During the last 27 years, I have never met anyone else in the field of corporate governance as witty, insightful or quotable as Nell Minow. She demonstrates these qualities and more in a recent lecture delivered at Sarah Lawrence. Continue Reading →

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The Handbook of Board Governance: Part 4

The Handbook of Board Governance

The Handbook of Board Governance in Times Square

I continue my review of The Handbook of Board Governance: A Comprehensive Guide for Public, Private, and Not-for-Profit Board Member. With the current post, I provide comments on Part 4 of the book, The Rise of Shareholder Accountability. As a shareholder advocate, this is my favorite part of The Handbook of Board Governance. See prior introductory comments and those on Part 1Part 2 and Part 3. I suspect The Handbook of Board Governance will soon be the most popular collection of articles of current interest in the field of corporate governance.”

The Handbook of Board Governance: The Happy Myth, Sad Reality

Robert A.G. Monks warns, capitalism without owners will fail. The chapter is a condensed and updated version of Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream, which I reviewed here. Continue Reading →

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The Power of Shame Applied to CEOs and Corporations

FidoRobert A.G. Monks, concerned with shameful corporate behavior today blogged When a Child Rules the Parent: The Problem of Corporate Domicile in a Global World.

Corporations are creatures of the state but the social contracts that made them attractive in serving human interests are breaking down…

Either we need to reign corporate operations in within a state and country or laws must transcend those borders to oversee a corporations across the globe. Which will it be?

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Take Action: Join Nader's Penny Brigade

RalphNaderSome have argued that Ralph Nader started socially responsible shareholder activism with Campaign GM, when the group filed shareholder proposals to expand GM’s board to include consumer advocates and empower shareholders to place their board nominees on GM’s proxy ballot (proxy access).  According to a recent article in the WSJ, the longtime consumer advocate is now putting together a shareholder-activism group. (Ralph Nader Adds Shareholder Activist to His Portfolio, 1/15/2014) Continue Reading →

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Stanford Academics Focus on Wrong Problems at ISS

StanfordRockIn a recent Stanford “Closer Look” publication (How ISS Dictates Equity Plan Design), Ian D. Gow (Harvard but graduated from Stanford), David F. Larcker, Allan l. Mccall, and Brian Tayan argue ISS dictates pay equity plans. ‘Nonsense,’ was my first reaction. ISS policies generally reflect the will of its customers. The authors have a point but they miss the main problem. Their arguments begin in familiar territory. Continue Reading →

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Robert Monks: Obtaining Proxy Vote Information on 401(k) Plans Often Difficult

Robert Monks has just begun a series of articles at CSRwire on his most recent book, Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream (my review). Part one of the CSRwire is A Simple Solution to Runaway Corporate Power. See also, Robert A.G. Monks, Crusading Against Corporate Excess, NYTimes, July 6th. His main message is simple, “Corporations must have involved owners and ownership is both a right and a responsibility.” I took his advice on my own 401(k) plan and got an eye-opener.  Continue Reading →

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Conversion: Fossil Free Endowments

Not sure what year; probably outdated.

About a month ago, I posted a piece aimed at getting students and alumni at Harvard (and hopefully at other universities) to advocate for more democratic endowments. In my zeal to focus on endowment governance, I was far too dismissive of the movement at Harvard and hundreds of universities to divest of fossil fuels. While I still think endowment governance is central, after further examining the issue, I have come to believe divestment of fossil fuel companies is likely to be a very important part of a larger movement to ensure a salubrious planet and one which should also be compatible with more democratically governed endowments.

Perhaps explaining the evolution of my thoughts will help others have a similar conversion.

In reviewing the Investment Policy Statement of the Fair Harvard Fund, I expressed my opinion that their strong emphasis on negative screening reminded me of where SRI funds were 20 years ago (Fair Harvard Fund Makes Progress: Alternative Endowment Should Be Permanent & Democratic): Continue Reading →

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Bank of America (BAC) Faces Proxy Access on May 8th

John Harrington, of Harrington Investments, will present his proposal on proxy access at the upcoming Bank of America (BAC) meeting on May 8th in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be the first time language modified to provide a floor for retail nominators of at least 1/2% will be voted on.

That modification was made in an attempt to win over proxy advisors who were concerned the previous version could theoretically allow retail shareowners with as little as $100,000 in equity to nominate directors.  Under the revised proposal, the minimum threshold for a nominating group under provision 1(a) at BAC is approximately $1.3B and under provision 1(b) is approximately $666M. Under either option, that is a substantial investment. Continue Reading →

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Audio Friday: Robert A. G. Monks Shares Corporate Governance Resources

Robert Monks

I’ve received praise before: CII said my petition to the SEC on proxy access “re-energized” the debate on that subject, Lexis-Nexis subscribers listed my site among the top 25 business blogs and the NACD put me on a list of “people to watch.”

However, never have I felt so honored as when I heard Bob Monks publicly list my website (corpgov.net) and my twitter account (corpgovnet) among resources worth following. If I were an actor, it would be like getting acknowledgement from Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep! And to top it off, to be in such company as those other resources Bob mentions! Wow! 2013 is starting out rather nicely. I’d better ask my wife to give me a smack, so my head doesn’t get too big. Continue Reading →

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Power Struggles Over Pay

Gary Larkin’s recent post, 2011 CEO Succession Report: Dismissals Up, Outside Hires on the Rise, informs Conference Board readers that Institutional Shareholder Services has launched an executive compensation database service for its client subscribers. Say on Pay rules were the driving force behind the new service.

The database includes historical CEO and NEO (named executive officer) compensation data for more than 4,000 U.S. companies, together with Say on Pay data Continue Reading →

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The Appearance of Legitimacy: Board Elections

Robert A. G. Monks is asking some fundamental questions on his blog and, at least so far, is responding to comments. That’s a rare phenomenon in the blogosphere. I urge readers to get involved in this dialogue (The Appearance of Reality: Shareholders & Ownership):

The process by which directors are chosen is described as an election. And yet, virtually no one would describe the reality of how individuals accede to board membership as an election in the sense that word is generally understood by political scientists. Without pausing overlong to describe the actualities, it is at least clear that no individual appears on the company’s proxy statement for election to a vacancy except with the approval of the chief executive officer and the incumbent board members. It is equally clear that there are only as many individuals enumerated on the proxy card as there are vacancies.

All of this compels the conclusion that the election is a ritual without meaning in the corporate world. Why then do we insist on using a word that plainly does not describe what actually happens? This evokes the marvelous novels describing “double think” – 1984 and Brave New World –

“This was where “doublethink” came into play, minds were trained to hold Continue Reading →

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Proxy Access: The Letters Are In

The deadline was August 17th, so the comment letters on proxy access have all been filed and posted. Many are well worth reading. If you don’t see yours posted, you might want to resubmit it.

TIAA-CREF, one of the more conservative shareowner activists, calls on the Commission to raise the threshold to 5% for shareowners at all companies, regardless of size. Additionally, they want to require a two year holding period and recommend instead of the “first in” approach, nominations should go to the largest owner or and (here they get creative) to the shareowner or group that has held their shares the longest. They voiced opposition to reimbursement: “Reimbursement of expenses could be used to facilitate the election of special interest directors. Reimbursement also encourages fighting and proxy contests to achieve representation at the distraction of directors rather than dialogue and productive change.” Instead, they favored “incentives for a meeting between shareholders and the board in order to identify director candidates who are acceptable to both parties… Ultimately, the best possible outcome is to avoid a proxy contest altogether… We believe that the nominee should receive at least 20% of the vote in order to be re-nominated in subsequent years.”

Cornish Hitchcock, writing on behalf of the LongView Funds warns against a state-law carve-out, praising the merits of a uniform system. Like TIAA-CREF, the LongView Funds would like to see the required holding period extended to two years and nominations going to the largest nominator.

J. Robert Brown, of theRacetotheBottom.org, offers a spirited rebuttal to comments by the Delaware Bar Association regarding their argument in favor of private ordering. “The evidence in fact suggests that in the absence of a federal requirement, companies will opt for a categorical rule denying access.” “Evidence suggests that management’s control over the drafting process and its ability to rely on the corporate treasury eliminate any real prospect of private ordering. Instead, when matters are made discretionary, they result in a categorical rule that favors management.” “The only way to ensure meaningful access to the proxy statement is to adopt a federal rule that institutes the requirement.”

Lucian Bebchuk’s letter, signed by 80 professors, favors the rulemaking and notes, “no matter how moderate eligibility or procedural requirements may be, shareholder nominees must still meet the demanding test of getting elected before they can join the board. A shareholder nominee will join the board only if the nominee obtains more votes than the incumbents’ candidate in an election in which incumbents, but not the shareholder nominee or the nominator, may spend significant amounts of the company’s resources on campaign expenses.”

As expected, the Shareholder Communications Coalition, comprised of the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Corporate Directors, the National Investor Relations Institute, the Securities Transfer Association, and the Society of Corporate Secretaries & Governance Professionals sent a letter opposing the rulemaking “until the Commission: (1) completes its intended examination of the proxy system; and (2) promulgates new regulations to modernize and reform this cumbersome and expensive system.” “A shareholder nomination process that operates in a proxy voting system that cannot produce an accurate and verifiable vote count will do little to improve the overall
corporate governance system.” I just can’t help making a snarky comment. So we should just go with the current system that elects incumbents based on inaccurate and unverifiable voting results until we can ensure the system works properly

Broadridge submitted a letter discussing various technical issues. Great for those who want to get into the weeds.

Writing on behalf of Sodali, a global corporate governance consultancy, John Wilcox asks: “Is Rule 14a-11 is sufficiently deferential to the traditional role of the states in regulating corporate governance?; and (2) Does the proposal achieve the Commission’s goal of removing burdens that the federal proxy process currently places on the ability of shareholders to exercise their basic rights to nominate and elect directors?” His analysis answers with a resounding yes.

Eleanor Bloxham, of the Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance notes that “having an orderly, ongoing process for shareholder to nominate directors may produce improvements in shareholder returns. Certainty, competition in the process for board seats could, I believe, produce better candidates.” She addresses the issue of affiliation and loyalty, Bloxham recommends each candidate be required to prepare a statement as part of the proxy process that would stipulate that the candidate understands that as a director, if chosen, their  obligations are to act in the best interests of all shareholders, including minority shareholders, and to act without preferential treatment related to who may have nominated them.”

As I have previously mentioned, I signed on to a letter from the United States Proxy Exchange (USPX), endorsed by members of the Investor Suffrage Movement, Robert Monks, John Harrington and John Chevedden. Glyn Holton did a great job of putting together sixty-nine pages of comments. I urge everyone to read our common sense approach outlining the democratic option, the need for deliberation and the reasons for our recommendations, which include:

  • Mandating a federal standard that take precedence over state laws.
  • Placing all bona fide candidates on a single management distributed proxy card.
  • Not encouraging a system where corporations are willing to
    reimburse expenses shareowners incur in conducting a proxy contest, since this will only escalate costs paid by shareowners.
  • Don’t place an overt limit the number of candidates shareowners are able to nominate. If limits are need to keep the pool manageable:
    • limit individuals to five for-profit corporate boards
    • charge a modest fee
    • require a system of endorsements
    • require all candidates to file pre and post election estimates and accounting of all campaign expenditures
  • Reduce the focus on control by establishing a system that will encourage diversity. “Corporate democracy will allow shareowners to take ‘control’ away from an entrenched board and not give it to any one faction.”
  • Eliminate the arbitrary and elitist proposed thresholds, opting instead for the time-tested $2,000 of stock held for a year. “The challenge should reside in winning the election, not in making the nomination.”
  • Increase candidate statements to 750 words and specified space for graphics that can address any issue related to the election, including short-comings of the current board.
  • Measures to ensure board members nominated by shareowners are not marginalized.
  • Implementation of a broad safe harbor for individual director
    communications with shareowners.

After we had already sent the USPX comment letter, I recalled a few additional issues and sent in my own letter as an addendum, recommending the following:

  • Amendments to Rule 14a-8 also clarify that shareowner resolutions can seek to collectively hire a proxy advisor, paid by for with company funds, that isn’t precluded from offering advice on board elections.
  • Require that companies must allow shareowner resolutions to be presented during the business portion of the annual meeting.
  • An override mechanism on Rule 14a-8(i)(5) (Relevance) and (i)(7) (Management Functions).

Dozens of studies in communications and organizational behavior find current corporate structures to be inefficient. Most decision-making structures, including those now governing corporations, are designed around status needs related to dominance and control over others. They are not designed to maximize the creation of wealth for shareowners or for society at large. In order to gain higher status, individuals seek to dominate more and more people. This dynamic moves the locus of control inappropriately upward. In order to generate more wealth, we need to take advantage of all the brains in our companies, as well those of concerned shareowners. We can do so by making corporations more democratic, top to bottom.

Now, we eagerly await the Commission’s action. If they are slow in finalizing the proposed rules, I hope it is because they carefully read our letters and are rewording them to require more, not less, democracy.


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