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Quatre signaux qui invitent les administrateurs à adopter un profond changement d’attitude

26 octobre 2013

Aujourd’hui, je partage avec vous la perspective de James Woolery, Deputy Chairman de Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, sur les nouveaux défis qui attendent les administrateurs de sociétés dans une ère où les pratiques des investisseurs activistes deviennent de plus en plus intense.

Cet article présente une mise en contexte de la montée des actionnaires activistes dont les activités ont considérablement augmentées au cours des cinq dernières années. En effet, les cibles visées par les activistes sont passées de 3,9 milliards en 2011 à 8,2 milliards en 2012.

Les conseils d’administration semblent avoir été pris au dépourvu face aux comportements « agressifs » d’une large frange de leurs actionnaires. On fait le constat d’un sérieux manque de communication entre le C.A. et ses actionnaires.

Vous trouverez, ci-dessous, un extrait de l’article ainsi que quatre suggestions de changement dans la relation administrateurs-actionnaires.

The Challenge for Boards

Public company boards have experienced real turbulence for the better part of five years. Some of this turbulence is the product of internal dynamics—the need to improve liquidity, strengthen balance sheets and cut costs. Some is the product of external factors—volatile capital markets and government action and inaction. So, who can blame directors for being cautious? The answer: shareholders and activists.

In response to this turbulence, boards have chosen to seek steady shareholder returns, return shareholder capital and modestly adjust portfolios over executing large-scale transactions, combinations or investments. As a result of this restraint, the overwhelming strength of U.S. corporations is unmistakable: cash balances are at an all-time high and there is an abundance of cheap financing. Yet corporate investment in the economy remains muted.

Directors remain cautious while shareholders are increasingly moving in favor of more aggressive action. The evolving dynamic between boards and the shareholders they serve presents new challenges that require a different set of tools in the boardroom. New efforts to bridge what may be a growing divide between boards and shareholders should be undertaken directly by U.S. boards and management teams with a view toward increasing shareholder value, advancing investment stability, and maintaining sound governance.

L’auteur identifie quatre signaux qui suggèrent un profond changement d’attitude de la part des administrateurs :

1. In a low growth and low yield environment, a vocal group of investors will embrace catalyzing events to drive public company share prices. These investors will typically clamor for short-term liquidity options. A longer-term growth plan is likely to generate indifference from shareholders, particularly in contests where a large number of “event driven” hedge funds invest behind a catalyzing strategy. Profit taking on the institutional investor side can often create a new shareholder base dynamic that is unique to proxy contests.

2. Relations among boards and shareholders of all types should be rethought with an eye toward identifying differences in perspectives in a timely manner. Personal relationships and dialogue between directors and shareholders should be prioritized. Director involvement can and should be developed without interfering with management’s role in advocating the company’s position—often, shareholders are principally concerned with having their views heard by those in the boardroom. Boards that don’t engage with their investors on a continuing basis risk making themselves vulnerable to activists eager to exploit the lack of communication.

3. The existing corporate mechanics around proxy contests are antiquated and in need of reform. Proxy contests often occur in an atmosphere that is confrontational, and the ad hoc nature of the voting and solicitation process is unlikely to produce good results. Further, in proxy contests, there is a real risk that corporate governance rules will be manipulated to drive a short-term agenda, which carries additional risks for shareholders.

Boards need to have their voices heard in the governance debate and rulemaking process. For example, the SEC is contemplating regulating proxy advisory firms such as ISS and Glass Lewis, which effectively control a large portion of votes in proxy contests. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and other governance groups are challenging the proxy advisors on issues of transparency and conflict of interest. Directors can and should weigh in on this debate.

4. Corporate strategy and policy should be clearly communicated and understood in the marketplace. Directors who fail to present a dynamic, engaged board addressing the fundamental issues facing the corporation will create opportunities for those whose investing style is aggressive and short-term. Substance alone is insufficient to address a heavily marketed and focused adversary. Today, presentation, advocacy and direct engagement are required regularly—not merely in response to a contest. Clearly, the overriding objective is to avoid a contest at all.

Statistiques sur les « Proxy Contests » (jacquesgrisegouvernance.com)

Career Consequences of Proxy Contests (blogs.law.harvard.edu)

Sérieux rapprochement entre les actionnaires activistes et les actionnaires institutionnels (jacquesgrisegouvernance.com)

This Man Has Quietly Transformed Corporate America (businessinsider.com) :

Why the « Maximizing Shareholder Value » Theory of Corporate Governance is Bogus (nakedcapitalism.com)

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