Compte rendu hebdomadaire de la Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance

Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 29 décembre 2016.

Bonne lecture !



  1. A “Successful” Case of Activism at the Canadian Pacific Railway: Lessons in Corporate Governance, posted by Yvan Allaire and François Dauphin, IGOPP and UQAM, on Friday, December 23, 2016
  2. U.K. Proposed Enhancements to Corporate Governance: Will the New U.S. Administration Follow?, posted by Cydney S. Posner, Cooley LLP, on Friday, December 23, 2016
  3. Delaware Supreme Court Ruling in Zynga: Reasonable Doubt of Director Independence , posted by Thomson Reuters Practical Law, Corporate & Securities Service, on Saturday, December 24, 2016
  4. Do CEO Bonus Plans Serve a Purpose?, posted by Wayne R. Guay and John D. Kepler, University of Pennsylvania, on Monday, December 26, 2016
  5. 2016 Corporate Governance Annual Summary, posted by Michael McCauley, Florida State Board of Administration, on Monday, December 26, 2016
  6. Areas of Focus for Global Audit Regulators, posted by Steven B. Harris, Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, on Tuesday, December 27, 2016
  7. Rethinking US Financial Regulation in Light of the 2016 Election, posted by Reena Agrawal Sahni, Shearman & Sterling LLP, on Tuesday, December 27, 2016
  8. 2016 Spencer Stuart Board Index, posted by Spencer Stuart, on Wednesday, December 28, 2016
  9. Results of the 2016 Proxy Season in Silicon Valley, posted by David A. Bell, Fenwick & West LLP, on Wednesday, December 28, 2016
  10. Female Directors, Board Committees and Firm Performance, posted by Colin Green and Swarnodeep Homroy, Lancaster University, on Thursday, December 29, 2016
  11. Executive Compensation: Analysis of Recent Incentive Financial Goals, posted by John R. Sinkular and Julia Kennedy, Pay Governance LLC, on Thursday, December 29, 2016

Le Spencer Stuart Board Index | 2016

Voici le rapport annuel toujours très attendu de Spencer Stuart*.

Ce document présente un compte rendu très détaillé de l’état de la gouvernance dans les grandes sociétés publiques américaines (S&P 500).

On y découvre les résultats des changements dans le domaine de la gouvernance aux É.U. en 2016, ainsi que certaines tendances pour 2017.

Les thèmes abordés sont les suivants :

La composition des Boards

L’indépendance du président du CA

Les mandats des administrateurs et les limites aux nombres de mandats

L’âge de la retraite des administrateurs

L’évaluation des Boards

La nature des relations du Boards et de la direction avec les actionnaires

L’amélioration de la performance des Boards

Diverses informations, notamment :

Only 19% of new independent directors are active CEOs, chairs, presidents and chief operating officers, compared with 24% in 2011, 29% in 2006 and 49% in 1998, the first year we looked at this data for S&P 500 companies.

Active executives with financial backgrounds (CFOs, other financial executives, as well as investors and bankers) represent 15% of new independent directors this year, an increase from 12% last year. Another 10% of new directors are retired finance and public accounting executives.


On average, S&P 500 directors have 2.1 outside corporate board affiliations, although most directors aren’t restricted from serving on more.

The number of boards with no female directors dropped to the lowest level we have seen; six S&P 500 boards (1%) have no women, a noteworthy decline from 2006, when 52 boards (11%) included no female members. Women now constitute 21% of all S&P 500 directors.

Among the boards of the 200 largest S&P companies, the total number of minority directors has held steady at 15% since 2011. 88% of the top 200 companies have at least one minority director, the same as 10 years ago.

Only 43% of S&P 500 CEOs serve on one or more outside corporate boards in addition to their own board, the same as in 2015. In 2006, 55% of CEOs served on at least one outside board.

Boards met an average of 8.4 times for regularly scheduled and special meetings, up from 8.1 last year and 8.2 five years ago. The median number of meetings rose from 7.0 last year to 8.0.

The average annual total compensation for S&P 500 directors, excluding the chairman’s compensation, is $280,389.

Over time, the compensation mix for directors has evolved, with more stock grants and fewer stock options. Today, stock grants represent 54% of total director compensation, versus 48% five years ago, while stock options represent 6% of compensation today, down from 10% five years ago. Cash accounts for 38% of director compensation, versus 39% in 2011.

95% of the independent chairmen of S&P 500 boards receive an additional fee, averaging $165,112. Nearly two-thirds of lead and presiding directors, 65%, receive additional compensation. The average premium paid to lead and presiding directors is $33,354.

2016 Spencer Stuart Board Index


Investor attention to board performance and governance continues to escalate, and, increasingly, it’s large institutional investors—so-called “passive” investors—who are making known their expectations in areas such as board composition, disclosure and shareholder engagement. Long-term investors have shifted their posture to taking positions on good governance, and are increasingly demonstrating common ground with activists on governance topics.

Board composition is a particular area of focus, as traditional institutional investors have become more explicit in demanding that boards demonstrate that they are being thoughtful about who is sitting around the board table and that directors are contributing. They are looking more closely at disclosures related to board refreshment, board performance and assessment practices, in some cases establishing voting policies on governance.

Boards are taking notice. Directors want to ensure that their boards contribute at the highest level, aligning with shareholder interests and expectations. In response, boards are enhancing their disclosures on board composition and leadership, reviewing governance practices and establishing protocols for engaging with investors. Here are some of the trends we are seeing in the key areas of investor concern.

Board composition

The composition of the board—who the directors are, the skills and expertise they bring, and how they interact—is critical for long-term value creation, and an area of governance where investors increasingly expect greater transparency. Shareholders are looking for a well-explained rationale for why the group of people sitting around the board table are the right ones based on the strategic priorities of the business. They want to know that the board has the processes in place to review and evolve board composition in light of emerging needs, and that the board regularly evaluates the contributions and tenure of current board members and the relevance of their experience.

Acknowledging investor interest in their composition, more boards are reviewing how to best communicate their thinking about the types of expertise needed in the board—and how individual directors provide that expertise. More than one-third of the 96 corporate secretaries responding to our annual governance survey, conducted each year as part of the research for the Spencer Stuart Board Index, said their board has changed the way it reports director bios/qualifications; among those that have not yet made changes, 15% expect the board to change how they present director qualifications in the future.

What’s happening to board composition in practice after all of the talk about increasing board turnover? In 2016, we actually saw a small decline in the number of new independent directors elected to S&P 500 boards. S&P 500 boards included in our index elected 345 new independent directors during the 2016 proxy year—averaging 0.72 new directors per board. Last year, S&P 500 boards added a total of 376 new directors (0.78 new directors per board).

Nearly one-third (32%) of the new independent directors on S&P 500 boards are serving on their first outside corporate board. Women account for 32% of new directors, the highest rate of female representation since we began tracking this data for the S&P 500. This year’s class of new directors, however, includes fewer minority directors (defined as African-American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian); 15% of the 345 new independent directors are minorities, a decrease from 18% in 2015.

With the rise of shareholder activism, we’ve also seen an increase in investors and investment managers on boards. This year, 12% of new independent directors are investors, compared with 4% in 2011 and 6% in 2006.

Independent board leadership

Boards continue to feel pressure from some shareholders to separate the chair and CEO roles and name an independent chairman. And, indeed, 27% of S&P 500 boards, versus 21% in 2011, have an independent chair. An independent chair is defined as an independent director or a former executive who has met applicable NYSE or NASDAQ rules for independence over time. This actually represents a small decline from 29% last year. Meanwhile, naming a lead director remains the most common form of independent board leadership: 87% of S&P 500 boards report having a lead or presiding director, nearly all of whom (98%) are identified by name in the proxy.

In our governance survey, 12% of respondents said their board has recently separated the roles of chairman and CEO, while 33% said their board has discussed whether to split the roles within the next five years. Among boards that expect to or have recently separated the chair and CEO roles, 72% cite a CEO transition as the reason, while 20% believe the chair/CEO split represents the best governance.

In response to investor interest in board leadership structure—and sometimes demands for an independent chairman—more boards are discussing their leadership structure in their proxies, for example, explaining the rationale for maintaining a combined chair/CEO role and delineating the responsibilities of the lead director. Among the lead director responsibilities boards highlight: approving the agenda for board meetings, calling meetings and executive sessions of independent directors, presiding over executive sessions, providing board feedback to the CEO following executive sessions, leading the performance evaluation of the CEO and the board assessment, and meeting with major shareholders or other external parties, when necessary. Some proxies include a letter to shareholders from the lead independent director.

Tenure and term limits

Director tenure continues to be a hot topic for some shareholders. While some rating agencies and investors have questioned the independence of directors with “excessive” tenure, there are no specific regulations or listing standards in the U.S. that speak to director independence based on tenure. And, in fact, most companies do not have governance rules limiting tenure; only 19 S&P 500 boards (4%) set an explicit term limit for non-executive directors, a modest increase from 2015 when 13 boards (3%) had director term limits.

Just 3% of survey respondents said their boards are considering establishing director term limits, but many boards are disclosing more in their proxies about director tenure. Specifically, boards are describing their efforts to ensure a balance between short-tenured and long-tenured directors. And several companies have included a short summary of the board’s average tenure accompanied by a pie chart breaking down the tenure of directors on the board (e.g., directors with less than five years tenure, between five and 10 years, and more than 10 years tenure on the board).

Among S&P 500 boards overall, the average board tenure is 8.3 years, a slight decrease from 8.7 five years ago. The median tenure has declined as well in that time, from 8.4 to 8.0. The majority of boards, 63%, have an average tenure between six and 10 years, but 19% of boards have an average tenure of 11 or more years.

We also looked this year at the tenure of individual directors: 35% of independent directors have served on their boards for five years or less, 28% have served for six to 10 years, and 22% for 11 to 15 years. Fifteen percent of independent directors have served on their boards for 16 years or more.

Mandatory retirement

In the absence of term or tenure limits, most S&P 500 boards rely on mandatory retirement ages to promote turnover. About three-quarters (73%) of S&P 500 boards report having a mandatory retirement age for directors. Eleven percent report that they do not have a mandatory retirement age, and 16% do not discuss mandatory retirement in their proxies.

Retirement ages have crept up in recent years, as boards have raised them to allow experienced directors to serve longer. Thirty-nine percent of boards have mandatory retirement ages of 75 or older, compared with 20% in 2011 and just 9% in 2006. Four boards have a retirement age of 80. The most common mandatory retirement age is 72, set by 45% of S&P 500 boards.

As retirement ages have increased, so has the average age of independent directors. The average age of S&P 500 independent directors is 63 today, two years older than a decade ago. In that same period, the median age rose from 61 to 64. Meanwhile, the number of older boards has increased; 37% of S&P 500 boards have an average age of 64 or older, compared with 19% a decade ago, and 15 of today’s boards (3%) have an average age of 70 or greater, versus four (1%) a decade ago.

Board evaluations

Another topic on which large institutional investors have become more vocal is board performance evaluations. Shareholders are seeking greater transparency about how boards address their own performance and the suitability of individual directors—and whether they are using assessments as a catalyst for refreshing the board as new needs arise.

We have seen a growing trend in support of individual director assessments as part of the board effectiveness assessment—not to grade directors, but to provide constructive feedback that can improve performance. Yet the pace of adoption of individual director assessments has been measured. Today, roughly one-third (32%) of S&P 500 boards evaluate the full board, committees and individual directors annually, an increase from 29% in 2011.

In our survey of corporate secretaries, respondents said evaluations are most often conducted by a director, typically the chairman, lead director or a committee chair. A wide range of internal and external parties are also tapped to conduct board assessments, including in-house and external legal counsel, the corporate secretary and board consulting firms. Thirty-five percent use director self-assessments, and 15% include peer reviews. According to proxies, a small number of boards, but more than in the past, disclose that they used an outside consultant to facilitate all or a portion of the evaluation process.

Shareholder engagement

In light of investors’ growing desire for direct engagement with directors, more boards have established frameworks for shareholders to raise questions and engage in meaningful, two-way discussions with the board. In addition to improving disclosures about board composition, assessment and other key governance areas, some boards include in their proxies a summary of their shareholder outreach efforts. For example, they detail the number of investors the board met with, the issues discussed and how the company and board responded. A few boards facilitate direct access to the board by providing contact information for individual directors, including the lead director and audit committee chair.

Going further, many boards now proactively reach out to their company’s largest shareholders. In our survey, 83% of respondents said management or the board contacted the company’s large institutional investors or largest shareholders, an increase from 70% the year prior. The most common topic about which companies engaged with shareholders was proxy access (52%), an increase from 33% in 2015. Other topics included “say on pay” (51%), CEO compensation (40%), director tenure (30%), board refreshment (27%), shareholder engagement approach (27%) and chairman independence (24%). Survey respondents also wrote in more than a dozen additional topics, including majority/cumulative voting, disclosure enhancements, environmental issues and gender pay equity.

Enhancing board performance

The topic of board refreshment can be a highly charged one for boards. But having the right skills around the table is critical for the board’s ability to provide the appropriate guidance and oversight of management. Furthermore, the capabilities and perspectives that a board needs evolve over time as the business context changes. Boards can ensure that they have the right perspectives around the table and are well-equipped to address the issues that drive shareholder value—which, after all, is what investors are looking for—by doing the following:

Viewing director recruitment in terms of ongoing board succession planning, not one-off replacements. Boards should periodically review the skills and expertise on the board to identify gaps in skills or expertise based on changes in strategy or the business context.

Proactively communicating the skill sets and expertise in the boardroom—and the roadmap for future succession. Publishing the board’s skill matrix and sharing the board’s thinking about the types of expertise that are needed on the board—and how individual directors provide that expertise—signals to investors that the board is thoughtful about board succession.

Setting expectations for appropriate tenure both at the aggregate and individual levels. By setting term expectations when new directors join, boards can combat the perceived stigma attached to leaving a board before the mandatory retirement age. Ideally, boards will create an environment where directors are willing to acknowledge when the board would benefit from bringing on different expertise.

Thinking like an activist and identifying vulnerabilities in board renewal and performance. Proactive boards conduct board evaluations annually to identify weaknesses in expertise or performance. They periodically engage third parties to manage the process and are disciplined about identifying and holding themselves accountable for action items stemming from the assessment.

Establishing a framework for engaging with investors. This starts with proactive and useful disclosure, which demonstrates that the board has thought about its composition, performance and other specific issues. In addition, it is valuable to have a protocol in place enumerating responsibilities related to shareholder engagement.

*Note: The Spencer Stuart Board Index (SSBI) is based on our analysis of the most recent proxy reports from the S&P 500, plus an extensive supplemental survey. The complete publication draws on the latest proxy statements from 482 companies filed between May 15, 2015, and May 15, 2016, and responses from 96 companies to our governance survey conducted in the second quarter of 2016. Survey respondents are typically corporate secretaries, general counsel or chief governance officers. Proxy and survey data have been supplemented with information compiled in Spencer Stuart’s proprietary database.

The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Résumé des activités en gouvernance des sociétés | 2016

Voici un article publié sur le site de la HLS par Michael McCauley* qui montre comment la Florida State Board of Administration (SBA) évalue la gouvernance des entreprises dans laquelle elle investit.

Il m’apparaît utile de comprendre le processus décisionnel des investisseurs institutionnels, si l’on veut connaître les variables de la gouvernance dont elles tiennent compte.

L’auteur explique la méthodologie utilisée par la SBA dans sa quête d’information sur les entreprises visées.

Bonne lecture et joyeux temps des fêtes !

2016 Corporate Governance Annual Summary


The Florida SBA’s annual corporate governance summary explains how the Board makes proxy voting decisions, describes the process and policies used to analyze corporate governance practices, and details significant market issues affecting global corporate governance practices at owned companies. The SBA acts as a strong advocate and fiduciary for Florida Retirement System (FRS) members and beneficiaries, retirees, and other non-pension clients to strengthen shareowner rights .and promote leading corporate governance practices at U.S. and international companies in which the SBA holds stock.


The SBA’s corporate governance activities are focused on enhancing share value and ensuring that public companies are accountable to their shareowners with independent boards of directors, transparent disclosures, accurate financial reporting, and ethical business practices designed to protect the SBA’s investments.

The SBA’s annual corporate governance summary is designed to provide transparency of investment management activities involving responsible investment practices, proxy voting conduct, and engagement with owned companies. The report broadly conforms to the main principles for external responsibilities endorsed by the International Corporate Governance Network’s (ICGN) Global Stewardship Principles, most recently updated in June 2016. The ICGN Global Stewardship Principles provide a framework to implement stewardship practices in fulfilling an investor’s fiduciary obligations to beneficiaries or clients.

In addition to comprehensive data and information on corporate engagement, proxy voting, and regulatory issues, the complete 2016 report includes four topical sections detailed below:

Governance Patterns in the U.S. Banking Sector—market events this year demonstrate how a company’s governance regime can interact with its reputation and value.

CFOs serving on Boards in the UK—why is the British market so conducive for executives, including the CFO, to serve on their own boards?

Rule 14a-8 Governing Shareowner Resolutions—is it time for a more efficient way to make shareowner proposals during annual meetings?

UK Compensation Revolt—along with votes targeted at individual board members, investor votes on executive compensation exhibited high levels of dissent at many UK companies.

Annual Voting Review

During the 2016 proxy season, the SBA cast votes at over 10,300 public companies, voting more than 97,000 individual ballot items. The SBA actively engages portfolio companies throughout the year, addressing corporate governance concerns and seeking opportunities to improve alignment with the interests of our beneficiaries. Highlights from the 2016 proxy season included the continued record adoption of proxy access by U.S. companies, record high votes of dissent on pay packages for executives in the United Kingdom, and strong improvements in the level of independence among Japanese boards of directors. While SBA voting principles and guidelines are not pre-disposed to agree or disagree with management recommendations, some management positions may not be in the best interest of all shareowners. On behalf of participants and beneficiaries, the SBA emphasizes the fiduciary responsibility to analyze and evaluate all management recommendations very closely.

Across all voting items, the SBA voted 76.5 percent “For,” 20.2 percent “Against,” 3.1 percent “Withheld,” and 0.2 percent “Abstained” or “Did Not Vote” (due to various local market regulations or liquidity restrictions placed on voted shares). Of all votes cast, 22.2 percent were “Against” the management-recommended-vote (up from 19.4 percent during the same period last year). Among all global proxy votes, the SBA cast at least one dissenting vote at 7,689 annual shareowner meetings, or 74.6 percent of all meetings.

Director Elections

In uncontested director elections among all companies in the United States that are part of the Russell 3000 stock index, over 16,000 nominees received 96.1 percent average support from investors. This year’s figure was within two tenths of one percent from 2015’s statistic. Only 46 director nominees, or less than 0.3 percent, failed to receive a majority level of support from investors. Only two directors at large-capitalization companies within the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 stock index failed to receive a majority level of support. Board elections represent one of the most critical areas in voting because shareowners rely on the board to monitor management. The SBA supported 78.5 percent of individual nominees for boards of directors, voting against the remaining portion of directors due to concerns about candidate independence, qualifications, attendance, or overall board performance. The SBA’s policy is to withhold support from directors who fail to observe good corporate governance practices or demonstrate a disregard for the interests of investors.

Executive Compensation

During the 2016 proxy season, the SBA utilized compensation research from Equilar, Inc., Glass, Lewis & Co., and Institutional Shareholder Services to assist in evaluating the proxy voting decisions on executive compensation share plans and general say-on-pay ballot items. Across all global equity markets, the SBA voted to approve approximately 55 percent of all remuneration reports, whereas in the U.S. market all other investors provided an average support level of 91.5 percent with only 1.5 percent of all advisory votes failing to achieve a majority. ISS found that over half of all U.S. companies conducting annual pay votes have received investor support of at least 90 percent in each of the last five years since the Dodd-Frank Act instituted advisory say-on-pay shareowner votes.

Among all U.S. companies, the average level of investor support for equity plan proposals stayed about the same year over year at approximately 88 percent. However, the number of individual equity plans that failed to garner majority support rose by 50 percent, from 6 to 9 plans. Given the extremely low number of equity plans that fail each year, investor support for individual plans is almost universal. Less than one percent of equity plans failed during the last year, which also marked a five-year low for the number of compensation-related investor proposals with not a single proposal receiving majority support. Over the last fiscal year, the SBA supported 51.2 percent of all non-salary (equity) compensation items, 60.8 percent of executive incentive bonus plans, and 25.2 percent of management proposals to approve omnibus stock plans in which company executives would participate (and 19.3 percent support for the amendment of such plans). Omnibus stock plan ballot items typically include ratification of more than one equity plan beyond a company’s long-term incentive plan (LTIP).

Asset Owner/Asset Manager Peer Benchmarking

In May 2016, the SBA completed an international benchmarking survey on the costs of corporate governance activities at seventeen large public pension funds and global asset managers. The information helped SBA staff to assess the Investment Programs & Governance (IP&G) unit’s cost structure and service utilization across a large number of direct peers. When total research and voting services costs were calculated, SBA had the second lowest dollar-cost per proxy vote among public fund peers and asset managers. The SBA also ranked among the top three funds and well ahead of the fourteen remaining peers with respect to the proxy votes cast per full-time employee. The benchmarking showed that SBA’s corporate governance program uses similar services to peers, but does so at considerably lower cost and with greater efficacy. Our overall program costs and activity levels, particularly when standardized by assets under management, were very favorable compared to peers.

Active Ownership

The SBA actively engages portfolio companies throughout the year, addressing corporate governance concerns and seeking opportunities to improve alignment with the interests of our beneficiaries. During the 2016 fiscal year, SBA staff conducted engagements with over 100 companies owned within Florida Retirement System portfolios, including Compass Group PLC, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Prudential, Bank of Yokohama, Chevron, Bank of America, ENI, Amgen, Ethan Allen, Oracle, The Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan, RTI Surgical, Boeing, Terna Group SpA, Regions Financial Corporation, Red Electrica, and Time Warner. As part of evaluating voting decisions for several proxy contests, SBA staff also met with a number of activist hedge funds, including Red Mountain Capital (proxy campaign at iRobot), Harvest Capital (proxy campaign at Green Dot), and SilverArrow Capital (proxy campaign at Rofin-Sinar Technologies).

Notable Votes

There were numerous significant votes during the 2016 global proxy season, including proxy contests at iRobot Corporation in May and Ashford Hospitality Prime in June, the Facebook share reclassification in June, and the Stada Arzneimitell AG meeting in August. The SBA makes informed and independent voting decisions at investee companies, applying due care, intelligence, and judgment. The SBA makes all proxy voting decisions independently, casting votes based on written, internally-developed corporate governance principles and proxy voting guidelines that cover all expected ballot issues. More detail on each of these votes and the related SBA analysis is contained in the ‘Highlighted Proxy Votes’ section of the 2016 Annual Summary.

The SBA prepares additional reports on corporate governance topics and significant market developments, covering a wide range of shareowner issues. Historical information can be found within the governance section of the SBA’s website. (

The complete publication is available on the SBA’s website here and can also be viewed here using the Issuu e-reader tool.

*Michael McCauley is Senior Officer, Investment Programs & Governance, of the Florida State Board of Administration (the “SBA”). This post is based on an excerpt from the SBA’s 2016 Corporate Governance Report written by Mike McCauley, Jacob Williams, Tracy Stewart, Hugh Brown, and Logan Rand.

Dix stratégies pour se préparer à l’activisme accru des actionnaires

La scène de l’activisme actionnarial a drastiquement évolué au cours des vingt dernières années. Ainsi, la perception négative de l’implication des « hedge funds » dans la gouvernance des organisations a pris une tout autre couleur au fil des ans.

Les fonds institutionnels détiennent maintenant 63 % des actions des corporations publiques. Dans les années 1980, ceux-ci ne détenaient qu’environ 50 % du marché des actions.

L’engagement actif des fonds institutionnels avec d’autres groupes d’actionnaires activistes est maintenant un phénomène courant. Les entreprises doivent continuer à perfectionner leur préparation en vue d’un assaut éventuel des actionnaires activistes.

L’article de Merritt Moran* publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, est d’un grand intérêt pour mieux comprendre les changements amenés par les actionnaires activistes, c’est-à-dire ceux qui s’opposent à certaines orientations stratégiques des conseils d’administration, ainsi qu’à la toute-puissance des équipes de direction des entreprises.

L’auteure présente dix activités que les entreprises doivent accomplir afin de décourager les activistes, les incitant ainsi à aller voir ailleurs !

Voici la liste des étapes à réaliser afin d’être mieux préparé à faire face à l’adversité :

  1. Préparez un plan d’action concret ;
  2. Établissez de bonnes relations avec les investisseurs institutionnels et avec les actionnaires ;
  3. La direction doit entretenir une constante communication avec le CA ;
  4. Mettez en place de solides pratiques de divulgations ;
  5. Informez et éduquez les parties prenantes ;
  6. Faites vos devoirs et analysez les menaces et les vulnérabilités susceptibles d’inviter les actionnaires activistes ;
  7. Communiquez avec les actionnaires activistes et tentez de comprendre les raisons de leurs intérêts pour le changement ;
  8. Comprenez bien tous les aspects juridiques relatifs à une cause ;
  9. Explorez les différentes options qui s’offrent à l’entreprise ciblée ;
  10. Apprenez à connaître le rôle des autorités réglementaires.


J’espère vous avoir sensibilisé à l’importance de la préparation stratégique face à d’éventuels actionnaires activistes.

Bonne lecture !


Ten Strategic Building Blocks for Shareholder Activism Preparedness


Shareholder activism is a powerful term. It conjures the image of a white knight, which is ironic because these investors were called “corporate raiders” in the 1980s. A corporate raider conjures a much different image. As much as that change in terminology may seem like semantics, it is critical to understanding how to deal with proxy fights or hostile takeovers. The way someone is described and the language used are crucial to how that person is perceived. The perception of these so-called shareholder activists has changed so dramatically that, even though most companies’ goals are still the same, the playbook for dealing with activists is different than the playbook for corporate raiders. As such, a corresponding increase in the number of activist encounters has made that playbook required reading for all public company officers and directors. In fact, there have been more than 200 campaigns at U.S. public companies with market capitalizations greater than $1 billion in the last 10 quarters alone. [1]

4858275_3_f7e0_ces-derniers-mois-le-fonds-d-investissement_eccbb6dc5ed4db8b354a34dc3b14c30fIt’s not just the terminology concerning activists that has changed, though. Technologies, trading markets and the relationships activists have with other players in public markets have changed as well. Yet, some things have not changed.

The 1980s had arbitrageurs that would often jump onto any opportunity to buy the stock of a potential target company and support the plans and proposals raiders had to “maximize shareholder value.” Inside information was a critical component of how arbs made money. Ivan Boesky is a classic example of this kind of trading activity—so much so that he spent two years in prison for insider trading, and is permanently barred from the securities business. Arbs have now been replaced by hedge funds, some of which comprise the 10,000 or so funds that are currently trying to generate alpha for their investors. While arbitrageurs typically worked inside investment banks, which were highly regulated institutions, hedge funds now are capable of operating independently and are often willing allies of the 60 to 80 full time “sophisticated” activist funds. [2] Information is just as critical today as it was in the 1980s.

Institutions now occupy a far greater percentage of total share ownership today, with institutions holding about 63% of shares outstanding of the U.S. corporate equity market. In the 1980s, institutional ownership never crossed 50% of shares outstanding. [3] Not only has this resulted in an associated increase of voting power for institutions by the same amount, but also a change in their behavior and posture toward the companies in which they invest, at least in some cases. Thirty years ago, the idea that a large institutional investor would publicly side with an activist (formerly known as a “corporate raider”) would be a rare event. Today, major institutions have frequently sided with shareholder activists, and in some cases privately issued a “Request for Activism”, or “RFA” for a portfolio company, as it has become known in the industry.

It seldom, if ever, becomes clear as to whether institutions are seeking change at a company or whether an activist fund identifies a target and then seeks institutional support for its agenda. What is clear is that in today’s form of shareholder activism, the activist no longer needs to have a large stake in the target in order to provoke and drive major changes.

For example, in 2013, ValueAct Capital held less than 1% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares. Yet, ValueAct President, G. Mason Morfit forced his way onto the board of one of the world’s largest corporations and purportedly helped force out longtime CEO Steve Ballmer. How could a relatively low-profile activist—at the time at least—affect such dramatic change? ValueAct had powerful allies, which held many more shares of Microsoft than the fund itself who were willing to flex their voting muscle, if necessary.

The challenge of shareholder activism is similar to, yet different from, that which companies faced in the 1980s. Although public markets have changed tremendously since the 1980s, market participants are still subject to the same kinds of incentives today as they were 30 years ago.

It has been said that even well performing companies, complete with a strong balance sheet, excellent management, a disciplined capital allocation record and operating performance above its peers are not immune. In our experience, this is true. When the amount of capital required to drive change, perhaps unhealthy change, is much less costly than it is to acquire a material equity position for an activist, management teams and boards of directors must navigate carefully.

Below are 10 building blocks that we believe will help position a company to better equip itself to handle the stresses and pressures from the universe of activist investors and hostile acquirers, which may encourage the activists to instead knock at the house next door.

Building Block 1: Be Prepared

Develop a written plan before the activist shows up. By the time a Schedule 13-D is filed, an activist already has the benefit of sufficient time to study a target company, develop a view of its weaknesses and build a narrative that can be used to put a management team and board of directors on the defensive. Therefore, a company’s plan must have balance and must contemplate areas that require attention and improvement. While some activists are akin to 1980s-style corporate raiders with irrational ideas designed only to bump up the stock over a very short period, there are also very sophisticated activists who are savvy and have developed constructive, helpful ideas. A company’s plan and response protocol need to be well thought through and in place before an activist appears. In some cases, the activist response plan can be built into a company’s strategic plan.

The plan needs inclusion and buy-in from the board of directors and senior management. Some subset of this group needs to be involved in developing the plan, not only substantively, but also in the tactical aspects of implementing the plan and communicating with shareholders, including activists, if and when an activist appears.

This preparatory building block extends beyond simply having a process in place to react to shareholder activism. It should complement the company’s business plan and include the charter and bylaws and consideration of traditional takeover defense strategies. It should provide for an advisory team, including lawyers, bankers, a public relations firm and a forensic accounting firm. We believe that the plan should go to a level of detail that includes which members of management and the board are authorized by the board to communicate with the activist and how those communications should occur.

Building Block 2: Promote Good Shareholder Relations with Institutions and Individual Shareholders

If the lesson of the first block was “put your own house in order,” then the second lesson is, “know your tenants, what they want, and how they prefer to live in your building.” This goes well beyond the typical investor relations function. This is where in-depth shareholder research comes into play. We recommend conducting a detailed perception study that can give boards and management teams a clear picture of what the current shareholder base wants, as well as how former and prospective shareholders’ perceptions of the company might differ from the way management and the board see the company itself.

In a takeover battle or proxy contest, facts are ammunition. Suppositions and assumptions of what management thinks shareholders want are dangerous. It is critical to understand how shareholders feel about the dividend policy and the capital allocation plans, for example. Understand how they view the executive compensation or the independence of the board. Do not assume. Ask candidly and revise periodically.

Building Block 3: Inform, Teach and Consult with the Board

Good governance is not something that can be achieved in a reactive sort of manner or when it becomes known that an activist is building a position. Without shareholder-friendly corporate governance practices, the odds of securing good shareholder relations in a contest for control drops significantly and creates the wrong optics.

There are governance issues that can cause institutional shareholders to act, or at least think, akin to activists. Recently, there have been various shareholder rebellions against excessive executive compensation packages—or say-on-pay votes. In fact, Norges, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has launched a public campaign targeting what it views as excessive executive compensation. The fund’s chief executive told the Financial Times that, “We are looking at how to approach this issue in the public space.” He is speaking for an $870 billion dollar fund. The way those votes are cast can mean the difference between victory and defeat in a proxy contest.

Building Block 4: Maintain Transparent Disclosure Practices

While this building block relates to maintaining good shareholder relations, it also recognizes that activists are smart, well informed, motivated and relentless. If a company makes a mistake, and no company is perfect, the activist will likely find it. Companies have write-downs, impairments, restatements, restructurings, events of change or challenges that affect operating performance. While any one of these events may invite activist attention, once a contest for control begins, an activist will find and use every mistake the company ever made and highlight the material ones to the marketplace.

A company cannot afford surprises. One “whoops” event can be all it takes to turn the tide of a proxy vote or a hostile takeover. That is why it is critical to disclose the good and the bad news before the contest begins rather than during the takeover attempt. It may be painful at the time, but with a history of transparency, the marketplace will trust a company that tells them the activist is in it for its own personal benefit and that the proposal the activist is making will not maximize shareholder value, but will only increase the activist’s short-term profit for its investors. Developing that kind of trust and integrity over time can be a critical factor in any contest for corporate control, especially when research shows that the activist has not been transparent in its prior transactions or has misled investors prior to or after achieving its intended result.

When a company has established good corporate governance policies, has been open and transparent, has financial statements consistent with GAAP and effective internal control over financial reporting and knows its shareholder base cold, what is the next step in preparing for the challenge of an activist shareholder?

Building Block 5: Educate Third Parties

Prominent sell-side analysts and financial journalists can, and do, move markets. In a contest for corporate control, or even in a short slate proxy contest, they can be invaluable allies or intractable adversaries. As with the company’s shareholder base, one must know the key players, have established relationships and trust long before a dispute, and have the confidence that the facts are on the company’s side. But winning them over takes time and research, and is another area where an independent forensic accounting firm can be of assistance.

For example, when our client, Allergan, was fighting off a hostile bid from Valeant and Pershing Square, we identified that Valeant’s “double-digit” sales growth came from excluding discontinued products and those with declining sales from its calculation. This piece of information served as key fodder for journalists, who almost unanimously sided against Valeant for this and other reasons. Presentations, investor letters and analyst days can make the difference in creating a negative perception of the adversary and spreading a company’s message.

Building Block 6: Do Your Homework

Before an activist appears, a company needs to understand what vulnerabilities might attract an activist in the first place. This is where independent third parties can be crucial. Retained by a law firm to establish the privilege, they can do a vulnerability assessment of the company compared to its peers.

This is a different sort of assessment than what building block two entails, essentially asking shareholders to identify perceived weaknesses. Here, a company needs to look for the types of vulnerabilities that institutional shareholders might not see—but that an activist surely will. When these vulnerabilities such as accounting practices or obscure governance structures are not addressed, an activist will use them on the offensive. Even worse are the vulnerabilities that are not immediately apparent. In any activist engagement, it is best to minimize surprises as much as possible.

Building Block 7: Communicate With the Activist

Before deciding whether to communicate, know the other players.

This includes a deep dive into the activist’s history—what level of success has the activist had in the past? Have they targeted similar companies? What strategies have they used? How do they negotiate? How have other companies reacted and what successes or failures have they experienced?

If the activist commences a proxy contest or a consent solicitation, turn that intelligence apparatus on the slate of board nominees the activist is proposing. Find out about their vulnerabilities and paint the full picture of their business record. Do they know the industry? Are they responsible fiduciaries? What is their personal track record? These are important questions that investigators can help answer.

Armed with information about the activist and having consulted with management, the board has to decide whether to communicate with the activist, and if so, what the rules of the road are for doing so. What are the objectives and goals and what are the pros and cons of even starting that communication process? If a decision is made to start communications with the activist, make sure to pick the time to do so and not just respond to what the media hype might be promoting. Poison pills can provide breathing room to make these determinations.

Always keep in mind that communications can lead to discussions, which in turn can lead to negotiations, which may result in a deal.

Before reaching a settlement deal, a company must be sure to have completed the preceding due diligence. More companies seem to be choosing to appease activists by signing voting agreements and/or granting board seats. Although this will likely buy more time to deal with the activist in private, it may simply delay an undesirable outcome rather than circumvent the issue. Whether or not the company signs a voting agreement with the activist, management and the board of directors should know the activist’s track record and current activities with other companies in great detail as the initial step in considering whether to reach any accommodation with the activist.

Building Block 8: Understand the Role of Litigation

Most of the building blocks thus far have involved making a business case to the marketplace and supporting that case with candid communications. But in many activist campaigns—especially the really adversarial ones—there will come a time when the company needs to make its case to a court or a regulator or both.

As with other building blocks, litigation goes to one of the most valuable commodities in a contest for corporate control: TIME. In most situations, the more time the target has to maintain the campaign, the better. The company’s legal team needs to work with the forensic accountants to understand and identify issues that relate to the activist’s prior transactions and business activities, while ensuring that the company is not living in a glass house when it throws stones. Armed with the facts, lawyers will do the legal analysis to determine whether the activist has complied with or broken state, federal or international law or regulation. If there are causes of action, then one way to resolve them is to litigate.

Building Block 9: Factor in Contingencies and Options

Contingencies can include additional activists, M&A and small issues that can become big issues. This building block is about understanding the environment in which the company is operating.

For example, are there hedge funds targeting the same company in a “wolfpack”, as the industry has coldly nicknamed them? If two or more hedge funds are acting in concert to acquire, hold, vote or dispose of a company’s securities, they can be treated as a group triggering the requirement to file a Schedule 13-D as such. Under certain circumstances, the remedy the SEC has secured for violating Section 13(d) of the Williams Act is to sterilize the vote of the shares held by the group’s members. So, if there is evidence indicating that funds are working together which have not jointly filed a Schedule 13-D, the SEC may be able to help. Or better yet, think about building block eight and litigate.

In the case of a hostile acquisition, consider whether there is an activist already on the board of the potential acquirer? Has the activist been a board member in prior transactions? If so, what kind of fiduciary has that activist shown himself to be?

Another contingency is exploring “strategic alternatives.”

Building Block 10: Understand the Role of Regulators

Despite the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, regulators today may be less inclined to intervene in these kinds of issues than they were 30 years ago.

When an activist is engaging in questionable or illegal practices, contacting regulators should be considered. But this requires being proactive.

The best way to approach the regulators is to present a complete package of evidence that is verified by independent third parties. Determine the facts, apply legal analysis to those facts and have conclusions that show violations of the law. Do not just show one side of the case; show both sides, the pros and the cons of a possible violation. Why? Because if the package is complete and has all the work that the regulator would want to do under the circumstances, two things will happen. First, the regulator will understand that there is an issue, a potential harm to shareholders and the public interest which the regulator is sworn to protect. Second, the regulator will save time when it presents the case for approval to act.

Using forensic accountants before and when an activist appears is one of the major factors that can assist companies today and also help the lawyers who are advising the target company. If other advisors are conflicted, the company needs a reputable, independent third party who can help the company ascertain facts on a timely basis to make informed decisions, and if the determination is made to oppose the activist, make the case to shareholders, to analysts, to media, to regulators and to the courts.

Each of these buildings blocks is important. While they have remained mostly the same since the 1980s, tactics, strategies and the marketplace have changed. Even though activists may appear to act the same way, each is different and each activist approach has its own differences from all the others.


1FactSet, SharkRepellent.(go back)

2FactSet, SharkRepellent.(go back)

3The Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.(go back)


*Merritt Moran is a Business Analyst at FTI Consulting. This post is based on an FTI publication by Ms. Moran, Jason Frankl, John Huber, and Steven Balet.

La gouvernance des CÉGEPS | Une responsabilité partagée

Nous publions ici un cinquième billet de Danielle Malboeuf* laquelle nous a soumis ses réflexions sur les grands enjeux de la gouvernance des institutions d’enseignement collégial les 23 et 27 novembre 2013, le 24 novembre 2014 et le 4 septembre 2015, à titre d’auteure invitée.

Dans un premier article, publié le 23 novembre 2013 sur ce blogue, on insistait sur l’importance, pour les CA des Cégeps, de se donner des moyens pour assurer la présence d’administrateurs compétents dont le profil correspond à celui qui est recherché. D’où les propositions adressées à la Fédération des cégeps et aux CA pour élaborer un profil de compétences et pour faire appel à la Banque d’administrateurs certifiés du Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS), le cas échéant. Un autre enjeu identifié dans ce billet concernait la remise en question de l’indépendance des administrateurs internes.

Le deuxième article publié le 27 novembre 2013 abordait l’enjeu entourant l’exercice de la démocratie par différentes instances au moment du dépôt d’avis au conseil d’administration.

Le troisième article portait sur l’efficacité du rôle du président du conseil d’administration (PCA).

Le quatrième billet abordait les qualités et les caractéristiques des bons administrateurs dans le contexte du réseau collégial québécois (CÉGEP)

Dans ce cinquième billet, l’auteure réagit aux préoccupations actuelles de la ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur eu égard à la gouvernance des CÉGEPS.


La gouvernance des CÉGEPS | Une responsabilité partagée


Danielle Malboeuf*  


Dans les suites du rapport de la vérificatrice générale portant sur la gestion administrative des Cégeps, la ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur, madame Hélène David a demandé au ministère un plan d’action pour améliorer la gouvernance dans le réseau collégial. Voici un point de vue qui pourrait enrichir sa réflexion.

Rappelons que pour atteindre de haut standard d’excellence, les collèges doivent compter sur un conseil d’administration (CA) performant dont les membres font preuve d’engagement, de curiosité et de courage tout en possédant les qualifications suivantes : crédibles, compétents, indépendants, informés et outillés.

Considérant l’importance des décisions prises par les administrateurs, il est essentiel que ces personnes possèdent des compétences et une expertise pertinente. Parmi les bonnes pratiques en gouvernance, les CA devraient d’ailleurs élaborer un profil de compétences recherchées pour ses membres et l’utiliser au moment de la sélection des administrateurs.  Au moment de solliciter la nomination d’un administrateur externe auprès du gouvernement, ce profil devrait être fortement recommandé. Sachant que chacun des 48 CA des Collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel compte sept personnes nommées par la ministre pour un mandat de trois ans renouvelable, il est important de lui rappeler l’importance d’en tenir compte.


Il est également essentiel qu’elle procède à ces nominations dans les meilleurs délais. À l’heure actuelle, on constate que, dans certains cas, le délai pour nommer et remplacer des administrateurs externes peut être de plusieurs mois. Cette situation est doublement préoccupante quand plusieurs membres quittent le CA en même temps. Sachant qu’il existe une banque de candidats dûment formés par le Collège des administrateurs de sociétés et des membres de plusieurs ordres professionnels qui répondent au profil de compétences recherchées par les collèges, il serait pertinent de recruter des candidats parmi ces personnes.

De plus, pour être en présence d’administrateurs performants, il est essentiel que ces personnes soient au fait de leurs rôles et responsabilités. Des formations devraient donc leur être offertes. Toutefois, cette formation ne doit pas se limiter à leur faire connaître les obligations légales et financières qui s’appliquent au réseau collégial, mais les bonnes pratiques de gouvernance doivent également leur être enseignées. À ce sujet, il faut se réjouir du souhait formulé par madame David afin d’offrir des formations en ce sens.

Signalons aussi que les administrateurs ne devraient pas se retrouver en situation de conflit d’intérêts. Ainsi, il faut s’assurer, entre autres, que les administrateurs internes ne subissent pas de pressions des  groupes d’employés dont ils proviennent. Les  conseils d’administration des collèges comptent quatre membres du personnel qui enrichissent les échanges par leurs expériences pertinentes. La Loi sur les collèges prévoit que ces administrateurs internes sont élus par leurs pairs. Dans plusieurs collèges, le processus de sélection est confié au syndicat qui procède à l’élection de leur représentant au conseil d’administration lors d’une assemblée syndicale. Ces personnes peuvent subir des pressions surtout quand certains syndicats inscrivent dans leur statut et règlement que ces personnes doivent représenter l’assemblée syndicale et y faire rapport. D’autres collèges ont prévu des modalités qui respectent beaucoup mieux l’esprit de la loi. On confie au secrétaire général, le mandat de recevoir les candidatures et de procéder dans le cadre de processus convenu à la sélection de ces personnes. Cette dernière pratique devrait être encouragée.

Considérant les pouvoirs du CA qui agit tant sur les aspects financiers et légaux que sur les orientations du collège, il est essentiel que la direction fasse preuve de transparence et transmette aux membres toutes les informations pertinentes. Pour permettre aux administrateurs de porter des jugements adéquats et de juger de la pertinence et de l’efficacité de sa gestion, le collège doit aussi leur fournir des indicateurs. Sachant que des indicateurs sont présents dans le plan stratégique, les administrateurs devraient, donc porter une attention toute particulière à ces indicateurs, et ce, sur une base régulière.

Par ailleurs, les administrateurs ne doivent pas hésiter à poser des questions et à demander des informations additionnelles, le cas échéant. Le président du CA peut, dans ce sens, jouer un rôle essentiel. Il doit, entre autres, porter un regard critique sur les documents qui sont transmis avant les rencontres et encourager la création de sous-comités pour enrichir les réflexions. Considérant le rôle qui lui est confié dans la Loi, les présidents de CA pourraient être tentés de se limiter à jouer un rôle d’animateur de réunions, ce qui n’est pas suffisant.

En résumé, la présence de CA performant dans les Cégeps exige une évolution des pratiques et idéalement, des modifications législatives qui mettront à contribution chacun des acteurs du réseau collégial.


*Danielle Malboeuf est consultante et formatrice en gouvernance ; elle possède une grande expérience dans la gestion des CÉGEPS et dans la gouvernance des institutions d’enseignement collégial et universitaire. Elle est CGA-CPA, MBA, ASC, Gestionnaire et administratrice retraitée du réseau collégial et consultante.


Articles sur la gouvernance des CÉGEPS publiés sur mon blogue par l’auteure :


(2) Les grands enjeux de la gouvernance des institutions d’enseignement collégial

(3) L’exercice de la démocratie dans la gouvernance des institutions d’enseignement collégial

(4) Caractéristiques des bons administrateurs pour le réseau collégial | Danielle Malboeuf

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Six mesures pour améliorer la gouvernance des organismes publics au Québec | Yvan Allaire

Je suis tout à fait d’accord avec la teneur de l’article de l’IGOPP, publié par Yvan Allaire* intitulé « Six mesures pour améliorer la gouvernance des organismes publics au Québec», lequel dresse un état des lieux qui soulève des défis considérables pour l’amélioration de la gouvernance dans le secteur public et propose des mesures qui pourraient s’avérer utiles. Celui-ci fut a été soumis au journal Le Devoir, pour publication.

L’article soulève plusieurs arguments pour des conseils d’administration responsables, compétents, légitimes et crédibles aux yeux des ministres responsables.

Même si la Loi sur la gouvernance des sociétés d’État a mis en place certaines dispositions qui balisent adéquatement les responsabilités des C.A., celles-ci sont poreuses et n’accordent pas l’autonomie nécessaire au conseil d’administration, et à son président, pour effectuer une véritable veille sur la gestion de ces organismes.

Selon l’auteur, les ministres contournent allègrement les C.A., et ne les consultent pas. La réalité politique amène les ministres responsables à ne prendre principalement avis que du PDG ou du président du conseil : deux postes qui sont sous le contrôle et l’influence du ministère du conseil exécutif ainsi que des ministres responsables des sociétés d’État (qui ont trop souvent des mandats écourtés !).

Rappelons, en toile de fond à l’article, certaines dispositions de la loi :

– Au moins les deux tiers des membres du conseil d’administration, dont le président, doivent, de l’avis du gouvernement, se qualifier comme administrateurs indépendants.

– Le mandat des membres du conseil d’administration peut être renouvelé deux fois

– Le conseil d’administration doit constituer les comités suivants, lesquels ne doivent être composés que de membres indépendants :

1 ° un comité de gouvernance et d’éthique ;

2 ° un comité d’audit ;

3 ° un comité des ressources humaines.

– Les fonctions de président du conseil d’administration et de président-directeur général de la société ne peuvent être cumulées.

– Le ministre peut donner des directives sur l’orientation et les objectifs généraux qu’une société doit poursuivre.

– Les conseils d’administration doivent, pour l’ensemble des sociétés, être constitués à parts égales de femmes et d’hommes.

Yvan a accepté d’agir en tant qu’auteur invité dans mon blogue en gouvernance. Voici donc son article.


Six mesures pour améliorer la gouvernance des organismes publics au Québec

par Yvan Allaire*


La récente controverse à propos de la Société immobilière du Québec a fait constater derechef que, malgré des progrès certains, les espoirs investis dans une meilleure gouvernance des organismes publics se sont dissipés graduellement. Ce n’est pas tellement les crises récurrentes survenant dans des organismes ou sociétés d’État qui font problème. Ces phénomènes sont inévitables même avec une gouvernance exemplaire comme cela fut démontré à maintes reprises dans les sociétés cotées en Bourse. Non, ce qui est remarquable, c’est l’acceptation des limites inhérentes à la gouvernance dans le secteur public selon le modèle actuel.




En fait, propriété de l’État, les organismes publics ne jouissent pas de l’autonomie qui permettrait à leur conseil d’administration d’assumer les responsabilités essentielles qui incombent à un conseil d’administration normal : la nomination du PDG par le conseil (sauf pour la Caisse de dépôt et placement, et même pour celle-ci, la nomination du PDG par le conseil est assujettie au veto du gouvernement), l’établissement de la rémunération des dirigeants par le conseil, l’élection des membres du conseil par les « actionnaires » sur proposition du conseil, le conseil comme interlocuteur auprès des actionnaires.

Ainsi, le C.A. d’un organisme public, dépouillé des responsabilités qui donnent à un conseil sa légitimité auprès de la direction, entouré d’un appareil gouvernemental en communication constante avec le PDG, ne peut que difficilement affirmer son autorité sur la direction et décider vraiment des orientations stratégiques de l’organisme.

Pourtant, l’engouement pour la « bonne » gouvernance, inspirée par les pratiques de gouvernance mises en place dans les sociétés ouvertes cotées en Bourse, s’était vite propagé dans le secteur public. Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, la notion d’indépendance des membres du conseil a pris un caractère mythique, un véritable sine qua non de la « bonne » gouvernance. Or, à l’épreuve, on a vite constaté que l’indépendance qui compte est celle de l’esprit, ce qui ne se mesure pas, et que l’indépendance qui se mesure est sans grand intérêt et peut, en fait, s’accompagner d’une dangereuse ignorance des particularités de l’organisme à gouverner.

Ce constat des limites des conseils d’administration que font les ministres et les ministères devrait les inciter à modifier ce modèle de gouvernance, à procéder à une sélection plus serrée des membres de conseil, à prévoir une formation plus poussée des membres de C.A. sur les aspects substantifs de l’organisme dont ils doivent assumer la gouvernance.

Or, l’État manifeste plutôt une indifférence courtoise, parfois une certaine hostilité, envers les conseils et leurs membres que l’on estime ignorants des vrais enjeux et superflus pour les décisions importantes.

Évidemment, le caractère politique de ces organismes exacerbe ces tendances. Dès qu’un organisme quelconque de l’État met le gouvernement dans l’embarras pour quelque faute ou erreur, les partis d’opposition sautent sur l’occasion, et les médias aidant, le gouvernement est pressé d’agir pour que le « scandale » s’estompe, que la « crise » soit réglée au plus vite. Alors, les ministres concernés deviennent préoccupés surtout de leur contrôle sur ce qui se fait dans tous les organismes sous leur responsabilité, même si cela est au détriment d’une saine gouvernance.

Ce brutal constat fait que le gouvernement, les ministères et ministres responsables contournent les conseils d’administration, les consultent rarement, semblent considérer cette agitation de gouvernance comme une obligation juridique, un mécanisme pro-forma utile qu’en cas de blâme à partager.

Prenant en compte ces réalités qui leur semblent incontournables, les membres des conseils d’organismes publics, bénévoles pour la plupart, se concentrent alors sur les enjeux pour lesquels ils exercent encore une certaine influence, se réjouissent d’avoir cette occasion d’apprentissage et apprécient la notoriété que leur apporte dans leur milieu ce rôle d’administrateur.

Cet état des lieux, s’il est justement décrit, soulève des défis considérables pour l’amélioration de la gouvernance dans le secteur public. Les mesures suivantes pourraient s’avérer utiles :

  1. Relever considérablement la formation donnée aux membres de conseil en ce qui concerne les particularités de fonctionnement de l’organisme, ses enjeux, ses défis et critères de succès. Cette formation doit aller bien au-delà des cours en gouvernance qui sont devenus quasi-obligatoires. Sans une formation sur la substance de l’organisme, un nouveau membre de conseil devient une sorte de touriste pendant un temps assez long avant de comprendre suffisamment le caractère de l’organisation et son fonctionnement.
  2. Accorder aux conseils d’administration un rôle élargi pour la nomination du PDG de l’organisme ; par exemple, le conseil pourrait, après recherche de candidatures et évaluation de celles-ci, recommander au gouvernement deux candidats pour le choix éventuel du gouvernement. Le conseil serait également autorisé à démettre un PDG de ses fonctions, après consultation du gouvernement.
  3. De même, le gouvernement devrait élargir le bassin de candidats et candidates pour les conseils d’administration, recevoir l’avis du conseil sur le profil recherché.
  4. Une rémunération adéquate devrait être versée aux membres de conseil ; le bénévolat en ce domaine prive souvent les organismes de l’État du talent essentiel au succès de la gouvernance.
  5. Rendre publique la grille de compétences pour les membres du conseil dont doivent se doter la plupart des organismes publics ; fournir une information détaillée sur l’expérience des membres du conseil et rapprocher l’expérience/expertise de chacun de la grille de compétences établie. Cette information devrait apparaître sur le site Web de l’organisme.
  6. Au risque de trahir une incorrigible naïveté, je crois que l’on pourrait en arriver à ce que les problèmes qui surgissent inévitablement dans l’un ou l’autre organisme public soient pris en charge par le conseil d’administration et la direction de l’organisme. En d’autres mots, en réponse aux questions des partis d’opposition et des médias, le ministre responsable indique que le président du conseil de l’organisme en cause et son PDG tiendront incessamment une conférence de presse pour expliquer la situation et présenter les mesures prises pour la corriger. Si leur intervention semble insuffisante, alors le ministre prend en main le dossier et en répond devant l’opinion publique.


*Yvan Allaire, Ph. D. (MIT), MSRC Président exécutif du conseil, IGOPP Professeur émérite de stratégie, UQÀM

La tendance est à la tenue des assemblées annuelles des actionnaires en ligne

Les assemblées annuelles des actionnaires ont de plus en plus tendance à se tenir de manière virtuelle. Nous sommes d’avis, qu’à l’avenir, avec le développement des technologies de l’information, toutes les réunions se feront exclusivement en ligne.

Nous n’en sommes encore qu’au tout début de ce changement, mais il semble clair que les assemblées annuelles tenues sur place ou de manière hybride (virtuelle et sur place) céderont le pas aux rencontres en ligne.

L’article publié par Lisa A. Fontenot et Linda Dang associées de la firme Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher et paru sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum, fait le point sur les tenants et aboutissants de cette nouvelle approche à la conduite des réunions annuelles des actionnaires.

Parmi les avantages de l’utilisation de l’approche en ligne, mentionnons l’accroissement de la participation des actionnaires et la diminution des coûts pour l’ensemble des opérations.

Par contre, à ce stade-ci, plusieurs grandes organisations de défenses des actionnaires et plusieurs actionnaires activistes sont farouchement opposés à cette façon de procéder parce que la relation face à face avec les dirigeants et les administrateurs leur apparaît essentielle à la bonne gouvernance, mais surtout parce qu’elles croient que les entreprises auront tendance, et même intérêt, à gérer les questions des actionnaires à leur avantage.

Les auteures discutent en profondeur des bénéfices et des défis posés par cette problématique. Elles indiquent comment procéder pour mettre en place ces réunions virtuelles en s’appuyant sur les principes élaborés par un groupe de travail constitué d’un grand nombre de parties prenantes : « Best Practices Working Group for Online Shareholder Participation in Annual Meetings ».

Je vous souhaite une bonne lecture.

Annual Shareholder Meeting: Selected Considerations for a Virtual-Only Meeting




In recent years, an increasing number of companies have opted to hold annual shareholder meetings exclusively online—i.e., a virtual meeting without a corresponding physical meeting—rather than a virtual meeting in tandem with a physical meeting (the so-called “hybrid” approach). While hybrid approaches are generally welcome or not opposed by investors and activist shareholders, some have criticized companies holding virtual-only annual meetings, asserting that virtual meetings limit the opportunity for shareholder participation in the meeting as well as engagement with management and the board. In spite of these criticisms, just as corporate use of the internet and social media to communicate with stakeholders is growing, virtual meetings are on the rise.

In 2001, Inforte Corporation was the first company to hold a virtual-only meeting, following Delaware’s 2000 amendment to its General Corporation Law permitting such meetings. Though virtual meetings are still very much a minority of total annual shareholder meetings, more and more companies have been holding virtual meetings over the last few years: 27 virtual meetings in 2012, 35 in 2013, 53 in 2014 and 90 in 2015. Broadridge Financial Solutions, an investor communications firm and a provider of a virtual meeting platform, reported 136 virtual meetings held in 2016 to date, with particular popularity with recently-publicly listed companies and technology companies. These include companies, large and small, such as Intel, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Fitbit, Yelp, NVIDIA, Sprint, Lululemon, Graco, GoPro, Rambus, El Pollo Loco and Herman Miller.

Considerations for a Virtual Meeting

Benefits of Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings present many potential advantages for companies and their shareholders. Advocates suggest that virtual meetings will increase shareholder participation as compared to physical-only meetings because of improved access—shareholders who cannot attend in person due to location or other reasons can attend virtually and do not have to incur the time and costs of travel to a physical meeting. As an example, one company had only three shareholders attend its last physical meeting in 2008, while 186 shareholders attended its virtual meeting in 2009. In addition, considering that thousands of annual shareholder meetings are held within a few weeks of each other, shareholders can participate in more virtual meetings than physical meetings.

Similarly, companies may find virtual meetings appealing in their potential to reach as many shareholders as possible. Companies can also choose among different approaches to handling shareholder questions, some of which allow companies to preview and prioritize important questions, eliminate duplicative items and prepare more substantive or complete responses. Moreover, for some companies, the use of technology for the conduct of a shareholder meeting may be consistent with promoting the technology business of the company or enable a company to project a tech-savvy image.

A benefit to both shareholders and companies is the reduced cost of the annual meeting—a virtual meeting avoids the time, effort and expense of organizing a physical meeting, including reserving a large venue and arranging for appropriate personnel and materials. With companies and investors becoming increasingly global, virtual meetings can trim travel time and costs for shareholders, avoid traffic and other logistical delays and be easier to schedule amidst competing time demands. A virtual meeting may also be less disruptive to the company’s daily routine, allowing management and other employees to return to their work more quickly. In the current atmosphere where physical safety is always a concern, it is relatively easy to maintain security and control for a virtual meeting as compared to a live one. Lastly, holding the annual meeting virtually can reduce environmental impact, because there would be less travel and fewer printed materials regardless of the number of participants.

Challenges Presented by Virtual Meetings

Despite the potential advantages, some perceived challenges raised by virtual meetings cause certain institutional investors, such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest U.S. public pension fund, and shareholder groups, such as the Council of Institutional Investors (CII), to oppose virtual meetings. These investors assert that virtual meetings reduce the effectiveness of shareholder participation by eliminating shareholders’ ability to meet with directors and express their concerns face-to-face. There is also concern that companies will manipulate shareholder questions to reduce any negative impact or redirect focus, by filtering, grouping, rephrasing or even ignoring questions so that companies can manage questions and their responses to advance the company viewpoints. By selecting questions ahead of time, companies could choose not to answer hard questions that would be more difficult to avoid in person. In effect, virtual meetings could potentially allow companies to limit the influence of corporate governance activists.

Companies may fear that virtual meetings lack the personal connection with shareholders and communities that in-person meetings can convey. Virtual meetings may create more uncertainty in shareholder votes because shareholders can more easily attend virtual meetings than physical meetings and thus electronically vote or change votes at the last moment while attending a virtual meeting. Especially in contested elections, the certainty of proxies received in advance of physical meetings provides more comfort for companies about the projected outcome of votes. Shareholders who can attend a meeting virtually may be less inclined to vote by proxy in advance, making voting results less predictable and making it harder for companies to gauge whether their solicitation methods are effective or need to be adjusted. In proxy contests, parties could continue solicitation efforts via e-mail up to the time of the virtual meeting, though a company’s last-minute announcements or statements may similarly be more likely to affect votes. Some companies may avoid virtual meetings because of their reluctance to make their shareholder lists available online, as required by many states for virtual meetings. Moreover, without the personal touch present when face-to-face, virtual meetings may diminish companies’ ability to resolve hostile or otherwise challenging questions as effectively as in physical meetings. Finally, to the extent that a virtual meeting broadcasts shareholder questions on a real-time basis, it could be more difficult for companies to manage disruptive participants than in a physical meeting.

Some prominent activist shareholders also oppose virtual meetings. For the 2017 proxy season, John Chevedden has submitted shareholder proposals to various companies requesting that the companies’ board of directors adopt a governance policy to initiate or restore in-person annual meetings and publicize this policy to investors. Mr. Chevedden has argued that in-person meetings serve an important function by enabling shareholders to better judge management’s performance and plans. Similarly, James McRitchie has written on his website about the negative impact of holding virtual annual meetings and advocated for shareholder proposals requiring physical meetings.

Both CalPERS and CII believe that companies “should hold shareowner meetings by remote communication (so-called ‘virtual’ meetings) only as a supplement to traditional in-person shareowner meetings, not as a substitute” and that “a virtual option, if used, should facilitate the opportunity for remote attendees to participate in the meeting to the same degree as in-person attendees.”California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has also expressed a preference for a hybrid meeting, though it acknowledged that “the technology is moving.” At this time, most other major institutional investors have not taken a public stance regarding virtual meetings.

Neither Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) nor Glass Lewis have directly opposed virtual meetings in their guidelines, although ISS has indicated that it may make adverse recommendations where a company is using virtual-meeting technology to impede shareholder discussions or proposals.

Best practices for virtual meetings are continuing to evolve as more companies hold virtual meetings, so it may be difficult to predict investor response to specific practices.

Initial Considerations in Deciding Whether to Hold a Virtual Meeting

Governing Law and Documents

If a company desires to hold its meeting virtually, it first must confirm that the law of its state of incorporation permits virtual annual meetings and the requirements applicable to such meetings. Almost half of the U.S. states, including Delaware, permit virtual meetings. However, some of these 22 states include conditions that, practically speaking, mean that virtual meetings likely would not be used—for example, California permits virtual meetings but only with the consent of each shareholder participating remotely. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia do not permit virtual meetings but do permit hybrid meetings, and 11 states require a physical location for the shareholders’ meeting while permitting remote participation.

A Delaware corporation can hold its annual meeting virtually if it complies with certain statutory requirements. The company must “implement reasonable measures” to confirm that each person voting is a shareholder or proxyholder and to provide such persons with “a reasonable opportunity to participate in the meeting and to vote,” including the ability to read or hear the meeting proceedings on a substantially concurrent basis. The company must also maintain records of votes or other actions taken by the shareholder or proxyholder.

After confirming that virtual meetings are allowed under the state law applicable to the company, the company should make note of any statutory conditions, such as disclosure or shareholder consent requirements or objection rights. For example, as noted above, a company may also be required to make its shareholder list electronically available during the meeting. A company must also confirm that its governing documents permit virtual meetings; for example, a company’s bylaws often state where annual meetings are to be held and may need amendment to provide for virtual meetings. Notably, federal securities laws do not impose restrictions on how shareholder meetings are held. Similarly, while stock exchanges like the NYSE and NASDAQ require listed companies to hold shareholder meetings, they also do not prohibit nor impose restrictions on virtual meetings.

Factors Influencing the Decision to Hold a Virtual Meeting

A company should assess typical shareholder attendance at its annual meeting and the interest of senior management and directors in holding the annual meeting virtually who may have concerns about investor reaction to a virtual meeting announcement or who may want the company to demonstrate its embrace of current technology. A company should also compare the costs and logistical efforts necessary for a physical meeting against those needed for a virtual meeting, which will include fees for the virtual meeting platform and may still include travel expenses for certain directors and management team members. Other factors include whether any shareholder proposals are pending and the level of shareholder dissent, such as with respect to the company’s performance or governance. The company should evaluate the risk of triggering shareholder activism if it announces an intent to hold its annual meeting virtually. There may be reasons why a physical meeting may be preferable, such as where director elections are contested or a significant business transaction or controversial proposal will be put to a shareholder vote. To date, no virtual meetings involving proxy contests have been held.

Planning for a Virtual Meeting

In 2012, a group of “interested constituencies, comprised of retail and institutional investors, public company representatives, as well as proxy and legal service providers” published guidelines for virtual meetings. Chaired by a representative of CalSTRS and including members from the National Association of Corporate Directors, the Society for Corporate Governance (formerly known as the Society of Corporate Secretaries & Governance Professionals), AFL-CIO and NASDAQ and others, this “Best Practices Working Group for Online Shareholder Participation in Annual Meetings” set forth the following principles for online shareholder participation in annual meetings:

  1. Companies should “employ safeguards and mechanisms to protect [shareholder interests] and to ensure that companies are not using technology to avoid opportunities for dialogue that would otherwise be available at an in-person shareholder meeting.” Companies should adopt safeguards for shareholders’ online participation by adopting policies and procedures that offer a similar level of transparency and interaction as a physical meeting. The policies and procedures should also address validation of attendees (to confirm that they are shareholders and proxyholders) and enable online voting.
  2. Companies should “maximize the use of technology” to make the meeting accessible to all shareholders. Steps to be considered include offering telephone or videoconferencing access “so that shareholders can call in to ask questions during the meeting,” ensuring accessible technology “by utilizing a platform that accommodates most, if not all, shareholders,” “providing a technical support line for shareholders,” and “opening web lines and telephone lines in advance” for pre-meeting testing access.

If a company decides to hold its annual meeting virtually, it may wish to proactively discuss the proposed change with key shareholders and explain the rationale for it. The company must also determine how it would handle shareholder questions—for example, whether all questions would be posted and establishing what happens to questions received during the meeting that are not answered during the meeting.

A company has several options for hosting a virtual meeting (audio, video, telephone, web, etc.), and a company’s choice among those options will be guided by state legal requirements. Providers offer virtual meeting platforms on which companies can host their annual meetings and shareholders can attend and vote online. These commercial platforms can help companies comply with statutory requirements, such as Delaware’s requirement to maintain records of votes and other shareholder actions. If possible, the company should leverage technology to allow attendees with different levels of technological savvy or resources to attend.


Though some originally thought that only small companies would use virtual meetings because larger, more well-known companies would want to use the annual meeting as a public relations opportunity and to avoid backlash from shareholder groups, large companies have now started holding virtual meetings. In deciding whether to hold a virtual meeting, companies should weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages applicable to their situations, which may include potential negative sentiment from investors. With technological advances that enable the meetings to be more similar to physical meetings, the potential cost and time savings of virtual meetings may appeal to more companies.

The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Bâtir un conseil d’administration à « valeur ajoutée »

La question que pose l’auteur Robyn Bew, directeur à la National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), est directe et d’une grande importance : Les Boards sont-ils prêts pour affronter les changements des 20 dernières années ?

En effet, cela fait déjà vingt ans que le rapport du NACD (Blue Ribbon Commission on Director Professionalism) a fait ses recommandations sur les principes de saine gouvernance.

Cet article nous invite à revisiter les règles de gouvernance à la lumière des changements significatifs survenus depuis 20 ans.

Il ne s’agit pas de rafraîchir la composition du CA, mais plutôt de s’assurer que ce dernier constitue un actif stratégique durable.

L’article a été publié aujourd’hui sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Bonne lecture !

Building the Strategic-Asset Board




In 1996, the Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Director Professionalism made recommendations on issues including establishing mechanisms for appropriate director turnover/tenure limitations, evaluation of the full board and of individual directors, and ongoing director education. [1] It stated, “the primary goal of director selection is to nominate individuals who, as a group, offer a range of specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise that can contribute to the successful operation of the company,” and advocated that boards must “[expand] the pool of potential nominees considered to include a more diverse range of qualified candidates who meet established criteria.”[2]

Twenty years later, the world in which boards operate has been transformed in fundamental ways, including increased complexity in the business environment; rapidly changing technology; volatility in global politics as well as in international economic and trade flows; the proliferation of information; the presence of major threats such as cyberattacks; higher levels of engagement between companies, boards, and investors of all stripes, including activists; new regulatory requirements; and greater levels of scrutiny from the press and the public. The velocity of the changes directors are facing shows no signs of slowing down.

The NACD 2016 Blue Ribbon Commission began its dialogue by asking whether boards are keeping up, and concluded that there is no single answer. It is clear that advancing director ages and tenures, coupled with low boardroom turnover, are external symptoms that are of increasing concern to investors and other stakeholders. But equally—if not more—significant is the question of whether a board’s composition, director skill sets, and core board processes remain fit-for-purpose in a world where the board’s mandate is evolving in fundamental ways, including but not limited to earlier involvement in strategy-setting discussions with management and greater engagement between designated board members and major investors. This new mandate places substantially different demands on directors, and boards need to ask themselves, “Are we ready?”

Many stakeholders are focused on encouraging higher levels of director turnover—often termed “board refreshment”—through the use of tenure-limiting mechanisms. We believe that such mechanisms can help to drive needed change in the boardroom, but alone they are not sufficient to ensure that boards truly remain fit for-purpose over time. We are encouraging directors to think more holistically, and more ambitiously. Business as-usual approaches will not be sufficient.

As a starting point, directors should review the organization’s corporate governance guidelines, including the board’s mission and key operating principles. Are all board members familiar with them? How often are they reviewed and updated? How rigorously have they been implemented? Do they help to foster a culture of continuous improvement and ongoing learning?

Boards are unique entities. While (in the case of public companies) they are elected by and accountable to shareholders, they are self-constituting, self-evaluating, self-compensating, and self-perpetuating: that is, in the normal course of business, they control their own composition and succession planning. This also means that boards are equipped to take action to elevate their performance on an entirely self-directed, voluntary basis—and they should do so. Otherwise, if board leadership appears to be passive or slow to act in the face of a challenging competitive environment and greater scrutiny from all angles, directors should prepare for the possibility of “shock treatments” imposed from the outside, in the form of activist challenges, regulatory mandates, or quotas. Put another way, without sufficient and timely evolution, boards could face revolution.

Beyond “Board Refreshment”: Building a Strategic-Asset Board

Too many companies still view changes in their boardrooms as necessary primarily on an incremental basis and from the standpoint of director replacement—i.e., responding to the loss of directors due to age or other reasons for departure in a fairly reactive, one-off manner. And while (as noted above) the idea of “board refreshment” has attracted increasing attention in the corporate governance community, as well as with regulators and the press, in the words of one Commissioner, “the current definition [of board refreshment] can still be somewhat limiting—it can imply change for the sake of change.”

The Commission advocates a more ambitious approach, centered on proactive measures that help to build a strategic-asset board. Characteristics of this approach include:

A focus on continuous improvement of overall board composition, individual director skills, and boardroom processes—collectively aimed at achieving and maintaining a high-performance boardrather than a primarily reactive or event-driven approach to board change. One indicator of well-established continuous-improvement processes is that they are used in times of good performance, not just when the company is in a down cycle or facing external challenge

Using the company’s current and future needs as the starting point for determining board composition. Such an approach will certainly include considerations about maintaining an appropriate level of continuity and institutional memory in the boardroom—but in the words of Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb, “To be frank, board members cannot be more worried about their own seats than they are about the future of the company they oversee.”[3]

A set of tools and processes that works together as a system for continuous improvement—avoiding what one Commissioner called the “formulaic approach” of overreliance on automatic tenure-limiting mechanism

While outcomes will be specific to individual boards, in general, we expect to see improvements such as the following:

Boards that are composed of directors who collectively have the right skills and insights to support the formulation and execution of the organization’s strategy—in other words, boards where it is clear that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Boards that have the ability to adapt and retool themselves over time, so that they are able to maintain a superior level of oversight and guidance and evolve as the organization’s strategy and competitive environment evolve

Boards that are transparent in their communications with investors and other stakeholders about who they are and how they operatenacd-1

SECTION 1 of the report describes the ways in which the board’s mandate has evolved in response to external factors and strategic imperatives, and outlines the ways in which the Commission believes boards must respond: by moving beyond traditional approaches to “board refreshment” and establishing a system for continuous improvement in the boardroom.

SECTION 2 explores the key dimensions of continuous improvement, focusing on seven areas in particular: board leadership and oversight responsibilities; board composition and succession planning; recruiting and onboarding new directors; processes for board evaluation; continuing education; tenure-limiting mechanisms; and communication with shareholders and stakeholders.

SECTION 3 summarizes the Commission’s recommendations, and the Appendices provide tools and related resources to help boards implement the recommendations.

NACD has characterized the mission of the board as “[becoming] a strategic asset of the company measured by the contributions we make—collectively and individually—to the long-term success of the enterprise.” [4] We believe this report will help directors in organizations of all sizes and in all sectors to do exactly that.

Recommendations of the 2016 NACD Blue Ribbon Commission

  1. Boards should review their governance principles on a regular basis (at least every other year) to ensure they are complete, up-to-date, and fully understood by current members and director candidates. Governance principles should incorporate a definition of director responsibilities, including a commitment to ongoing learning and the belief that service on the board should not be considered to be a permanent appointment.
  2. The nominating and governance committee should oversee the board’s processes for continuous improvement, working in close coordination with the nonexecutive chair or lead director and with the endorsement of the full board.
  3. Director renominations should not be a default decision, but an annual consideration based on a number of factors, including an assessment of current and future skill sets and leadership styles that are needed on the board.
  4. Nominating and governance committees should develop a “clean-sheet” assessment of the board’s needs in terms of director skill sets and experience at least every two to three years, and use it as an input in continuous-improvement efforts (including recruitment and director education).
  5. The director recruitment process should have a time horizon that matches the organization’s long-term strategy, typically three to five years or more. The process should be designed to include candidates from diverse backgrounds.
  6. Recruiting and onboarding processes should familiarize prospective and new directors with the board’s governance principles and set expectations regarding criteria for renomination, ongoing director education, and other aspects of continuous improvement as defined by the board.
  7. Conduct annual evaluations at the full-board level, and evaluations of committees and individual directors at least once every two years. Use a qualified independent third party on a periodic basis, to encourage candor and add a neutral perspective.
  8. Participation in continuing education should be a requirement for all directors, regardless of experience level or length of board tenure.
  9. Tenure is an important aspect of boardroom diversity. Nominating and governance committees should strive for a mix of tenures on the board—for example, maintaining a composition that includes at least one director with <5, 5–10, and >10 years of service.
  10. High-performance boards will not need to rely exclusively on tenure-limiting mechanisms to ensure appropriate board turnover and composition. However, boards that use such policies should consider replacing or combining retirement age with a maximum term of service.
  11. Communications with investors and other key stakeholders should include a detailed explanation of the link between the organization’s strategic needs and the board’s composition and skill sets, as well as information about the board’s continuous-improvement processes.

Tools for Directors

The report’s 12 appendices enable boards to benchmark their current practices and implement the report’s recommendations. Examples of appendix content are below.

Early Engagement: Going Beyond Traditional Board Succession Planning

A reference list of more than 25 questions to help directors evaluate the board’s ability to manage succession planning as a portfolio, instead of as a series of one-off replacements of individual directors; the strength of the board’s search capabilities, including early-engagement activities and the depth of the candidate pipeline; and the role that board and company culture play in succession planning.

Considerations for Upgrading Board Evaluation Processes

The appendix provides guidance to help boards

  1. establish effective, ongoing rhythms for evaluation processes;
  2. avoid “evaluation fatigue”;
  3. inform the use of third-party facilitators;
  4. make evaluations more holistic by incorporating input from management; and
  5. act on evaluation results.

Guidelines for Developing Board and Individual-Director Learning Agendas

The appendix includes frameworks and questions to help inform full-board and individual-director education activities:

  1. Suggested categories and topic areas for education, with sourcing strategies
  2. A personal learning and development checklist for directors
  3. Outline of a “lifecycle approach” to learning and development for the board, with components of a global director leadership profile

Tools, Templates, and Examples

Multiyear board succession planning matrix

Sample board and committee-level evaluation questions

New-director onboarding checklist

Examples of effective disclosures of director skills, board evaluations, and director education

Examples of corporate governance principles and board tenure policies

* * *

The complete publication is available exclusively to NACD members and is available for download here.


1NACD, Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Director Professionalism, 2011 ed. (Washington, DC: NACD, 2011), pp. 12, 5, 15, 10.(go back)

2Ibid., p. 13.(go back)

3F. William McNabb III, Getting to Know You: The Case for Significant Shareholder Engagement, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, June 24, 2015.(go back)

4NACD, Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Board Evaluation: Improving Director Effectiveness, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: NACD, 2010), p. 2.(go back)

La planification de la relève du PDG par le CA | Une activité très négligée

Voici un article d’Eben Harrell paru dans le numéro de décembre 2016 de Harvard Business Review.

L’auteur affirme, basé sur plusieurs résultats de recherche, que les conseils d’administration ne sont pas préparés à assurer la relève du président-directeur général.

En effet, il appert que le roulement des fonctions de CEO s’accélère grandement (plus de 15 %) et que seulement la moitié des CA sont préparés à faire face aux conséquences.

On estime que 40 % des nouvelles recrues CEO ne peuvent répondre aux exigences de leurs tâches dans les 18 premiers mois !

Le remplacement d’un PDG peut prendre plusieurs mois, voire des années !

Doit-on recruter à l’interne ou recruter à l’externe ? Les recherches montrent que l’on a de plus en plus tendance à recruter les candidats à l’externe ; on parle de 20 % à 30 % du recrutement qui se fait à l’externe.

On constate que les conseils d’administration ne font pas les efforts nécessaires pour planifier la relève de leur CEO et que les coûts reliés à ces manquements sont considérables.

Bonne lecture !

Succession Planning: What the Research Says


All CEOs will inevitably leave office, yet research has long shown that most organizations are ill-prepared to replace them. In this article, we review the most salient studies of succession planning and offer context from experts on the process of picking new leaders for organizations.

Boards Aren’t Ready for Succession

Each year about 10% to 15% of corporations must appoint a new CEO, whether because of executives’ retirement, resignation, dismissal, or ill health. In 2015, in fact, turnover among global CEOs hit a 15-year high. Activist investors are increasingly forcing out leaders they deem underperforming. Yet despite these trends, most boards are unprepared to replace their chief executives. A 2010 survey by the search firm Heidrick & Struggles and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University revealed that only 54% of boards were grooming a specific successor, and 39% had no viable internal candidates who could immediately replace the CEO if the need arose.

0c6d26e8-bd5f-41bd-beb5-9153dfb50498_originalAn organization’s top executive is one of the few variables over which boards have total control—and their failure to plan for CEO transitions has a high cost. A study of the world’s 2,500 largest public companies shows that companies that scramble to find replacements for departing CEOs forgo an average of $1.8 billion in shareholder value. A separate study reveals that the longer it takes a company to name a new CEO during a succession crisis, the worse it subsequently performs relative to its peers. Finally, poor succession planning often extends the tenure of ineffective CEOs, who end up lingering in office long after they should have been replaced. A study by Booz & Company found that, on average, firms with stock returns in the lowest decile underperformed their industry peers by 45 percentage points over a two-year period—and yet the probability that their CEOs would be forced out was only 5.7%. The authors commented that “boards are giving underperforming CEOs more latitude than might be expected.”

Lack of preparedness is only part of the problem, however. An equal challenge, the consultant Ram Charan wrote in 2005, is that all too often, “CEOs are being replaced badly.” Boards aren’t finding the right man or woman for the job. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of new CEOs fail to meet performance expectations in the first 18 months.

Planning Takes Years, Not Months

So what can directors do not only to prepare for succession events but to ensure they make a winning pick when the time comes? A first step is to integrate executive development programs with CEO succession planning so that the best internal candidates are identified early and flagged at the board level. The proof that such an approach works can be found in companies with prestigious leadership-training programs. Researchers at Santa Clara University and Indiana University who examined the track records of chief executives groomed at “CEO factories,” such as General Electric, IBM, and Procter & Gamble, found that the stock market reacted positively when they were appointed and that they delivered superior operating performance over the next three years. The researchers concluded that certain firms “are efficient in developing leadership skills” because “they are able to expose executives to a broad variety of industries and help them develop skills that can be transferred to different business environments.”

Internal grooming of promising executives can create value beyond the avoidance of costly interregnums. In his book Succession, Noel Tichy, a management professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, argues that by putting potential successors in charge of new projects, companies can accelerate change while also testing candidates’ suitability for the top spot. Few boards of directors seize that opportunity, however. Research by the Conference Board, the Institute of Executive Development, and the Rock Center found that most directors lack detailed knowledge of the skills, capabilities, and performance of senior executives just one level below the CEO. Only 55% of directors surveyed in the study claimed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of those executives well or very well. Seventy-seven percent did not participate in the performance evaluations of their firm’s top executives other than the CEO. And only 7% of companies formally assigned a director to mentor senior executives below the CEO.

Some commentators believe this lack of involvement is the result of CEOs’ efforts to stymie boards: The absence of clear successors keeps incumbents in the job longer and gives them more bargaining power with boards. A packed governance agenda may also be to blame. When the consulting firm Mercer Delta surveyed directors about the amount of time they spent on nine key activities, a large majority reported devoting more and more hours to monitoring accounting, risk, and financial performance and other governance duties. Directors also indicated that they spent less time interacting with potential CEO successors than on any other activity.

Michael Useem, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, believes a shortage of directors with experience in hiring top executives also contributes to poor succession planning. He advocates for more current and former CEOs on boards. “People who know how to hire and manage top executives will better understand what a company needs in executive talent and which of the final candidates best brings that to the table,” he says.

In his book It’s Not the How or the What but the Who, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz of the search firm Egon Zehnder lays out six succession-planning guidelines for busy directors: First, start early, ideally the moment a new CEO takes charge. Second, create strict performance metrics and a process for evaluating the CEO against them. Third, identify and develop potential successors within the firm and then benchmark them against external talent. (Useem says directors can go deep during vetting by interviewing all the direct reports of the internal front-runners.) Fourth, look externally to widen the pool of candidates, through executive search firms that don’t use contingency arrangements or charge percentage fees (which Fernández-Aráoz believes create perverse incentives). Fifth, require the board to conduct periodic emergency succession drills. And finally, put in place an extensive transition process to help with onboarding, which is especially important given that 80% of CEO appointees have never served in a chief executive role before.

Insiders Versus Outsiders?

Boards often face a binary choice: Go with an internal candidate, or recruit an executive from another company? Traditionally, internal candidates favored by boards have progressed through positions with responsibility for larger and more complex P&L centers. They might start off by managing a single product and then move into an overseas “head of country” position before returning to the main corporate office to supervise a business unit and then run an entire division. Such a tightly choreographed internal trajectory is increasingly rare in a world of job hopping and frequent executive shuffles, however. Consider that in 1988, an executive typically worked for fewer than three employers in his or her lifetime; 10 years later the average had risen to more than five.

Increasingly, CEO vacancies are being filled by external candidates. In 2013, 20% to 30% of boards chose to replace an outgoing CEO with an external hire. In contrast, just 8% to 10% of newly appointed CEOs at S&P 500 companies were outsiders during the 1970s and 1980s.

This trend toward external hires has been strongly criticized by some scholars, including Harvard Business School’s Rakesh Khurana, who argues in his book Searching for a Corporate Savior that too often boards hire charismatic outsiders even when their experience and abilities are not right for companies’ needs. He also blames high-priced executive search firms for driving up demand for external candidates and censures the business press and the investor community for helping fuel what he calls “the cult of the outsider.”

Khurana may have a point: Candidates that are headhunted from other firms are paid more than internally promoted candidates. According to the executive-compensation research firm Equilar, the median pay of CEOs who are outsiders is $3.2 million more than the median pay of insiders. Far from deserving such a premium, externally appointed CEOs seem to underperform their internally promoted counterparts over the long run. A 2010 study by Booz & Company found that insider CEOs had delivered superior market-adjusted shareholder returns in seven out of the preceding 10 years. And Gregory Nagel of Middle Tennessee State University and James Ang of Florida State University used elaborate multiple regression analyses to show that, on average, going outside the company to fill the top office was justified in just 6% of cases.

These studies might not be capturing the whole picture, however. Companies tend to look outside their own ranks for leaders when recent financial results are poor, which suggests that external hires might struggle simply because they’re walking into challenging conditions at underperforming companies. What’s more, multiple studies have concluded that the CEO’s influence on corporate performance pales in comparison with other, uncontrollable effects—which is to say, it’s very hard to ascertain if a CEO is lucky or good. Furthermore, studies indicate that outsiders who join the company three to four years before they become CEO do just as well as insiders with much more experience at the firm, a crossover category of executive that Harvard Business School’s Joseph Bower calls “inside-outside” leaders. For these and other reasons, says David Larcker, a professor at Stanford Business School, “it is difficult to conclude whether internal or external candidates are systematically better operators.”

What Are the Traits of a Great CEO?

Whether they’re searching for a successor in a firm’s internal ranks or an external pool, directors would benefit from knowing which qualities best predict success in the top job. Unfortunately, while much ink has been spilled on the topic of individual leadership, very little of it can be scientifically supported. In an influential book published in 1991, the University of San Diego’s Joseph Rost pointed out that writers had defined leadership in more than 200 ways since 1900, often with nothing but conjecture or personal experience to back up their claims. That’s slowly changing as researchers look for correlations between personal biographies and leadership success. For instance, one study found that CEOs who had previously served on the boards of large public companies seemed to outperform those without such experience. Another study found that CEOs with military backgrounds were less likely to engage in fraudulent activity. Yet another found that CEOs who spent lavishly in their personal lives were more likely to oversee corporations with loose internal financial controls. Age may also be relevant: Researchers at Mississippi State and the University of Missouri found that younger CEOs outperformed their older counterparts, even after accounting for the fact that younger CEOs were more likely to work in fast-growing industries such as technology. And charismatic CEOs seemed to outperform during periods of upheaval and uncertainty but provided no boost during more stable times.

The private equity industry, which has vast experience hiring CEOs, may also offer some clues about what qualities make for strong CEOs. A recent survey of managing partners at 32 firms found that when choosing a chief executive, they paid less attention to attributes such as track record and industry experience and gave more weight to softer skills such as team building and resilience. But the PEs valued urgency much more highly than empathy—a finding more in keeping with a separate assessment of CEO personalities at venture-backed and private-equity-owned corporations, which suggested that attributes having to do with execution (such as speed, aggressiveness, persistence, work ethic, and high standards) were more predictive of strong performance than interpersonal strengths (such as listening skills, teamwork, integrity, and openness to criticism).

While intriguing, the attempt to find the traits of the ideal CEO-in-waiting is still in its infancy. No one has yet disproved the view of legendary management scholar Peter Drucker, who wrote that successful executives “differ widely in their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs. All they have in common is that they get the right things done.” While we may be a long way from building a predictive algorithm that can identify the perfect CEO successor, researchers have shown that there still remains a great deal more that boards could do to improve their succession planning—starting (in many cases) with having a plan in the first place.

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