Guide des administrateurs 2020 | Deloitte


Le document suivant, publié par Deloitte, est une lecture fortement recommandée pour tous les administrateurs, plus particulièrement pour ceux et celles qui sont des responsabilités liées à l’évaluation de la  performance financière de l’entreprise.

Pour chacun des sujets abordés dans le document, les auteurs présentent un ensemble de questions que les administrateurs pourraient poser :

« Pour que les administrateurs puissent remplir leurs obligations en matière de présentation de l’information financière, ils doivent compter sur l’appui de la direction et poser les bonnes questions.

Dans cette publication, nous proposons des questions que les administrateurs pourraient poser à la direction concernant leurs documents financiers annuels, afin que ceux-ci fassent l’objet d’une remise en question appropriée ».

Je vous invite à prendre connaissance de cette publication en téléchargeant le guide ci-dessous.

Guide des administrateurs 2020

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Huit constats qui reflètent la mouvance de la gouvernance des sociétés


Aujourd’hui, je vous présente un article de John C. Wilcox *, président de la firme Morrow Sodali, paru sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, qui met en lumière les grandes tendances dans la gouvernance des sociétés.

L’article a d’abord été traduit en français en utilisant Google Chrome, puis, je l’ai édité et adapté.

À la fin de 2019, un certain nombre de déclarations extraordinaires ont signalé que la gouvernance d’entreprise avait atteint un point d’inflexion. Au Royaume-Uni, la British Academy a publié Principles for Purposeful Business. Aux États-Unis, la Business Roundtable a publié sa déclaration sur la raison d’être d’une société. Et en Suisse, le Forum économique mondial a publié le Manifeste de Davos 2020.

Ces déclarations sont la résultante des grandes tendances observées en gouvernance au cours des dix dernières années. Voici huit constats qui sont le reflet de cette mouvance.

    1. Reconnaissance que les politiques environnementales, sociales et de gouvernance d’entreprise (ESG) représentent des risques et des opportunités qui ont un impact majeur sur la performance financière ;
    2. Réévaluation de la doctrine de la primauté des actionnaires et de la vision étroite des sociétés comme des machines à profit ;
    3. Adoption de la « pérennité » comme objectif stratégique pour les entreprises, antidote au court terme et voie pour renforcer la confiance du public dans les entreprises et les marchés de capitaux ;
    4. Reconnaissance que les entreprises doivent servir les intérêts de leurs « parties prenantes » ainsi que de leurs actionnaires ;
    5. Réaffirmation du principe selon lequel les entreprises doivent être responsables des conséquences humaines, sociales et de politiques publiques de leurs activités, en mettant l’accent sur la priorité à accorder aux changements climatiques ;
    6. Assertion que la culture organisationnelle est le reflet de son intégrité, de son bien-être interne, de sa pérennité et de sa réputation.
    7. Acceptation de la responsabilité élargie du conseil d’administration pour les questions concernant l’ESG, la durabilité, la finalité et la culture, ainsi que la collaboration avec le PDG pour intégrer ces facteurs dans la stratégie commerciale ;
    8. Émergence du « reporting intégré » [www.integrated reporting.org] avec son programme de réflexion intégrée et de gestion intégrée comme base du « reporting » d’entreprise

J’ai reproduit ci-dessous les points saillants de l’article de Wilcox.

Bonne lecture !

Corporate Purpose and Culture

 

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BlackRock’s Annual Letter

 

On January 14, 2020, right on cue, BlackRock Chairman and Chief Executive Larry Fink published his annual letter to corporate CEOs. This year’s letter, entitled “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance,” is clearly intended as a wake-up call for both corporations and institutional investors. It explains what sustainability and corporate purpose mean to BlackRock and predicts that a tectonic governance shift will lead to “a fundamental reshaping of finance.” BlackRock does not mince words. The letter calls upon corporations to (1) provide “a clearer picture of how [they] are managing sustainability-related questions” and (2) explain how they serve their “full set of stakeholders.” To make sure these demands are taken seriously, the letter outlines the measures available to BlackRock if portfolio companies fall short of achieving sustainability goals: votes against management, accelerated public disclosure of voting decisions and greater involvement in collective engagement campaigns.

In setting forth its expectations for sustainability reporting by portfolio companies, BlackRock cuts through the tangle of competing standard-setters and recommends that companies utilize SASB materiality standards and TCFB climate metrics. In our view, individual companies should regard these recommendations as a starting point—not a blueprint—for their own sustainability reporting. No single analytical framework can work for the universe of companies of different sizes, in different industries, in different stages of development, in different markets. If a company determines that it needs to rely on different standards and metrics, the business and strategic reasons that justify its choices will be an effective basis for a customized sustainability report and statement of purpose.

As ESG casts such a wide net, not all variables can be studied at once to concretely conclude that all forms of ESG management demonstrably improve company performance. Ongoing research is still needed to identify the most relevant ESG factors that influence performance of individual companies in diverse industries. However, the economic relevance of ESG factors has been confirmed and is now building momentum among investors and companies alike.

Corporate Purpose

 

The immediate practical challenge facing companies and boards is how to assemble a statement of corporate purpose. What should it say? What form should it take?

In discussions with clients we are finding that a standardized approach is not the best way to answer these questions. Defining corporate purpose is not a compliance exercise. It does not lend itself to benchmarking. One size cannot fit all. No two companies have the same stakeholders, ESG policies, risk profile, value drivers, competitive position, culture, developmental history, strategic goals. These topics are endogenous and unique to individual companies. Collecting information and assembling all the elements that play a role in corporate purpose requires a deep dive into the inner workings of the company. It has to be a collaborative effort that reaches across different levels, departments and operations within the company. The goal of these efforts is to produce a customized, holistic business profile.

Other approaches that suggest a more standardized approach to corporate purpose and sustainability are also worth consideration:

  • Hermes EOS and Bob Eccles published a “Statement of Purpose Guidance Document” in August 2019. It envisions “a simple one-page declaration, issued by the company’s board of directors, that clearly articulates the company’s purpose and how to harmonize commercial success with social accountability and responsibility.”
  • CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose) has for 20 years been monitoring and scoring “best practices of companies leading in Corporate ” Many of CECP’s best practices take the form of short mission statements that do not necessarily include specific content relating to ESG issues or stakeholders. However, CECP is fully aware that times are changing. Its most recent publication, Investing in Society, acknowledges that the “stakeholder sea change in 2019 has redefined corporate purpose.”

A case can be made for combining the statement of purpose and sustainability report into a single document. Both are built on the same foundational information. Both are intended for a broad-based audience of stakeholders rather than just shareholders. Both seek to “tell the company’s story” in a holistic narrative that goes beyond traditional disclosure to reveal the business fundamentals, character and culture of the enterprise as well as its strategy and financial goals. Does it make sense in some cases for the statement of corporate purpose to be subsumed within a more comprehensive sustainability report?

Corporate Culture

 

Corporate culture, like corporate purpose, does not lend itself to a standard definition. Of the many intangible factors that are now recognized as relevant to a company’s risk profile and performance, culture is one of the most important and one of the most difficult to explain. There are, however, three proverbial certainties that have developed around corporate culture: (1) We know it when we see it -and worse, we know it most clearly when its failure leads to a crisis. (2) It is a responsibility of the board of directors, defined by their “tone at the top.” (3) It is the foundation for a company’s most precious asset, its reputation.

A recent posting on the International Corporate Governance Network web site provides a prototypical statement about corporate culture:

A healthy corporate culture attracts capital and is a key factor in investors’ decision making. The issue of corporate culture should be at the top of every board’s agenda and it is important that boards take a proactive rather than reactive approach to creating and sustaining a healthy corporate culture, necessary for long-term success.

The policies that shape corporate culture will vary for individual companies, but in every case the board of directors plays the defining role. The critical task for a “proactive” board is to establish through its policies a clear “tone at the top” and then to ensure that there is an effective program to implement, monitor and measure the impact of those policies at all levels within the company. In many cases, existing business metrics will be sufficient to monitor cultural health. Some obvious examples: employee satisfaction and retention, customer experience, safety statistics, whistle-blower complaints, legal problems, regulatory penalties, media commentary, etc. For purposes of assessing culture, these diagnostics need to be systematically reviewed and reported up to the board of directors with the same rigor as internal financial reporting.

In this emerging era of sustainability and purposeful governance, investors and other stakeholders will continue to increase their demand for greater transparency about what goes on in the boardroom and how directors fulfill their oversight responsibilities. A proactive board must also be a transparent board. The challenge for directors: How can they provide the expected level of transparency while still preserving confidentiality, collegiality, independence and a strategic working relationship with the CEO?

As boards ponder this question, they may want to consider whether the annual board evaluation can be made more useful and relevant. During its annual evaluation process, could the board not only review its governance structure and internal processes, but also examine how effectively it is fulfilling its duties with respect to sustainability, purpose, culture and stakeholder representation? Could the board establish its own KPIs on these topics and review progress annually? How much of an expanded evaluation process and its findings could the board disclose publicly?

Conclusion—A Sea Change?

 

In addition to the challenges discussed here, the evolving governance environment brings some good news for companies. First, the emphasis on ESG, sustainability, corporate purpose, culture and stakeholder interests should help to reduce reliance on external box-ticking and one-size-fits-all ESG evaluation standards. Second, the constraints on shareholder communication in a rules-based disclosure framework will be loosened as companies seek to tell their story holistically in sustainability reports and statements of purpose. Third, as the BlackRock letters make clear, institutional investors will be subject to the same pressures and scrutiny as companies with respect to their integration of ESG factors into investment decisions and accountability for supporting climate change and sustainability. Fourth, collaborative engagement, rather than confrontation and activism, will play an increasingly important role in resolving misunderstandings and disputes between companies and shareholders.

The 2020 annual meeting season will mark the beginning of a new era in governance and shareholder relations.


*John C. Wilcox is Chairman of Morrow Sodali. This post is based on a Morrow Sodali memorandum by Mr. Wilcox. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Toward Fair and Sustainable Capitalism by Leo E. Strine, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

La responsabilité des administrateurs eu égard aux risques climatiques | En rappel


Les responsabilités des conseils d’administration ne cessent de s’accroître. La gestion du risque est une activité essentielle qui relève des fonctions de surveillance dévolues aux administrateurs de sociétés.
L’article ci-dessous, publié par Richard Howitt dans Board Agenda, présente clairement les devoirs et les responsabilités des administrateurs eu égard aux changements climatiques.
Pour la plupart des entreprises, il s’agit du risque le plus déterminant quoique souvent le plus sous-estimé. L’auteur montre toute l’ampleur du problème et suggère plusieurs manières d’exercer un leadership éclairé dans la considération des risques de cette nature.
À mon avis, chaque administrateur devrait être bien au fait de la situation et réfléchir aux mesures à prendre. L’auteur note que les entreprises qui divulguent leurs plans concernant les risques climatiques sont perçues de façon positive par les investisseurs.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

 

Bonne lecture !

TCFD summit confirms climate risk should be your board’s priority

 

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) has set a pathway for climate risk to become an integral part of corporate governance.

climate, climate change, ice melting

Image: Bernhard Staehli/Shutterstock

The recent global summit of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) made it clear that companies will increasingly be subject to challenge on management of climate risk by regulators, investors and wider stakeholders.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

There was a call for increased quality and quality of TCFD reporting, now standing at 800, in the Task Force’s last Status Report in June.

But as climate protests fill news bulletins around the world, this month’s summit in Tokyo is potentially far more significant, in setting a pathway for climate risk to become integral and unavoidable for mainstream corporate governance in all economic sectors.

A major push

If the original TCFD recommendations were a call to action, the summit charted an action plan through which they will be implemented.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney used the summit to warn that regulation requiring TCFD reporting is probably two years away, appealing to businesses present to develop their own reporting in the meanwhile, to ensure mandatory measures are shaped to be most effective for business itself.

The veiled threat is that companies who delay on climate disclosure will find themselves subject to costly burden.

Full integration of TCFD recommendations in the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive guidelines is a further sign that Europe may lead mandatory reporting requirements as part of its major push towards sustainable finance, also in the next two years.

Investors are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk

The UK’s own Green Finance Strategy is hardly less ambitious, setting a target for all listed companies and large asset owners to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities by 2022 at the latest. And the capital markets regulator in Australia has issued guidance to company directors on addressing climate risk.

But the global summit was notable for its recognition that investors, not simply regulators, are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk.

One tangible initiative from the summit was new green investment guidance published by Japan’s own TCFD consortium. The effect will be a significant increase in investor engagement with companies on climate issues.

Companies present at the summit reporting anecdotal evidence of increased investor engagement on the issue included Shell, Total and Sumitomo Chemical.

A PwC report cited in Tokyo shows positive correlation between stock or share price and the quantity of TCFD disclosures made by the company, with research from the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative quantifying that that the risk of non-disclosure is a bigger liability for the company than of disclosure itself.

Meanwhile, during the 2019 proxy season shareholder activists pressed disclosure resolutions including climate risk at no fewer than 64 company AGMs in the US alone.

An opportunity for leadership

The summit heard TCFD reporting is being adopted by companies valued at a combined market capitalisation of $118trn—an important challenge to organisations that have not yet made the shift.

Already we know that climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company. Failure to do so could expose directors to legal challenge.

But the action required is now clear. The board should ensure that material climate-related risks and opportunities are not simply reported, but fully integrated in to the company’s strategy, risk-management process and investment decisions.

Climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company

Among the actions required are ensuring board and committee structures incorporate climate risk and opportunity; recruitment of new directors with the requisite knowledge and skills; incorporating management of climate risk into executive remuneration; and fully integrating it in the company’s own risk management.

Board members must provide the leadership for the company to engage with relevant experts and stakeholders to tackle the challenge, and should ensure they are sufficiently informed themselves to maintain adequate oversight.

Lastly, boards should recognise that climate risk may involve addressing timescales beyond conventional board terms, but are within mainstream investment and planning horizons accorded to every other financial risk and opportunity.

A board responsibility

The summit underlined how existing TCFD reporting is still falling short of being decision-useful, in demonstrating strategic resilience of the company and in incorporating targets for transition to net zero.

It also enabled further discussion of the measurements required for reporting, including clarifying what is green revenue, and the definition of terms such as “environmentally sustainable”.

But as work from the Corporate Reporting Dialogue shows, almost all of the necessary indicators are already available in existing frameworks. It is not whether they are available, but how they are used.

Ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself

Plentiful assistance for board members is on hand through online resources like the TCFD Knowledge Hub organised by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, training offered by organisations such as Competent Boards, or detailed guidance for specific sectors through specific TCFD preparer forums.

But ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself. Every company board has its own responsibility to consider where its own business model stands in relation to that transition.

And with finance ministries, central banks and regulators in the top 20 economies of the world concluding that climate change is a risk to the stability of the entire global financial system, no company can ignore this task.

______________________________

Richard Howitt is a strategic adviser on corporate responsibility and sustainability, and former CEO at the International Integrated Reporting Council.

Un nouveau paradigme consensuel en gouvernance | En rappel


 

Voici un article de Martin Lipton et de William Savitt, associés de la firme Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, qui se spécialise dans les questions se rapportant à la gouvernance des organisations.

Les auteurs  montrent clairement la grande convergence  des principes de gouvernance eu égard à la considération des parties prenantes dans l’exercice du leadership et de la mission des entreprises publiques.

L’article montre clairement qu’il est maintenant temps d’officialiser un nouveau paradigme en gouvernance, à la suite de l’adoption de mesures concrètes de la part :

    • The UK Stewardship Code 2020,
    • The UK Financial Reporting Council
    • The World Economic Forum
    • The Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation adopted by the Business Roundtable

Le Code de la Grande-Bretagne stipule que les entreprises publiques doivent s’assurer de considérer le point de vue de toutes les parties prenantes, notamment des employés. Notons cependant que ces mesures sont sujettes au fameux Comply and Explain si familier à l’approche britannique ! On propose de suivre l’une des voies suivantes afin d’actualiser cette règle de gouvernance :

    1. Un administrateur nommé par les employés ;
    2. La mise sur pied d’un groupe de travail formel ;
    3. La nomination d’un membre de la direction au conseil d’administration qui représente le point de vue des employés.

Je vous invite à lire ce bref article et à consulter le texte It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm.

Bonne lecture !

The New Paradigm

 

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With the adoption this week of The UK Stewardship Code 2020, to accompany The UK Corporate Governance Code 2018, the UK Financial Reporting Council has promulgated corporate governance, stewardship and engagement principles closely paralleling The New Paradigm issued by the World Economic Forum in 2016.

While the FRC codes are “comply and explain,” they fundamentally commit companies and asset managers and asset owners to sustainable long-term investment. As stated by the FRC:

The new Code sets high expectations of those investing money on behalf of UK savers and pensioners. In particular, the new Code establishes a clear benchmark for stewardship as the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society (emphasis added).

There is a strong focus on the activities and outcomes of stewardship, not just policy statements. There are new expectations about how investment and stewardship is integrated, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues ….

The FRC Corporate Governance Code builds on the stakeholder governance provisions of Sec. 172 of the UK Company Law 2006 by requiring a company’s annual report to describe how the interest of all stakeholders have been considered. Of special interest is the Code’s provision with respect to employees:

For engagement with the workforce, one or a combination of the following methods should be used:

  • a director appointed from the workforce;
  • a formal workforce advisory panel;
  • a designated non-executive director.

If the board has not chosen one or more of these methods, it should explain what alternative arrangements are in place and why it considers that they are effective.

In broad outline, the FRC codes would fit very well in implementation of the World Economic Forum’s The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth.

The Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation adopted by the Business Roundtable in August of this year is likewise consistent with the FRC codes and The New Paradigm. Each of these initiatives recognizes that private-sector action is necessary to create a corporate governance regime suited to the challenges of the twenty-first century. And each recognizes that such action is possible within the structure of prevailing corporate law. The convergence of the FRC codes, the BRT statement of purpose, the 2016 BRT Principles of Corporate Governance, and the New Paradigm strongly suggest that the time is right for the BRT and the Investor Stewardship Group (which has similar principles) to create a joint version of The New Paradigm that could be adopted universally. See, It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm (discussed on the Forum here).

Changement de perspective en gouvernance de sociétés !


Yvan Allaire*, président exécutif du conseil de l’Institut sur la gouvernance (IGOPP) m’a fait parvenir un nouvel article intitulé «The Business Roundtable on “The Purpose of a Corporation” Back to the future!».

Cet article a été publié dans le Financial Post en septembre 2019. Celui-ci intéressera assurément tous les administrateurs siégeant à des conseils d’administration, et qui sont à l’affût des nouveautés dans le domaine de la gouvernance.

Le document discute des changements de paradigmes proposés par les CEO des grandes corporations américaines.

Les administrateurs selon ce groupe de dirigeants doivent tenir compte de l’ensemble des parties prenantes (stakeholders) dans la gouverne des organisations, et non plus accorder la priorité aux actionnaires.

Cet article discute des retombées de cette approche et des difficultés eu égard à la mise en œuvre dans le système corporatif américain.

Le texte est en anglais. Une version française devrait être produite bientôt sur le site de l’IGOPP.

Bonne lecture !

 

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CEOs in Business Roundtable ‘Redefine’ Corporate Purpose To Stretch Beyond Shareholders

The Business Roundtable on “The Purpose of a Corporation” Back to the future!

Yvan Allaire, PhD (MIT), FRSC

 

In September 2019, CEOs of large U.S. corporations have embraced with suspect enthusiasm the notion that a corporation’s purpose is broader than merely“ creating shareholder value”. Why now after 30 years of obedience to the dogma of shareholder primacy and servile (but highly paid) attendance to the whims and wants of investment funds?


Simply put, the answer rests with the recent conversion of these very funds, in particular index funds, to the church of ecological sanctity and social responsibility. This conversion was long acoming but inevitable as the threat to the whole system became more pressing and proximate.

The indictment of the “capitalist” system for the wealth inequality it produced and the environmental havoc it wreaked had to be taken seriously as it crept into the political agenda in the U.S. Fair or not, there is a widespread belief that the root cause of this dystopia lies in the exclusive focus of corporations on maximizing shareholder value. That had to be addressed in the least damaging way to the whole system.

Thus, at the urging of traditional investment funds, CEOs of large corporations, assembled under the banner of the Business Roundtable, signed a ringing statement about sharing “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders”.

That commitment included:

Delivering value to our customers

Investing in our employees

Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers.

Supporting the communities in which we work.

Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate.

It is remarkable (at least for the U.S.) that the commitment to shareholders now ranks in fifth place, a good indication of how much the key economic players have come to fear the goings-on in American politics. That statement of “corporate purpose” was a great public relations coup as it received wide media coverage and provides cover for large corporations and investment funds against attacks on their behavior and on their very existence.


In some way, that statement of corporate purpose merely retrieves what used to be the norm for large corporations. Take, for instance, IBM’s seven management principles which guided this company’s most successful run from the 1960’s to 1992:

Seven Management Principles at IBM 1960-1992

  1. Respect for the individual
  2. Service to the customer
  3. Excellence must be way of life
  4. Managers must lead effectively
  5. Obligation to stockholders
  6. Fair deal for the supplier
  7. IBM should be a good corporate citizen

The similarity with the five “commitments” recently discovered at the Business Roundtable is striking. Of course, in IBM’s heydays, there were no rogue funds, no “activist” hedge funds or private equity funds to pressure corporate management into delivering maximum value creation for shareholders. How will these funds whose very existence depends on their success at fostering shareholder primacy cope with this “heretical nonsense” of equal treatment for all stakeholders?

As this statement of purpose is supported, was even ushered in, by large institutional investors, it may well shield corporations against attacks by hedge funds and other agitators. To be successful, these funds have to rely on the overt or tacit support of large investors. As these investors now endorse a stakeholder view of the corporation, how can they condone and back these financial players whose only goal is to push up the stock price often at the painful expense of other stakeholders?

This re-discovery in the US of a stakeholder model of the corporation should align it with Canada and the UK where a while back the stakeholder concept of the corporation was adopted in their legal framework.

Thus in Canada, two judgments of the Supreme Court are peremptory: the board must not grant any preferential treatment in its decision-making process to the interests of the shareholders or any other stakeholder, but must act exclusively in the interests of the corporation of which they are the directors.

In the UK, Section 172 of the Companies Act of 2006 states: “A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole, among which the interests of the company’s employees, the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others, the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment,…”

So, belatedly, U.S. corporations will, it seems, self-regulate and self-impose a sort of stakeholder model in their decision-making.

Alas, as in Canada and the UK, they will quickly find out that there is little or no guidance on how to manage the difficult trade-offs among the interests of various stakeholders, say between shareholders and workers when considering outsourcing operations to a low-cost country.

But that may be the appeal of this “purpose of the corporation”: it sounds enlightened but does not call for any tangible changes in the way corporations are managed.

 

Les critères de benchmarking d’ISS eu égard aux guides de saine gouvernance


Les auteurs* de cet article, paru dans le Forum du Harvard Law School, présentent les résultats d’un survey sur quatre grandes dimensions de la gouvernance des sociétés cotées.

Les sujets touchent :

(1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding;

(2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role;

(3) compensation ; and

(4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.

Les points importants à retenir de cet article sont indiqués en bleu dans le sommaire.

Bonne lecture !

ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings

 

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[On Sept. 11, 2019], Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) announced the results of its 2019 Global Policy Survey (a.k.a. ISS 2019 Benchmark Policy Survey) based on respondents including investors, public company executives and company advisors. ISS will use these results to inform its policies for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020. ISS expects to solicit comments in the latter half of October 2019 on its draft policy updates and release its final policies in mid-November 2019.

While the survey included questions targeting both global and designated geographic markets, the key questions affecting the U.S. markets fell into the following categories: (1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding; (2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role; (3) compensation; and (4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure. We previously provided an overview of the survey questions.

The ISS report distinguishes responses from investors versus non-investors. Investors primarily include asset managers, asset owners, and institutional investor advisors. In contrast, non-investors mainly comprise public company executives, public company board members, and public company advisors.

Key Takeaways

Only 128 investors and 268 non-investors (85% were corporate executives) participated in the survey. While the results overall are not surprising for the survey questions relating to board diversity, overboarding, inclusion of GAAP metrics for comparison in compensation-related reports and climate change matters, the level of support for multi-class structures with sunsets was surprisingly high.

Summary

1. Board Composition/Accountability

a. Board Gender Diversity Including Mitigating Factors for Zero Women on Boards: Both investors (61%) and non-investors (55%) indicated that board gender diversity is an essential attribute of effective board governance regardless of the company or its market. Among respondents who do not believe diversity is essential, investors tended to favor a market-by-market approach and non-investors tended to favor an analysis conducted at the company level.

Another question elicited views on ISS’s diversity policy that will be effective in 2020. Under the new policy, ISS will recommend voting against the nominating committee chair (or other members as appropriate) at Russell 3000 and/or S&P 1500 companies that do not have at least one female director. Before ISS issues a negative recommendation on this basis, ISS intends to consider mitigating factors.

The survey questioned what other mitigating factors a respondent would consider besides a company’s providing a firm commitment to appointing a woman in the near-term and having recently had a female on the board. The survey provided the following three choices and invited respondents to check all that apply: (1) the Rooney Rule, which involves a commitment to including females in the pool of new director candidates; (2) a commitment to actively searching for a female director; and (3) other.

Results show that investors were more likely than non-investors to answer that no other mitigating factors should be considered (46% of the investors compared to 28% of the non-investors) besides a recent former female director or a firm commitment to appoint a woman. With regard to willingness to consider mitigating factors, 57 investors and 141 non-investors checked at least one answer. More non-investors found a company’s observance of the Rooney Rule to be a mitigating factor worth considering (selected by 113 non-investors) than the company’s commitment to conduct an active search (selected by 85 non-investors). These two factors were each selected by 34 investors.

b. Director Overboarding: The survey responses show investors and non-investors appear to hold diverging positions on director overboarding. On a plurality basis, investors (42%) preferred a maximum of four total board seats for non-executive directors while they (45%) preferred a maximum of two board seats (including the “home” board) for CEOs. In comparison, on a plurality basis, about one third of non-investors preferred to leave the determination to the board’s discretion for both non-executive directors and CEOs.

2. Board/Capital Structure

a. Multi-Class Structures and Sunset Provisions: Results reveal that 55% of investors and 47% of non-investors found a seven-year maximum sunset provision appropriate for a multi-class structure. Among respondents who indicated that a maximum seven-year sunset provision was inappropriate, 36% of non-investors replied that a longer sunset (10 years or more) was appropriate and 35% of investors objected to any form of multi-class structure.

b. Independent Chair: Currently, ISS generally supports shareholder proposals that request an independent board chair after taking into consideration a wide variety of factors such as the company’s financial practices, governance structure and governance practices. ISS asked participants to indicate which factors the respondent considers and listed factors for respondents to choose from, such as a weak or poorly defined lead director role, governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders, lack of board refreshment or board diversity, and poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns. Respondents were instructed to check all that applied.

The results unsurprisingly suggest that investors prefer an independent board chair more than non-investors. Investors chose poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns most often whereas non-investors selected the factor relating to a weak or poorly defined lead director role.

Investors’ second highest selection was governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders (such as a classified board, plurality vote standard, lack of ability to call special meetings and lack of a proxy access right). For non-investors, poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns was the second highest selection.

3. Compensation

a. Economic Value Added (EVA) and GAAP Metrics: Beginning in 2019, ISS research reports for the U.S. and Canadian markets started to include additional information on company performance using an EVA-based framework. Survey results showed that a strong majority of respondents still want GAAP metrics to be provided in the research reports as a means of comparison.

4. Climate Change Risk Oversight & Disclosure

a. Disclosures and Actions Relating to Climate Change Risk: The ISS survey asked respondents whether climate change should be given a high priority in companies’ risk assessments. ISS questioned whether all companies should be assessing and disclosing their climate-related risks and taking actions to mitigate them where possible.

Results show that 60% of investors answered that all companies should be assessing and disclosing climate-related risks and taking mitigating actions where possible. Roughly one third of investors indicated that “each company’s appropriate level of disclosure and action will depend on a variety of factors including its own business model, its industry sector, where and how it operates, and other company-specific factors and board members.” In addition, 5% of investors thought the possible risks related to climate change are often too uncertain to incorporate into a company-specific risk assessment model.

b. Shareholder Action in Response to a Company’s Failure to Report or Mitigate Climate Change Risk: Investors and non-investors indicated that the most appropriate actions to consider when a company fails to effectively report or address its climate change risk are (a) engaging with the company, and (b) voting for a shareholder proposal seeking increased climate-related disclosure.

 


*Betty Moy Huber is counsel and Paula H. Simpkins is an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

Répertoire des articles en gouvernance publiés sur LinkedIn | En reprise


L’un des moyens utilisés pour mieux faire connaître les grandes tendances en gouvernance de sociétés est la publication d’articles choisis sur ma page LinkedIn.

Ces articles sont issus des parutions sur mon blogue Gouvernance | Jacques Grisé

Depuis janvier 2016, j’ai publié un total de 43 articles sur ma page LinkedIn.

Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la liste des 10 articles que j’ai publiés à ce jour en 2019 :

 

Liste des 10 articles publiés à ce jour en 2019

 

Image associée

 

 

1, Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats

2. Gouvernance fiduciaire et rôles des parties prenantes (stakeholders)

3. Problématiques de gouvernance communes lors d’interventions auprès de diverses organisations – Partie I Relations entre président du CA et DG

4. L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de CA ?

5. On constate une évolution progressive dans la composition des conseils d’administration

6. Doit-on limiter le nombre d’années qu’un administrateur siège à un conseil afin de préserver son indépendance ?

7. Manuel de saine gouvernance au Canada

8. Étude sur le mix des compétences dans la composition des conseils d’administration

9. Indice de diversité de genre | Equilar

10. Le conseil d’administration est garant de la bonne conduite éthique de l’organisation !

 

Si vous souhaitez voir l’ensemble des parutions, je vous invite à vous rendre sur le Lien vers les 43 articles publiés sur LinkedIn depuis 2016

 

Bonne lecture !

Gouvernance fiduciaire et rôles des parties prenantes (stakeholders) | En reprise


Je partage avec vous l’excellente prise de position de Martin Lipton *, Karessa L. Cain et Kathleen C. Iannone, associés de la firme Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, spécialisée dans les fusions et acquisitions et dans les questions de gouvernance fiduciaire.

L’article présente un plaidoyer éloquent en faveur d’une gouvernance fiduciaire par un conseil d’administration qui doit non seulement considérer le point de vue des actionnaires, mais aussi des autres parties prenantes,

Depuis quelque temps, on assiste à des changements significatifs dans la compréhension du rôle des CA et dans l’interprétation que les administrateurs se font de la valeur de l’entreprise à long terme.

Récemment, le Business Roundtable a annoncé son engagement envers l’inclusion des parties prenantes dans le cadre de gouvernance fiduciaire des sociétés.

Voici un résumé d’un article paru dans le Los Angeles Times du 19 août 2019 : In shocking reversal, Big Business puts the shareholder value myth in the grave.

Among the developments followers of business ethics may have thought they’d never see, the end of the shareholder value myth has to rank very high.

Yet one of America’s leading business lobbying groups just buried the myth. “We share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” reads a statement issued Monday by the Business Roundtable and signed by 181 CEOs. (Emphasis in the original.)

The statement mentions, in order, customers, employees, suppliers, communities and — dead last — shareholders. The corporate commitment to all these stakeholders may be largely rhetorical at the moment, but it’s hard to overstate what a reversal the statement represents from the business community’s preexisting viewpoint.

Stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues — especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively.

Since the 1970s, the prevailing ethos of corporate management has been that a company’s prime responsibility — effectively, its only responsibility — is to serve its shareholders. Benefits for those other stakeholders follow, but they’re not the prime concern.

In the Business Roundtable’s view, the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders; the interests of other stakeholders are relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders,” the organization declared in 1997.

Bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus !

 

Stakeholder Governance and the Fiduciary Duties of Directors

 

Jamie Dimon
JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon signed the business statement disavowing the shareholder value myth.(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

 

There has recently been much debate and some confusion about a bedrock principle of corporate law—namely, the essence of the board’s fiduciary duty, and particularly the extent to which the board can or should or must consider the interests of other stakeholders besides shareholders.

For several decades, there has been a prevailing assumption among many CEOs, directors, scholars, investors, asset managers and others that the sole purpose of corporations is to maximize value for shareholders and, accordingly, that corporate decision-makers should be very closely tethered to the views and preferences of shareholders. This has created an opportunity for corporate raiders, activist hedge funds and others with short-termist agendas, who do not hesitate to assert their preferences and are often the most vocal of shareholder constituents. And, even outside the context of shareholder activism, the relentless pressure to produce shareholder value has all too often tipped the scales in favor of near-term stock price gains at the expense of long-term sustainability.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing sense of urgency around issues such as economic inequality, climate change and socioeconomic upheaval as human capital has been displaced by technological disruption. As long-term investors and the asset managers who represent them have sought to embrace ESG principles and their role as stewards of corporations in pursuit of long-term value, notions of shareholder primacy are being challenged. Thus, earlier this week, the Business Roundtable announced its commitment to stakeholder corporate governance, and outside the U.S., legislative reforms in the U.K. and Europe have expressly incorporated consideration of other stakeholder interests in the fiduciary duty framework. The Council of Institutional Investors and others, however, have challenged the wisdom and legality of stakeholder corporate governance.

To be clear, Delaware law does not enshrine a principle of shareholder primacy or preclude a board of directors from considering the interests of other stakeholders. Nor does the law of any other state. Although much attention has been given to the Revlon doctrine, which suggests that the board must attempt to achieve the highest value reasonably available to shareholders, that doctrine is narrowly limited to situations where the board has determined to sell control of the company and either all or a preponderant percentage of the consideration being paid is cash or the transaction will result in a controlling shareholder. Indeed, theRevlon doctrine has played an outsized role in fiduciary duty jurisprudence not because it articulates the ultimate nature and objective of the board’s fiduciary duty, but rather because most fiduciary duty litigation arises in the context of mergers or other extraordinary transactions where heightened standards of judicial review are applicable. In addition, Revlon’s emphasis on maximizing short-term shareholder value has served as a convenient touchstone for advocates of shareholder primacy and has accordingly been used as a talking point to shape assumptions about fiduciary duties even outside the sale-of-control context, a result that was not intended. Around the same time that Revlon was decided, the Delaware Supreme Court also decided the Unocal and Household cases, which affirmed the board’s ability to consider all stakeholders in using a poison pill to defend against a takeover—clearly confining Revlonto sale-of-control situations.

The fiduciary duty of the board is to promote the value of the corporation. In fulfilling that duty, directors must exercise their business judgment in considering and reconciling the interests of various stakeholders—including shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the environment and communities—and the attendant risks and opportunities for the corporation.

Indeed, the board’s ability to consider other stakeholder interests is not only uncontroversial—it is a matter of basic common sense and a fundamental component of both risk management and strategic planning. Corporations today must navigate a host of challenges to compete and succeed in a rapidly changing environment—for example, as climate change increases weather-related risks to production facilities or real property investments, or as employee training becomes critical to navigate rapidly evolving technology platforms. A board and management team that is myopically focused on stock price and other discernible benchmarks of shareholder value, without also taking a broader, more holistic view of the corporation and its longer-term strategy, sustainability and risk profile, is doing a disservice not only to employees, customers and other impacted stakeholders but also to shareholders and the corporation as a whole.

The board’s role in performing this balancing function is a central premise of the corporate structure. The board is empowered to serve as the arbiter of competing considerations, whereas shareholders have relatively limited voting rights and, in many instances, it is up to the board to decide whether a matter should be submitted for shareholder approval (for example, charter amendments and merger agreements). Moreover, in performing this balancing function, the board is protected by the business judgment rule and will not be second-guessed for embracing ESG principles or other stakeholder interests in order to enhance the long-term value of the corporation. Nor is there any debate about whether the board has the legal authority to reject an activist’s demand for short-term financial engineering on the grounds that the board, in its business judgment, has determined to pursue a strategy to create sustainable long-term value.

And yet even if, as a doctrinal matter, shareholder primacy does not define the contours of the board’s fiduciary duties so as to preclude consideration of other stakeholders, the practical reality is that the board’s ability to embrace ESG principles and sustainable investment strategies depends on the support of long-term investors and asset managers. Shareholders are the only corporate stakeholders who have the right to elect directors, and in contrast to courts, they do not decline to second-guess the business judgment of boards. Furthermore, a number of changes over the last several decades—including the remarkable consolidation of economic and voting power among a relatively small number of asset managers, as well as legal and “best practice” reforms—have strengthened the ability of shareholders to influence corporate decision-making.

To this end, we have proposed The New Paradigm, which conceives of corporate governance as a partnership among corporations, shareholders and other stakeholders to resist short-termism and embrace ESG principles in order to create sustainable, long-term value. See our paper, It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm.


Martin Lipton * is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy; Karessa L. Cain is a partner; and Kathleen C. Iannone is an associate. This post is based on their Wachtell Lipton publication.

En reprise | Comment les firmes de conseil en votation évaluent-elles les efforts des entreprises eu égard à leur gestion environnementale et sociale ?


Les auteurs* de cet article expliquent en des termes très clairs le sens que les firmes de conseil en votation Glass Lewis et ISS donnent aux risques environnementaux et sociaux associés aux pratiques de gouvernance des entreprises publiques (cotées).

Il est vrai que l’on parle de ESG (en anglais) ou de RSE (en français) sans donner de définition explicite de ces concepts.

Ici, on montre comment les firmes spécialisées en conseils aux investisseurs mesurent les dimensions sous-jacentes à ces expressions.

Les administrateurs de sociétés ont tout intérêt à connaître sur quoi ces firmes se basent pour évaluer la qualité des efforts de leur entreprise en matière de gestion environnementale et de considérations sociales.

J’espère que vous apprécierez ce court extrait paru sur le Forum du Harvard Law School.

Bonne lecture !

 

 

Glass Lewis, ISS, and ESG

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « esg »

 

With some help from leading investor groups like Black Rock and T. Rowe Price, environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) issues, once the sole purview of specialist investors and activist groups, are increasingly working their way into the mainstream for corporate America. For some boards, conversations about ESG are nothing new. For many directors, however, the increased emphasis on the subject creates some consternation, in part because it’s not always clear what issues properly fall under the ESG umbrella. E, S, and G can mean different things to different people—not to mention the fact that some subjects span multiple categories. How do boards know what it is that they need to know? Where should boards be directing their attention?

A natural starting place for directors is to examine the guidelines published by the leading proxy advisory firms ISS and Glass Lewis. While not to be held up as a definitive prescription for good governance practices, the stances adopted by both advisors can provide a window into how investors who look to these organizations for guidance are thinking about the subject.

 

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)

 

In February of 2018, ISS launched an Environmental & Social Quality Score which they describe as “a data-driven approach to measuring the quality of corporate disclosures on environmental and social issues, including sustainability governance, and to identify key disclosure omissions.”

To date, their coverage focuses on approximately 4,700 companies across 24 industries they view “as being most exposed to E&S risks, including: Energy, Materials, Capital Goods, Transportation, Automobiles & Components, and Consumer Durables & Apparel.” ISS believes that the extent to which companies disclose their practices and policies publicly, as well as the quality of a company’s disclosure on their practices, can be an indicator of ESG performance. This view is not unlike that espoused by Black Rock, who believes that a lack of ESG disclosure beyond what is legally mandated often necessitates further research.

Below is a summary of how ISS breaks down E, S, & G. Clearly the governance category includes topics familiar to any public company board.

 

iss-esg-quality-score-table

 

ISS’ E&S scoring is based on answers to over 380 individual questions which ISS analysts attempt to answer for each covered company based on disclosed data. The majority of the questions in the ISS model are applied to all industry groups, and all of them are derived from third-party lists or initiatives, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The E&S Quality Score measures the company’s level of environmental and social disclosure risk, both overall and specific to the eight broad categories listed in the table above. ISS does not combine ES&G into a single score, but provides a separate E&S score that stands alongside the governance score.

These disclosure risk scores, similar to the governance scores companies have become accustomed to seeing each year, are scaled from 1 to 10 with lower scores indicating a lower level of risk relative to industry peers. For example, a score of 2 indicates that a company has lower risk than 80% of its industry peers.

 

Glass Lewis

 

Glass Lewis uses data and ratings from Sustainalytics, a provider of ESG research, in the ESG Profile section of their standard Proxy Paper reports for large cap companies or “in instances where [they] identify material oversight issues.” Their stated goal is to provide summary data and insights that can be used by Glass Lewis clients as part of their investment decision-making, including aligning proxy voting and engagement practices with ESG risk management considerations.

The Glass Lewis evaluation, using Sustainalytics guidelines, rates companies on a matrix which weighs overall “ESG Performance” against the highest level of “ESG Controversy.” Companies who are leaders in terms of ESG practices (or disclosure) have a higher threshold for triggering risk in this model.

 

glass-lewis-risk-model-chart

 

The evaluation model also notes that some companies involved in particular product areas are naturally deemed higher risk, including adult entertainment, alcoholic beverages, arctic drilling, controversial weapons, gambling, genetically modified plants and seeds, oil sands, pesticides, thermal coal, and tobacco.

Conclusion

 

ISS and Glass Lewis guidelines can help provide a basic structure for starting board conversations about ESG. For most companies, the primary focus is on transparency, in other words how clearly are companies disclosing their practices and philosophies regarding ESG issues in their financial filings and on their corporate websites? When a company has had very public environmental or social controversies—and particularly when those issues have impacted shareholder value—advisory firm evaluations of corporate transparency may also impact voting recommendations on director elections or related shareholder proposals.

Pearl Meyer does not expect the advisory firms’ ESG guidelines to have much, if any, bearing on compensation-related recommendations or scorecards in the near term. In the long term, however, we do think certain hot-button topics will make their way from the ES&G scorecard to the compensation scorecard. This shift will likely happen sooner in areas where ESG issues are more prominent, such as those specifically named by Glass Lewis.

We are recommending that organizations take the time to examine any ESG issues relevant to their business and understand how those issues may be important to stakeholders on a proactive basis, perhaps adding ESG policies to the list of sunny day shareholder outreach topics after this year’s proxy season. This does take time and effort, but better that than to find out about a nagging ESG issue through activist activity or a negative voting recommendation from ISS or Glass Lewis.

 

References

1. https://www.issgovernance.com/iss-announces-launch-of-environmental-social-qualityscore-corporate-profiling-solution/

2. https://www.glasslewis.com/understanding-esg-content/

_________________________________________________________

* David Bixby is managing director and Paul Hudson is principal at Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC. This post is based on a Pearl Meyer memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Social Responsibility Resolutions by Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Le rôle du CA dans le développement durable et la création de valeur pour les actionnaires et les parties prenantes | En reprise


Aujourd’hui, je présente un article publié par Azeus Convene qui montre l’importance accrue que les entreprises doivent apporter au développement durable. 

L’article insiste sur le rôle du conseil d’administration pour faire des principes du développement durable à long terme les principales conditions de succès des organisations.

 

Les administrateurs doivent concevoir des politiques qui génèrent une valeur ajoutée à long terme pour les actionnaires, mais ils doivent aussi contribuer à améliorer le sort des parties prenantes, telles que les clients, les communautés et la société en général.

 

Il n’est cependant pas facile d’adopter des politiques qui mettent de l’avant les principes du développement durable et de la gestion des risques liés à l’environnement.

 

Dans ce document, publié sur le site de Board Agenda, on explique l’approche que les conseils d’administration doivent adopter en insistant plus particulièrement sur trois points :

 

    1. Un leadership capable de faire valoir les nombreux avantages stratégiques à tirer de cette approche ;
    2. Des conseils eu égard à l’implantation des changements
    3. Le processus de communication à mettre en œuvre afin de faire valoir les succès des entreprises

 

L’article qui suit donne plus de détails sur les fondements et l’application de l’approche du développement durable.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Le développement durable, la création de valeur et le rôle du CA

 

 

 

Businesses everywhere are developing sustainability policies. Implementation is never easy, but the right guidance can show the way.

When the experts sat down to write the UK’s new Corporate Governance Code earlier this year, they drafted a critical first principle. The role of the board is to “promote the long-term sustainable success of the company”. Boardroom members should generate value for shareholders, but they should also be “contributing to wider society”.

It is the values inherent in this principle that enshrines sustainability at the heart of running a company today.

Often sustainability is viewed narrowly, relating to policies affecting climate change. But it has long since ceased to be just about the environment. Sustainability has become a multifaceted concern embracing the long-term interests of shareholders, but also responsibilities to society, customers and local communities.

Publications like Harvard Business Review now publish articles such as “Inclusive growth: profitable strategies for tackling poverty and inequality”, or “Competing on social purpose”. Forbes has “How procurement will save the world” and “How companies can increase market rewards for sustainability efforts”. Sustainability is a headline issue for company leaders and here to stay.

But it’s not always easy to see how sustainability is integrated into a company’s existing strategy. So, why should your company engage with sustainability and what steps can it take to ensure it is done well?

…one of the biggest issues at the heart of the drive for sustainability is leadership. Implementing the right policies is undoubtedly a “top-down” process, not least because legal rulings have emphatically cast sustainability as a fiduciary duty.

The reasons for adopting sustainability are as diverse as the people and groups upon which companies have an impact. First, there is the clear environmental argument. Governments alone cannot tackle growing environment risk and will need corporates to play their part through their strategies and business models.

The issues driving political leaders have also filtered down to investment managers who have developed deep concerns that companies should be building strategies that factor in environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk. Companies that ignore the issue risk failing to attract capital. A 2015 study by the global benchmarking organisation PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), conducted with Deutsche Bank Asset Management, showed that among 2,200 studies undertaken since 1970, 63% found a positive link between a company’s ESG performance and financial performance.

There’s also the risk of being left behind, or self-inflicted damage. In an age of instant digital communication news travels fast and a company that fails on sustainability could quickly see stakeholder trust undermined.

Companies that embrace the topic can also create what might be termed “sustainability contagion”: businesses supplying “sustainable” clients must be sustainable themselves, generating a virtuous cascade of sustainability behaviour throughout the supply chain. That means positive results from implemented sustainability policies at one end of the chain, and pressure to comply at the other.

Leadership

But perhaps one of the biggest issues at the heart of the drive for sustainability is leadership. Implementing the right policies is undoubtedly a “top-down” process, not least because legal rulings have emphatically cast sustainability as a fiduciary duty. That makes executive involvement and leadership an imperative. However, involvement of management at the most senior level will also help instil the kind of culture change needed to make sustainability an ingrained part of an organization, and one that goes beyond mere compliance.

Leaders may feel the need to demonstrate the value of a sustainability step-change. This is needed because a full-blooded approach to sustainability could involve rethinking corporate structures, processes and performance measurement. Experts recognise three ways to demonstrate value: risk, reward and recognition.

“Risk” looks at issues such as potential dangers associated with ignoring sustainability such as loss of trust, reputational damage (as alluded to above), legal or regulatory action and fines.

A “rewards”-centred approach casts sustainability as an opportunity to be pursued, as long as policies boost revenues or cut costs, and stakeholders benefit.

Meanwhile, the “recognition” method argues that sharing credit for spreading sustainability policies promotes long-term engagement and responsibility.

Implementation

Getting sustainability policies off the ground can be tricky, particularly because of their multifaceted nature.

recent study into European boards conducted by Board Agenda & Mazars in association with the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre showed that while there is growing recognition by boards about the importance of sustainability, there is also evidence that they experience challenges about how to implement effective ESG strategies.

Proponents advise the use of “foundation exercises” for helping form the bedrock of sustainability policies. For example, assessing baseline environmental and social performance; analysing corporate management, accountability structures and IT systems; and an examination of material risk and opportunity.

That should provide the basis for policy development. Then comes implementation. This is not always easy, because being sustainable can never be attributed to a single policy. Future-proofing a company has to be an ongoing process underpinned by structures, measures and monitoring.
Policy delivery can be strengthened by the appointment of a chief sustainability officer (CSO) and establishing structures around the role, such as regular reporting to the chief executive and board, as well as the creation of a working committee to manage implementation of policies across the company.

Proponents advise the use of “foundation exercises” for helping form the bedrock of sustainability policies.

Sustainability values will need to be embedded at the heart of policies directing all business activities. And this can be supported through the use of an organisational chart mapping the key policies and processes to be adopted by each part of the business. The chart then becomes a critical ready reckoner for the boardroom and its assessment of progress.

But you can only manage what you measure, and sustainability policies demand the same treatment as any other business development initiative: key metrics accompanying the plan.

But what to measure? Examples include staff training, supply chain optimisation, energy efficiency, clean energy generation, reduced water waste, and community engagement, among many others.

Measuring then enables the creation of targets and these can be embedded in processes such as audits, supplier contracts and executive remuneration. If they are to have an impact, senior management must ensure the metrics have equal weight alongside more traditional measures.

All of this must be underpinned by effective reporting practices that provide a window on how sustainability practices function. And reporting is best supported by automated, straight-through processing, where possible.

Reliable reporting has the added benefit of allowing comparison and benchmarking with peers, if the data is available. The use of globally accepted standards—such as those provided by bodies like the Global Reporting Initiative—build confidence among stakeholders. And management must stay in touch, regularly consulting with the CSO and other stakeholders—customers, investors, suppliers and local communities—to ensure policies are felt in the right places.

Communication

Stakeholders should also hear about company successes, not just deliver feedback. Communicating a sustainability approach can form part of its longevity, as stakeholders hear the good news and develop an expectation of receiving more.

Companies are not expected to achieve all their sustainability goals tomorrow. Some necessarily take time. What is expected is long-term commitment and conviction, honest reporting and steady progress.

Care should be taken, however. Poor communication can be damaging, and a credible strategy will be required, one that considers how to deliver information frequently, honestly and credibly. It will need to take into account regulatory filings and disclosures, and potentially use social media as a means of reaching the right audience.

And that’s because successful sustainability policies are something to shout about. There is enormous pressure on companies to think differently, to reject a blinkered focus only on the bottom line and develop strategies that enable their companies to provide value, not only for shareholders but other stakeholders—society, customers, and suppliers—alike.

Companies are not expected to achieve all their sustainability goals tomorrow. Some necessarily take time. What is expected is long-term commitment and conviction, honest reporting and steady progress. The landscape on which businesses function is changing. They must change with it.

This article has been produced by Board Agenda in collaboration with Azeus Convene, a supporter of Board Agenda.

La responsabilité des administrateurs eu égard aux risques climatiques


Les responsabilités des conseils d’administration ne cessent de s’accroître. La gestion du risque est une activité essentielle qui relève des fonctions de surveillance dévolues aux administrateurs de sociétés.
L’article ci-dessous, publié par Richard Howitt dans Board Agenda, présente clairement les devoirs et les responsabilités des administrateurs eu égard aux changements climatiques.
Pour la plupart des entreprises, il s’agit du risque le plus déterminant quoique souvent le plus sous-estimé. L’auteur montre toute l’ampleur du problème et suggère plusieurs manières d’exercer un leadership éclairé dans la considération des risques de cette nature.
À mon avis, chaque administrateur devrait être bien au fait de la situation et réfléchir aux mesures à prendre. L’auteur note que les entreprises qui divulguent leurs plans concernant les risques climatiques sont perçues de façon positive par les investisseurs.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

Bonne lecture !

TCFD summit confirms climate risk should be your board’s priority

 

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) has set a pathway for climate risk to become an integral part of corporate governance.

climate, climate change, ice melting

Image: Bernhard Staehli/Shutterstock

The recent global summit of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) made it clear that companies will increasingly be subject to challenge on management of climate risk by regulators, investors and wider stakeholders.

The necessity for “climate competence” to be a core skill for corporate boards had already been underlined through the publication of guidance for Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards at the World Economic Forum in January.

There was a call for increased quality and quality of TCFD reporting, now standing at 800, in the Task Force’s last Status Report in June.

But as climate protests fill news bulletins around the world, this month’s summit in Tokyo is potentially far more significant, in setting a pathway for climate risk to become integral and unavoidable for mainstream corporate governance in all economic sectors.

A major push

If the original TCFD recommendations were a call to action, the summit charted an action plan through which they will be implemented.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney used the summit to warn that regulation requiring TCFD reporting is probably two years away, appealing to businesses present to develop their own reporting in the meanwhile, to ensure mandatory measures are shaped to be most effective for business itself.

The veiled threat is that companies who delay on climate disclosure will find themselves subject to costly burden.

Full integration of TCFD recommendations in the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive guidelines is a further sign that Europe may lead mandatory reporting requirements as part of its major push towards sustainable finance, also in the next two years.

Investors are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk

The UK’s own Green Finance Strategy is hardly less ambitious, setting a target for all listed companies and large asset owners to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities by 2022 at the latest. And the capital markets regulator in Australia has issued guidance to company directors on addressing climate risk.

But the global summit was notable for its recognition that investors, not simply regulators, are themselves now rewarding and penalising companies on how far they are genuinely integrating climate risk.

One tangible initiative from the summit was new green investment guidance published by Japan’s own TCFD consortium. The effect will be a significant increase in investor engagement with companies on climate issues.

Companies present at the summit reporting anecdotal evidence of increased investor engagement on the issue included Shell, Total and Sumitomo Chemical.

A PwC report cited in Tokyo shows positive correlation between stock or share price and the quantity of TCFD disclosures made by the company, with research from the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative quantifying that that the risk of non-disclosure is a bigger liability for the company than of disclosure itself.

Meanwhile, during the 2019 proxy season shareholder activists pressed disclosure resolutions including climate risk at no fewer than 64 company AGMs in the US alone.

An opportunity for leadership

The summit heard TCFD reporting is being adopted by companies valued at a combined market capitalisation of $118trn—an important challenge to organisations that have not yet made the shift.

Already we know that climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company. Failure to do so could expose directors to legal challenge.

But the action required is now clear. The board should ensure that material climate-related risks and opportunities are not simply reported, but fully integrated in to the company’s strategy, risk-management process and investment decisions.

Climate-related financial risk should be treated by directors as a core part of their duty to promote the success of the company

Among the actions required are ensuring board and committee structures incorporate climate risk and opportunity; recruitment of new directors with the requisite knowledge and skills; incorporating management of climate risk into executive remuneration; and fully integrating it in the company’s own risk management.

Board members must provide the leadership for the company to engage with relevant experts and stakeholders to tackle the challenge, and should ensure they are sufficiently informed themselves to maintain adequate oversight.

Lastly, boards should recognise that climate risk may involve addressing timescales beyond conventional board terms, but are within mainstream investment and planning horizons accorded to every other financial risk and opportunity.

A board responsibility

The summit underlined how existing TCFD reporting is still falling short of being decision-useful, in demonstrating strategic resilience of the company and in incorporating targets for transition to net zero.

It also enabled further discussion of the measurements required for reporting, including clarifying what is green revenue, and the definition of terms such as “environmentally sustainable”.

But as work from the Corporate Reporting Dialogue shows, almost all of the necessary indicators are already available in existing frameworks. It is not whether they are available, but how they are used.

Ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself

Plentiful assistance for board members is on hand through online resources like the TCFD Knowledge Hub organised by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, training offered by organisations such as Competent Boards, or detailed guidance for specific sectors through specific TCFD preparer forums.

But ultimately this is a responsibility that must reside in the boardroom itself. Every company board has its own responsibility to consider where its own business model stands in relation to that transition.

And with finance ministries, central banks and regulators in the top 20 economies of the world concluding that climate change is a risk to the stability of the entire global financial system, no company can ignore this task.

______________________________

Richard Howitt is a strategic adviser on corporate responsibility and sustainability, and former CEO at the International Integrated Reporting Council.

Un nouveau paradigme consensuel en gouvernance


 

Voici un article de Martin Lipton et de William Savitt, associés de la firme Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, qui se spécialise dans les questions se rapportant à la gouvernance des organisations.

Les auteurs  montrent clairement la grande convergence  des principes de gouvernance eu égard à la considération des parties prenantes dans l’exercice du leadership et de la mission des entreprises publiques.

L’article montre clairement qu’il est maintenant temps d’officialiser un nouveau paradigme en gouvernance, à la suite de l’adoption de mesures concrètes de la part :

    • The UK Stewardship Code 2020,
    • The UK Financial Reporting Council
    • The World Economic Forum
    • The Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation adopted by the Business Roundtable

Le Code de la Grande-Bretagne stipule que les entreprises publiques doivent s’assurer de considérer le point de vue de toutes les parties prenantes, notamment des employés. Notons cependant que ces mesures sont sujettes au fameux Comply and Explain si familier à l’approche britannique ! On propose de suivre l’une des voies suivantes afin d’actualiser cette règle de gouvernance :

    1. Un administrateur nommé par les employés ;
    2. La mise sur pied d’un groupe de travail formel ;
    3. La nomination d’un membre de la direction au conseil d’administration qui représente le point de vue des employés.

Je vous invite à lire ce bref article et à consulter le texte It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm.

Bonne lecture !

The New Paradigm

 

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With the adoption this week of The UK Stewardship Code 2020, to accompany The UK Corporate Governance Code 2018, the UK Financial Reporting Council has promulgated corporate governance, stewardship and engagement principles closely paralleling The New Paradigm issued by the World Economic Forum in 2016.

While the FRC codes are “comply and explain,” they fundamentally commit companies and asset managers and asset owners to sustainable long-term investment. As stated by the FRC:

The new Code sets high expectations of those investing money on behalf of UK savers and pensioners. In particular, the new Code establishes a clear benchmark for stewardship as the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society (emphasis added).

There is a strong focus on the activities and outcomes of stewardship, not just policy statements. There are new expectations about how investment and stewardship is integrated, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues ….

The FRC Corporate Governance Code builds on the stakeholder governance provisions of Sec. 172 of the UK Company Law 2006 by requiring a company’s annual report to describe how the interest of all stakeholders have been considered. Of special interest is the Code’s provision with respect to employees:

For engagement with the workforce, one or a combination of the following methods should be used:

  • a director appointed from the workforce;
  • a formal workforce advisory panel;
  • a designated non-executive director.

If the board has not chosen one or more of these methods, it should explain what alternative arrangements are in place and why it considers that they are effective.

In broad outline, the FRC codes would fit very well in implementation of the World Economic Forum’s The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth.

The Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation adopted by the Business Roundtable in August of this year is likewise consistent with the FRC codes and The New Paradigm. Each of these initiatives recognizes that private-sector action is necessary to create a corporate governance regime suited to the challenges of the twenty-first century. And each recognizes that such action is possible within the structure of prevailing corporate law. The convergence of the FRC codes, the BRT statement of purpose, the 2016 BRT Principles of Corporate Governance, and the New Paradigm strongly suggest that the time is right for the BRT and the Investor Stewardship Group (which has similar principles) to create a joint version of The New Paradigm that could be adopted universally. See, It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm (discussed on the Forum here).

Les critères de benchmarking d’ISS eu égard aux guides de saine gouvernance


Les auteurs* de cet article, paru dans le Forum du Harvard Law School, présentent les résultats d’un survey sur quatre grandes dimensions de la gouvernance des sociétés cotées.

Les sujets touchent :

(1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding;

(2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role;

(3) compensation ; and

(4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.

Les points importants à retenir de cet article sont indiqués en bleu dans le sommaire.

Bonne lecture !

ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings

 

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[On Sept. 11, 2019], Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) announced the results of its 2019 Global Policy Survey (a.k.a. ISS 2019 Benchmark Policy Survey) based on respondents including investors, public company executives and company advisors. ISS will use these results to inform its policies for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020. ISS expects to solicit comments in the latter half of October 2019 on its draft policy updates and release its final policies in mid-November 2019.

While the survey included questions targeting both global and designated geographic markets, the key questions affecting the U.S. markets fell into the following categories: (1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity, mitigating factors for zero women on boards and overboarding; (2) board/capital structure, including sunsets on multi-class shares and the combined CEO/chair role; (3) compensation; and (4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure. We previously provided an overview of the survey questions.

The ISS report distinguishes responses from investors versus non-investors. Investors primarily include asset managers, asset owners, and institutional investor advisors. In contrast, non-investors mainly comprise public company executives, public company board members, and public company advisors.

Key Takeaways

Only 128 investors and 268 non-investors (85% were corporate executives) participated in the survey. While the results overall are not surprising for the survey questions relating to board diversity, overboarding, inclusion of GAAP metrics for comparison in compensation-related reports and climate change matters, the level of support for multi-class structures with sunsets was surprisingly high.

Summary

1. Board Composition/Accountability

a. Board Gender Diversity Including Mitigating Factors for Zero Women on Boards: Both investors (61%) and non-investors (55%) indicated that board gender diversity is an essential attribute of effective board governance regardless of the company or its market. Among respondents who do not believe diversity is essential, investors tended to favor a market-by-market approach and non-investors tended to favor an analysis conducted at the company level.

Another question elicited views on ISS’s diversity policy that will be effective in 2020. Under the new policy, ISS will recommend voting against the nominating committee chair (or other members as appropriate) at Russell 3000 and/or S&P 1500 companies that do not have at least one female director. Before ISS issues a negative recommendation on this basis, ISS intends to consider mitigating factors.

The survey questioned what other mitigating factors a respondent would consider besides a company’s providing a firm commitment to appointing a woman in the near-term and having recently had a female on the board. The survey provided the following three choices and invited respondents to check all that apply: (1) the Rooney Rule, which involves a commitment to including females in the pool of new director candidates; (2) a commitment to actively searching for a female director; and (3) other.

Results show that investors were more likely than non-investors to answer that no other mitigating factors should be considered (46% of the investors compared to 28% of the non-investors) besides a recent former female director or a firm commitment to appoint a woman. With regard to willingness to consider mitigating factors, 57 investors and 141 non-investors checked at least one answer. More non-investors found a company’s observance of the Rooney Rule to be a mitigating factor worth considering (selected by 113 non-investors) than the company’s commitment to conduct an active search (selected by 85 non-investors). These two factors were each selected by 34 investors.

b. Director Overboarding: The survey responses show investors and non-investors appear to hold diverging positions on director overboarding. On a plurality basis, investors (42%) preferred a maximum of four total board seats for non-executive directors while they (45%) preferred a maximum of two board seats (including the “home” board) for CEOs. In comparison, on a plurality basis, about one third of non-investors preferred to leave the determination to the board’s discretion for both non-executive directors and CEOs.

2. Board/Capital Structure

a. Multi-Class Structures and Sunset Provisions: Results reveal that 55% of investors and 47% of non-investors found a seven-year maximum sunset provision appropriate for a multi-class structure. Among respondents who indicated that a maximum seven-year sunset provision was inappropriate, 36% of non-investors replied that a longer sunset (10 years or more) was appropriate and 35% of investors objected to any form of multi-class structure.

b. Independent Chair: Currently, ISS generally supports shareholder proposals that request an independent board chair after taking into consideration a wide variety of factors such as the company’s financial practices, governance structure and governance practices. ISS asked participants to indicate which factors the respondent considers and listed factors for respondents to choose from, such as a weak or poorly defined lead director role, governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders, lack of board refreshment or board diversity, and poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns. Respondents were instructed to check all that applied.

The results unsurprisingly suggest that investors prefer an independent board chair more than non-investors. Investors chose poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns most often whereas non-investors selected the factor relating to a weak or poorly defined lead director role.

Investors’ second highest selection was governance practices that weaken or reduce board accountability to shareholders (such as a classified board, plurality vote standard, lack of ability to call special meetings and lack of a proxy access right). For non-investors, poor responsiveness to shareholder concerns was the second highest selection.

3. Compensation

a. Economic Value Added (EVA) and GAAP Metrics: Beginning in 2019, ISS research reports for the U.S. and Canadian markets started to include additional information on company performance using an EVA-based framework. Survey results showed that a strong majority of respondents still want GAAP metrics to be provided in the research reports as a means of comparison.

4. Climate Change Risk Oversight & Disclosure

a. Disclosures and Actions Relating to Climate Change Risk: The ISS survey asked respondents whether climate change should be given a high priority in companies’ risk assessments. ISS questioned whether all companies should be assessing and disclosing their climate-related risks and taking actions to mitigate them where possible.

Results show that 60% of investors answered that all companies should be assessing and disclosing climate-related risks and taking mitigating actions where possible. Roughly one third of investors indicated that “each company’s appropriate level of disclosure and action will depend on a variety of factors including its own business model, its industry sector, where and how it operates, and other company-specific factors and board members.” In addition, 5% of investors thought the possible risks related to climate change are often too uncertain to incorporate into a company-specific risk assessment model.

b. Shareholder Action in Response to a Company’s Failure to Report or Mitigate Climate Change Risk: Investors and non-investors indicated that the most appropriate actions to consider when a company fails to effectively report or address its climate change risk are (a) engaging with the company, and (b) voting for a shareholder proposal seeking increased climate-related disclosure.

 


*Betty Moy Huber is counsel and Paula H. Simpkins is an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

Changement de perspective en gouvernance de sociétés !


Yvan Allaire*, président exécutif du conseil de l’Institut sur la gouvernance (IGOPP) vient de me faire parvenir un nouvel article intitulé « The Business Roundtable on “The Purpose of a Corporation” Back to the future! ».

Cet article, qui doit bientôt paraître dans le Financial Post, intéressera assurément tous les administrateurs siégeant à des conseils d’administration, et qui sont à l’affût des nouveautés dans le domaine de la gouvernance.

Le document discute des changements de paradigmes proposés par les CEO des grandes corporations américaines. Les administrateurs selon ce groupe de dirigeants doivent tenir compte de l’ensemble des parties prenantes (stakeholders) dans la gouverne des organisations, et non plus accorder la priorité aux actionnaires.

Cet article discute des retombées de cette approche et des difficultés eu égard à la mise en œuvre dans le système corporatif américain.

Le texte est en anglais. Une version française devrait être produite bientôt sur le site de l’IGOPP.

Bonne lecture !

 

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CEOs in Business Roundtable ‘Redefine’ Corporate Purpose To Stretch Beyond Shareholders

The Business Roundtable on “The Purpose of a Corporation” Back to the future!

Yvan Allaire, PhD (MIT), FRSC

 

In September 2019, CEOs of large U.S. corporations have embraced with suspect enthusiasm the notion that a corporation’s purpose is broader than merely“ creating shareholder value”. Why now after 30 years of obedience to the dogma of shareholder primacy and servile (but highly paid) attendance to the whims and wants of investment funds?


Simply put, the answer rests with the recent conversion of these very funds, in particular index funds, to the church of ecological sanctity and social responsibility. This conversion was long acoming but inevitable as the threat to the whole system became more pressing and proximate.

The indictment of the “capitalist” system for the wealth inequality it produced and the environmental havoc it wreaked had to be taken seriously as it crept into the political agenda in the U.S. Fair or not, there is a widespread belief that the root cause of this dystopia lies in the exclusive focus of corporations on maximizing shareholder value. That had to be addressed in the least damaging way to the whole system.

Thus, at the urging of traditional investment funds, CEOs of large corporations, assembled under the banner of the Business Roundtable, signed a ringing statement about sharing “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders”.

That commitment included:

Delivering value to our customers

Investing in our employees

Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers.

Supporting the communities in which we work.

Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate.

It is remarkable (at least for the U.S.) that the commitment to shareholders now ranks in fifth place, a good indication of how much the key economic players have come to fear the goings-on in American politics. That statement of “corporate purpose” was a great public relations coup as it received wide media coverage and provides cover for large corporations and investment funds against attacks on their behavior and on their very existence.


In some way, that statement of corporate purpose merely retrieves what used to be the norm for large corporations. Take, for instance, IBM’s seven management principles which guided this company’s most successful run from the 1960’s to 1992:

Seven Management Principles at IBM 1960-1992

  1. Respect for the individual
  2. Service to the customer
  3. Excellence must be way of life
  4. Managers must lead effectively
  5. Obligation to stockholders
  6. Fair deal for the supplier
  7. IBM should be a good corporate citizen

The similarity with the five “commitments” recently discovered at the Business Roundtable is striking. Of course, in IBM’s heydays, there were no rogue funds, no “activist” hedge funds or private equity funds to pressure corporate management into delivering maximum value creation for shareholders. How will these funds whose very existence depends on their success at fostering shareholder primacy cope with this “heretical nonsense” of equal treatment for all stakeholders?

As this statement of purpose is supported, was even ushered in, by large institutional investors, it may well shield corporations against attacks by hedge funds and other agitators. To be successful, these funds have to rely on the overt or tacit support of large investors. As these investors now endorse a stakeholder view of the corporation, how can they condone and back these financial players whose only goal is to push up the stock price often at the painful expense of other stakeholders?

This re-discovery in the US of a stakeholder model of the corporation should align it with Canada and the UK where a while back the stakeholder concept of the corporation was adopted in their legal framework.

Thus in Canada, two judgments of the Supreme Court are peremptory: the board must not grant any preferential treatment in its decision-making process to the interests of the shareholders or any other stakeholder, but must act exclusively in the interests of the corporation of which they are the directors.

In the UK, Section 172 of the Companies Act of 2006 states: “A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole, among which the interests of the company’s employees, the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others, the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment,…”

So, belatedly, U.S. corporations will, it seems, self-regulate and self-impose a sort of stakeholder model in their decision-making.

Alas, as in Canada and the UK, they will quickly find out that there is little or no guidance on how to manage the difficult trade-offs among the interests of various stakeholders, say between shareholders and workers when considering outsourcing operations to a low-cost country.

But that may be the appeal of this “purpose of the corporation”: it sounds enlightened but does not call for any tangible changes in the way corporations are managed.

 

Répertoire des articles en gouvernance publiés sur LinkedIn


L’un des moyens utilisés pour mieux faire connaître les grandes tendances en gouvernance de sociétés est la publication d’articles choisis sur ma page LinkedIn.

Ces articles sont issus des parutions sur mon blogue Gouvernance | Jacques Grisé

Depuis janvier 2016, j’ai publié un total de 43 articles sur ma page LinkedIn.

Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la liste des 10 articles que j’ai publiés à ce jour en 2019 :

 

Liste des 10 articles publiés à ce jour en 2019

 

Image associée

 

 

1, Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats

2. Gouvernance fiduciaire et rôles des parties prenantes (stakeholders)

3. Problématiques de gouvernance communes lors d’interventions auprès de diverses organisations – Partie I Relations entre président du CA et DG

4. L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de CA ?

5. On constate une évolution progressive dans la composition des conseils d’administration

6. Doit-on limiter le nombre d’années qu’un administrateur siège à un conseil afin de préserver son indépendance ?

7. Manuel de saine gouvernance au Canada

8. Étude sur le mix des compétences dans la composition des conseils d’administration

9. Indice de diversité de genre | Equilar

10. Le conseil d’administration est garant de la bonne conduite éthique de l’organisation !

 

Si vous souhaitez voir l’ensemble des parutions, je vous invite à vous rendre sur le Lien vers les 43 articles publiés sur LinkedIn depuis 2016

 

Bonne lecture !

Gouvernance fiduciaire et rôles des parties prenantes (stakeholders)


Je partage avec vous l’excellente prise de position de Martin Lipton *, Karessa L. Cain et Kathleen C. Iannone, associés de la firme Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, spécialisée dans les fusions et acquisitions et dans les questions de gouvernance fiduciaire.

L’article présente un plaidoyer éloquent en faveur d’une gouvernance fiduciaire par un conseil d’administration qui doit non seulement considérer le point de vue des actionnaires, mais aussi des autres parties prenantes,

Depuis quelque temps, on assiste à des changements significatifs dans la compréhension du rôle des CA et dans l’interprétation que les administrateurs se font de la valeur de l’entreprise à long terme.

Récemment, le Business Roundtable a annoncé son engagement envers l’inclusion des parties prenantes dans le cadre de gouvernance fiduciaire des sociétés.

Voici un résumé d’un article paru dans le Los Angeles Times du 19 août 2019 : In shocking reversal, Big Business puts the shareholder value myth in the grave.

Among the developments followers of business ethics may have thought they’d never see, the end of the shareholder value myth has to rank very high.

Yet one of America’s leading business lobbying groups just buried the myth. “We share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” reads a statement issued Monday by the Business Roundtable and signed by 181 CEOs. (Emphasis in the original.)

The statement mentions, in order, customers, employees, suppliers, communities and — dead last — shareholders. The corporate commitment to all these stakeholders may be largely rhetorical at the moment, but it’s hard to overstate what a reversal the statement represents from the business community’s preexisting viewpoint.

Stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues — especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively.

Since the 1970s, the prevailing ethos of corporate management has been that a company’s prime responsibility — effectively, its only responsibility — is to serve its shareholders. Benefits for those other stakeholders follow, but they’re not the prime concern.

In the Business Roundtable’s view, the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders; the interests of other stakeholders are relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders,” the organization declared in 1997.

Bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus !

 

Stakeholder Governance and the Fiduciary Duties of Directors

 

Jamie Dimon
JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon signed the business statement disavowing the shareholder value myth.(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

 

There has recently been much debate and some confusion about a bedrock principle of corporate law—namely, the essence of the board’s fiduciary duty, and particularly the extent to which the board can or should or must consider the interests of other stakeholders besides shareholders.

For several decades, there has been a prevailing assumption among many CEOs, directors, scholars, investors, asset managers and others that the sole purpose of corporations is to maximize value for shareholders and, accordingly, that corporate decision-makers should be very closely tethered to the views and preferences of shareholders. This has created an opportunity for corporate raiders, activist hedge funds and others with short-termist agendas, who do not hesitate to assert their preferences and are often the most vocal of shareholder constituents. And, even outside the context of shareholder activism, the relentless pressure to produce shareholder value has all too often tipped the scales in favor of near-term stock price gains at the expense of long-term sustainability.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing sense of urgency around issues such as economic inequality, climate change and socioeconomic upheaval as human capital has been displaced by technological disruption. As long-term investors and the asset managers who represent them have sought to embrace ESG principles and their role as stewards of corporations in pursuit of long-term value, notions of shareholder primacy are being challenged. Thus, earlier this week, the Business Roundtable announced its commitment to stakeholder corporate governance, and outside the U.S., legislative reforms in the U.K. and Europe have expressly incorporated consideration of other stakeholder interests in the fiduciary duty framework. The Council of Institutional Investors and others, however, have challenged the wisdom and legality of stakeholder corporate governance.

To be clear, Delaware law does not enshrine a principle of shareholder primacy or preclude a board of directors from considering the interests of other stakeholders. Nor does the law of any other state. Although much attention has been given to the Revlon doctrine, which suggests that the board must attempt to achieve the highest value reasonably available to shareholders, that doctrine is narrowly limited to situations where the board has determined to sell control of the company and either all or a preponderant percentage of the consideration being paid is cash or the transaction will result in a controlling shareholder. Indeed, theRevlon doctrine has played an outsized role in fiduciary duty jurisprudence not because it articulates the ultimate nature and objective of the board’s fiduciary duty, but rather because most fiduciary duty litigation arises in the context of mergers or other extraordinary transactions where heightened standards of judicial review are applicable. In addition, Revlon’s emphasis on maximizing short-term shareholder value has served as a convenient touchstone for advocates of shareholder primacy and has accordingly been used as a talking point to shape assumptions about fiduciary duties even outside the sale-of-control context, a result that was not intended. Around the same time that Revlon was decided, the Delaware Supreme Court also decided the Unocal and Household cases, which affirmed the board’s ability to consider all stakeholders in using a poison pill to defend against a takeover—clearly confining Revlonto sale-of-control situations.

The fiduciary duty of the board is to promote the value of the corporation. In fulfilling that duty, directors must exercise their business judgment in considering and reconciling the interests of various stakeholders—including shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the environment and communities—and the attendant risks and opportunities for the corporation.

Indeed, the board’s ability to consider other stakeholder interests is not only uncontroversial—it is a matter of basic common sense and a fundamental component of both risk management and strategic planning. Corporations today must navigate a host of challenges to compete and succeed in a rapidly changing environment—for example, as climate change increases weather-related risks to production facilities or real property investments, or as employee training becomes critical to navigate rapidly evolving technology platforms. A board and management team that is myopically focused on stock price and other discernible benchmarks of shareholder value, without also taking a broader, more holistic view of the corporation and its longer-term strategy, sustainability and risk profile, is doing a disservice not only to employees, customers and other impacted stakeholders but also to shareholders and the corporation as a whole.

The board’s role in performing this balancing function is a central premise of the corporate structure. The board is empowered to serve as the arbiter of competing considerations, whereas shareholders have relatively limited voting rights and, in many instances, it is up to the board to decide whether a matter should be submitted for shareholder approval (for example, charter amendments and merger agreements). Moreover, in performing this balancing function, the board is protected by the business judgment rule and will not be second-guessed for embracing ESG principles or other stakeholder interests in order to enhance the long-term value of the corporation. Nor is there any debate about whether the board has the legal authority to reject an activist’s demand for short-term financial engineering on the grounds that the board, in its business judgment, has determined to pursue a strategy to create sustainable long-term value.

And yet even if, as a doctrinal matter, shareholder primacy does not define the contours of the board’s fiduciary duties so as to preclude consideration of other stakeholders, the practical reality is that the board’s ability to embrace ESG principles and sustainable investment strategies depends on the support of long-term investors and asset managers. Shareholders are the only corporate stakeholders who have the right to elect directors, and in contrast to courts, they do not decline to second-guess the business judgment of boards. Furthermore, a number of changes over the last several decades—including the remarkable consolidation of economic and voting power among a relatively small number of asset managers, as well as legal and “best practice” reforms—have strengthened the ability of shareholders to influence corporate decision-making.

To this end, we have proposed The New Paradigm, which conceives of corporate governance as a partnership among corporations, shareholders and other stakeholders to resist short-termism and embrace ESG principles in order to create sustainable, long-term value. See our paper, It’s Time to Adopt The New Paradigm.


Martin Lipton * is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy; Karessa L. Cain is a partner; and Kathleen C. Iannone is an associate. This post is based on their Wachtell Lipton publication.

Comment les firmes de conseil en votation évaluent-elles les efforts des entreprises eu égard à leur gestion environnementale et sociale ?


Les auteurs* de cet article expliquent en des termes très clairs le sens que les firmes de conseil en votation Glass Lewis et ISS donnent aux risques environnementaux et sociaux associés aux pratiques de gouvernance des entreprises publiques (cotées).

Il est vrai que l’on parle de ESG (en anglais) ou de RSE (en français) sans donner de définition explicite de ces concepts.

Ici, on montre comment les firmes spécialisées en conseils aux investisseurs mesurent les dimensions sous-jacentes à ces expressions.

Les administrateurs de sociétés ont tout intérêt à connaître sur quoi ces firmes se basent pour évaluer la qualité des efforts de leur entreprise en matière de gestion environnementale et de considérations sociales.

J’espère que vous apprécierez ce court extrait paru sur le Forum du Harvard Law School.

Bonne lecture !

 

 

Glass Lewis, ISS, and ESG

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « esg »

 

With some help from leading investor groups like Black Rock and T. Rowe Price, environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) issues, once the sole purview of specialist investors and activist groups, are increasingly working their way into the mainstream for corporate America. For some boards, conversations about ESG are nothing new. For many directors, however, the increased emphasis on the subject creates some consternation, in part because it’s not always clear what issues properly fall under the ESG umbrella. E, S, and G can mean different things to different people—not to mention the fact that some subjects span multiple categories. How do boards know what it is that they need to know? Where should boards be directing their attention?

A natural starting place for directors is to examine the guidelines published by the leading proxy advisory firms ISS and Glass Lewis. While not to be held up as a definitive prescription for good governance practices, the stances adopted by both advisors can provide a window into how investors who look to these organizations for guidance are thinking about the subject.

 

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)

 

In February of 2018, ISS launched an Environmental & Social Quality Score which they describe as “a data-driven approach to measuring the quality of corporate disclosures on environmental and social issues, including sustainability governance, and to identify key disclosure omissions.”

To date, their coverage focuses on approximately 4,700 companies across 24 industries they view “as being most exposed to E&S risks, including: Energy, Materials, Capital Goods, Transportation, Automobiles & Components, and Consumer Durables & Apparel.” ISS believes that the extent to which companies disclose their practices and policies publicly, as well as the quality of a company’s disclosure on their practices, can be an indicator of ESG performance. This view is not unlike that espoused by Black Rock, who believes that a lack of ESG disclosure beyond what is legally mandated often necessitates further research.

Below is a summary of how ISS breaks down E, S, & G. Clearly the governance category includes topics familiar to any public company board.

 

iss-esg-quality-score-table

 

ISS’ E&S scoring is based on answers to over 380 individual questions which ISS analysts attempt to answer for each covered company based on disclosed data. The majority of the questions in the ISS model are applied to all industry groups, and all of them are derived from third-party lists or initiatives, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The E&S Quality Score measures the company’s level of environmental and social disclosure risk, both overall and specific to the eight broad categories listed in the table above. ISS does not combine ES&G into a single score, but provides a separate E&S score that stands alongside the governance score.

These disclosure risk scores, similar to the governance scores companies have become accustomed to seeing each year, are scaled from 1 to 10 with lower scores indicating a lower level of risk relative to industry peers. For example, a score of 2 indicates that a company has lower risk than 80% of its industry peers.

 

Glass Lewis

 

Glass Lewis uses data and ratings from Sustainalytics, a provider of ESG research, in the ESG Profile section of their standard Proxy Paper reports for large cap companies or “in instances where [they] identify material oversight issues.” Their stated goal is to provide summary data and insights that can be used by Glass Lewis clients as part of their investment decision-making, including aligning proxy voting and engagement practices with ESG risk management considerations.

The Glass Lewis evaluation, using Sustainalytics guidelines, rates companies on a matrix which weighs overall “ESG Performance” against the highest level of “ESG Controversy.” Companies who are leaders in terms of ESG practices (or disclosure) have a higher threshold for triggering risk in this model.

 

glass-lewis-risk-model-chart

 

The evaluation model also notes that some companies involved in particular product areas are naturally deemed higher risk, including adult entertainment, alcoholic beverages, arctic drilling, controversial weapons, gambling, genetically modified plants and seeds, oil sands, pesticides, thermal coal, and tobacco.

Conclusion

 

ISS and Glass Lewis guidelines can help provide a basic structure for starting board conversations about ESG. For most companies, the primary focus is on transparency, in other words how clearly are companies disclosing their practices and philosophies regarding ESG issues in their financial filings and on their corporate websites? When a company has had very public environmental or social controversies—and particularly when those issues have impacted shareholder value—advisory firm evaluations of corporate transparency may also impact voting recommendations on director elections or related shareholder proposals.

Pearl Meyer does not expect the advisory firms’ ESG guidelines to have much, if any, bearing on compensation-related recommendations or scorecards in the near term. In the long term, however, we do think certain hot-button topics will make their way from the ES&G scorecard to the compensation scorecard. This shift will likely happen sooner in areas where ESG issues are more prominent, such as those specifically named by Glass Lewis.

We are recommending that organizations take the time to examine any ESG issues relevant to their business and understand how those issues may be important to stakeholders on a proactive basis, perhaps adding ESG policies to the list of sunny day shareholder outreach topics after this year’s proxy season. This does take time and effort, but better that than to find out about a nagging ESG issue through activist activity or a negative voting recommendation from ISS or Glass Lewis.

 

References

1. https://www.issgovernance.com/iss-announces-launch-of-environmental-social-qualityscore-corporate-profiling-solution/

2. https://www.glasslewis.com/understanding-esg-content/

_________________________________________________________

* David Bixby is managing director and Paul Hudson is principal at Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC. This post is based on a Pearl Meyer memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Social Responsibility Resolutions by Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Le rôle du CA dans le développement durable et la création de valeur pour les actionnaires et les parties prenantes


Aujourd’hui, je présente un article publié par Azeus Convene qui montre l’importance accrue que les entreprises doivent apporter au développement durable.
L’article insiste sur le rôle du conseil d’administration pour faire des principes du développement durable à long terme les principales conditions de succès des organisations.
Les administrateurs doivent concevoir des politiques qui génèrent une valeur ajoutée à long terme pour les actionnaires, mais ils doivent aussi contribuer à améliorer le sort des parties prenantes, telles que les clients, les communautés et la société en général.
Il n’est cependant pas facile d’adopter des politiques qui mettent de l’avant les principes du développement durable et de la gestion des risques liés à l’environnement.Dans ce document, publié sur le site de Board Agenda, on explique l’approche que les conseils d’administration doivent adopter en insistant plus particulièrement sur trois points :

 

  1. Un leadership capable de faire valoir les nombreux avantages stratégiques à tirer de cette approche ;
  2. Des conseils eu égard à l’implantation des changements
  3. Le processus de communication à mettre en œuvre afin de faire valoir les succès des entreprises

 

L’article qui suit donne plus de détails sur les fondements et l’application de l’approche du développement durable.

 

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Le développement durable, la création de valeur et le rôle du CA

 

 

 

Businesses everywhere are developing sustainability policies. Implementation is never easy, but the right guidance can show the way.

When the experts sat down to write the UK’s new Corporate Governance Code earlier this year, they drafted a critical first principle. The role of the board is to “promote the long-term sustainable success of the company”. Boardroom members should generate value for shareholders, but they should also be “contributing to wider society”.

It is the values inherent in this principle that enshrines sustainability at the heart of running a company today.

Often sustainability is viewed narrowly, relating to policies affecting climate change. But it has long since ceased to be just about the environment. Sustainability has become a multifaceted concern embracing the long-term interests of shareholders, but also responsibilities to society, customers and local communities.

Publications like Harvard Business Review now publish articles such as “Inclusive growth: profitable strategies for tackling poverty and inequality”, or “Competing on social purpose”. Forbes has “How procurement will save the world” and “How companies can increase market rewards for sustainability efforts”. Sustainability is a headline issue for company leaders and here to stay.

But it’s not always easy to see how sustainability is integrated into a company’s existing strategy. So, why should your company engage with sustainability and what steps can it take to ensure it is done well?

…one of the biggest issues at the heart of the drive for sustainability is leadership. Implementing the right policies is undoubtedly a “top-down” process, not least because legal rulings have emphatically cast sustainability as a fiduciary duty.

The reasons for adopting sustainability are as diverse as the people and groups upon which companies have an impact. First, there is the clear environmental argument. Governments alone cannot tackle growing environment risk and will need corporates to play their part through their strategies and business models.

The issues driving political leaders have also filtered down to investment managers who have developed deep concerns that companies should be building strategies that factor in environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk. Companies that ignore the issue risk failing to attract capital. A 2015 study by the global benchmarking organisation PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), conducted with Deutsche Bank Asset Management, showed that among 2,200 studies undertaken since 1970, 63% found a positive link between a company’s ESG performance and financial performance.

There’s also the risk of being left behind, or self-inflicted damage. In an age of instant digital communication news travels fast and a company that fails on sustainability could quickly see stakeholder trust undermined.

Companies that embrace the topic can also create what might be termed “sustainability contagion”: businesses supplying “sustainable” clients must be sustainable themselves, generating a virtuous cascade of sustainability behaviour throughout the supply chain. That means positive results from implemented sustainability policies at one end of the chain, and pressure to comply at the other.

Leadership

But perhaps one of the biggest issues at the heart of the drive for sustainability is leadership. Implementing the right policies is undoubtedly a “top-down” process, not least because legal rulings have emphatically cast sustainability as a fiduciary duty. That makes executive involvement and leadership an imperative. However, involvement of management at the most senior level will also help instil the kind of culture change needed to make sustainability an ingrained part of an organization, and one that goes beyond mere compliance.

Leaders may feel the need to demonstrate the value of a sustainability step-change. This is needed because a full-blooded approach to sustainability could involve rethinking corporate structures, processes and performance measurement. Experts recognise three ways to demonstrate value: risk, reward and recognition.

“Risk” looks at issues such as potential dangers associated with ignoring sustainability such as loss of trust, reputational damage (as alluded to above), legal or regulatory action and fines.

A “rewards”-centred approach casts sustainability as an opportunity to be pursued, as long as policies boost revenues or cut costs, and stakeholders benefit.

Meanwhile, the “recognition” method argues that sharing credit for spreading sustainability policies promotes long-term engagement and responsibility.

Implementation

Getting sustainability policies off the ground can be tricky, particularly because of their multifaceted nature.

recent study into European boards conducted by Board Agenda & Mazars in association with the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre showed that while there is growing recognition by boards about the importance of sustainability, there is also evidence that they experience challenges about how to implement effective ESG strategies.

Proponents advise the use of “foundation exercises” for helping form the bedrock of sustainability policies. For example, assessing baseline environmental and social performance; analysing corporate management, accountability structures and IT systems; and an examination of material risk and opportunity.

That should provide the basis for policy development. Then comes implementation. This is not always easy, because being sustainable can never be attributed to a single policy. Future-proofing a company has to be an ongoing process underpinned by structures, measures and monitoring.
Policy delivery can be strengthened by the appointment of a chief sustainability officer (CSO) and establishing structures around the role, such as regular reporting to the chief executive and board, as well as the creation of a working committee to manage implementation of policies across the company.

Proponents advise the use of “foundation exercises” for helping form the bedrock of sustainability policies.

Sustainability values will need to be embedded at the heart of policies directing all business activities. And this can be supported through the use of an organisational chart mapping the key policies and processes to be adopted by each part of the business. The chart then becomes a critical ready reckoner for the boardroom and its assessment of progress.

But you can only manage what you measure, and sustainability policies demand the same treatment as any other business development initiative: key metrics accompanying the plan.

But what to measure? Examples include staff training, supply chain optimisation, energy efficiency, clean energy generation, reduced water waste, and community engagement, among many others.

Measuring then enables the creation of targets and these can be embedded in processes such as audits, supplier contracts and executive remuneration. If they are to have an impact, senior management must ensure the metrics have equal weight alongside more traditional measures.

All of this must be underpinned by effective reporting practices that provide a window on how sustainability practices function. And reporting is best supported by automated, straight-through processing, where possible.

Reliable reporting has the added benefit of allowing comparison and benchmarking with peers, if the data is available. The use of globally accepted standards—such as those provided by bodies like the Global Reporting Initiative—build confidence among stakeholders. And management must stay in touch, regularly consulting with the CSO and other stakeholders—customers, investors, suppliers and local communities—to ensure policies are felt in the right places.

Communication

Stakeholders should also hear about company successes, not just deliver feedback. Communicating a sustainability approach can form part of its longevity, as stakeholders hear the good news and develop an expectation of receiving more.

Companies are not expected to achieve all their sustainability goals tomorrow. Some necessarily take time. What is expected is long-term commitment and conviction, honest reporting and steady progress.

Care should be taken, however. Poor communication can be damaging, and a credible strategy will be required, one that considers how to deliver information frequently, honestly and credibly. It will need to take into account regulatory filings and disclosures, and potentially use social media as a means of reaching the right audience.

And that’s because successful sustainability policies are something to shout about. There is enormous pressure on companies to think differently, to reject a blinkered focus only on the bottom line and develop strategies that enable their companies to provide value, not only for shareholders but other stakeholders—society, customers, and suppliers—alike.

Companies are not expected to achieve all their sustainability goals tomorrow. Some necessarily take time. What is expected is long-term commitment and conviction, honest reporting and steady progress. The landscape on which businesses function is changing. They must change with it.

This article has been produced by Board Agenda in collaboration with Azeus Convene, a supporter of Board Agenda.

Dix sujets « hots » pour les administrateurs en 2019


Voici dix thèmes « chauds » qui devraient préoccuper les administrateurs en 2019.

Ils ont été identifiés par Kerry BerchemChristine LaFollette, et Frank Reddick, associés de la firme Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Le billet est paru aujourd’hui sur le forum du Harvard Law School.

Bonne lecture ! Quels sont vos points de vue à ce sujet ?

 

Top 10 Topics for Directors in 2019

 

 

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1. Corporate Culture

The corporate culture of a company starts at the top, with the board of directors, and directors should be attuned not only to the company’s business, but also to its people and values across the company. Ongoing and thoughtful efforts to understand the company’s culture and address any issues will help the board prepare for possible crises, reduce potential liability and facilitate appropriate responses internally and externally.

2. Board Diversity

As advocates and studies continue to highlight the business case for diversity, public companies are facing increasing pressure from corporate governance groups, investors, regulators and other stakeholders to improve gender and other diversity on the board. As a recent McKinsey report highlights, many successful companies regard inclusion and diversity as a source of competitive advantage and, specifically, as a key enabler of growth.

3. #MeToo Movement

A responsible board should anticipate the possibility that allegations of sexual harassment may arise against a C-suite or other senior executive. The board should set the right tone from the top to create a respectful culture at the company and have a plan in place before these incidents occur. In that way, the board is able to quickly and appropriately respond to any such allegations. Any such response plan should include conducting an investigation, proper communications with the affected parties and the implementation of any necessary remedial steps.

4. Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) concerns remained a hot-button issue in 2018. Social issues were at the forefront this year, ranging from gun violence, to immigration reform, to human trafficking, to calls for greater accountability and action from the private sector on issues such as climate change. This reflects a trend that likely foretells continued and increased focus on environmental, social and governance issues, including from regulatory authorities.

5. Corporate Strategy

Strategic planning should continue to be a high priority for boards in 2019, with a focus on the individual and combined impacts of the U.S. and global economies, geopolitical and regulatory uncertainties, and mergers and acquisitions activity on their industries and companies. Boards should consider maximizing synergies from recent acquisitions or reviewing their companies’ existing portfolios for potential divestitures.

6. Sanctions

During the second year of the Trump administration, U.S. sanctions expanded significantly to include new restrictions that target transactions with Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Additionally, the U.S. government has expanded its use of secondary sanctions to penalize non-U.S. companies that engage in proscribed activities involving sanctioned persons and countries. To avoid sanctions-related risks, boards should understand how these evolving rules apply to the business activities of their companies and management teams.

7. Shareholder Activism

There has been an overall increase in activism campaigns in 2018 regarding both the number of companies targeted and the number of board seats won by these campaigns. This year has also seen an uptick in traditionally passive and institutional investors playing an active role in encouraging company engagement with activists, advocating for change themselves and formulating express policies for handling activist campaigns.

8. Cybersecurity

With threats of nation-states infiltrating supply chains, and landmark laws being passed, cybersecurity and privacy are critical aspects of director oversight. Directors must focus on internal controls to guard against cyber-threats (including accounting, cybersecurity and insider trading) and expand diligence of third-party suppliers. Integrating both privacy and security by design will be critical to minimizing ongoing risk of cybersecurity breaches and state and federal enforcement.

9. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

A year has passed since President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) into law, and there will be plenty of potential actions and new faces on the tax landscape in 2019. Both the Senate Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee will have new chairs, and Treasury regulations implementing the TCJA will be finalized. President Trump will continue to make middle-class tax cuts a priority heading into next year. Perennial issues, such as transportation, retirement savings and health care, will likely make an appearance, and legislation improving the tax reform bill could be on the table depending on the outcome of the Treasury regulations.

10. SEC Regulation and Enforcement

To encourage public security ownership, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has adopted and proposed significant revisions to update and simplify disclosure requirements for public companies. It has taken steps to enhance the board’s role in evaluating whether to include shareholder proposals in a company’s proxy statement. It has also solicited comments on the possible reform of proxy advisor regulation, following increasing and competing calls from corporations, investor advocates and congressional leaders to revise these regulations. Boards and companies should monitor developments in this area, as well as possible changes in congressional and administration emphasis following the 2018 midterm elections.

Bonus: Midterm Elections

The 2018 midterm elections are officially over. Americans across the country cast their ballots for candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate in what was widely perceived to be a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office. With Democrats taking control of the House, and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, a return to divided government will bring new challenges for effective governance. Compromise and bipartisanship will be tested by what is expected to be an aggressive oversight push from House Democrats. However, areas where there may be possible compromise include federal data privacy standards, infrastructure development, criminal justice reform and pharmaceutical drug pricing initiatives.

The complete publication is available here.

Éléments susceptibles d’influer sur les décisions relatives à la gouvernance des grandes entreprises en 2019


L’article ci-dessous brosse un portrait de ce qui attend les grandes entreprises en 2019. Le billet de Holly J. Gregory, associé de la firme Sidley Austin, a été publié sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum aujourd’hui.

Quelles sont les variables susceptibles d’influer sur les décisions relatives à la gouvernance ainsi que sur les relations avec les actionnaires ?

L’auteur fait ressortir les éléments critiques suivants :

  1. Le maintien des caractéristiques du rôle du conseil et des devoirs des administrateurs;
  2. L’examen approfondi de la primauté des actionnaires et de leur influence;
  3. La réforme du vote par procuration et la réglementation des conseillers en vote;
  4. La poursuite de la convergence des idées sur les pratiques de gouvernance d’entreprise;
  5. Un accent encore plus affirmé sur les questions environnementales, sociales et de gouvernance (ESG);
  6. Une demande continue d’engagement des actionnaires et d’attention envers les investisseurs activistes.

 

Bonne lecture !

 

Looking Ahead: Key Trends in Corporate Governance

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Board’s Role and Director Duties Remain Durable

 

While the corporate governance environment is always changing, board responsibilities and the fiduciary duties of directors under state corporate law have proven remarkably durable. Directors must:

Manage or direct the affairs of the company and cannot abdicate that responsibility by deferring to shareholder pressure.

Act with due care, without conflict, in good faith, and in the company’s best interest.

Delegate and oversee management of the company (for example, by selecting the CEO, monitoring the CEO’s performance, and planning for succession), and oversee strategy and risk management.

Ensuring that the day-to-day management of the company is in the right hands, providing management with forward-looking strategic guidance, and monitoring management’s efforts to identify and manage risk, including risks that pose an existential threat, remain at the heart of the board’s role. To accomplish this, boards need to understand and address disruptive risks. Boards should be mindful that adequate time is reserved on the agenda for these matters, with less focus on formal management presentations and more focus on the problems and concerns management is grappling with.

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Blue Ribbon Commission recently provided guidance on oversight of risks that pose an existential threat (NACD, Adaptive Governance: Board Oversight of Disruptive Risks (Oct. 2018), available at nacdonline.org). The Commission recommends that boards prioritize certain actions, including:

Understanding and addressing disruptive risks “in the context of the [company’s] specific circumstances, strategic assumptions, and objectives.”

Allocating oversight of disruptive risks between and among the full board and its committees, and clarifying the allocation of responsibilities in committee charters.

Recognizing that enterprise risk management processes may not capture disruptive risks.

Evaluating board culture regularly for “openness to sharing
concerns, potential problems, or bad news; response to mistakes; and acceptance of nontraditional points of view.”

Assessing “leadership abilities in an environment of disruptive risks” in CEO selection and evaluation processes.

Aligning the company’s “talent strategy” with “the skills and structure needed to navigate disruptive risks.”

Refraining from automatically re-nominating directors as a “default decision.”

Treating board diversity as “a strategic imperative, not a compliance issue.”

Requiring continuing learning of all directors, and assessing that factor in the board’s evaluation process.

Ensuring risk reports provide “forward-looking information about changing business conditions and potential risks in a format that enables productive dialogue and decision making.”

Holding a substantive discussion, at least annually, of the company’s vulnerability to disruptive risks, “using approaches such as scenario planning, simulation exercises, and stress testing to inform these discussions.”

Shareholder Primacy and Shareholder Influence Under Scrutiny

 

While it is prudent for directors to listen to and engage with shareholders and understand their interests, directors must apply their own business judgment and determine what course is in the best interests of the company. This means that they cannot merely succumb to pressures from activist investors and other shareholders (see, for example, In re PLX Tech., Inc. Stockholders Litig., 2018 WL 5018535, at *45 (Oct. 16, 2018) (an activist “succeeded in influencing the directors to favor a sale when they otherwise would have decided to remain independent” and the incumbent directors improperly deferred to the activist and allowed him “to take control of the sale process when it mattered most”)).

However, shareholders have gained considerable power relative to boards over the last 20 years, making it difficult to resolve shareholder pressures that conflict with director viewpoints regarding the best course for the company. The forces that have strengthened shareholder influence include:

Concentration of shareholding in the hands of powerful institutional investors (with institutions owning 70% of US public company shares in 2018).

The activation of institutional investors regarding proxy voting (with institutional voting participation at 91% compared to retail shareholder participation at 28%).

The rise of proxy advisory firms that serve to coordinate proxy voting.

The dismantling of classic corporate defenses, such as classified boards and poison pills.

The rise in shareholder engagement and negotiation (or “private ordering”) of governance processes. (Broadridge, 2018 Proxy Season Review (Oct. 2, 2018), available at broadridge.com.)

While there is no sign that shareholder influence will dissipate, recent legislative developments suggest that shareholder primacy (the premise that a company is run for the benefit of its shareholders in the first instance) is under some pressure. For example, in August 2018, US Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed the Accountable Capitalism Act, which among other things would require directors of US companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenues to obtain a charter as a “United States Corporation” and consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, including employees, customers, and communities, in their decision-making, in addition to the interests of shareholders. (S. 3348, 115th Cong. § 5(c)(1)(B) (2017–2018); for more information, search Looking Ahead: Key Trends in Corporate Governance on Practical Law.)

In addition, there are increasing calls for the responsible use of power by large institutional investors, which have a considerable and growing influence on the companies in which they invest. The underlying concern is the responsible use of significant economic power, given the substantial impact on society that large institutional investors and companies have. For example, in January 2018, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote to the CEOs of BlackRock portfolio companies that “society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. … To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate” (Annual Letter to CEOs from Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock, available at blackrock.com).

This broader view of a company’s purpose recognizes that, while social interests and shareholder interests are often viewed as in tension, outside of a short-term perspective social interests and shareholder interests tend to align. For pension funds and many other institutional investors, the interests of their beneficiaries are aligned with the successful performance of healthy companies over a period of years.

Given the size of institutional investors’ portfolios, they face challenges in applying their influence on a company-specific basis. While some of the largest institutional investors are investing in the human resources and technology needed to make informed voting decisions on a case-by-case, company-specific basis, with respect to a large number of companies in their portfolios, many institutional investors still apply set policies on a one-size-fits-all basis, without nuanced analysis of the circumstances, in voting their shares. Institutional investors should assess whether they:

Are well positioned to vote their shares on an informed basis.

Have designed screens that consider company performance and other factors that may support a change from standard policy, if relying on the application of pre-set policies.

When institutional investors turn to proxy advisory firms to make voting decisions, they should evaluate how the proxy advisor is positioned to make sophisticated and nuanced case-by-case determinations, and whether resource constraints require the proxy advisor to rely heavily on the use of set policies (see below Convergence of Ideas on Corporate Governance Practices Continues).

In January 2017, a group of institutional investors launched the Investor Stewardship Group (ISG) and issued Stewardship Principles and Corporate Governance Principles that took effect on January 1, 2018 (available at isgframework.org). The Stewardship Principles set forth a stewardship framework for institutional investors that includes the following principles:

Principle A: Institutional investors are accountable to those whose money they invest.

Principle B: Institutional investors should demonstrate how they evaluate corporate governance factors with respect to the companies in which they invest.

Principle C: Institutional investors should disclose, in general terms, how they manage potential conflicts of interest that may arise in their proxy voting and engagement activities.

Principle D: Institutional investors are responsible for proxy voting decisions and should monitor the relevant activities and policies of third parties that advise them on those decisions.

Principle E: Institutional investors should address and attempt to resolve differences with companies in a constructive and pragmatic manner.

Principle F: Institutional investors should work together, where appropriate, to encourage the adoption and implementation of the Corporate Governance Principles and Stewardship Principles.

Reform of Proxy Voting and Regulation of Proxy Advisors Under Consideration

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) staff recently held a roundtable to assess whether the SEC should update its rules governing proxy voting mechanics and the shareholder proposal process, and strengthen the regulation of proxy advisory firms. These issues have been under consideration since the SEC solicited public comment on the proxy system in 2010. (SEC, November 15, 2018: Roundtable on the Proxy Process, available at sec.gov; Concept Release on the U.S. Proxy System, 75 Fed. Reg. 42982-01, 2010 WL 2851569 (July 22, 2010).)

Topics discussed at the roundtable included:

Proxy voting mechanics and technology. Panelists agreed that the current proxy voting system needs to be modernized and simplified, for example, by:

implementing a vote confirmation process so that shareholders may verify, before the vote deadline, that voting instructions were followed and their votes were counted;

using technology to encourage wider participation and reduce costs and delays in the voting process;

studying why retail shareholder participation has fallen and whether more direct communication channels would improve information flow and participation; and

mandating use of universal proxy cards in proxy contests.

The shareholder proposal process. Some panelists asserted that the current shareholder proposal process functions well, while others identified areas for reform, including:

revisiting the ownership thresholds and holding period required to submit a shareholder proposal (currently, the lesser of $2,000 or 1%, and one year);

increasing resubmission thresholds to address reappearance of a proposal even though a majority of shareholders voted it down year after year;

providing more SEC guidance on no-action decisions and rationales;

requiring proxy disclosure of the name of the shareholder proponent (and its proxy, if any) and its level of holdings; and

requiring disclosure of preliminary vote tallies.

The role and regulation of proxy advisory firms. While no significant consensus emerged regarding whether proxy advisory firms should be subject to further SEC regulation, areas under discussion included:

improving accuracy of proxy advisor reports and affording all companies opportunities to review and verify information in advance of publication; and

improving procedures to monitor and manage, and enhancing disclosure of, conflicts of interest.

The Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act

 

The Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act, H.R. 4015, would require proxy advisory firms to register with the SEC, which would require:

Sufficient staffing to provide voting recommendations based on current and accurate information.

The establishment of procedures to permit companies reasonable time to review and provide meaningful comment on draft proxy advisory firm recommendations, including the opportunity to present (in person or telephonically) to the person responsible for the recommendation.

The employment of an ombudsman to receive and timely resolve complaints about the accuracy of voting information used in making recommendations.

Policies and procedures to manage conflicts of interest.

Disclosure of procedures and methodologies used in developing proxy recommendations and analyses.

Designation of a compliance officer responsible for administering the required policies and procedures.

Annual reporting to the SEC on the proxy advisory firm’s recommendations, including the number of companies that are also consulting division clients, as well as the number of proxy advisory firm staff who reviewed and made recommendations.

The bill would also direct the SEC staff to withdraw two no-action letters issued by the SEC in 2004, which the fact sheet suggests “have led to overreliance on proxy advisory firm recommendations.” (The SEC rescinded those two no-action letters in September 2018.)

The bill is supported by both Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, as well as leading business groups and the Society for Corporate Governance. It is opposed by the Council of Institutional Investors, the Consumer Federation of America, and many public pension fund managers.

(See, for example, Nelson Griggs, Nasdaq, U.S. House of Representatives Passes Proxy Advisory Firm Reform Legislation (Dec. 16, 2017), available at nasdaq.com; Council of Institutional Investors, CII Urges Members to Contact Congressional Reps, Opposing Proxy Advisors Bill (Jan. 13, 2018), available at cii.org.) The bill is unlikely to be passed into law before the current congressional term ends, but may be reintroduced during the following congressional term.

It remains to be seen whether the SEC will incorporate input from the roundtable into future rulemaking or new SEC staff guidance or practice. The SEC is more likely to focus on proxy reform as a priority than on regulation of proxy advisory firms absent pressure from Congress.

Two bills seeking SEC regulation of proxy advisory firms were introduced in the 115th Congress:

The Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act, H.R. 4015. In June 2018, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on this bill, which was sent by the House of Representatives to the Senate in December 2017 for consideration. (See Box, The Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act.)

The Corporate Governance Fairness Act, S. 3614. In November 2018, this bill was introduced in the Senate to amend the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Advisers Act) to expressly require proxy advisory firms to register as investment advisers under the Advisers Act, thereby subjecting them to enhanced fiduciary duties and SEC oversight, including regular SEC staff examinations into their conflict of interest policies and programs, and whether they knowingly have made false statements to clients or have omitted to state material facts that would be necessary to make statements to clients not misleading.

Both bills would subject proxy advisory firms to SEC regulation, and focus on policies and procedures regarding conflicts of interest and accuracy. H.R. 4015 goes further by mandating
maintenance of certain staffing levels and annual reporting relating to recommendations. Neither bill is likely to be passed into law by the end of the current session of Congress.

 

Convergence of Ideas on Corporate Governance Practices Continues

 

Proxy advisory firms are often criticized for imposing a one-size-fits-all view of corporate governance on public companies in the US. However, the divide is narrowing between what investors and their proxy advisors, on the one hand, and corporate directors and CEOs, on the other hand, think are good corporate governance practices.

Recently, a high-profile group of senior executives from major public companies and institutional investors issued the Commonsense Principles 2.0 to revise corporate governance principles that the group published in 2016 (available at governanceprinciples.org). The Commonsense Principles 2.0 describe corporate governance practices that have become widely accepted among leading companies and their institutional investors, including in previously controversial areas such as majority voting in uncontested director elections and proxy access. A majority of S&P 500 companies already practice most of the recommendations, and many of the recommendations are requirements for publicly traded companies under SEC regulations or stock exchange listing rules. For example, the Commonsense Principles 2.0 provide that:

One-year terms for directors are generally preferable, but if a board is classified, the reason for that structure should be explained.

The independent directors should decide whether to have combined or separate chair and CEO roles based on the circumstances. If they combine the chair and CEO roles, they should designate a strong lead independent director. In any event, the reasons for combining or separating the roles should be explained clearly.

A director who fails to receive a majority of votes in uncontested elections should resign and the board should accept the resignation or explain to shareholders why it is not accepted.

These recommendations are in line with evolving practices.

The Commonsense Principles 2.0 address some recommendations to institutional investors and asset managers, and call on them to use their influence transparently and responsibly. Among other things, they urge asset managers to disclose their proxy voting guidelines and reliance on proxy advisory firms, and be satisfied that the information that they are relying on is accurate and relevant.

Notably, the Commonsense Principles 2.0 reflect the convergence of viewpoints through agreement among a coalition of high-profile leaders of well-known public companies, institutional investors, and one activist hedge fund. Signatories include Mary Barra of General Motors, Ed Breen of DowDupont, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Larry Fink of BlackRock, Bill McNabb of Vanguard, Ronald O’Hanley of State Street, and Jeff Ubben of ValueAct Capital. The Council of Institutional Investors and the Business Roundtable have expressed support for or endorsed the Commonsense Principles 2.0.

 

Shifting Focus of Private Ordering to ESG Issues

 

The convergence of views among corporate leaders and large institutional investors on corporate governance practices reflects to a significant degree the success shareholders have had in influencing corporate governance reforms through engagement with boards, or private ordering. Shareholders are continuing to engage companies and press for reforms in the areas of shareholder rights and board composition and quality, but they are also increasing their focus on ESG issues, such as climate change, diversity, and board effectiveness, and the impact of ESG issues on companies’ financial performance. ESG is no longer a fringe issue of interest only to special issue investors. Mainstream institutional investors are recognizing that attention to ESG and corporate social responsibility impacts portfolio company financial performance.

The rising interest in ESG among investors is apparent in the sharp rise in US-domiciled assets under management using ESG strategies ($12.0 trillion at the start of 2018, up 38% since 2016 and an 18-fold increase since 1995, as reported by the US SIF Foundation), increasing support for shareholder proposals relating to ESG issues, as well as in the focus of engagement efforts. According to Broadridge, institutional investor support for social and environmental proposals increased from 19% in 2014 to 29% in 2018 (Broadridge, 2018 Proxy Season Review (Oct. 2, 2018), available at broadridge.com).

 

Continuing Demand for Shareholder Engagement and Attention to Activist Investors

 

In this era of enhanced shareholder influence, directors need to be especially attuned to the interests and concerns of significant shareholders, while continuing to apply their own judgment about the best interests of the company. This requires active outreach and engagement with the company’s core shareholders and, in particular, the persons responsible for voting proxies and setting the governance policies that often drive voting decisions. Caution, balance, and effective communication are also necessary to ensure that director judgment is not replaced with shareholder appeasement.

In the first half of 2018, record numbers of hedge fund activist campaigns were launched, backed by record levels of capital. Activist investors are having greater success in negotiating board seats and in winning seats in contested elections. The general level of vote support for directors is falling. For example, 416 directors failed to receive majority shareholder support in the 2018 proxy season (an 11% increase over 2017) and 1,408 directors failed to attain at least 70% shareholder support (a 14% increase over 2017) (Broadridge, 2018 Proxy Season Review (Oct. 2, 2018), available at broadridge.com).

Understanding key shareholders’ interests and developing relationships with long-term shareholders can help position the company to address calls by activist investors for short-term actions that may impair long-term value. However, boards also should view the input they receive from activist investors as valuable, because it could help identify potential areas of vulnerability. Moreover, establishing an open and positive dialogue with activist investors, and engaging with them in meaningful discussions, can assist boards in avoiding a public shareholder activist campaign in the future. This requires:

Identifying the company’s key shareholders and the issues about which they care the most.

Objectively assessing strategy and performance from the perspective of an activist investor, including proactively identifying areas in which the company may be subject to activism.

Monitoring corporate governance benchmarks and trends in shareholder activism to keep abreast of “hot topic” issues.

Comparing the company’s corporate governance practices to evolving best practice.

Attending to potential vulnerabilities in board composition. Activist investors scrutinize the tenure, age, demographics, and experience of each director. They will target directors whose expertise is arguably outdated, who have poor track records as officers or directors of other companies, or who have served on the board for long tenures. They will also look for gaps in the expertise needed by the board given the current dynamic business environment, and for a lack of gender or ethnic diversity. Boards should monitor developments in these areas (see, for example, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS), 2019 ISS Americas Policy Updates (Nov. 19, 2018), available at issgovernance.com (announcing that, beginning in 2020, ISS will oppose the nominating committee chair at Russell 3000 or S&P 1500 companies when there are no women on the board); 2018 Cal. Legis. Serv. ch. 954 (S.B. 826) (to be codified at Cal. Corp. Code §§ 301.3, 2115.5) (mandating gender quotas for boards of US public companies that are headquartered in California)).

Addressing potential vulnerabilities in CEO compensation, including disparity with respect to peer companies and other named executive officers. Activist investors could claim that this signals a culture in which too much deference is given to the CEO and there is a lack of team emphasis in the compensation of management.

Reviewing structural defenses with the assistance of seasoned proxy fight and corporate governance counsel. Many companies have not reviewed their charter and bylaws recently, and in a proxy contest the language of many bylaw provisions can take on a different meaning. Boards should be aware that proxy advisory firm ISS recently announced that it will generally oppose management proposals to ratify a company’s existing charter or bylaw provisions, unless the provisions align with best practice (2019 ISS Americas Policy Updates, at 11).

Effectively communicating long-term plans with respect to strategy and performance pressures, defending past performance, and addressing calls for an exploration of strategic alternatives.

Preparing a response plan for engaging with activist investors to ensure that the board and management convey a measured and unified position.