La rémunération en lien avec la performance | Qu’en est-il ?


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un article publié par Cydney S. Posner, conseiller spécial de la firme Cooley, paru sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

La nouvelle politique du Council of Institutional Investors (CII) concernant les rémunérations vient de paraître.

La nouvelle politique aborde plusieurs sujets :

    • Des plans de compensation moins complexes ;
    • De plus longues périodes de performance pour fixer les rémunérations liées à des incitatifs de rendement ;
    • Retarder le paiement des actions possédées par la direction après le départ afin de s’assurer de la correspondance avec les exigences du plan de compensation ;
    • Plus de latitude dans les décisions de rappels (clawbacks) ;
    • Utilisation de la référence au salaire moyen des employés afin de fixer les rémunérations de la direction ;
    • Supervision plus étroite des plans de rémunération en fonction des performances ;
    • Une plus grande importance accordée à la portion fixe de la rémunération.

Le CII propose donc des balises beaucoup plus claires et resserrées eu égard aux rémunérations de la direction des entreprises publiques. Il s’agit d’une petite révolution dans le monde des rémunérations de tout acabit.

Je vous invite à lire le résumé ci-dessous pour avoir plus d’informations sur le sujet.

Pay for Performance—A Mirage?

 

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Yes, it can be, according to the Executive Director of the Council of Institutional Investors, in announcing CII’s new policy on executive comp. Among other ideas, the new policy calls for plans with less complexity (who can’t get behind that?), longer performance periods for incentive pay, hold-beyond-departure requirements for shares held by executives, more discretion to invoke clawbacks, rank-and-file pay as a valid reference marker for executive pay, heightened scrutiny of pay-for-performance plans and perhaps greater reliance on—of all things—fixed pay. It’s back to the future for compensation!

Simplified and tailored plans

CII recommends that comp plans and practices be tailored for each company’s circumstances and that they be comprehensible: compensation practices that comp committees “would find difficult to explain to investors in reasonable detail are prime candidates for simplification or elimination.” In addition, performance periods for long-term compensation should be long term—at least five years, not the typical three-year time horizon for restricted stock.

Reference points and peers

To address the widening gap in compensation between workers and executives, CII recommends that the Comp Committee take into consideration employee compensation throughout the company as a reference point for setting executive pay, consistent with the company’s strategic objectives. In addition, CII cautions against overreliance on benchmarking to peer practices, which can lead to escalating executive comp. Understanding what peers are doing is one thing, but copying their pay practices is quite another, especially if performance of those peers is markedly different. CII also warns comp committees to “guard against opportunistic peer group selection. Compensation committees should disclose to investors the basis for the particular peers selected, and should aim for consistency over time with the peer companies they select. If companies use multiple peer groups, the reasons for such an approach should be made clear to investors.”

Elements of comp

With regard to elements of comp, the message again is simplification. While most U.S. companies pay programs consist of three elements—salary, annual bonus and a long-term incentive—it may make sense in some cases to focus only on salary and a single long-term incentive plan, reserving short-term incentives for special circumstances such as turnarounds.

Time-based restricted stock

CII seems to have a soft spot for time-based restricted stock with extended vesting periods (we’re talking here about beginning to vest after five years and fully vesting over 10 (including post-employment). CII believes that this type of award provides

“an appropriate balance of risk and reward, while providing particularly strong alignment between shareholders and executives. Extended vesting periods reduce attention to short-term distractions and outcomes. As full-value awards, restricted stock ensures that executives feel positive and negative long-term performance equally, just as shareholders do. Restricted stock is more comprehensible and easier to value than performance-based equity, providing clarity not only to award recipients, but also to compensation committee members and shareholders trying to evaluate appropriateness and rigor of pay plans.”

Performance-based pay

CII’s sharpest dagger seems to be out for performance-based comp, which has long been the sine qua non of executive compensation to many comp consultants and other comp professionals. According to ISS, “equity-based compensation became increasingly performance-based in the past decade. As a percentage of total equity compensation, performance-based equity almost doubled between 2009 and 2018. Cash performance-based compensation has remained relatively unchanged. Overall, cash and equity performance-based compensation now make up approximately 58 percent of total pay, compared to 34 percent in 2019.” CII cautions that comp committees need to “apply rigorous oversight and care” to this type of compensation. Although cash incentive plans or performance stock units may be appropriate to incentivize “near-term outcomes that generate progress toward the achievement of longer-term performance,” performance-based plans can be problematic for a number of reasons: they can be too complex and confusing, difficult to value, “more vulnerable to obfuscation” and often based on non-GAAP “adjusted” measures that are not reconciled to GAAP. What’s more, CII believes that performance-based plans are

“susceptible to manipulation. Executives may use their influence and information advantage to advocate for the selection of metrics and targets that will deliver substantial rewards even without superior performance (e.g., target awards earned for median performance versus peers). Except in extraordinary situations, the compensation committee should not ‘lower the bar’ by changing performance targets in the middle of performance cycles. If the committee decides that changes in performance targets are warranted in the middle of a performance cycle, it should disclose the reasons for the change and details of the initial targets and adjusted targets.”

In CII’s view, comp committees need to ensure that these plans are not so complex that they cannot be

“well understood by both participants and shareholders, that the underlying performance metrics support the company’s business strategy, and that potential payouts are aligned with the performance levels that will generate them. In addition, the proxy statement should clearly explain such plans, including their purpose in context of the business strategy and how the award and performance targets, and the resulting payouts, are determined. Finally, the committee should consider whether long-vesting restricted shares or share units would better achieve the company’s long-term compensation and performance objectives, versus routinely awarding a majority of executives’ pay in the form of performance shares.”

SideBar

As discussed in this article in the WSJ, executive compensation has been “increasingly linked to performance,” but investors have recently been asking whether the bar for performance targets is set too low to be effective. Has the prevalence of performance metrics had the effect (whether or not intended) of lifting executive compensation? According to the article, based on ISS data, for about two-thirds of CEOs of companies in the S&P 500, overall pay “over the past three years proved higher than initial targets….That is typically because performance triggers raised the number of shares CEOs received, or stock gains lifted the value of the original grant. On average, compensation was 16% higher than the target.” In addition, for 2016, about half of the CEOs of the S&P 500 received cash incentives above the performance target payout levels, averaging 46% higher, while only 150 of these companies were paid bonuses below target.

And sometimes, the WSJ contends, pay may be exceeding performance targets because those targets are set at levels that are, shall we say, not exactly challenging. According to the head of analytics at ISS, in some cases, “’the company is setting goals they think the CEO is going to clear….It’s a tip-off to investors.’” The article reports that, based on a 2016 analysis, ISS concluded that about 186 of the Fortune 500 expected that the equity awards granted to their CEOs would pay out above target, 122 at target and 150 below target. The head of corporate governance for a major institutional investor expressed his concern that, sometimes, the bar is set “too low, allowing CEOs to earn ‘premium payouts in the absence of compelling performance relative to the market.’’’ In selecting metrics and setting targets, comp committees “must juggle a range of factors,” taking into account the preferences of investors and proxy advisers, as well as the recommendations of consultants.’’ However, he said, “‘[i]t has to be the right measure and the right achievement level.”’ (See this PubCo post.)

Fixed pay

And speaking of simplicity, if CII had its way, fixed pay would be making a comeback. CII’s new policy characterizes fixed pay as

“a legitimate element of senior executive compensation. Compensation committees should carefully consider and determine the right risk balance for the particular company and executive. It can be appropriate to emphasize fixed pay (which essentially has no risk for the employee) as a significant pay element, particularly where it makes sense to disincentivize ‘bet the company’ risk taking and promote stability. Fixed pay also has the advantage of being easy to understand and value, for the company, the executive and shareholders. That said, compensation committees should set pay considering risk-adjusted value, and so, to the extent that fixed pay is a relatively large element, compensation committees need to moderate pay levels in comparison with what would be awarded with contingent, variable pay.”

SideBar

The global economic crisis of 2008 led many to question whether large bonuses and stock options were motivations behind the overly risky behavior and short-term strategies that many argue had triggered that crisis. But the answer that most often resulted was to structure the compensation “differently so that the variable component motivates the right behaviors.” However, in a 2016 essay in the Harvard Business Review, two academics made a case for fixed pay, contending that performance-based pay for CEOs makes absolutely no sense: research on incentives and motivation suggests that the nature of a CEO’s work is unsuited to performance-based pay. Moreover, “performance-based pay can actually have dangerous outcomes for companies that implement it.” According to the academics, research has shown that, while performance-based pay works well for routine tasks, the types of work performed by CEOs are typically not routine; performance-related incentives, the authors argue, are actually “detrimental when the [task] is not standard and requires creativity.” Where innovative, non-standard solutions were needed or learning was required, research “results showed that a large percentage of variable pay hurt performance.” Why not, they propose, pay top executives a fixed salary only? (See this PubCo post.)

Similarly, as discussed in this PubCo post, a New Yorker columnist concurs with the contention that performance pay does not really work for CEOs because the types of tasks that a CEO performs, such as deep analysis or creative problem solving, are typically not susceptible to performance incentives: “paying someone ten million dollars isn’t going to make that person more creative or smarter.’” In addition, the argument goes, performance is often tied to goals that CEOs don’t really control, like stock price (see this PubCo post and this news brief).

Stock ownership guidelines

CII also encourages companies to maintain stock ownership guidelines that apply for at least one year post termination; executives “not in compliance should be barred from liquidating stock-based awards (beyond tax obligations) until satisfaction of the guideline.” For some companies it may even be appropriate to apply “a hold-to-departure requirement or hold-beyond-departure requirement for all stock-based awards held by the highest-level executives is an appropriate and workable commitment to long-termism. Other boards may consider such restrictions unnecessary to the extent that awards include extended vesting periods.”

Clawbacks

Finally, CII advocates that boards have more discretion to invoke clawback policies. According to CII, clawbacks should apply, not only in the event of acts or omissions resulting in fraud or financial restatement, but also in the context of “some other cause the board believes warrants recovery, which may include personal misconduct or ethical lapses that cause, or could cause, material reputational harm to the company and its shareholders. Companies should disclose such policies and decisions to invoke their application.”

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.

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.

Deux développements significatifs en gouvernance des sociétés | En rappel


Aujourd’hui, je veux porter à l’attention de mes lecteurs un article de Assaf Hamdani* et Sharon Hannes* qui aborde deux développements majeurs qui ont pour effet de bouleverser les marchés des capitaux.

D’une part, les auteurs constatent le rôle de plus en plus fondamental que les investisseurs institutionnels jouent sur le marché des capitaux aux É. U., mais aussi au Canada.

En effet, ceux-ci contrôlent environ les trois quarts du marché, et cette situation continue de progresser. Les auteurs notent qu’un petit nombre de fonds détiennent une partie significative du capital de chaque entreprise.

Les investisseurs individuels sont de moins en moins présents sur l’échiquier de l’actionnariat et leur influence est donc à peu près nulle.

Dans quelle mesure les investisseurs institutionnels exercent-ils leur influence sur la gouvernance des entreprises ? Quels sont les changements qui s’opèrent à cet égard ?

Comment leurs actions sont-elles coordonnées avec les actionnaires activistes (hedge funds) ?

La seconde tendance, qui se dessine depuis plus de 10 ans, concerne l’augmentation considérable de l’influence des actionnaires activistes (hedge funds) qui utilisent des moyens de pression de plus en plus grands pour imposer des changements à la gouvernance des organisations, notamment par la nomination d’administrateurs désignés aux CA des entreprises ciblées.

Quelles sont les nouvelles perspectives pour les activistes et comment les autorités réglementaires doivent-elles réagir face à la croissance des pressions pour modifier les conseils d’administration ?

Je vous invite à lire ce court article pour avoir un aperçu des changements à venir eu égard à la gouvernance des sociétés.

Bonne lecture !

 

The Future of Shareholder Activism

 

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Two major developments are shaping modern capital markets. The first development is the dramatic increase in the size and influence of institutional investors, mostly mutual funds. Institutional investors today collectively own 70-80% of the entire U.S. capital market, and a small number of fund managers hold significant stakes at each public company. The second development is the rising influence of activist hedge funds, which use proxy fights and other tools to pressure public companies into making business and governance changes.

Our new article, The Future of Shareholder Activism, prepared for Boston University Law Review’s Symposium on Institutional Investor Activism in the 21st Century, focuses on the interaction of these two developments and its implications for the future of shareholder activism. We show that the rise of activist hedge funds and their dramatic impact question the claim that institutional investors have conflicts of interest that are sufficiently pervasive to have a substantial market-wide effect. We further argue that the rise of money managers’ power has already changed and will continue to change the nature of shareholder activism. Specifically, large money managers’ clout means that they can influence companies’ management without resorting to the aggressive tactics used by activist hedge funds. Finally, we argue that some activist interventions—those that require the appointment of activist directors to implement complex business changes—cannot be pursued by money managers without dramatic changes to their respective business models and regulatory landscapes.

We first address the overlooked implications of the rise of activist hedge funds for the debate on institutional investors’ stewardship incentives. The success of activist hedge funds, this Article argues, cannot be reconciled with the claim that institutional investors have conflicts of interest that are sufficiently pervasive to have a substantial market-wide effect. Activist hedge funds do not hold a sufficiently large number of shares to win proxy battles, and their success to drive corporate change therefore relies on the willingness of large fund managers to support their cause. Thus, one cannot celebrate—or express concern over—the achievements of activist hedge funds and at the same time argue that institutional investors systemically desire to appease managers.

But if money managers are the real power brokers, why do institutional investors not play a more proactive role in policing management? One set of answers to this question focuses on the shortcomings of fund managers—their suboptimal incentives to oversee companies in their portfolio and conflicts of interest. Another answer focuses on the regulatory regime that governs institutional investors and the impediments that it creates for shareholder activism.

We offer a more nuanced account of the interaction of activists and institutional investors. We argue that the rising influence of fund managers is shaping and is likely to shape the relationships among corporate insiders, institutional investors, and activist hedge funds. Institutional investors’ increasing clout allows them to influence companies without resorting to the aggressive tactics that are typical of activist hedge funds. With institutional investors holding the key to their continued service at the company, corporate insiders today are likely to be more attentive to the wishes of their institutional investors, especially the largest ones.

In fact, in today’s marketplace, management is encouraged to “think like an activist” and initiate contact with large fund managers to learn about any concerns that could trigger an activist attack. Institutional investors—especially the large ones—can thus affect corporations simply by sharing their views with management. This sheds new light on what is labeled today as “engagement.” Moreover, the line between institutional investors’ engagement and hedge fund activism could increasingly become blurred. To be sure, we do not expect institutional investors to develop deeply researched and detailed plans for companies’ operational improvement. Yet, institutional investors’ engagement is increasingly likely to focus not only on governance, but also on business and strategy issues.

The rising influence of institutional investors, however, is unlikely to displace at least some forms of activism. Specifically, we argue that institutional investors are unlikely to be effective in leading complex business interventions that require director appointments. Activists often appoint directors to target boards. Such appointments may be necessary to implement an activist campaign when the corporate change underlying the intervention does not lend itself to quick fixes, such as selling a subsidiary or buying back shares. In complex cases, activist directors are required not only in order to continuously monitor management, but also to further refine the activist business plan for the company.

This insight, however, only serves to reframe our Article’s basic question. Given the rising power of institutional investors, why can they not appoint such directors to companies’ boards? The answer lies in the need of such directors to share nonpublic information with the fund that appointed them. Sharing such information with institutional investors would create significant insider trading concerns and would critically change the role of institutional investors as relatively passive investors with a limited say over company affairs.

The complete article is available here.

____________________________________________

*Assaf Hamdani is Professor of Law and Sharon Hannes is Professor of Law and Dean of the Faculty at Tel Aviv University Buchmann Faculty of Law. This post is based on their recent article, forthcoming in the Boston University Law Review. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Dancing with Activists by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (discussed on the Forum here); The Agency Problems of Institutional Investors by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen, and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forumhere); and Index Funds and the Future of Corporate Governance: Theory, Evidence, and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the forum here).

En reprise | Quelles sont les responsabilités dévolues à un conseil d’administration ?


En gouvernance des sociétés, il existe un certain nombre de responsabilités qui relèvent impérativement d’un conseil d’administration.

À la suite d’une décision rendue par la Cour Suprême du Delaware dans l’interprétation de la doctrine Caremark (voir ici),il est indiqué que pour satisfaire leur devoir de loyauté, les administrateurs de sociétés doivent faire des efforts raisonnables (de bonne foi) pour mettre en œuvre un système de surveillance et en faire le suivi.

Without more, the existence of management-level compliance programs is not enough for the directors to avoid Caremark exposure.

L’article de Martin Lipton *, paru sur le Forum de Harvard Law School on Corporate Governance, fait le point sur ce qui constitue les meilleures pratiques de gouvernance à ce jour.

Bonne lecture !

 

Spotlight on Boards

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Spotlight on Boards »

 

 

  1. Recognize the heightened focus of investors on “purpose” and “culture” and an expanded notion of stakeholder interests that includes employees, customers, communities, the economy and society as a whole and work with management to develop metrics to enable the corporation to demonstrate their value;
  2. Be aware that ESG and sustainability have become major, mainstream governance topics that encompass a wide range of issues, such as climate change and other environmental risks, systemic financial stability, worker wages, training, retraining, healthcare and retirement, supply chain labor standards and consumer and product safety;
  3. Oversee corporate strategy (including purpose and culture) and the communication of that strategy to investors, keeping in mind that investors want to be assured not just about current risks and problems, but threats to long-term strategy from global, political, social, and technological developments;
  4. Work with management to review the corporation’s strategy, and related disclosures, in light of the annual letters to CEOs and directors, or other communications, from BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard, and other investors, describing the investors’ expectations with respect to corporate strategy and how it is communicated;
  5. Set the “tone at the top” to create a corporate culture that gives priority to ethical standards, professionalism, integrity and compliance in setting and implementing both operating and strategic goals;
  6. Oversee and understand the corporation’s risk management, and compliance plans and efforts and how risk is taken into account in the corporation’s business decision-making; monitor risk management ; respond to red flags if and when they arise;
  7. Choose the CEO, monitor the CEO’s and management’s performance and develop and keep current a succession plan;
  8. Have a lead independent director or a non-executive chair of the board who can facilitate the functioning of the board and assist management in engaging with investors;
  9. Together with the lead independent director or the non-executive chair, determine the agendas for board and committee meetings and work with management to ensure that appropriate information and sufficient time are available for full consideration of all matters;
  10. Determine the appropriate level of executive compensation and incentive structures, with awareness of the potential impact of compensation structures on business priorities and risk-taking, as well as investor and proxy advisor views on compensation;
  11. Develop a working partnership with the CEO and management and serve as a resource for management in charting the appropriate course for the corporation;
  12. Monitor and participate, as appropriate, in shareholder engagement efforts, evaluate corporate governance proposals, and work with management to anticipate possible takeover attempts and activist attacks in order to be able to address them more effectively, if they should occur;
  13. Meet at least annually with the team of company executives and outside advisors that will advise the corporation in the event of a takeover proposal or an activist attack;
  14. Be open to management inviting an activist to meet with the board to present the activist’s opinion of the strategy and management of the corporation;
  15. Evaluate the individual director’s, board’s and committees’ performance on a regular basis and consider the optimal board and committee composition and structure, including board refreshment, expertise and skill sets, independence and diversity, as well as the best way to communicate with investors regarding these issues;
  16. Review corporate governance guidelines and committee workloads and charters and tailor them to promote effective board and committee functioning;
  17. Be prepared to deal with crises; and
  18. Be prepared to take an active role in matters where the CEO may have a real or perceived conflict, including takeovers and attacks by activist hedge funds focused on the CEO.

 

Afin de satisfaire ces attentes, les entreprises publiques doivent :

 

  1. Have a sufficient number of directors to staff the requisite standing and special committees and to meet investor expectations for experience, expertise, diversity, and periodic refreshment;
  2. Compensate directors commensurate with the time and effort that they are required to devote and the responsibility that they assume;
  3. Have directors who have knowledge of, and experience with, the corporation’s businesses and with the geopolitical developments that affect it, even if this results in the board having more than one director who is not “independent”;
  4. Have directors who are able to devote sufficient time to preparing for and attending board and committee meetings and engaging with investors;
  5. Provide the directors with the data that is critical to making sound decisions on strategy, compensation and capital allocation;
  6. Provide the directors with regular tutorials by internal and external experts as part of expanded director education and to assure that in complicated, multi-industry and new-technology corporations, the directors have the information and expertise they need to respond to disruption, evaluate current strategy and strategize beyond the horizon; and
  7. Maintain a truly collegial relationship among and between the company’s senior executives and the members of the board that facilitates frank and vigorous discussion and enhances the board’s role as strategic partner, evaluator, and monitor.

_________________________________________________________

Martin Lipton* is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Un document incontournable en gouvernance : « OECD Corporate Governance Factbook 2019 »


Voici un rapport de recherche exhaustif publié tous les deux ans par l’OCDE.

Vous y retrouverez une mine de renseignements susceptibles de répondre à toute question relative à la gouvernance des plus importantes autorités des marchés financiers au monde.

C’est un document essentiel qui permet de comparer et d’évaluer les progrès en gouvernance dans les 49 plus importants marchés financiers.

Vous pouvez télécharger le rapport à la fin du sommaire exécutif publié ici. Le document est illustré par une multitude de tableaux et de figures qui font image il va sans dire.

Voici l’introduction au document de recherche. Celui-ci vient d’être publié. La version française devrait suivre bientôt.

Bonne lecture !

 

The 2019 edition of the OECD Corporate Governance Factbook (the “Factbook”) contains comparative data and information across 49 different jurisdictions including all G20, OECD and Financial Stability Board members. The information is presented and commented in 40 tables and 51 figures covering a broad range of institutional, legal and regulatory provisions. The Factbook provides an important and unique tool for monitoring the implementation of the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance. Issued every two years, it is actively used by governments, regulators and others for information about implementation practices and developments that may influence their effectiveness.

It is divided into five chapters addressing: 1) the corporate and market landscape; 2) the corporate governance framework; 3) the rights of shareholders and key ownership functions; 4) the corporate boards of directors; and 5) mechanisms for flexibility and proportionality in corporate governance.

 

OECD (2019), OECD Corporate Governance Factbook 2019

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « OECD Corporate Governance Factbook 2019 »

 

The corporate and market landscape

 

Effective design and implementation of corporate governance rules requires a good empirical understanding of the ownership and business landscape to which they will be applied. The first chapter of the Factbook therefore provides an overview of ownership patterns around the world, with respect to both the categories of owners and the degree of concentration of ownership in individual listed companies. Since the G20/OECD Principles also include recommendations with respect to the functioning of stock markets, it also highlights some key structural changes with respect to stock exchanges.

The OECD Equity Market Review of Asia (OECD, 2018a) reported that stock markets have undergone profound changes during the past 20 years. Globally, one of the most important developments has been the rapid growth of Asian stock markets—both in absolute and in relative terms. In 2017, a record number of 1 074 companies listed in Asia, almost twice as many as the annual average for the previous 16 years. Of the five jurisdictions that have had the highest number of non-financial company IPOs in the last decade, three are in Asia. In 2017, Asian non-financial companies accounted for 43% of the global volume of equity raised. The proportion attributable to European and US companies has declined during the same period. In terms of stock exchanges, by total market capitalisation, four Asian exchanges were in the top ten globally (Japan Exchange Group, Shanghai Stock Exchange, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, and Shenzhen Stock Exchange).

With respect to ownership patterns at the company level in the world’s 50 000 listed companies, a recent OECD study (De la Cruz et al., forthcoming) reports a number of features of importance to policymaking and implementation of the G20/OECD Principles. The report, which contains unique information about ownership in companies from 54 jurisdictions that together represent 95% of global market capitalisation, shows that four main categories of investors dominate ownership of today’s publicly listed companies. These are: institutional investors, public sector owners, private corporations, and strategic individual investors. The largest category is institutional investors, holding 41% of global market capitalisation. The second largest category is the public sector, which has significant ownership stakes in 20% of the world’s listed companies and hold shares representing 13% of global market capitalisation. With respect to ownership in individual companies, in half of the world’s publicly listed companies, the three largest shareholders hold more than 50% of the capital, and in three-quarters of the world’s public listed companies, the three largest owners hold more than 30%. This is to a large extent attributable to the growth of stock markets in Asian emerging markets.

Stock exchanges have also undergone important structural changes in recent years, such as mergers and acquisitions and demutualisations. Out of 52 major stock exchanges in 49 jurisdictions, 18 now belong to one of four international groups. Thirty-three (63%) of these exchanges are either self-listed or have an ultimate parent company that is listed on one or more of its own exchanges. More than 62% of market capitalisation is concentrated in the five largest stock exchanges, while more than 95% is concentrated in the largest 25. The top 25 highest valued exchanges include 11 non-OECD jurisdictions.

 

The corporate governance framework

 

An important bedrock for implementing the Principles is the quality of the legal and regulatory framework, which is consistent with the rule of law in supporting effective supervision and enforcement.

Against this background, the Factbook monitors who serves as the lead regulatory institution for corporate governance of listed companies in each jurisdiction, as well as issues related to their independence. Securities regulators, financial regulators or a combination of the two play the key role in 82% of all jurisdictions, while the Central Bank plays the key role in 12%. The issue of the independence of regulators is commonly addressed (among 86% of regulatory institutions) through the creation of a formal governing body such as a board, council or commission, usually appointed to fixed terms ranging from two to eight years. In a majority of cases, independence from the government is also promoted by establishing a separate budget funded by fees assessed on regulated entities or a mix of fees and fines. On the other hand, 25% of the regulatory institutions surveyed are funded by the national budget.

Since 2015 when the G20/OECD Principles were issued, 84% of the 49 surveyed jurisdictions have amended either their company law or securities law, or both. Nearly all jurisdictions also have national codes or principles that complement laws, securities regulation and listing requirements. Nearly half of all jurisdictions have revised their national corporate governance codes in the past two years and 83% of them follow a “comply or explain” compliance practice. A growing percentage of jurisdictions—67%—now issue national reports on company implementation of corporate governance codes, up from 58% in 2015. In 29% of the jurisdictions it is the national authorities that serve as custodians of the national corporate governance code.

 

The rights and equitable treatment of shareholders and key ownership functions

 

The G20/OECD Principles state that the corporate governance framework shall protect and facilitate the exercise of shareholders’ rights and ensure equitable treatment of all shareholders, including minority and foreign shareholders.

Chapter 3 of the Factbook therefore provides detailed information related to rights to obtain information on shareholder meetings, to request meetings and to place items on the agenda, and voting rights. The chapter also provides detailed coverage of frameworks for review of related party transactions, triggers and mechanisms related to corporate takeover bids, and the roles and responsibilities of institutional investors.

All jurisdictions require companies to provide advance notice of general shareholder meetings. A majority establish a minimum notice period of between 15 and 21 days, while another third of the jurisdictions provide for longer notice periods. Nearly two-thirds of jurisdictions require such notices to be sent directly to shareholders, while all but four jurisdictions require multiple methods of notification, which may include use of a stock exchange or regulator’s electronic platform, publication on the company’s web site or in a newspaper.

Approximately 80% of jurisdictions establish deadlines of up to 60 days for convening special meetings at the request of shareholders, subject to specific ownership thresholds. This is an increase from 73% in 2015. Most jurisdictions (61%) set the ownership threshold for requesting a special shareholder meeting at 5%, while another 32% set the threshold at 10%. Compared to the threshold for requesting a shareholder meeting, many jurisdictions set lower thresholds for placing items on the agenda of the general meeting. With respect to the outcome of the shareholder meeting, approximately 80% of jurisdictions require the disclosure of voting decisions on each agenda item, including 59% that require such disclosure immediately or within 5 days.

The G20/OECD Principles state that the optimal capital structure of the company is best decided by the management and the board, subject to approval of the shareholders. This may include the issuing of different classes of shares with different rights attached to them. In practice, all but three of the 49 jurisdictions covered by the Factbook allow listed companies to issue shares with limited voting rights. In many cases, such shares come with a preference with respect to the receipt of the firm’s profits.

Related party transactions are typically addressed through a combination of measures, including board approval, shareholder approval, and mandatory disclosure. Provisions for board approval are common; two-thirds of jurisdictions surveyed require or recommend board approval of certain types of related party transactions. Shareholder approval requirements are applied in 55% of jurisdictions, but are often limited to large transactions and those that are not carried out on market terms. Nearly all jurisdictions require disclosure of related party transactions, with 82% requiring use of International Accounting Standards (IAS24), while an additional 8% allow flexibility to follow IAS 24 or the local standard.

The Factbook provides extensive data on frameworks for corporate takeovers. Among the 46 jurisdictions that have introduced a mandatory bid rule, 80% take an ex-post approach, where a bidder is required to initiate the bid after acquiring shares exceeding the threshold. Nine jurisdictions take an ex-ante approach, where a bidder is required to initiate a takeover bid for acquiring shares which would exceed the threshold. More than 80% of jurisdictions with mandatory takeover bid rules establish a mechanism to determine the minimum bidding price.

Considering the important role played by institutional investors as shareholders of listed companies, nearly all jurisdictions have established provisions for at least one category of institutional investors (such as pension, investment or insurance funds) to address conflicts of interest, either by prohibiting specific acts or requiring them to establish policies to manage conflicts of interest. Three-fourths of all jurisdictions have established requirements or recommendations for institutional investors to disclose their voting policies, while almost half require or recommend disclosure of actual voting records. Some jurisdictions establish regulatory requirements or may rely on voluntary stewardship codes to encourage various forms of ownership engagement, such as monitoring and constructive engagement with investee companies and maintaining the effectiveness of monitoring when outsourcing the exercise of voting rights.

 

The corporate board of directors

 

The G20/OECD Principles require that the corporate governance framework ensures the strategic guidance of the company by the board and its accountability to the company and its shareholders. The most common board format is the one-tier board system, which is favoured in twice as many jurisdictions as those that apply two-tier boards (supervisory and management boards). A growing number of jurisdictions allow both one and two-tier structures.

Almost all jurisdictions require or recommend a minimum number or ratio of independent directors. Definitions of independent directors have also been evolving during this period: 80% of jurisdictions now require directors to be independent of significant shareholders in order to be classified as independent, up from 64% in 2015. The shareholding threshold determining whether a shareholder is significant ranges from 2% to 50%, with 10% to 15% being the most common.

Recommendations or requirements for the separation of the board chair and CEO have doubled in the last four years to 70%, including 30% required. The 2015 edition of the Factbook reported a binding requirement in only 11% of the jurisdictions, with another 25% recommending it in codes.

Nearly all jurisdictions require an independent audit committee. Nomination and remuneration committees are not mandatory in most jurisdictions, although more than 80% of jurisdictions at least recommend these committees to be established and often to be comprised wholly or largely of independent directors.

Requirements or recommendations for companies to assign a risk management role to board level committees have sharply increased since 2015, from 62% to 87% of surveyed jurisdictions. Requirements or recommendations to implement internal control and risk management systems have also increased significantly, from 62% to 90%.

While recruitment and remuneration of management is a key board function, a majority of jurisdictions have a requirement or recommendation for a binding or advisory shareholder vote on remuneration policy for board members and key executives. And nearly all jurisdictions surveyed now require or recommend the disclosure of the remuneration policy and the level/amount of remuneration at least at aggregate levels. Disclosure of individual levels is required or recommended in 76% of jurisdictions.

The 2019 Factbook provides data for the first time on measures to promote gender balance on corporate boards and in senior management, most often via disclosure requirements and measures such as mandated quotas and/or voluntary targets. Nearly half of surveyed jurisdictions (49%) have established requirements to disclose gender composition of boards, compared to 22% with regards to senior management. Nine jurisdictions have mandatory quotas requiring a certain percentage of board seats to be filled by either gender. Eight rely on more flexible mechanisms such as voluntary goals or targets, while three resort to a combination of both. The proportion of senior management positions held by women is reported to be significantly higher than the proportion of board seats held by women.

 

Mechanisms for flexibility and proportionality in corporate governance

 

It has already been pointed out that effective implementation of the G20/OECD Principles requires a good empirical understanding of economic realities and adaption to changes in corporate and market developments over time. The G20/OECD Principles therefore state that policy makers have a responsibility to put in place a framework that is flexible enough to meet the needs of corporations that are operating in widely different circumstances, facilitating their development of new opportunities and the most efficient deployment of resources. The 2019 Factbook provides a special chapter that presents the main findings of a complementary OECD review of how 39 jurisdictions apply the concepts of flexibility and proportionality across seven different corporate governance regulatory areas. The chapter builds on the 2018 OECD report Flexibility and Proportionality in Corporate Governance (OECD, 2018b). The report finds that a vast majority of countries have criteria that allow for flexibility and proportionality at company level in each of the seven areas of regulation that were reviewed: 1) board composition, board committees and board qualifications; 2) remuneration; 3) related party transactions; 4), disclosure of periodic financial information and ad hoc information; 5) disclosure of major shareholdings; 6) takeovers; and 7) pre-emptive rights. The report also contains case studies of six countries, which provide a more detailed picture of how flexibility and proportionality is being used in practice.

The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 14 novembre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 14 novembre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Image associée

 

  1. Designing Proposals with your Unique Investors In Mind
  2. A Guidebook to Boardroom Governance Issues
  3. What Does the Growth of Impact Investing Mean?
  4. Le Club des Juristes Commission Shareholder Activism Report
  5. Civil Rights and Shareholder Activism: SEC v. Medical Committee for Human Rights
  6. 2020 Policy Guidelines—United States
  7. Index Funds and the Future of Corporate Governance: Presentation Slides
  8. CEO Chairman. Two Jobs, One Person
  9. Do Corporate Governance Ratings Change Investor Expectations? Evidence from Announcements by Institutional Shareholder Services
  10. PCAOB Selection Process and the GAO Report

 

Actionnaires de contrôle des entreprises | cibles des activistes


Voici un article très intéressant de Amy Freedman, Michael Fein et Ian Robertson de la firme Kingsdale Advisors, publié sur le Forum de Harvard Law School aujourd’hui.

Les auteurs expliquent très bien les situations de contrôle et de quasi-contrôle des entreprises. Ils montrent pourquoi ces entreprises sont vulnérables et comment elles constituent une cible de choix pour les activistes, qui n’hésitent pas à utiliser différents moyens pour arriver à leurs fins.

Les actionnaires minoritaires activistes cherchent à bouleverser les structures de contrôle existantes afin de diminuer le pouvoir des principaux propriétaires. Ultimement, on cherche à modifier la composition du conseil d’administration.

L’article expose différents stratagèmes pour ébranler le pouvoir des actionnaires de contrôle.

      • « Undermine the image of the current board and controlling shareholder as competent business managers
      • Identify and exploit divides between independent directors and the controlling shareholder’s representatives
      • Where familial relationships exist, seek to divide the family members or position them against other directors
      • Demonstrate unfair and abusive treatment of minority shareholders
      • Shine a spotlight on what is seen as “self-dealing” in exposing related-party transactions
      • Demonstrate a divide between top management and the average worker on pay issues
      • Illustrate divides where board and management are out of touch with other stakeholder groups beyond shareholders such as employees, unions, and the communities in which they operate
      • Inflict brand damage that will impact business relations with customers, consumers, and the general public ».

Bonne lecture !

Fall of the Ivory Tower: Controlled Companies and Shareholder Activism

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Controlled Companies and Shareholder Activism »

 

Despite longstanding complaints about governance and the tyranny of a few who may or may not hold a meaningful economic interest in the company they founded and/or now control, investors have continued to allocate to controlled or quasi-controlled companies. What has changed is that minority shareholders are no longer content to sit quietly and go along for the ride, increasingly demonstrating they are willing to pull on the few levers of activism and change available at these companies.

Companies that were set up to inoculate themselves from the whims of shareholders have now become targets. Even if directors aren’t at risk of losing their seats in a vote, they are at risk of losing their reputations and being embarrassed into change.

While governance concerns usually provide the thin edge of the wedge to begin the advancement of change, the underlying driver for a minority shareholder is usually a dissatisfaction with the way the controlling entity is running the business—not just in terms of current performance, but also in a lack of willingness to explore other accretive opportunities that may impact the controller’s vision for the company and status quo.

Many of today’s controlled and quasi-controlled companies found their genesis in family enterprises that grew beyond the bounds of private ownership to embrace the opportunities of external capital and diversified ownership, for better or worse.

Given strong, centralized leadership from proven entrepreneur-managers, senior management, and closely aligned directors, the boards of these companies have traditionally seen themselves as only marginally accountable to minority shareholders that held slivers of “their company.” But all of this is starting to transform as shareholders have begun testing the waters for change. The fact is, controlled companies are no longer impenetrable. But will they realize this? And if not, at what cost?

A general awareness of the tools of shareholder activism, the advent of advocacy and advisory groups who target ESG issues at public companies (especially those who are seen as governance laggards), and advancing regulations related to disclosure and transparency have created an environment where controlled companies are exposed, at least from a reputational perspective.

Activists have developed an appetite and motivation for chasing difficult targets Notably, Third Point ran a highly publicized proxy contest to replace the entire twelve-person board at Campbell Soup Company, despite the fact that heirs of the company’s founder held 41% of the shares. Third Point ultimately settled for two seats on an expanded fourteen-person board, indicating that some degree of change is possible despite daunting odds.

While it is unlikely a shareholder proposal related to something like executive pay disclosure would pass, it could serve to embarrass the company and educate the broader shareholder base and market about the actions of the current management.

So far, 2019 has seen the greatest frequency of say-on-pay proposals received by controlled issuers. Furthermore, 2019 has seen an unprecedented level of shareholder support, with an average of 24.95%, compared to 20.65% in 2017 and 17.68% in 2015, years that had comparable volumes of proposals.

How We Define Control

A controlled company is commonly defined as a corporation where more than 50% of voting power is held by a single person, entity, or group. This may be facilitated through a dual-class share structure or outright ownership of the majority of an issuer’s common shares outstanding.

A wider concept of control may also include quasi-controlled companies, wherein a stake of 20% or greater is held by a single person, entity, or group.

Both types of controlled groups are largely comprised of enterprises that were once family-operated or those that have a strategic partner with a large ownership stake. Despite partially divesting their significant ownership stakes, these families and stakeholders still maintain extraordinary influence over operating facets of these companies, from day-to-day strategy to overarching governance, largely influencing how the board is constituted, and the respective board and committee mandates.

Why Controlled Companies Are Vulnerable to Change: The Adapted Activist Playbook

Pursuing an activist course of action at controlled companies presents a unique set of challenges that often require some creativity on the part of the minority shareholder. Given the significant obstacles to immediate and meaningful change, these challenges result in what are often seen as “against all odds” campaigns.

Shareholders who target controlled companies modulate their campaigns with the understanding that it will often require a long, multi-staged process to advance change. Given that influencing meaningful change in a single instance of activism is likely impossible, from a pragmatic standpoint, controlled company activist tactics and goals differ from those of traditional activists. Tactically, activists will rely on informal avenues for change while aiming for more incremental objectives.

Absent conventional proxy fight and bargaining mechanisms—such as the threat of nominating and electing an activist director or calling a special meeting to force change—reputational damage and exposure are the primary forces that an activist at a controlled company can use to influence change. A single campaign tied to a shareholder proposal or a withhold campaign targeted at a specific director may not result in immediate substantive change, but can act as a disciplinary mechanism by publicly shaming the board, serve as a lightning rod to attract and expose broader shareholder opposition that would be useful in a future campaign, or be used as a bargaining chip or lever to obtain smaller, more gradual, changes, such as adding new, independent members to the board or adjusting executive pay to reflect market realities. Through this lens, a successful campaign may not be one that passes, just one that exposes a controlled company’s entrenchment and opens the eyes of the controlling entity.

As such, when private pressure fails, an activist’s strategy at a controlled company usually centers on exacting maximum reputational damage to force change. Such campaigns can become a significant distraction and headache for the board and management. At Kingsdale, we have observed that campaigns against controlled companies generally retain a number of common features, with the activist seeking to:

  • Undermine the image of the current board and controlling shareholder as competent business managers

  • Identify and exploit divides between independent directors and the controlling shareholder’s representatives

  • Where familial relationships exist, seek to divide the family members or position them against other directors

  • Demonstrate unfair and abusive treatment of minority shareholders

  • Shine a spotlight on what is seen as “self-dealing” in exposing related-party transactions

  • Demonstrate a divide between top management and the average worker on pay issues

  • Illustrate divides where board and management are out of touch with other stakeholder groups beyond shareholders such as employees, unions, and the communities in which they operate

  • Inflict brand damage that will impact business relations with customers, consumers, and the general public

L’activisme actionnarial | la situation en France


Voici un texte publié par le Club des juristes français portant sur l’activiste actionnarial.

Cette organisation vient de publier son rapport sur l’état des lieux de l’activisme en France. Le document est en français, ce qui améliore sensiblement la compréhension de la situation.

Après un bref historique du phénomène, les auteurs ont :

identifié les progrès souhaitables (première partie) et ils proposent plusieurs pistes d’amélioration de l’encadrement juridique ou des bonnes pratiques qui régissent l’exercice de l’engagement actionnarial des activistes (deuxième partie).

Vous trouverez ci-dessous le sommaire du rapport, suivi de la table des matières qui fait état des principales recommandations.

Bonne lecture !

ACTIVISME ACTIONNARIAL | Club des juristes français

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « ACTIVISME ACTIONNARIAL »

 

Sommaire du rapport

 

▶ L’engagement des actionnaires dans la vie de l’émetteur étant
généralement considéré par tous les acteurs du marché comme une
condition de son bon fonctionnement et encouragé comme tel par les
autorités de marché, comment pourrait-on s’étonner qu’un actionnaire
soit particulièrement actif ?

▶ L’activisme actionnarial apparaît aux États-Unis dans les années
1930. Après s’y être épanoui à partir des années 70 et 80, il s’observe
désormais partout où les actionnaires connaissent un renforcement
de leurs droits : en Italie, en Allemagne, aux Pays-Bas, au Royaume-Uni,
etc. L’intérêt pour le sujet a ainsi pris de l’ampleur en Europe, à partir des
campagnes activistes menées dans les années 2000. Davantage qu’un
mimétisme spontané des actionnaires européens, c’est une exportation
des activistes américains à laquelle on assiste. Près de la moitié des
sociétés visées en 2018 ne sont pas américaines. Il semble que
l’activisme se soit développé en cadence de, et parfois en relation avec,
la généralisation de la gestion passive de titres pour compte de tiers.
En contrepoint d’une gestion indicielle qui ne permet pas d’intervenir
de manière ciblée sur une société déterminée, l’actionnaire activiste
intervient ponctuellement et revendique une fonction d’optimisation du
fonctionnement du marché.

▶ Les fonds activistes ont connu une croissance significative, gagnant
par la même occasion en crédibilité et en force. Par exemple, les
activistes américains ont atteint 250,3 milliards de dollars d’actifs
sous gestion au deuxième trimestre de 2018 quand ils n’en avaient que
94,7 milliards au quatrième trimestre de 2010. L’activisme représente
désormais une puissance colossale avec 65 milliards de capital déployé
dans des campagnes en 2018. Les campagnes en Europe ne sont plus
occasionnelles. Avec 58 campagnes européennes en 2018, les fonds
activistes ont indéniablement intégré le paysage boursier.

▶ Désormais, l’activisme actionnarial présente une telle diversité que sa
délimitation, et par conséquent son encadrement, sont des plus ardus.
Ainsi, aucune réglementation spécifique n’est applicable aux seuls
activistes. Seul le droit commun applicable à tout investisseur permet
d’appréhender l’activiste qui se prévaut précisément des prérogatives
ordinaires de l’actionnaire. Qu’il s’agisse des questions écrites posées
en assemblée générale, de la présentation de résolutions alternatives,
de la demande d’une expertise de gestion, ou, enfin, de l’information
périodique ou permanente, l’activiste invoque ses droits de minoritaire.
Il fait toutefois un exercice de ces droits qui peut apparaître
particulièrement radical voire, selon certains, déloyal, et faire peser un
risque d’atteinte à l’intérêt social. Il peut ainsi sortir du cadre que lui
réservait le législateur en mettant parfois en difficulté la société.

▶ Logiquement, le droit commun fournit des outils pour réagir :
identification des actionnaires, déclaration de franchissement de
seuils, déclaration d’intention, déclaration d’un projet d’opération,
déclaration des transferts temporaires de titres, déclaration des
positions nettes courtes en cas de ventes à découvert, déclaration à
la Banque de France, déclaration de clauses des pactes d’actionnaires,
encadrement de la sollicitation active de mandats et transparence sur
la politique de vote des fonds d’investissement. Ce droit commun
apparaît néanmoins insuffisant au regard de la diversité des outils dont
disposent les activistes et de leur sophistication juridique.

▶ La perspective d’une régulation adaptée ou d’une amélioration des
pratiques impose de cerner au préalable ce que recouvre l’activisme
actionnarial.

▶ Une campagne activiste peut être définie comme le comportement
d’un investisseur usant des prérogatives accordées aux minoritaires
afin d’influencer la stratégie, la situation financière ou la gouvernance
de l’émetteur, par le moyen initial d’une prise de position publique.
L’activiste a un objectif déterminé qui peut varier selon les activistes
et les circonstances propres à chaque campagne. L’activisme peut
être short ou long, avec le cas échéant des objectifs strictement
économiques ou alors environnementaux et sociétaux (ESG), chaque
activiste développant des modalités d’action qui lui sont propres.
Malgré ces différences indéniables entre les types d’activisme, les
difficultés soulevées par l’activisme sont communes et justifient de
traiter de l’activisme dans son ensemble.

▶ L’activisme ne doit pas être confondu avec la prise de position ponctuelle
par un actionnaire sur un sujet particulier, lorsque son investissement
n’est pas motivé par cette seule critique. Un investisseur peut ainsi être
hostile aux droits de vote double et le faire savoir, y compris en recourant
à une sollicitation active de mandats, sans être qualifié d’activiste car la création de valeur recherchée ne repose pas exclusivement sur cette
critique. Dans le cas où le retour sur investissement attendu ne repose
que sur une stratégie de contestation, l’investisseur adopte alors une
forme d’activisme économique.

▶ D’un point de vue prospectif, la question de l’activisme actionnarial a
parfois été abordée à l’occasion de travaux portant sur d’autres sujets
de droit des sociétés ou de droit boursier. Outre les rapports élaborés
par le Club des juristes, dans le cadre de la Commission Europe et
de la Commission Dialogue administrateurs-actionnaires, l’AMF,
tout comme les législateurs français et européen ont identifié la
problématique, sans toutefois proposer, à ce jour, un régime juridique
spécifique.

▶ Alors que l’année 2018 a été qualifiée d’année record de l’activisme,
la question de la montée en puissance des activistes, en Europe et en
France, est devenue un enjeu de Place dont se sont notamment saisis
les pouvoirs publics, comme l’illustrent le lancement par l’Assemblée
nationale d’une Mission d’information sur l’activisme actionnarial et
les déclarations récentes du ministre de l’Économie et des Finances.
Les entreprises y voient un sujet sensible et se sont déjà organisées
individuellement en conséquence. L’Association française des
entreprises privées (AFEP) et Paris Europlace ont également initié des
réflexions à ce sujet.

▶ En parallèle, l’activisme actionnarial a depuis plusieurs années donné
lieu à un vif débat académique sur ses effets économiques et sociaux
sur le long terme, tant aux États-Unis qu’en France. Pour ses
partisans, l’activisme actionnarial permet à la société de créer de la
valeur actionnariale et économique sur le long terme. Pour d’autres, les éventuels effets bénéfiques sont identifiés sur le seul court-terme et les
émetteurs doivent au contraire se focaliser sur la création de valeur à
long terme en intégrant plus vigoureusement les questions sociales et
environnementales comme cela a été acté en France par la loi PACTE
à la suite du Rapport NOTAT SÉNARD et aux États-Unis par la position
récente du Business Roundtable.

▶ C’est dans ce contexte que le Club des juristes a décidé la création d’une
commission multidisciplinaire chargée de faire le point des questions
posées par l’activisme actionnarial et de proposer éventuellement
des améliorations à l’environnement juridique et aux pratiques qui le
concernent.

▶ L’objectif de la Commission n’est pas de prendre parti dans le débat
économique, politique et parfois philosophique qui oppose les partisans
et les détracteurs de l’activisme actionnarial, ni de prendre position sur
telle ou telle campagne activiste actuelle ou passée. Il s’agit plutôt
d’identifier les comportements susceptibles d’être préjudiciables à
la transparence, la loyauté et le bon fonctionnement du marché et
d’examiner, au plan juridique, l’encadrement et les bonnes pratiques qui
pourraient être appliqués aux campagnes activistes.

▶ Les travaux de la Commission du Club des juristes ont consisté à
auditionner une trentaine de parties prenantes à la problématique
de l’activisme actionnarial, représentants des émetteurs et des
investisseurs, intermédiaires de marché et des personnalités
qualifiées, afin de bénéficier de leur expérience et de recueillir leur
avis sur les pistes de droit prospectif. Les autorités compétentes ont participé aux travaux de la Commission en qualité d’observateurs et
ne sont en rien engagées par les conclusions de la Commission. Pour
compléter son analyse, une enquête a été effectuée auprès d’environ
deux cents directeurs financiers et responsables des relations avec les
investisseurs de sociétés cotées.

 

Table des matières du rapport 

PREMIÈRE PARTIE – ÉTAT DES LIEUX 

I. LA DÉFINITION DE L’ACTIVISME FACE A LA DIVERSITÉ DES ACTIVISTES

1. L’absence de définition juridique de l’activisme actionnarial
2. L’irréductible hétérogénéité de l’activisme actionnarial

II. DES COMPORTEMENTS PARFOIS DISCUTABLES

1. La construction de la position
2. Le dialogue actionnarial
3. La campagne publique
4. Le vote en assemblée générale

DEUXIÈME PARTIE – PISTES DE RÉFLEXION 

1. De nouvelles règles de transparence
2. L’encadrement du short selling
3. L’encadrement du prêt-emprunt de titres en période
d’assemblée générale
4. L’extension de la réglementation sur la sollicitation
active de mandats à la campagne activiste

II. L’AMÉLIORATION DU DIALOGUE ENTRE éMETTEURS ET INVESTISSEURS 

1. Dialogue collectif : la création d’une plateforme de dialogue
actionnarial
2. Le renforcement du dialogue actionnarial en amont
de la campagne
3. La méthode d’élaboration du code de gouvernement
d’entreprise

III. RÉFLEXIONS SUR LE RÔLE DE L’AMF ET SUR L’ESMA

1. L’intervention de l’AMF
2. Les incertitudes de la notion d’action de concert

Conclusions

Guide pratique à l’intention des administrateurs qui cible les situations problématiques


Voici un guide pratique à l’intention des administrateurs de sociétés qui aborde les principales questions de gouvernance auxquelles ils sont confrontés.

Ce guide publié par Katherine Henderson et Amy Simmerman, associés de la firme Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, est un outil indispensable pour les administrateurs, mais surtout pour les présidents de conseil.

Les principaux thèmes abordés dans ce document sont les suivants :

    • Le but de l’entreprise et le rôle des parties prenantes ;
    • Le processus de délibération du conseil et la gestion des informations de nature corporative ;
    • L’indépendance des administrateurs et les conflits d’intérêts ;
    • Les conflits d’intérêt des actionnaires de contrôle ;
    • La formation des comités du conseil lors de situations délicates ;
    • Les procès-verbaux ;
    • La découverte de dossiers et de communications électroniques du CA par des actionnaires ;
    • Les obligations de surveillance des administrateurs et des dirigeants ;
    • Les informations relatives à la concurrence et aux occasions d’affaires de l’entreprise ;
    • La rémunération des administrateurs et l’approbation des actionnaires ;
    • La planification de la relève des administrateurs et des dirigeants.

Chaque point ci-dessus fait l’objet de conseils pratiques à l’intention du conseil d’administration. Voici un bref extrait du guide.

Vous pouvez télécharger le document complet en cliquant sur le lien ci-dessous.

Bonne lecture !

A Guidebook to Boardroom Governance Issues

 

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In recent years, we have seen boards and management increasingly grapple with a recurring set of governance issues in the boardroom. This publication is intended to distill the most prevalent issues in one place and provide our clients with a useful and practical overview of the state of the law and appropriate ways to address complex governance problems. This publication is designed to be valuable both to public and private companies, and various governance issues overlap across those spaces, although certainly some of these issues will take on greater prominence depending on whether a company is public or private. There are other important adjacent topics not covered in this publication—for example, the influence of stockholder activism or the role of proxy advisory firms. Our focus here is on the most sensitive issues that arise internally within the boardroom, to help directors and management run the affairs of the corporation responsibly and limit their own exposure in the process.

Constats sur la perte de contrôle des sociétés québécoises | Le cas de RONA


C’est avec plaisir que je partage l’opinion de Yvan Allaire, président exécutif du CA de l’IGOPP, publié ce jour même dans La Presse.

Ce troisième acte de la saga RONA constitue, en quelque sorte, une constatation de la dure réalité des affaires corporatives d’une société multinationale, vécue dans le contexte du marché financier québécois.

Yvan Allaire présente certains moyens à prendre afin d’éviter la perte de contrôle des fleurons québécois.

Selon l’auteur, « Il serait approprié que toutes les institutions financières canadiennes appuient ces formes de capital, en particulier les actions multivotantes, pourvu qu’elles soient bien encadrées. C’est ce que font la Caisse de dépôt, le Fonds de solidarité et les grands fonds institutionnels canadiens regroupés dans la Coalition canadienne pour la bonne gouvernance ».

Cette opinion d’Yvan Allaire est un rappel aux moyens de défense efficaces face à des possibilités de prises de contrôle hostiles.

Dans le contexte juridique et réglementaire canadien, le seul obstacle aux prises de contrôle non souhaitées provient d’une structure de capital à double classe d’actions ou toute forme de propriété (actionnaires de contrôle, protection législative) qui met la société à l’abri des pressions à court terme des actionnaires de tout acabit. Faut-il rappeler que les grandes sociétés québécoises (et canadiennes) doivent leur pérennité à des formes de capital de cette nature, tout particulièrement les actions à vote multiple ?

Bonne lecture !

RONA, LE TROISIÈME ACTE

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « RONA »

 

Acte I : La velléité de la société américaine Lowe’s d’acquérir RONA survenant à la veille d’une campagne électorale au Québec suscite un vif émoi et un consensus politique : il faut se donner les moyens de bloquer de telles manœuvres « hostiles ». Inquiet de cette agitation politique et sociale, Lowe’s ne dépose pas d’offre.

Acte II : Lowe’s fait une offre « généreuse » qui reçoit l’appui enthousiaste des dirigeants, membres du conseil et actionnaires de RONA, tous fortement enrichis par cette transaction. Lowe’s devient propriétaire de la société québécoise.

Acte III : Devant un aréopage politique et médiatique québécois, s’est déroulé la semaine dernière un troisième acte grinçant, bien que sans suspense, puisque prévisible dès le deuxième acte.

En effet, qui pouvait croire aux engagements solennels, voire éternels, de permanence des emplois, etc. pris par l’acquéreur Lowe’s en fin du deuxième acte ?

Cette société cotée en Bourse américaine ne peut se soustraire au seul engagement qui compte : tout faire pour maintenir et propulser le prix de son action. Il y va de la permanence des dirigeants et du quantum de leur rémunération. Toute hésitation, toute tergiversation à prendre les mesures nécessaires pour répondre aux attentes des actionnaires sera sévèrement punie.

C’est la loi implacable des marchés financiers. Quiconque est surpris des mesures prises par Lowe’s chez RONA n’a pas compris les règles de l’économie mondialisée et financiarisée. Ces règles s’appliquent également aux entreprises canadiennes lors d’acquisitions de sociétés étrangères.

On peut évidemment regretter cette tournure, pourtant prévisible, chez RONA, mais il ne sert à rien ni à personne d’invoquer de possibles représailles en catimini contre RONA.

QUE FAIRE, ALORS ?

Ce n’est pas en aval, mais en amont que l’on doit agir. Dans le contexte juridique et réglementaire canadien, le seul obstacle aux prises de contrôle non souhaitées provient d’une structure de capital à double classe d’actions ou toute forme de propriété (actionnaires de contrôle, protection législative) qui met la société à l’abri des pressions à court terme des actionnaires de tout acabit. Faut-il rappeler que les grandes sociétés québécoises (et canadiennes) doivent leur pérennité à des formes de capital de cette nature, tout particulièrement les actions à vote multiple ?

Il serait approprié que toutes les institutions financières canadiennes appuient ces formes de capital, en particulier les actions multivotantes, pourvu qu’elles soient bien encadrées. C’est ce que font la Caisse de dépôt, le Fonds de solidarité et les grands fonds institutionnels canadiens regroupés dans la Coalition canadienne pour la bonne gouvernance.

(Il est étonnant que Desjardins, quintessentielle institution québécoise, se soit dotée d’une politique selon laquelle cette institution « ne privilégie pas les actions multivotantes, qu’il s’agit d’une orientation globale qui a été mûrement réfléchie et qui s’appuie sur les travaux et analyses de différents spécialistes » ; cette politique donne à Desjardins, paraît-il, toute la souplesse requise pour évaluer les situations au cas par cas ! On est loin du soutien aux entrepreneurs auquel on se serait attendu de Desjardins.)

Mais que fait-on lorsque, comme ce fut le cas au deuxième acte de RONA, les administrateurs et les dirigeants appuient avec enthousiasme la prise de contrôle de leur société ? Alors restent les actionnaires pourtant grands gagnants en vertu des primes payées par l’acquéreur. Certains actionnaires institutionnels à mission publique, réunis en consortium, pourraient détenir suffisamment d’actions (33,3 %) pour bloquer une transaction.

Ce type de consortium informel devrait toutefois être constitué bien avant toute offre d’achat et ne porter que sur quelques sociétés d’une importance stratégique évidente pour le Québec.

Sans actionnaire de contrôle, sans protection juridique contre les prises de contrôle étrangères (comme c’est le cas pour les banques et compagnies d’assurances, les sociétés de télécommunications, de transport aérien), sans mesures pour protéger des entreprises stratégiques, il faut alors se soumettre hélas aux impératifs des marchés financiers.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 31 octobre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 31 octobre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

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  1. The New Stock Market: Law, Economics, and Policy
  2. Stakeholder Governance—Issues and Answers
  3. A Common-Sense Approach to Corporate Purpose, ESG and Sustainability
  4. Recruiting ESG Directors
  5. 2019 Proxy Season Review
  6. The New Paradigm
  7. The Beneficial Owner
  8. Public Views on CEOs Earnings
  9. Dilution, Disclosure, Equity Compensation, and Buybacks
  10. Mechanisms of Market Efficiency

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).

Êtes-vous moniste, pluraliste ou de l’approche impartiale, eu égard aux objectifs de l’organisation ?


Voici un article très éclairant sur la compréhension des modèles qui expliquent la recherche des objectifs de l’entreprise par les administrateurs de sociétés.

L’article de Amir Licht, professeur de droit à Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, et publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, présente une nouvelle façon de concevoir la gouvernance des organisations.

Êtes-vous moniste, pluraliste ou de l’approche impartiale, eu égard à la détermination des objectifs de l’organisation  ?

Dans le domaine de la gouvernance des entreprises, l’approche de la priorité accordée aux actionnaires domine depuis le début des lois sur la gouvernance des sociétés. C’est l’approche moniste qui considère que les organisations ont comme principal objectif de maximiser les bénéfices des actionnaires.

Récemment, une nouvelle approche émerge avec vigueur. C’est la conception selon laquelle l’entreprise doit prioritairement viser à atteindre les objectifs de l’ensemble des parties prenantes. On parle alors d’une approche pluraliste, c’est-à-dire d’un modèle de gouvernance qui vise à rencontrer les objectifs de plusieurs parties prenantes, d’une manière satisfaisante et optimale.

L’auteur constate que ces deux approches ont plusieurs failles et qu’un modèle mettant principalement l’accent sur l’impartialité de tous les administrateurs est la clé pour l’atteinte des objectifs de l’organisation.

The monistic position endorses a single maximand (that which is to be maximized)—invariably, shareholder interest—while the pluralistic position supports a multiple-objective duty that would balance the interests of several stakeholder constituencies, shareholders included.

Je vous invite à lire ce court article afin de vous former une opinion sur le modèle de gestion privilégiée par votre organisation.

Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

Bonne lecture !

 

Stakeholder Impartiality: A New Classic Approach for the Objectives of the Corporation

 

Modèles de gouvernance
Ivan Tchotourian, revue Contact – Université Laval

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stockholder/stakeholder dilemma has occupied corporate leaders and corporate lawyers for over a century. Most recently, the Business Roundtable, in a complete turnaround of its prior position, stated that “the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders.” The signatories of this statement failed, however, to specify how they would carry out these newly stated ideals. Directors of large U.K. companies don’t enjoy this luxury anymore. Under section 172 of the Companies Act 2006, directors are required to have regard to the interests of the company’s employees, business partners, the community, and the environment, when they endeavor to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members (shareholders). Government regulations promulgated in 2018 require large companies to include in their strategic reports a new statement on how the directors have considered stakeholders’ interest in discharging this duty.

These developments are recent twists in a plot that has been unfolding—in circles, in must be said—in the debate over the objectives of the corporation. This debate oscillates between two polar positions, dubbed “monistic” and “pluralistic” in the business management parlance. The monistic position endorses a single maximand (that which is to be maximized)—invariably, shareholder interest—while the pluralistic position supports a multiple-objective duty that would balance the interests of several stakeholder constituencies, shareholders included. How to perform this balancing act is a question that has virtually never been addressed until now. When the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008 discussed it in BCE Inc. v. 1976 Debentureholders, it explicitly eschewed giving it an answer. Lawyers are similarly at sea with regard to a multiple-stakeholder-objective provision in India’s Companies Act, 2013.

This article advances a new, yet classical, approach for the task of considering the interests of various stakeholders by directors and other corporate fiduciaries. I argue that for lawfully accomplishing this task, while also complying with their standard duties of loyalty and care, directors should exercise their discretion impartially. Respectively, judicial review of directors’ conduct in terms of treating different stakeholders should implement the concomitant doctrine of impartiality. This approach is new, as it has not yet been implemented in this context. At the same time, this approach is also classical, even orthodox. The duty of impartiality (or even-handedness, or fairness; courts use these terms interchangeably) has evolved in traditional trust law mostly during the nineteenth century. In recent years, it has been applied in trust cases in several common law jurisdictions. More importantly, this duty has been applied during the latter part of the twentieth century in modern, complex settings of pension funds, where fund trustees face inescapable conflicts between subgroups of savers. These conflicts resemble the tensions between different stakeholders in business corporations—a feature that renders this doctrine a suitable source of inspiration for the task at hand.

In a nutshell, the duty of impartiality accepts that there could be irreconcilable tensions and conflicts among several trust beneficiaries who in all other respects stand on equal footing vis-à-vis the trustee. Applying the rule against duty-duty conflict (dual fiduciary) in this setting would be ineffective, as it would disable the trustee—and consequently, the trust—without providing a solution to the conundrum. The duty of impartiality calls on the trustee to consider the different interests of the beneficiaries impartially, even-handedly, fairly, etc.; it does not impose any heavier burden on the good-faith exercise of the trustee’s discretion. Crucially, the duty of impartiality does not imply equality. All that it requires is that the different interests be considered within very broad margins.

This article thus proposes an analogous process-oriented impartiality duty for directors—to consider the interests of relevant stakeholders. Stakeholder impartiality, too, is a lean duty whose main advantage lies in its being workable. It is particularly suitable for legal systems that hold a pluralistic stance on the objectives of the corporation, such as Canada’s and India’s open-ended stakeholderist approaches. Such a doctrinal framework might also prove useful for systems and individuals that endorse a monistic, shareholder-focused approach. That could be the case in the United Kingdom and Australia, for instance, where directors could face liability if they did not consider creditors’ interest in a timely fashion even before the company reaches insolvency. Moreover, this approach could be helpful where the most extreme versions of doctrinal shareholderism arguably rein, such as Delaware law post-NACEPF v. Gheewalla—in particular, with regard to tensions between common and preferred stockholders post-Trados.

A normatively appealing legal regime is unlikely to satisfy even its proponents if it does not lend itself to practical implementation; a fortiori for its opponents. For legal systems and for individual lawyers that champion a pluralistic stakeholder-oriented approach for the objective of the corporation, having a workable doctrine for implementing that approach is crucial—an absolute necessity. This is precisely where impartiality holds a promise for advancing the discourse and actual legal regulation of shareholder-stakeholder relations through fiduciary duties.

The complete article is available for download here.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 17 octobre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 17 octobre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « gouvernance »

 

  1. Recent Trends in Shareholder Activism
  2. CEO Pay Growth and Total Shareholder Return
  3. Board Oversight of Corporate Compliance: Is it Time for a Refresh?
  4. Institutional Investors’ Views and Preferences on Climate Risk Disclosure
  5. ESG and Executive Remuneration—Disconnect or Growing Convergence?
  6. One Size Does Not Fit All
  7. Loosey-Goosey Governance: Four Misunderstood Terms in Corporate Governance
  8. Disclosure on Cybersecurity Risk and Oversight
  9. Public Enforcement after Kokesh: Evidence from SEC Actions
  10. Dual-Class Shares: A Recipe for Disaster

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 10 octobre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 10 octobre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « top ten »

 

  1. Women Board Seats in Russell 3000 Pass the 20% Mark
  2. The Reverse Agency Problem in the Age of Compliance
  3. Climate in the Boardroom
  4. Shareholder Activism and Governance in France
  5. Self-Driving Corporations?
  6. A Stakeholder Approach and Executive Compensation
  7. The Role of the Creditor in Corporate Governance and Investor Stewardship
  8. Virtual Shareholder Meetings in the U.S
  9. Corporate Control Across the World
  10. Predicting Long Term Success for Corporations and Investors Worldwide

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 3 octobre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 3 octobre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « les top dix »

 

  1. The Long Term, The Short Term, and The Strategic Term
  2. Taking Significant Steps to Modernize Our Regulatory Framework
  3. 2019 Proxy Season Review: North America Activism
  4. Proxy Advisors and Pay Calculations
  5. 2020 Proxy and Annual Report Season: Time to Get Ready—Already
  6. A Call by Investors on US Companies to Align Climate Lobbying with Paris Agreement
  7. Toward Fair and Sustainable Capitalism
  8. Evolving Board Evaluations and Disclosures
  9. Stakeholder Capitalism and Executive Compensation
  10. Pay for Performance—A Mirage?

La rémunération en lien avec la performance | Qu’en est-il ?


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un article publié par Cydney S. Posner, conseiller spécial de la firme Cooley, paru sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

La nouvelle politique du Council of Institutional Investors (CII) concernant les rémunérations vient de paraître.

La nouvelle politique aborde plusieurs sujets :

    • Des plans de compensation moins complexes ;
    • De plus longues périodes de performance pour fixer les rémunérations liées à des incitatifs de rendement ;
    • Retarder le paiement des actions possédées par la direction après le départ afin de s’assurer de la correspondance avec les exigences du plan de compensation ;
    • Plus de latitude dans les décisions de rappels (clawbacks) ;
    • Utilisation de la référence au salaire moyen des employés afin de fixer les rémunérations de la direction ;
    • Supervision plus étroite des plans de rémunération en fonction des performances ;
    • Une plus grande importance accordée à la portion fixe de la rémunération.

Le CII propose donc des balises beaucoup plus claires et resserrées eu égard aux rémunérations de la direction des entreprises publiques. Il s’agit d’une petite révolution dans le monde des rémunérations de tout acabit.

Je vous invite à lire le résumé ci-dessous pour avoir plus d’informations sur le sujet.

Pay for Performance—A Mirage?

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Pay for Performance—A Mirage? »

 

Yes, it can be, according to the Executive Director of the Council of Institutional Investors, in announcing CII’s new policy on executive comp. Among other ideas, the new policy calls for plans with less complexity (who can’t get behind that?), longer performance periods for incentive pay, hold-beyond-departure requirements for shares held by executives, more discretion to invoke clawbacks, rank-and-file pay as a valid reference marker for executive pay, heightened scrutiny of pay-for-performance plans and perhaps greater reliance on—of all things—fixed pay. It’s back to the future for compensation!

Simplified and tailored plans

CII recommends that comp plans and practices be tailored for each company’s circumstances and that they be comprehensible: compensation practices that comp committees “would find difficult to explain to investors in reasonable detail are prime candidates for simplification or elimination.” In addition, performance periods for long-term compensation should be long term—at least five years, not the typical three-year time horizon for restricted stock.

Reference points and peers

To address the widening gap in compensation between workers and executives, CII recommends that the Comp Committee take into consideration employee compensation throughout the company as a reference point for setting executive pay, consistent with the company’s strategic objectives. In addition, CII cautions against overreliance on benchmarking to peer practices, which can lead to escalating executive comp. Understanding what peers are doing is one thing, but copying their pay practices is quite another, especially if performance of those peers is markedly different. CII also warns comp committees to “guard against opportunistic peer group selection. Compensation committees should disclose to investors the basis for the particular peers selected, and should aim for consistency over time with the peer companies they select. If companies use multiple peer groups, the reasons for such an approach should be made clear to investors.”

Elements of comp

With regard to elements of comp, the message again is simplification. While most U.S. companies pay programs consist of three elements—salary, annual bonus and a long-term incentive—it may make sense in some cases to focus only on salary and a single long-term incentive plan, reserving short-term incentives for special circumstances such as turnarounds.

Time-based restricted stock

CII seems to have a soft spot for time-based restricted stock with extended vesting periods (we’re talking here about beginning to vest after five years and fully vesting over 10 (including post-employment). CII believes that this type of award provides

“an appropriate balance of risk and reward, while providing particularly strong alignment between shareholders and executives. Extended vesting periods reduce attention to short-term distractions and outcomes. As full-value awards, restricted stock ensures that executives feel positive and negative long-term performance equally, just as shareholders do. Restricted stock is more comprehensible and easier to value than performance-based equity, providing clarity not only to award recipients, but also to compensation committee members and shareholders trying to evaluate appropriateness and rigor of pay plans.”

Performance-based pay

CII’s sharpest dagger seems to be out for performance-based comp, which has long been the sine qua non of executive compensation to many comp consultants and other comp professionals. According to ISS, “equity-based compensation became increasingly performance-based in the past decade. As a percentage of total equity compensation, performance-based equity almost doubled between 2009 and 2018. Cash performance-based compensation has remained relatively unchanged. Overall, cash and equity performance-based compensation now make up approximately 58 percent of total pay, compared to 34 percent in 2019.” CII cautions that comp committees need to “apply rigorous oversight and care” to this type of compensation. Although cash incentive plans or performance stock units may be appropriate to incentivize “near-term outcomes that generate progress toward the achievement of longer-term performance,” performance-based plans can be problematic for a number of reasons: they can be too complex and confusing, difficult to value, “more vulnerable to obfuscation” and often based on non-GAAP “adjusted” measures that are not reconciled to GAAP. What’s more, CII believes that performance-based plans are

“susceptible to manipulation. Executives may use their influence and information advantage to advocate for the selection of metrics and targets that will deliver substantial rewards even without superior performance (e.g., target awards earned for median performance versus peers). Except in extraordinary situations, the compensation committee should not ‘lower the bar’ by changing performance targets in the middle of performance cycles. If the committee decides that changes in performance targets are warranted in the middle of a performance cycle, it should disclose the reasons for the change and details of the initial targets and adjusted targets.”

In CII’s view, comp committees need to ensure that these plans are not so complex that they cannot be

“well understood by both participants and shareholders, that the underlying performance metrics support the company’s business strategy, and that potential payouts are aligned with the performance levels that will generate them. In addition, the proxy statement should clearly explain such plans, including their purpose in context of the business strategy and how the award and performance targets, and the resulting payouts, are determined. Finally, the committee should consider whether long-vesting restricted shares or share units would better achieve the company’s long-term compensation and performance objectives, versus routinely awarding a majority of executives’ pay in the form of performance shares.”

SideBar

As discussed in this article in the WSJ, executive compensation has been “increasingly linked to performance,” but investors have recently been asking whether the bar for performance targets is set too low to be effective. Has the prevalence of performance metrics had the effect (whether or not intended) of lifting executive compensation? According to the article, based on ISS data, for about two-thirds of CEOs of companies in the S&P 500, overall pay “over the past three years proved higher than initial targets….That is typically because performance triggers raised the number of shares CEOs received, or stock gains lifted the value of the original grant. On average, compensation was 16% higher than the target.” In addition, for 2016, about half of the CEOs of the S&P 500 received cash incentives above the performance target payout levels, averaging 46% higher, while only 150 of these companies were paid bonuses below target.

And sometimes, the WSJ contends, pay may be exceeding performance targets because those targets are set at levels that are, shall we say, not exactly challenging. According to the head of analytics at ISS, in some cases, “’the company is setting goals they think the CEO is going to clear….It’s a tip-off to investors.’” The article reports that, based on a 2016 analysis, ISS concluded that about 186 of the Fortune 500 expected that the equity awards granted to their CEOs would pay out above target, 122 at target and 150 below target. The head of corporate governance for a major institutional investor expressed his concern that, sometimes, the bar is set “too low, allowing CEOs to earn ‘premium payouts in the absence of compelling performance relative to the market.’’’ In selecting metrics and setting targets, comp committees “must juggle a range of factors,” taking into account the preferences of investors and proxy advisers, as well as the recommendations of consultants.’’ However, he said, “‘[i]t has to be the right measure and the right achievement level.”’ (See this PubCo post.)

Fixed pay

And speaking of simplicity, if CII had its way, fixed pay would be making a comeback. CII’s new policy characterizes fixed pay as

“a legitimate element of senior executive compensation. Compensation committees should carefully consider and determine the right risk balance for the particular company and executive. It can be appropriate to emphasize fixed pay (which essentially has no risk for the employee) as a significant pay element, particularly where it makes sense to disincentivize ‘bet the company’ risk taking and promote stability. Fixed pay also has the advantage of being easy to understand and value, for the company, the executive and shareholders. That said, compensation committees should set pay considering risk-adjusted value, and so, to the extent that fixed pay is a relatively large element, compensation committees need to moderate pay levels in comparison with what would be awarded with contingent, variable pay.”

SideBar

The global economic crisis of 2008 led many to question whether large bonuses and stock options were motivations behind the overly risky behavior and short-term strategies that many argue had triggered that crisis. But the answer that most often resulted was to structure the compensation “differently so that the variable component motivates the right behaviors.” However, in a 2016 essay in the Harvard Business Review, two academics made a case for fixed pay, contending that performance-based pay for CEOs makes absolutely no sense: research on incentives and motivation suggests that the nature of a CEO’s work is unsuited to performance-based pay. Moreover, “performance-based pay can actually have dangerous outcomes for companies that implement it.” According to the academics, research has shown that, while performance-based pay works well for routine tasks, the types of work performed by CEOs are typically not routine; performance-related incentives, the authors argue, are actually “detrimental when the [task] is not standard and requires creativity.” Where innovative, non-standard solutions were needed or learning was required, research “results showed that a large percentage of variable pay hurt performance.” Why not, they propose, pay top executives a fixed salary only? (See this PubCo post.)

Similarly, as discussed in this PubCo post, a New Yorker columnist concurs with the contention that performance pay does not really work for CEOs because the types of tasks that a CEO performs, such as deep analysis or creative problem solving, are typically not susceptible to performance incentives: “paying someone ten million dollars isn’t going to make that person more creative or smarter.’” In addition, the argument goes, performance is often tied to goals that CEOs don’t really control, like stock price (see this PubCo post and this news brief).

Stock ownership guidelines

CII also encourages companies to maintain stock ownership guidelines that apply for at least one year post termination; executives “not in compliance should be barred from liquidating stock-based awards (beyond tax obligations) until satisfaction of the guideline.” For some companies it may even be appropriate to apply “a hold-to-departure requirement or hold-beyond-departure requirement for all stock-based awards held by the highest-level executives is an appropriate and workable commitment to long-termism. Other boards may consider such restrictions unnecessary to the extent that awards include extended vesting periods.”

Clawbacks

Finally, CII advocates that boards have more discretion to invoke clawback policies. According to CII, clawbacks should apply, not only in the event of acts or omissions resulting in fraud or financial restatement, but also in the context of “some other cause the board believes warrants recovery, which may include personal misconduct or ethical lapses that cause, or could cause, material reputational harm to the company and its shareholders. Companies should disclose such policies and decisions to invoke their application.”

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 27 septembre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 27 septembre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « top ten »

 

  1. Stakeholder Governance—Some Legal Points
  2. Are Early Stage Investors Biased Against Women?
  3. The Effects of Shareholder Primacy, Publicness, and “Privateness” on Corporate Cultures
  4. The Fearless Boardroom
  5. Sustainability in Corporate Law
  6. 2019 ISS Global Policy Survey Results
  7. Taking Corporate Social Responsibility Seriously
  8. SEC Testimony: Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission: Wall Street’s Cop on the Beat
  9. Analysis of the Business Roundtable Statement
  10. Q2 2019 Gender Diversity Index

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 19 septembre 2019


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 19 septembre 2019.

Comme à l’habitude, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Top ten »

 

  1. Market Based Factors as Best Indicators of Fair Value
  2. ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings
  3. Is Your Board Accountable?
  4. 2019 Proxy Season Recap and 2020 Trends to Watch
  5. Trends in Executive Compensation
  6. Setting Directors’ Pay Under Delaware Law
  7. Words Speak Louder Without Actions
  8. Accounting Firms, Private Funds, and Auditor Independence Rules
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  10. Directors’ Duties in an Evolving Risk and Governance Landscape