Comment la COVID-19 affecte-t-elle la rémunération des PDG et des administrateurs ?


Voici un article très intéressant de Andrew Gordon (Equilar, inc.), David F. Larcker (Stanford University), et Courtney Yu (Equilar, inc.) qui analyse les effets de la pandémie sur les rémunérations globales de CEO et des membres des conseils d’administration.

Cet article a été publié sur le Forum en gouvernance de Harvard Law School.

Voici les conclusions et les questionnements des auteurs à la suite d’une étude très détaillée des grandes entreprises américaines. J’ai utilisé l’outil de traduction de google afin de vous présenter les résultats.

Indépendamment de la valeur des ajustements annuels de rémunération que les entreprises ont effectués, les PDG ont subi une perte de richesse considérable en raison de leur propriété directe dans les actions de l’entreprise.

Sharing the Pain: How Did Boards Adjust CEO Pay in Response to COVID-19

 

U.S. firms shield CEO pay as pandemic hits workers, investors | Reuters

 

Pourquoi est-ce important ?

À la suite du COVID-19, moins de 20 % des entreprises publiques ont choisi d’apporter des modifications à leurs programmes de rémunération des dirigeants et des administrateurs. Selon l’angle à travers lequel ces changements sont mesurés — changement de salaire, rémunération totale ou perte de richesse — cela peut être considéré comme un sacrifice relativement modeste ou une perte importante de valeur.

Quelle a été la souffrance économique du PDG type ? En général, cela indique-t-il le succès ou l’échec de la conception du programme de compensation ?

Les entreprises qui ont connu des difficultés économiques étaient beaucoup plus susceptibles de réduire la rémunération des PDG et des administrateurs que celles qui ne l’ont pas fait. Ces PDG ont-ils la responsabilité de placer leurs entreprises dans une position de risque plus élevé entraînant des pertes plus importantes, ou leurs difficultés économiques étaient-elles dues à des facteurs tels que l’exposition à l’industrie qui étaient hors du contrôle du PDG ?

Dans ce dernier cas, les PDG de ces entreprises devraient-ils recevoir à l’avenir des primes supplémentaires pour compenser leurs pertes ? Quelle est la bonne chose à faire d’un point de vue économique ? Une perspective sociétale ?

Les PDG bénéficient généralement d’environnements économiques positifs et de valorisations boursières globales en hausse.

Les PDG devraient-ils être à l’abri des inversions de ces mêmes facteurs ? Dans l’affirmative, quelles implications cette asymétrie a-t-elle sur les incitatifs des PDG ? Cela crée-t-il une condition dans laquelle le PDG bénéficie de tout événement exogène ?

Le concept d’ESG (environnemental, social et de gouvernance) se concentre sur le fait que les entreprises qui embrassent réellement leurs parties prenantes et investissent dans leurs besoins ont un risque plus faible et des performances plus élevées. On s’attend à ce que ces entreprises subissent moins de pertes économiques en cas de ralentissement et qu’elles « agissent correctement » par leurs employés. Cependant, nous n’avons trouvé aucune différence observable entre les scores ESG des entreprises qui ont volontairement réduit la rémunération des PDG/administrateurs et celles qui ne l’ont pas fait, malgré des différences de performance.

Nous n’avons pas non plus trouvé de différence dans les scores ESG selon qu’ils choisissent ou non de licencier des employés.

Qu’est-ce que cela dit sur notre capacité à mesurer avec précision l’ESG ? Les entreprises affichant des scores ESG plus favorables sont-elles réellement « meilleures » du point de vue des parties prenantes ?

L’article complet est disponible en téléchargement ici.

Bonne lecture !

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 24 septembre 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 10 septembre 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance Corporative au 10 septembre 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Voici un sommaire des thèmes abordés :

Diversité, communication avec les parties prenantes, leadership, ESG, Gestion des risques en temps de pandémie, rémunération en réponse à la COVID-19.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 3 septembre 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance Corporative au 3 septembre 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Voici un sommaire des thèmes abordés :

Objectifs des corporations, leadership, ESG, « Edge Fund », Gestion des risques en temps de pandémie, « CEO turnover », rémunération en réponse à la COVID-19.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 27 août 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 27 août 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Voici un sommaire des thèmes abordés : rémunération des CEO, stakeholders vs stockholders, ESG, horizon à long terme, risques de cybersécurité, un aperçu de la divulgation des résultats de la saison.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 20 août 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 20 août 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Voici les thèmes abordés : biais des gestionnaires, ESG, rémunération de la haute direction, théorie de l’actionnaire, resserrement des règles des firmes de conseil en votation, réunions virtuelles, réflexions sur les recommandations du Business Roundtable.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 15 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 13 août 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 30 juillet 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 23 juillet 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 16 juillet 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 9 juillet 2020


Comportements inadéquats d’un PDG lors des réunions du conseil d’administration


Voici un cas publié sur le site de Julie McLelland qui aborde une question de gouvernance relative aux comportements d’un PDG lors des réunions du conseil d’administration d’un OBNL.

Comme c’est souvent le cas, c’est un nouveau membre du CA qui a amorcé le questionnement sur la façon de se comporter du PDG lors des réunions.

Xuan, le nouvel administrateur, a constaté que le PDG voyageait souvent et qu’il n’y avait pas une politique de remboursement des frais le concernant.

Le fait d’aviser le président et de mettre cette question à l’ordre du jour a fait réagir fougueusement le PDG !

Xuan se demande comment il peut aider le président à trouver une issue à ce gâchis !

Le cas a d’abord été traduit en français en utilisant Google Chrome, puis, je l’ai édité et adapté. On y présente la situation de manière sommaire, puis trois experts se prononcent sur le cas.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont toujours les bienvenus.

Comportements inadéquats d’un PDG lors des réunions du conseil d’administration

 

Xuan a rejoint le conseil d’administration d’un organisme à but non lucratif (OBNL). Lors de sa première réunion, il a été stupéfait de l’attitude et du comportement du PDG ; celui-ci a tenté de diriger la réunion en disant aux administrateurs quand ils pouvaient parler, quand ils en avaient suffisamment discuté, et quel devait être le résultat ou la décision. Xuan a parlé au président après la réunion et ils ont convenu que ce n’était pas acceptable.

Xuan a rejoint le comité d’audit. Le PDG n’a pas assisté à la réunion du comité alors qu’il avait été invité. Le personnel ne savait pas où se trouvait le PDG et a laissé entendre qu’il était peut-être en voyage, car il voyageait « beaucoup ». Encore une fois, Xuan a discuté de la question avec le président et a découvert que le PDG voyageait fréquemment, réservait son propre voyage et réclamait des dépenses, que le directeur financier lui remboursait.

Pour la prochaine réunion du conseil d’administration, Xuan a préparé un document recommandant une politique de voyage comprenant des autorisations avant les réservations et l’approbation des remboursements par le président. Les déplacements et les remboursements du chef de la direction devaient être approuvés par le président et déposés pour information à la prochaine réunion du conseil.

Le document sur la politique des frais de voyages n’était pas dans le dossier envoyé avant la réunion. La discussion n’était pas non plus à l’ordre du jour. Xuan a de nouveau avisé le président qui lui a dit qu’il soulèverait la question avec le PDG. Deux heures plus tard, le PDG envoyait un courriel au conseil d’administration disant qu’il « démissionnait avec effet immédiat ». Au cours des prochaines heures, les administrateurs se sont envoyé des courriels et ils ont convenu qu’ils souhaitaient accepter la démission.

Le président a répondu en acceptant poliment la démission et en demandant une réunion pour discuter des détails administratifs. Le PDG a répondu qu’il était revenu sur sa décision de démission, estimant que le conseil d’administration minait son autorité. Celui-ci voulait être réintégré ou licencié avec les « avantages appropriés ».

Xuan n’a aucune formation en RH ou en droit. Comment peut-il aider la présidence à trouver une bonne solution à ce gâchis ?

Iain’s Answer

Hi Xuan,

Whew. You’ve walked into a wild party. I wish I could say it was unprecedented, but it’s not.  I’ve known more than one CEO who thought their job was to run the board. Others try to manipulate the board more subtly for their own ends. It won’t do.

There is a clear line of responsibility, by which the board is responsible to the shareholders (or the members of a non-profit association) for the good governance of the organisation.  One of the ways the board undertakes that role is by appointing, monitoring, and if necessary replacing, a CEO. To travel at the organisation’s expense without accountability is pretty flagrant, and your paper proposing proper accountability around this issue is quite appropriate. It is inexcusable that your proposal was dropped from the board papers without discussion.

A resignation cannot be retracted except by mutual agreement, and in your case the board had already agreed to accept the CEO’s resignation, and through its Chair had communicated this. You want to support your Chair.  It’s time to help him lance the boil and move on.  You can be a witness and backup when the Chair tells the CEO that there is no going back, the resignation has been accepted, and any amounts legally due to him on termination will be paid out.  Make sure there is good legal advice on exactly what should be said and paid.

Hold firm against any further bluster. And over the next few months the organisation will need stabilising, it will need a reliable acting CEO, and the board will need to find and engage the next CEO.  That’s a time of tension and high workload for your Chair.

When it’s all done, put it behind you and turn to face the future. Good luck.

Iain Massey is CEO of South West Leaders and Upland Consulting, he is also Chairman of AICD’s South West Regional Committee and Chairman of the Board of Forrest Personnel. He is based near Bunbury, in the south west of Western Australia.

Julie’s Answer

Xuan does not need an HR background to recognise that something is horribly wrong between this board and its CEO. The whole board should provide CEO oversight and Xuan can expect help from his board colleagues. His (quite correct) instinct to use policies to control expenditure may have triggered this incident but he is not responsible; this is not just for him and the Chair to resolve.

This could get nasty and Xuan must ensure emotion does not cause anyone to say or do something unhelpful. First the board should delegate the matter to a committee. They should get copies of the CEO’s contract, last performance review, and a list of all travel taken in the last year or two with the costs, destinations, duration, and purpose of trip. If there was a travel policy or prior agreement about travel the board should also get that.

Concurrent with getting this information they should appoint a specialist employment lawyer. This is important, even if the board has HR skills, or if the company has a senior HR manager; they need impartial expert advice.

All my experience tells me that the board should part company with this CEO. It may be cheaper to accept retraction of the resignation and then terminate for cause. It may be less disruptive to accept resignation rather than an accusatorial termination. The lawyer will help plot the best course.

An interim CEO may be appointed while the board begins a search for a permanent solution. The board should consider getting training to raise their skills in CEO oversight.

Julie Garland McLellan is a non-executive director and board consultant based in Sydney, Australia.

Richard’s Answer


The CEO resigning is the best thing that happened to the not for profit. The Board should not entertain any reversal of the CEO’s resignation whatsoever.

The Board needs to act swiftly and decisively. A protracted affair has the potential to harm the reputation of the not for profit, demoralise staff and ultimately be very expensive.

Given that the CEO is making allegations and demands Xuan should recommend that the Chairman engage an employment lawyer to guide the board as to their legal position and what they should do next to minimise any potential harm.

At the same time, the Board should instruct the CFO to investigate the CEO’s travel and all other expenditure for at least a couple of financial years. Sounds like the CEO may have something to hide and could be in breach of their contractual and other fiduciary obligations. The findings must be shared with the employment lawyer.

Once this matter is resolved the Board must take a deep and hard look at itself and consider why they let the CEO behave so inappropriately for so long.  At the same time, the Board will need to revisit the NFP’s policies and procedures playbook to ensure that money and time being spent by all staff is directed exclusively to furthering the mission of the NFP.

Finally, the Board must give careful consideration as to the attributes of their next CEO and how the hiring process should be conducted (from defining the position through to background verification) so that mistakes of making a bad hire are not repeated.

Richard Sterling is a Director of AltoPartners Australia. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 25 juin 2020


Conseils d’administration français | Plus de femmes, mais toujours aussi peu de jeunes


Voici un article d’intérêt pour les personnes intéressées par l’évolution en matière de gouvernance, publié sur le site de

The Conversation

Bonne lecture !

 

Conseils d’administration : plus de femmes, mais toujours aussi peu de jeunes

 

 

La diversité de genre est devenue naturelle dans les conseils d’administration du SBF 120, mais la diversité en matière d’âge reste limitée et l’ouverture des conseils d’administration aux 40 ans et moins demeure une exception (10 % des élus).

C’est ce qui ressort des statistiques établies après les assemblées générales 2020 du baromètre de la diversité dans les conseils d’administration publié chaque année depuis 2014 par Burgundy School of Business (BSB).

Une diversité de genre entrée dans les pratiques

Trois ans après la mise en place du quota de 40 % prévu par la loi Copé-Zimmermann, pratiquement la moitié des administrateurs nommés dans les sociétés françaises du SBF 120 aux AG 2020 sont en effet des femmes. Le SBF 120 est composé des 40 valeurs du CAC 40 et de 80 valeurs parmi les 200 premières capitalisations boursières françaises. Même si la proportion est moindre, les recrutements ont également été féminins pour 36 % dans les sociétés étrangères du SBF 120.

Évolution du % de femmes dans les conseils d’administration depuis la promulgation de la loi Copé-Zimmermann. baromètre BSB

La part des femmes dans les conseils d’administration se stabilise à 45,2 %.

Profils des femmes et hommes nommés en 2020 au sein des conseils d’administration. baromètre BSB

Les résultats confirment en outre la convergence des profils entre hommes et femmes que nous avions relevée en 2019. Les caractéristiques dominantes sont les mêmes chez les hommes et chez les femmes nouvellement nommés : formation en gestion (65 %), expérience de direction (directeurs, membres du comité exécutif : 66 %), expérience internationale (66 %), expérience en finance (53 %) et expérience comme administrateur(trice) d’autres sociétés cotées (60 %).

Par ailleurs, l’influence des réseaux sur le recrutement se renforce. Les administrateurs nommés aux assemblées générales de 2020 sont pour 44 % d’entre eux diplômés d’une école d’élite (contre 40 % en 2019), et 21 % ont une expérience en ministère (18 % en 2019). Après avoir connu une baisse de 2014 à 2017, les statistiques sont en augmentation pour les femmes comme pour les hommes. Les réseaux d’administrateurs sont également très influents avec 60 % des nouveaux nommés ayant ou ayant eu au moins un mandat dans une autre société cotée.

Évolution de la part des administrateurs et administratrices nouvellement nommés dont le recrutement est lié à l’influence des réseaux. baromètre BSB

Alors que les réseaux d’administrateurs étaient très masculins, ils se sont ouverts aux femmes avec la loi Copé-Zimmermann et les nouvelles administratrices sont même plus nombreuses en proportion à avoir cette expérience : 63 % contre 58 % pour les hommes.

Un âge moyen qui reste à 54 ans

 

En revanche, la diversité en matière d’âge reste limitée et l’ouverture des conseils d’administration aux 40 ans et moins reste une exception (10 % des élus).

Le code de gouvernement des entreprises cotées de l’Afep-Medef, actualisé en janvier 2020, suggère pourtant aux conseils « de s’interroger sur l’équilibre souhaitable de sa composition en matière de diversité (représentation des femmes et des hommes, nationalités, âge, qualifications et expériences professionnelles, etc.) ».

Répartition des nouveaux administrateurs (hommes et femmes) en fonction de l’âge. BSB

Plusieurs freins ont été identifiés : influence des réseaux d’administrateurs, les jeunes n’étant pas encore dans ces réseaux, crainte du manque de connaissances et d’expériences des candidats plus jeunes, d’une intégration et d’une cohésion avec le groupe qui seraient plus délicates.

Les études montrent pourtant que leurs apports pourraient être multiples : représentants d’une partie des consommateurs et au fait des enjeux de la société de demain, notamment ceux liés à la transformation numérique, ils favoriseraient l’innovation grâce à l’élargissement de la gamme des choix et des solutions lors des décisions stratégiques. La mixité d’âge faciliterait en outre la transmission de savoir entre les générations.

Peut-être faudra-t-il légiférer comme au Québec pour que le recrutement des administrateurs évolue en matière d’âge. Avec la loi 693 adoptée en 2016, les sociétés d’État québécoises devront, à compter de 2021, avoir une personne âgée de moins de 35 ans au sein de leur conseil d’administration.

D’autres pistes peuvent être suggérées pour plus de mixité d’âge : davantage informer et former aux mandats d’administrateurs dans l’enseignement supérieur, ou encore mettre en place des interfaces entre jeunes cadres et conseils d’administration telles que des plates-formes de recrutement et de candidatures.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 4 juin 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 28 mai 2020


Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 21 mai 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 21 mai 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 7 mai 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 7 mai 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

 

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 16 avril 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 16 avril 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

 

Dix éléments majeurs à considérer par les administrateurs en temps de COVID-19


Voici dix éléments qui doivent être pris en considération au moment où toutes les entreprises sont préoccupées par la crise du COVID-19.

Cet article très poussé a été publié sur le forum du Harvard Law School of Corporate Governance hier.

Les juristes Holly J. Gregory et Claire Holland, de la firme Sidley Austin font un tour d’horizon exhaustif des principales considérations de gouvernance auxquelles les conseils d’administration risquent d’être confrontés durant cette période d’incertitude.

Je vous souhaite bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

Ten Considerations for Boards of Directors

 

Boards and Crisis Infographic

 

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents complex issues for corporations and their boards of directors to navigate. This briefing is intended to provide a high-level overview of the types of issues that boards of directors of both public and private companies may find relevant to focus on in the current environment.

Corporate management bears the day-to-day responsibility for managing the corporation’s response to the pandemic. The board’s role is one of oversight, which requires monitoring management activity, assessing whether management is taking appropriate action and providing additional guidance and direction to the extent that the board determines is prudent. Staying well-informed of developments within the corporation as well as the rapidly changing situation provides the foundation for board effectiveness.

We highlight below some key areas of focus for boards as this unprecedented public health crisis and its impact on the business and economic environment rapidly evolves.

 

1. Health and Safety

 

With management, set a tone at the top through communications and policies designed to protect employee wellbeing and act responsibly to slow the spread of COVID-19. Monitor management’s efforts to support containment of COVID-19 and thereby protect the personal health and safety of employees (and their families), customers, business partners and the public at large. Consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.

 

2. Operational and Risk Oversight

 

Monitor management’s efforts to identify, prioritize and manage potentially significant risks to business operations, including through more regular updates from management between regularly scheduled board meetings. Depending on the nature of the risk impact, this may be a role for the audit or risk committee or may be more appropriately undertaken by the full board. Document the board’s consideration of, and decisions regarding, COVID-19-related matters in meeting minutes. Maintain a focus on oversight of compliance risks, especially at highly regulated companies. Watch for vulnerabilities caused by the outbreak that may increase the risk of a cybersecurity breach.

 

3. Business Continuity

 

Consider whether business continuity plans are in place appropriate to the potential risks of disruption identified, including through a discussion with management of relevant contingencies, and continually reassess the adequacy of the plans in light of developments. Key issues to consider include:

  • Employee/Talent Disruption. As more employees begin working remotely or are unable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, continually assess what minimum staffing levels and remote work technology will be required to maintain operations. (Also, as noted above, consider how to mitigate the economic impact of absences due to illness as well as closures of certain operations on employees.)
  • Supply Chain and Production Disruption. Review with management the risks that a disruption in the supply chain will cause interruptions in operations and how to protect against such risks, including the availability of alternate sources of supply. Ask management to assess the risks that the company will have difficulty in fulfilling its contractual obligations and how management is preparing to address those risks, including through review of relevant provisions in customer contracts (e.g., force majeure, events of default and termination) to determine what recourse is available.
  • Financial Impact and Liquidity. Review with management the near-term and longer term financial impact (including the ability to meet obligations) of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related impact of the extreme volatility in the financial markets. Understand the assumptions underlying management’s assessment and discuss the likely outcome if those assumptions prove incorrect. Consider the need to seek additional financing or amend the terms of existing debt arrangements.
  • Internal Controls and Audit Function. Consider whether COVID-19 may have an impact on the functioning of internal controls and audit. For publicly-traded companies, remember that any material changes in internal control over financial reporting will require disclosure in the next periodic report.
  • Recent Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance: In a March 4, 2020 press release, SEC Chair Jay Clayton urged companies to work with their audit committees and auditors to ensure that their financial reporting, auditing and review processes are sufficiently robust to enable them to meet their obligations under the federal securities laws in the current environment.
  • Key Person Risks and Emergency Succession Plans. Consider whether an up-to-date emergency succession plan is in place that identifies a person who can step in immediately as interim CEO in the event the CEO contracts COVID-19. Consider the need to implement similar plans for other key persons.
  • Incentives. Consider whether incentive plans need to be reworked in light of the circumstances, to ensure that appropriate behaviors are encouraged. Consider delaying setting incentive plan goals until the uncertainty has subsided or try to build in flexibility with respect to any goals set.
  • Board/Governance Continuity. Consider whether the board is appropriately positioned to provide guidance and oversight as the COVID-19 threat expands. Consider scheduling in advance special board meetings and/or information conference calls over the next three to four months, which can be cancelled if not needed. Decide whether to replace in-person meetings with conference calls to help limit the threat of contagion. Consider whether contingencies are in place if a board quorum is not available. Continue to meet regularly in executive session to discuss assessment of how management is managing the crisis.

 

4. Crisis Management

 

During this turbulent time, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders will look to boards to take swift and decisive action when necessary. Consider whether an up-to-date crisis management plan is in place and effective. A well-designed plan will assist the company to react appropriately, without either under- or over-reacting. Elements of an effective crisis management plan include:

  • Cross-Functional Team. Crisis response teams typically include key individuals from management, public relations, human resources, legal and finance. Identify these individuals now and begin meeting so that they are prepared to respond quickly as the crisis develops. The team should be in regular contact with the board (or a designated board member or committee) as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
  • Quick and Decisive Deployment. The plan should include crisis response procedures, communications templates, checklists and manuals that can be readily adapted to a variety of situations for effective, time-critical and agile deployment. The crisis response team should be familiar with the elements of the plan and ready to implement it at a moment’s notice.
  • Contingency Plans. A crisis is inherently unpredictable. However, the company should endeavor to anticipate all potential crises to which it is vulnerable and develop contingency plans to deal with those crises to minimize on-the-fly decision-making.
  • Examples of scenarios to prepare for: What will our response be if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the company? How will we notify employees of a confirmed case and what privacy implications do we need to consider? What planning (e.g., IT training) is required if we need to mandate that our employees work remotely?
  • Thoughtful Communications. The board should oversee the company’s communication strategy. Clear communication and planning within the crisis response team will allow the company to communicate internally and externally in a calm and thoughtful manner, which will help build confidence during a volatile situation.

 

5. Oversight of Public Reporting and Disclosure for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

Companies must consider whether they are making sufficient public disclosures about the actual and expected impacts of COVID-19 on their business and financial condition. The level of disclosure required will depend on many factors, such as whether a company has significant operations in China or is in a highly affected industry (e.g., airlines and hospitality companies). In any event, boards should monitor to ensure that corporate disclosures are accurate and complete and reflect the changing circumstances.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and changing by the day, the SEC acknowledges that it is challenging to provide accurate information about the impact it could have on future operations.

Recent SEC guidance: “We recognize that [the current and potential effects of COVID-19] may be difficult to assess or predict with meaningful precision both generally and as an industry- or issuer-specific basis.” Statement by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on January 30, 2020.

  • Earnings Guidance. Consider whether previously issued earnings guidance should be downgraded to reflect the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 and, if so, how to describe the reason for the revision. Due to the current unpredictability of COVID-19’s impact, consider withdrawing previously-issued earnings guidance altogether or refraining from issuing guidance in the near term.
  • Risk Factor Disclosure. Consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may require additions or revisions to risk factor disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “We also remind all companies to provide investors with insight regarding their assessment of, and plans for addressing, material risks to their business and operations resulting from the coronavirus to the fullest extent practicable to keep investors and markets informed of material developments.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Potential topics for risk factor disclosure include:
      • Disruptions to business operations whether from travel restrictions, mandated quarantines or voluntary “social distancing” that affects employees, customers and suppliers, production delays, closures of manufacturing facilities, warehouses and logistics supply and distribution chains and staffing shortages
      • Uncertainty regarding global macroeconomic conditions, particularly the uncertainty related to the duration and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and related decreases in customer demand and spending
      • Credit and liquidity risk, loan defaults and covenant breaches
      • Inventory writedowns and impairment losses
      • Ensure that risk factor disclosure is consistent with the board’s conversations with management about material risks.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “One analytical tool to evaluate disclosure in this context is to consider how management discusses … risks with its board of directors. Obviously not all discussions between management and the board are appropriate for disclosure in public filings, but there should not be material gaps between how the board is briefed and how shareholders are informed.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • As always, risk factor disclosure should be specific to a company’s individual circumstances and avoid generic language. Finally, be careful not to describe a risk related to COVID-19 as hypothetical if it has actually occurred.
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A). Consider whether the actual or likely impact of COVID-19 on a company’s business (including its supply chain), financial condition, liquidity, results of operations and/or prospects would be deemed material to an investment decision in the company’s securities and require disclosure. Consider whether the impact or potential impact of COVID-19 on the company is a “known trend or uncertainty” requiring disclosure in the MD&A of the next periodic report. Tailor any MD&A disclosures to the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s business in particular. Consider whether disclosures appropriately address the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on future results of operations.
  • Subsequent Events. A joint statement by SEC and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) leadership on February 19, 2020 specific to COVID-19 reporting considerations encouraged companies to consider the need to potentially disclose subsequent events in the notes to the financial statements in accordance with guidance included in Accounting Standards Codification 855, Subsequent Events.
  • Forward-Looking Statements. Consider whether the company’s forward-looking statement disclaimer language adequately protects the company for statements it makes regarding the expected impacts of COVID-19. It should be specific and consistent with updates made to the risk factors and other public disclosures.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Companies providing forward-looking information in an effort to keep investors informed about material developments, including known trends or uncertainties regarding the coronavirus, can take steps to avail themselves of the safe harbor in Section 21E of the Exchange Act for this information.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Updates. Consider whether prior disclosures should be revised to ensure they are accurate and complete. While there is no express duty to update a forward-looking statement, courts are divided as to whether a duty to update exists for a forward-looking statement that becomes inaccurate or misleading after the passage of time (from the perspective of claim under Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5).
  • Recent SEC guidance: “Depending on a company’s particular circumstances, it should consider whether it may need to revisit, refresh, or update previous disclosure to the extent that the information becomes materially inaccurate.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Proxy Statements. Given the SEC’s emphasis on discussion of how boards oversee the management of material risks, consider expanding the proxy statement disclosure of board oversight of COVID-19-related risks where material to the business. 5Recent SEC guidance: “To the extent a matter presents a material risk to a company’s business, the company’s disclosure should discuss the nature of the board’s role in overseeing the management of that risk. The Commission last noted this in the context of cybersecurity, when it stated that disclosure about a company’s risk management program and how the board engages with the company on cybersecurity risk management allows investors to better assess how the board is discharging its risk oversight function. Parallels may be drawn to other areas where companies face emerging or uncertain risks, so companies may find this guidance useful when preparing disclosures about the ways in which the board manages risks, such as those related to sustainability or other matters.” Statement by SEC Director, Division of Corporation Finance William Hinman on March 15, 2019.
  • Also, consider cautioning stockholders that the annual meeting date and logistics are subject to change.
  • Current Reports. Consider the need to file a Form 8-K for material developments such as if the CEO or another key person or a significant portion of the workforce contracts COVID-19.
  • Conditional Filing Relief. Companies that anticipate filing delays due to COVID-19 should consider taking advantage of the SEC’s March 4, 2020 order granting an additional 45 days to meet Exchange Act reporting obligations for reports due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

6. Compliance with Insider Trading Restrictions and Regulation FD for Publicly-Traded Companies

 

  • Insider Trading. Closely monitor and consider further restricting trading in company securities by insiders who may have access to material nonpublic information related to COVID-19 impacts (e.g., by requiring additional training, imposing blackout periods or enhancing preclearance procedures).
  • Recent SEC guidance: If a company “become[s] aware of a risk related to the coronavirus that would be material to its investors, it should refrain from engaging in securities transactions with the public and … take steps to prevent directors and officers (and other corporate insiders who are aware of these matters) from initiating such transactions until investors have been appropriately informed about the risk.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.
  • Carefully consider whether the company should potentially buy back stock to take advantage of significantly depressed stock prices.
  • Regulation FD. Be mindful of Regulation FD requirements, particularly if sharing information related to the impact of COVID-19 with customers and other stakeholders.
  • Recent SEC guidance: “When companies do disclose material information related to the impacts of the coronavirus, they are reminded to take the necessary steps to avoid selective disclosures and to disseminate such information broadly.” SEC March 4, 2020 press release.

 

7. Annual Shareholder Meeting

 

With the Center for Disease Control recommending that gatherings of 50 or more persons be avoided to assist in containment of the virus, consider with management whether to hold a virtual-only shareholders meeting or a hybrid meeting that permits both in-person and online attendance. Public companies that are considering changing the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting, including a switch from an in-person meeting to a virtual or hybrid meeting, will need to review applicable requirements under state law, stock exchange rules and the company’s charter and bylaws. Companies that change the date, time and/or location of an annual meeting should comply with the March 13, 2020 guidance issued by the Staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance and the Division of Investment Management. See the Sidley Update available here for more details.

 

8. Shareholder Relations

 

Activism and Hostile Situations. Continue to ensure communication with, and stay attuned to the concerns of, significant shareholders, while monitoring for changes in stock ownership. Capital redemptions at small- and mid-sized funds may lead to fewer shareholder activism campaigns and proxy contests in the next several months. However, expect well-capitalized activists to exploit the enhanced vulnerability of target companies. The same applies to unsolicited takeovers bids by well-capitalized strategic buyers. If they have not already done so, boards should update or activate defense preparation plans, including by identifying special proxy fight counsel, reviewing structural defenses, putting a poison pill “on the shelf” and developing a “break the glass” communications plan.

 

9. Strategic Opportunities

 

Consider with management whether and if so where opportunities are likely to emerge that are aligned with the corporation’s strategy, for example, opportunities to fulfill an unmet need occasioned by the pandemic or opportunities for growth through distressed M&A.

 

10. Aftermath

 

Consider with management whether the changes in behavior occasioned by the pandemic will have any potential lasting effects, for example on employee and consumer behavior and expectations. Also, be prepared when the crisis abates to assess the corporation’s handling of the situation and identify “lessons learned” and actionable ideas for improvement.