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.

Guide des administrateurs 2020 | Deloitte


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

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

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

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

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

Guide des administrateurs 2020

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


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

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

Bonne lecture !

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Huit constats qui reflètent la mouvance de la gouvernance des sociétés


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

Corporate Purpose and Culture

 

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BlackRock’s Annual Letter

 

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

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

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

Corporate Purpose

 

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Culture

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion—A Sea Change?

 

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

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


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

Le modèle de gouvernance canadien donne la primauté aux Stakeholders | Le modèle de Wall Street donne la primauté aux actionnaires !


Shareholder Governance, “Wall Street” and the View from Canada

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The Business Roundtable, a group of executives of major corporations in the United States, recently released a statement on the purpose of a corporation that reflects a shift from shareholder primacy to a commitment to all stakeholders. While the statement seems radical to some, it is consistent with recent Canadian corporate law. Boards of directors in Canada have had to make decisions incorporating the concepts expressed in the Business Roundtable statement for over a decade.

The primary concern expressed by those opposed to a shift from shareholder primacy is that it undercuts managerial accountability, thereby resulting in increased agency costs and undermining the overall effectiveness and efficiency of corporations. The experience in Canada suggests such concerns are largely overblown.

A stakeholder-based governance model rejects the idea that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. Instead, a stakeholder-based governance model requires the consideration of various stakeholder groups to inform directors as to what is in the best interest of the corporation.

The move to a stakeholder-based governance model is largely the result of general dissatisfaction with the shareholder primacy model, under which:

    • Management and boards felt intense pressure to focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term success;
    • Communities and workers often felt ignored or abandoned;
    • Customers felt unsatisfied with product quality and customer service;
    • And suppliers felt threatened and pressured to drive down costs, even if doing so requires reducing quality or moving offshore.

Indeed, the introduction of the statement by the Business Roundtable provides that:

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Put differently, a stakeholder model reflects a rejection of the Gordon Gekko ethos from the 1987 movie “Wall Street” that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

The 2008 Supreme Court of Canada decision in BCE Inc. v 1976 Debentureholders rejected Revlon duties to maximize shareholder value in connection with a change of control transaction. In its decision, the court specifically provided that “the fiduciary duty of the directors to the corporation originated in common law. It is a duty to act in the best interests of the corporation. Often the interests of shareholders and stakeholders are co-extensive with the interests of the corporation. But if they conflict, the directors’ duty is clear—it is to the corporation.”

The thinking in the BCE decision has now been reflected in Canada’s federal corporate statute, which provides that that, when acting with a view to the best interests of the corporation, directors may consider, without limitation, the interests of shareholders, employees, retirees and pensioners, creditors, consumers and governments; the environment; and the long-term interests of the corporation.

At its most basic level, the move away from shareholder primacy better reflects the history and animating principles of corporate law, which establish that a corporation is a separate legal person and its shareholders are not owners of its assets per se, but investors with certain contractual and statutory rights (including a right to elect directors and a residual claim on the assets). That distinction―that shareholders are not owners in the classic sense―is of fundamental importance and gets to the heart of corporate governance and the role of boards. Indeed, the seminal work of Berle and Means, which has influenced a generation of corporate governance scholars, is focused exactly on the separation of ownership and control.

When the BCE decision first came out in Canada some expressed concern that a focus on the corporation provides no meaningful guidance for boards of directors. That concern has not manifested itself. The experience of advising boards following BCE has not been one of confusion or uncertainty―that’s not to say decisions are easy, but well-advised boards of directors understand and act in accordance with their fiduciary duties as expressed by BCE.

It is also worth pointing out that a singular focus on shareholders does not provide clear guidance to boards of directors. In a modern public company, shareholders come and go, each with their own investment criteria and objectives.

As a practical matter, in Canada, a stakeholder model allows directors to exercise their business judgment to consider the interests of stakeholders, to the extent those directors have an informed basis for believing that doing so will contribute to the long-term success and value of the corporation. However, in the context of a change of control transaction, much of the focus rightly remains on what consideration shareholders will receive.

As long as directors fulfill their duties of loyalty and due care when considering the interests and reasonable expectations of the corporation’s stakeholders, the business judgment rule protects Canadian directors from liability. Minutes of meetings should reflect, where appropriate, that directors considered such factors as reputation of the corporation, legal and regulatory risk, investments in employees, the environment and any other matter that could affect the success or value of the corporation.

Other factors that help address concerns of those who fear a stakeholder-based governance system is that the market for corporate control remains healthy and, since Canadian securities law does not permit a “just say no” defense, the threat of an unsolicited offer being made directly to shareholders is always present. In addition, product markets and reputational pressures also provide meaningful incentives to promote responsible and disciplined management. And perhaps most important, shareholders retain their most basic and powerful right in the stakeholder model: they elect the board of directors and can change the board if they are dissatisfied with its performance.

So, to our friends in the United States, we encourage you to consider the experience here in Canada before concluding that the ideas put forth by the Business Roundtable will undermine the effectiveness of your public corporations.

Top 10 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 13 février 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 13 février 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai choisi dix billets d’intérêt. Il y a plusieurs rapports sur la gouvernance qui sont publiés en début d’année.

J’ai relevé les dix principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Top 10 predictions for Thailand 2020 | The Thaiger
  1. 2020 Governance Outlook
  2. Private Equity—Year in Review and 2020 Outlook
  3. Strengthening the Board’s Effectiveness in 2020: A Framework for Board Evaluations
  4. Leading Boards Rethinking Strategy and Enabling Innovation
  5. Year in Review: Delaware Corporate Law and Litigation
  6. Accelerating ESG Disclosure—World Economic Forum Task Force
  7. S&P 500 CEO Compensation Increase Trends
  8. Core Principles of Exculpation and Director Independence
  9. Let’s Get Concrete About Stakeholder Capitalism
  10. Technology and Life Science 2019 IPO Report

Top 15 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 6 février 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 6 février 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai choisi plusieurs billets d’intérêt. C’est normal, car c’est le début de l’année 2020 et il y a plusieurs rapports sur la gouvernance qui sont publiés à la fin du premier mois.

J’ai relevé les quinze principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "top 15"

 

 

  1. Navigating the ESG Landscape
  2. 2019 Year-End Securities Enforcement Update
  3. IAC Recommendation Concerning SEC Guidance and Rule Proposals on Proxy Advisors and Shareholder Proposals
  4. SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspection: Examination Priorities for 2020
  5. 2020 Compensation Committee Handbook
  6. Supreme Court Is Asked to Weaken the SEC’s Ability to “Make Things Right”: Amici Curiae Brief
  7. CEO Letter to Board Members Concerning 2020 Proxy Voting Agenda
  8. White-Collar and Regulatory Enforcement: What Mattered in 2019 and What to Expect in 2020
  9. Governance of Corporate Insider Equity Trades
  10. Confidential Treatment Applications and SEC Disclosure Guidance
  11. Advance Notice Bylaw and Activists Board Nominees
  12. The Economics of Shareholder Proposal Rules
  13. ISS Comment Letter on Amendments to Exemptions from the Proxy Rules for Proxy Voting Advice
  14. Glass Lewis Comment Letter to the SEC About Proposed Proxy Rules for Proxy Voting Advice
  15. The Economics of Regulating Proxy Advisors

 

Top 15 de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance au 30 janvier 2020


Voici le compte rendu hebdomadaire du forum de la Harvard Law School sur la gouvernance corporative au 30  janvier 2020.

Cette semaine, j’ai choisi plusieurs billets d’intérêt. C’est normal, car c’est le début de l’année 2020 et il y a plusieurs rapports sur la gouvernance qui sont publiés à la fin du premier mois.

J’ai relevé les quinze principaux billets.

Bonne lecture !

Image associée

 

  1. NACD Public Company Board Governance Survey
  2. Shareholder Activism in 2020: New Risks and Opportunities for Boards
  3. Making Corporate Social Responsibility Pay
  4. SEC Year-End Guidance
  5. Companies’ Anti-Fraternization Policies: Key Considerations
  6. S&P 1500 2019 Bonus Expectations and a Look to 2020
  7. Female Directors in California-Headquartered Public Companies
  8. Sustainability in the Spotlight
  9. ESG Performance and Disclosure: A Cross-Country Analysis
  10. Board Composition and Shareholder Proposals
  11. Challenging Times: The Hardening D&O Insurance Market
  12. Foundational Principles in an Evolving Governance Environment
  13. 2019 Sustainability Report
  14. Audit Committee Perspectives on Audit Quality and Assessment: A PCAOB Report
  15. 2019 Review of Shareholder Activism

 

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


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

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

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « governance 2020 »

 

 

  1. CalSTRS Green Initiative Task Force Annual Report
  2. Bernie Ebbers and Board Oversight of the Office of Legal Affairs
  3. Delaware Appraisal Decisions
  4. Corporate Culture: Evidence from the Field
  5. Into the Mainstream: ESG at the Tipping Point
  6. Eight Priorities for Boards in 2020
  7. Startup Governance
  8. ESG Matters
  9. Corporate Law for Good People
  10. Embracing the New Paradigm
  11. A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance

 

 

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


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

Je profite de l’occasion pour vous souhaiter une formidable année 2020 et la mise en place de pratiques exemplaires de gouvernance.

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

Bonne lecture !

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « 2020 »

 

  1. Institutional Trading around Corporate News: Evidence from Textual Analysis
  2. Managerial Control Benefits and Takeover Market Efficiency
  3. Public Company vs. JV Governance
  4. New Considerations for Special Litigation Committees
  5. Worker Representation on U.S. Corporate Boards
  6. Board-Shareholder Engagement Practices
  7. The Plight of Women in Positions of Corporate Leadership in the United States, the European Union, and Japan: Differing Laws and Cultures, Similar Issues
  8. Institutional Investment Mandates: Anchors for Long-term Performance
  9. NYSE Proposal for Primary Direct Listings
  10. A New Dataset of Historical States of Incorporation of U.S. Stocks 1994-2019

 

En rappel | 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 le 4 novembre 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.

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

Un nouveau paradigme consensuel en gouvernance | En rappel


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

The New Paradigm

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

La gouvernance de sociétés au Canada | Au delà de la théorie de l’agence


Les auteurs Imen Latrousa, Marc-André Morencyb, Salmata Ouedraogoc et Jeanne Simard, professeurs à l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, ont réalisé une publication d’une grande valeur pour les théoriciens de la gouvernance.

Vous trouverez, ci-dessous, un résumé de l’article paru dans la Revue Organisations et Territoires

Résumé

De nombreux chercheurs ont mis en évidence les aspects et conséquences discutables de certaines conceptions financières ou théories de l’organisation. C’est le cas de la théorie de l’agence, conception particulièrement influente depuis une quarantaine d’années, qui a pour effet de justifier une gouvernance de l’entreprise vouée à maximiser la valeur aux actionnaires au détriment des autres parties prenantes.

Cette idéologie de gouvernance justifie de rémunérer les managers, présumés négliger ordinairement les détenteurs d’actions, avec des stock-options, des salaires démesurés. Ce primat accordé à la valeur à court terme des actions relève d’une vision dans laquelle les raisons financières se voient attribuer un rôle prééminent dans la détermination des objectifs et des moyens d’action, de régulation et de dérégulation des entreprises. Cet article se propose de rappeler les éléments centraux de ce modèle de gouvernance et de voir quelles critiques lui sont adressées par des disciplines aussi diverses que l’économie, la finance, le droit et la sociologie.

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « théorie de l'agence »

 

Voir l’article ci-dessous :

La gouvernance d’entreprise au Canada : un domaine en transition

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


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

Les sujets touchent :

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

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

(3) compensation ; and

(4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.

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

Bonne lecture !

ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings

 

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

Summary

1. Board Composition/Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

2. Board/Capital Structure

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

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

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

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

3. Compensation

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

4. Climate Change Risk Oversight & Disclosure

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

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

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

 


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

Répertoire des articles en gouvernance publiés sur LinkedIn | En reprise


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

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

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

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

 

Liste des 10 articles publiés à ce jour en 2019

 

Image associée

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Manuel de saine gouvernance au Canada

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

9. Indice de diversité de genre | Equilar

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

 

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

 

Bonne lecture !

Les grandes firmes d’audit sont plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs mandats | En reprise


Voici un article publié par GAVIN HINKS pour le compte de Board Agenda qui montre que les grandes firmes d’audit sont de plus en plus susceptibles de démissionner lorsque les risques leur apparaissent trop élevés.

Les recherches indiquent que c’est particulièrement le cas au Royaume-Uni où l’on assiste à des poursuites plus fréquentes des Big Four. Ces firmes d’audit sont maintenant plus sélectives dans le choix de leurs clients.

Compte tenu de la situation oligopolistique des grandes firmes d’audit, devons-nous nous surprendre de ces décisions de retrait dans la nouvelle conjoncture de risque financier des entreprises britanniques ?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

Le comité d’audit des entreprises est interpellé publiquement lorsque l’auditeur soumet sa résignation. L’entreprise doit souvent gérer une crise médiatique afin de sauvegarder sa réputation.

Pour certains experts de la gouvernance, ces situations requirent des exigences de divulgation plus sévères. Les parties prenantes veulent connaître la nature des problèmes et des risques qui y sont associés.

Également, les administrateurs souhaitent connaître le plan d’action des dirigeants eu égard au travail et aux recommandations du comité d’audit

L’auteur donne beaucoup d’exemples sur les nouveaux comportements des Big Four.

Bonne lecture !

 

Auditor resignations indicate new attitude to client selection

 

 

auditor
Image: Shutterstock

 

The audit profession in Britain is at a turning point as Westminster—Brexit permitting—considers new regulation.

It seems firms may be responding by clearing the decks: the press has spotted a spate of high-profile auditor resignations with audit firms bidding farewell to a clutch of major clients. This includes firms outside the Big Four, such as Grant Thornton, which recently said sayonara to Sports Direct, the retail chain, embroiled in running arguments over its governance.

But Grant Thornton is not alone. KPMG has parted ways with Eddie Stobart, a haulage firm, and Lycamobile, a telecommunications company. PwC meanwhile has said goodbye to Staffline, a recruitment business.

Should we be surprised?

The answer is not really. Over recent years auditors, especially the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) have faced consistent criticism for their work—complaints that they control too much of the market for big company audit and that audit quality is not what it should be.

This came to a head in December 2017 with the collapse of construction and contracting giant Carillion, audited by KPMG. The event prompted a parliamentary inquiry followed by government-ordered reviews of the audit market and regulation.

An examination of the watchdog for audit and financial reporting, the Financial Reporting Council, has resulted in the creation of a brand new regulatory body; a look at the audit market resulted in recommendations that firms separate their audit businesses from other services they provide. A current look at the quality and scope of audit, the Brydon review, will doubtless come up with its own recommendations when it reports later this year.

 

Client selection

 

While it is hard to obtain statistics, the press reports, as well as industry talk, indicate that auditors are becoming more picky about who they choose to work for.

According to Jonathan Hayward, a governance and audit expert with the consultancy Independent Audit, the first step in any risk management for an audit firm is client selection. He says the current environment in which auditors have become “tired of being beaten up” has caused a new “sensitivity” in which auditors may be choosing to be more assiduous in applying client filtering policies.

Application of these policies may have been soft in the past, as firms raced for market share, but perhaps also as they applied what Hayward calls the auditor’s “God complex”: the idea that their judgement must be definitive.

Psychological dispositions are arguable. What may be observed for certain is that the potential downsides are becoming clearer to audit chiefs. Fines meted out in recent times by a newly energised regulator facing replacement include the £5m (discounted to £3.5m) for KPMG for the firm’s work with the London branch of BNY Mellon. Deloitte faced a £6.5m fine (discounted to £4.2m) for its audit of Serco Geografix, an outsourcing business. Last year PwC faced a record breaking £10m penalty for its work on the audit of collapsed retailer BHS.

What those fines have brought home is the thin line auditors tread between profit and and huge costs if it goes wrong. That undermines the attractiveness of being in the audit market.

One expert to draw attention to the economics is Jim Peterson, a US lawyer who blogs on corporate law and has represented accountancy firms.

Highlighting Sports Direct’s need to find a replacement audit firm, Peterson notes Grant Thornton’s fee was £1.4m with an estimated profit of £200,000-£250,000.

“A projection from that figure would be hostage, however, to the doubtful assumption of no further developments,” Peterson writes.

“That is, the cost to address even a modest extension of necessary extra audit work, or a lawsuit or investigative inquiry—legal fees and diverted management time alone—would swamp any engagement profit within weeks.”

He adds: “And that’s without thinking of the potential fines or judgements. Could the revenue justify that risk? No fee can be set and charged that would protect an auditor in the fraught context of Sports Direct—simply impossible.”

Media attention

 

Auditor resignations are not without their own risks. Maggie McGhee, executive director, governance at ACCA, a professional body for accountants, points out that parting with a client can bring unpleasant public attention.

“If auditors use resignation more regularly in a bid to extract themselves from high-risk audits,” says McGhee, “then it is probable that there will be some media interest if issues are subsequently identified at the company. Questions arise, such as did the auditor do enough?”

But as, McGhee adds, resignation has to remain part of the auditor’s armoury, not least as part of maintaining their independence.

For non-executives on an audit committee, auditor resignation is a significant moment. With an important role in hiring an audit firm as well as oversight of company directors, their role will be to challenge management.

“The audit committee is critical in these circumstances,” says McGhee, “and it should take action to understand the circumstance and whether action is required.”

ACCA has told the Sir Donald Brydon review [examining audit quality] that greater disclosure is needed of “the communication and judgements” that pass between auditors and audit committees. McGhee says it would be particularly relevant in the case of auditor resignations.

There have been suggestions that Sir Donald is interested in resignations. ShareSoc and UKSA, bodies representing small shareholders, have called on Sir Donald to recommend that an a regulatory news service announcement be triggered by an auditor cutting ties.

A blog on ShareSoc’s website says: “It seems clear that there is a need to tighten the disclosure rules surrounding auditor resignations and dismissals.”

It seems likely Sir Donald will comment on resignations, though what his recommendations will be remains uncertain. What is clear is that recent behaviour has shone a light on auditor departures and questions are being asked. The need for answers is sure to remain.

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.

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*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).