Gouvernance fiduciaire et rôles des parties prenantes (stakeholders)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus !

 

Stakeholder Governance and the Fiduciary Duties of Directors

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Deux développements significatifs en gouvernance des sociétés


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

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « The Future of Shareholder Activism »

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complete article is available here.

________________________________________________________________

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

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


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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

 

Spotlight on Boards

 

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

 

 

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

 

Afin de satisfaire ces attentes, les entreprises publiques doivent :

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

 

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

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

 

OECD (2019), OECD Corporate Governance Factbook 2019

 

 

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

 

The corporate and market landscape

 

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

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

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

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

 

The corporate governance framework

 

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

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

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

 

The rights and equitable treatment of shareholders and key ownership functions

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The corporate board of directors

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mechanisms for flexibility and proportionality in corporate governance

 

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

The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Tendances observées eu égard à la diversité des conseils d’administration américains en 2019


L’article publié par Subodh Mishra, directrice générale de Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), paru sur le site du forum de Harvard Law School montre clairement que les tendances eu égard à la diversité des Boards américains sont remarquables.

Qu’entend-on par la diversité des conseils d’administration ?

  1. le taux de remplacement des administrateurs sur le conseil
  2. le pourcentage de femmes qui accèdent à des conseils
  3. la diversité ethnique sur les conseils
  4. le choix d’administrateurs dont les compétences ne sont pas majoritairement financières
  5. le taux de nouveaux administrateurs pouvant être considérés comme relativement jeune

 

L’étude indique que pour chacune de ces variables, les conseils d’administration américains font preuve d’une plus grande diversité, sauf pour l’âge des administrateurs qui continue de croître.

Je vous invite à prendre connaissance de cet article pour vous former une idée plus juste des tendances observées sur les conseils d’administration.

Je n’ai pas de données comparables au Canada, mais je crois que la tendance à l’accroissement de la diversité est similaire.

Bonne lecture !

 

U.S. Board Diversity Trends in 2019

 

 

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As the U.S. annual shareholder meeting season is coming to an end, we review the characteristics of newly appointed directors to reveal trends director in nominations. As of May 30, 2019, ISS has profiled the boards of 2,175 Russell 3000 companies (including the boards of 401 members of the S&P 500) with a general meeting of shareholders during the year. These figures represent approximately 75 percent of Russell 3000 companies that are expected to have a general meeting during the year. (A small portion of index constituents may not have a general meeting during a given calendar year due to mergers and acquisitions, new listings, or other extraordinary circumstances).

Based on our review of 19,791 directorships in the Russell 3000, we observe five major trends in new director appointments for 2019, as outlined below.

1. Board renewal rates continue to increase, as board refreshment, director qualifications, and board diversity remain high-priority issues for companies and investors.

2. The percentage of women joining boards reaches a new record high, with 45 percent of new Russell 3000 board seats filled by women in 2019 (compared to only 12 percent in 2008) and 19 percent of all Russell 3000 seats held by women.

3. Ethnic diversity also reached record highs, but has grown at a much slower rate, with approximately 10 percent of Russell 3000 directors currently belonging to an ethnic minority group, while 15 percent of new directors are ethnically diverse.

4. New director appointments focus on non-financial skillsets, with an increased proportion of directors having international experience, ESG expertise, and background in human resources.

5. The average director age continues to increase, as the appointment of younger directors is less frequent than in previous years, with only 7.2 percent of new directorships filled by directors younger than 45 years, compared to 11.5 percent of new directors in 2008.

Board Refreshment

 

After a decline in board renewal rates in the first years after the Great Recessions, boards began to add more new directors starting in 2012 and reached record numbers of board replenishment in 2017 and 2018, as a growing number of investors focused on board refreshment and board diversity. In 2019, the trend of board renewal continued, as we observe relatively higher rates of new director appointments as a percentage of all directorships compared to the beginning of the decade. But overall renewal rates are low. As of May 2019, only 5.3 percent of profiled Russell 3000 board directors were new to their boards, down from the record-high figure of 5.7 percent in 2018.

 

Proposals by Category

 

The surge in new director appointments observed in the past few years can be attributed to a greater emphasis on board gender diversity and board refreshment by many investors and companies. The percentage of companies introducing at least one new board member increased from 34.3 percent in 2018 to 35.6 percent this year. The percentage of companies introducing at least two new directors declined from 11.2 percent in 2018 to 10.2 percent in 2019, consistently above the 10-percent threshold along with the record-setting years of 2017 and 2018.

 

Proposals by Category

Gender Diversity

 

Gender diversity on boards accelerated further this year, breaking another record in terms of the percentage of new directors who are women. In the Russell 3000, 45 percent of new directors are women, up from 34 percent in 2018. Unlike previous years, when the percentage of new female directors was higher at large-capitalization companies, the high rate of new female directors—at almost parity—is consistent across all market segments. Several asset owners and asset managers had voting policies related to gender diversity prior to 2017. However, following State Street’s policy initiative to require at least one female director at every board in 2017, many more large investors have become more vocal about improving gender diversity on boards in the past two years, and many have introduced similar voting policies. We expect this trend to continue, as more investors are beginning to require more than the bare minimum of at least one woman on the board. Proxy advisors also introduced similar policies, with ISS’ policy to make adverse recommendation at all-male boards coming into effect in 2020.

But, more importantly, the push for gender diversity is no longer driven by shareholder engagement and voting only. New regulation in California mandates that all boards of companies headquartered in the state should have at least one woman on their boards in 2019, while at least three women board members are required by 2021 for boards with six members or more. Other states may follow suit, as New Jersey recently introduced legislation modeled after the California law, and Illinois is debating a bill that will require both gender and ethnic diversity on corporate boards.

Given the California mandate (affecting close to 700 public companies) and the continued focus by investors, it is no surprise that smaller firms, where gender diversity has been considerably lower compared to large companies, are revamping their efforts to improve gender diversity.

 

Proposals by Category

 

As a result of the record-setting recruitment of women on boards, 2019 saw the biggest jump in the overall gender diversity. The S&P 500 is well on its way of reaching 30 percent directorships held by women in the next couple of years, much earlier than we had predicted in the beginning of last year using a linear regression analysis. Obviously, female director recruitments has seen exponential growth in the past two years, which has accelerated the trend.

 

Proposals by Category

Ethnic Diversity

 

In 2019, we also see record number of ethnic minorities joining boards as new board members, with more than one-in-five new directorships being filled by non-Caucasian nominees at S&P 500, while approximately 15 percent of new board seats at all Russell 3000 companies are filled by minorities (the figure stands at 13 percent when excluding the S&P 500). As the discussion of diversity moves beyond gender, we may see the trend of higher minority representation on boards continue.

 

Proposals by Category

 

While the trend of increasing ethnic diversity on boards is visible, the rate of change is considerably slower than the trend in board gender diversity. Among board members whose race was identified, non-white Russell 3000 directors crossed the 10-percent threshold for the first time in 2019, compared to approximately 8 percent in 2008. These figures stand well below the proportion of non-White, non-Hispanic population in the U.S. of approximately 40 percent, according to the U.S. census bureau.

 

Proposals by Category

Director Skills

 

But diversity among new directors goes beyond gender and ethnicity. We observe a change in the skillsets disclosed by companies for new directors compared to incumbent directors. The rate of disclosure of skills is generally higher for new directors compared to directors who have served on boards for five years or more. Relative to tenure directors, we observe an increase in the percentage of new directors with expertise in technology (10 percentage points), sales (8 percentage points), international experience (8 percentage points), and strategic planning (6 percentage points). At the same time, we see a decrease in some traditional skills, such as financial and audit expertise, and CEO experience.

 

Proposals by Category

The increase in non-traditional skills becomes more pronounced when we look at the percentage difference in the frequency of each skill for new directors compared to directors with tenure of five years or more. Based on this analysis, international expertise, experience in corporate social responsibility, and human resources expertise all increase by more than 50 percent at new directors compared to their counterparts with tenure on the board of at least five years. As sustainability and corporate culture become focus items for many investors and companies, we expect this trend to continue. The percentage of “other” skills, which do not fall neatly in the established categories, also increases considerably. The list of skills that rank the lowest in terms of change compared to the tenured directors is telling of the increased emphasis in non-traditional skills: CFO experience, financial expertise, CEO experience, government experience, and audit expertise.

Proposals by Category

Age Diversity

 

U.S. boards are getting older. During the past twelve years, the average director age in the Russell 3000 has increased from 59.7 years in 2008 to 62.1 years in 2019. This trend becomes apparent when observing the age groups of newly appointed directors. In 2008, approximately 11.5 percent of new director were younger than 45 years, and this number has dropped to an all-time low of 7.2 percent in 2019. The percentage of newly appointed directors above the age of 67 has also been decreasing in the past five years reaching 6.5 percent in 2019, compared to its peak of 10.8 in 2014.

 

Proposals by Category

 

However, as incumbent directors stay on boards with the passing of time, the overall percentage of directors above the age of 67 years continues to increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 percent of all directorships in 2019, compared to 22.1 percent in 2008. We observe the opposite trend in relation to younger directors, whereby the proportion of directors younger than 45 years has dropped by almost 40 percent from 5.1 percent of directorships in 2008 to 3.2 of directorships in 2019.

 

Proposals by Category

The Changing Landscape for U.S. Boards

The U.S. is experiencing a significant shift in the composition of corporate boards, as the market expects companies to address a new set of challenges and their boards to better reflect developments in society. Board refreshment continues its upward trajectory in 2019, with higher rates of new directors compared to the beginning of the decade. While traditional skillsets remain paramount, we see a greater emphasis on non-financial skills, highlighting the need to focus on corporate culture, sustainability, and technology. At the same time, investors, companies, and regulators recognize the benefits of diversity, as we see record numbers of women and minorities on boards. Experience and qualifications appear more important than ever, which may explain the decline in younger directors in the past decade. These trends will likely continue, as investors continue to focus on board quality and governance as a foremost measure for protecting their investments and managing risk for sustainable growth.

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

Implementation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

On assiste à une grande résistance aux changements dans la composition des CA en 2018 !


Aujourd’hui, je vous invite à faire un bref tour d’horizon des pratiques des conseils d’administration dans les compagnies publiques américaines (S&P 500 and Russell 3000) au cours de la dernière année.

Cet article publié par Matteo Tonello, Directeur de la recherche  ESG du Conference Board, a été publié sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Il est notable que les pratiques des conseils d’administration n’aient pas évolué au même rythme que les changements dans les processus de gouvernance.

L’étude montre que la composition des conseils d’administration reste inchangée pour environ la moitié des entreprises cotées.

Cela laisse donc peu de place aux jeunes administrateurs de la relève puisque, lorsqu’il y a un poste vacant au sein d’un conseil, celui-ci est comblé par l’ajout d’un administrateur qui a déjà une longue expérience sur des conseils d’administration.

Parmi les résultats les plus concluants, je retiens les suivants :

  1. Directors are in for a long ride: their average tenure exceeds 10 years.
  2. Despite demand for more inclusiveness and a diverse array of skills, in their director selection companies continue to value prior board experience.
  3. Corporate boards remain quite inaccessible to younger generations of business leaders, with the highest number of directors under age 60 seen in new-economy sectors such as information technology and communications. 
  4. While progress on gender diversity of corporate directors is being reported, a staggering 20 percent of firms in the Russell 3000 index still have no female representatives on their board.
  5. Periodically evaluating director performance is critical to a more meritocratic and dynamic boardroom.
  6. Among smaller companies, staggered board structures also stand in the way of change

Pour plus d’information, je vous incite à lire le bref article qui suit.

Bonne lecture !

 

Corporate Board Practices in the S&P 500 and Russell 3000 | 2019 Edition

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « conseils d'administration »

 

According to a new report by The Conference Board and ESG data analytics firm ESGAUGE, in their 2018 SEC filings 50 percent of Russell 3000 companies and 43 percent of S&P 500 companies disclosed no change in the composition of their board of directors. More specifically, they neither added a new member to the board nor did they replace an existing member. In those cases where a replacement or addition did happen, it rarely affected more than one board seat. Only one-quarter of boards elected a first-time director who had never served on a public company board before.

These findings provide some important context to the current debate on gender diversity and board refreshment, underscoring the main reasons why progress remains slow: average director tenure continues to be quite extensive (at 10 years or longer), board seats rarely become vacant and, when a spot is available, it is often taken by a seasoned director rather than a newcomer with no prior board experience.

The study, Corporate Board Practices in the Russell 3000 and S&P 500: 2019 Edition, documents corporate governance trends and developments at 2,854 companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that filed their proxy statement in the January 1 to November 1, 2018 period and, as of January 2018, were included in the Russell 3000 Index. Data are based on disclosure included by companies in proxy statements and other periodic SEC reports as well as on other organizational and policy documents (charters, bylaws, board committee charters, and corporate governance principles) accessible through the EDGAR database and the investor relations section of corporate websites. For comparative purposes, data are compared with the S&P 500 index and segmented by 11 business sectors under the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS), five annual revenue groups, and three asset value groups.

The project was developed in collaboration with the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance (successor of the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi)), Debevoise & Plimpton and Russell Reynolds Associates. Part of The Conference Board ESG Intelligence suite of benchmarking products, the study continues the long-standing tradition of The Conference Board as a provider of comparative information on organizational policies and practices. The suite is available at www.conference-board.org/ESGintelligence

Corporate governance has undergone a profound transformation in the last two decades, as a result of the legislative and regulatory changes that have expanded director responsibilities as well as the rise of more vocal shareholders. Yet the composition of the board of directors has not changed as rapidly as other governance practices. To this day, many public company boards do not see any turnover that is not the result of retirement at the end of a fairly long tenure.

Other findings from the report illustrate the state of board practices, which may vary markedly depending on the size of the organization or its business industry:

Directors are in for a long ride: their average tenure exceeds 10 years. About one-fourth of Russell 3000 directors who step down do so after more than 15 years of service. The longest average board member tenures are seen in the financial (13.2 years), consumer staples (11.1 years), and real estate (11 years) industries.

Despite demand for more inclusiveness and a diverse array of skills, in their director selection companies continue to value prior board experience. Only a quarter of organizations elect a director who has never served on a public company board before. Companies with annual revenue of $20 billion or higher are twice as likely to elect two first-time directors as those with an annual turnover of $1 billion or less (7.3 percent versus 3.2 percent).

Corporate boards remain quite inaccessible to younger generations of business leaders, with the highest number of directors under age 60 seen in new-economy sectors such as information technology and communications. Only 10 percent of Russell 3000 directors and 6.3 percent of S&P 500 directors are aged 50 or younger, and in both indexes about one-fifth of board members are more than 70 years of age. These numbers show no change from those registered two years ago. Regarding data on the adoption of retirement policies based on age, only about one-fourth of Russell 3000 companies choose to use such policies to foster director turnover.

While progress on gender diversity of corporate directors is being reported, a staggering 20 percent of firms in the Russell 3000 index still have no female representatives on their board. Albeit still slow, progress has been steady in the last few years—a reflection of the increasing demand for diversity made by multiple stakeholders and policy groups: For example, the Every Other One initiative by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) of The Conference Board advocates for a system where every other corporate board seat vacated by a retiring board member should be filled by a woman, while retaining existing female directors. [1] However, even though women are elected as corporate directors in larger numbers than before, almost all board chair positions remain held by men (only 4.1 percent of Russell 3000 companies have a female board chair).

Periodically evaluating director performance is critical to a more meritocratic and dynamic boardroom. However, even though many board members consider the performance of at least one fellow director as suboptimal, in the Russell 3000 index, only 14.2 percent of companies disclose that the contribution of individual directors is reviewed annually.

Among smaller companies, staggered board structures also stand in the way of change. Almost 60 percent of firms with revenue under $1 billion continue to retain a classified board and hold annual elections only for one class of their directors, not all. And while just 9.5 percent of financial institutions with asset value of $100 billion or higher have director classes, the percentage rises to 44.1 for those with asset value under $10 billion.

Though declining in popularity, a simple plurality voting standard remains prevalent. This voting standard allows incumbents in uncontested elections to be re-elected to the board even if a majority of the shares were voted against them. In the Russell 3000, 51.5 percent of directors retain plurality voting.

Only 15.5 percent of the Russell 3000 companies have adopted some type of proxy access bylaws. Such bylaws allow qualified shareholders to include their own director nominees on the proxy ballot, alongside candidates proposed by management. In all other companies, shareholders that want to bring forward a different slate of nominees need to incur the expense of circulating their own proxy materials.

Endnotes

1Every Other One: A Status Update on Women on Boards, Policy Brief, The Conference Board, Committee for Economic Development (CED), November 14, 2016, https://www.ced.org/reports/every-other-one-more-women-on-corporate-boards(go back)

Un plan de fusion avorté entre deux OBNL


Voici un cas publié sur le site de Julie McLelland qui aborde un processus de fusion manqué entre deux OBNL dont la mission est de s’occuper de déficience.

C’est un bris de confiance dramatique qui se produit entre les deux organisations, et la plupart des organisations sont dépourvues lorsqu’une telle situation se présente.

Kalinda, la présidente du conseil d’administration, se pose beaucoup de questions sur l’éjection de deux de ses hauts dirigeants qui siégeaient au CA de l’entreprise ciblée.

Elle n’est pas certaine de la meilleure approche à adopter dans une telle situation et c’est la raison pour laquelle elle cherche les meilleures avenues pour l’organisation et pour les cadres déchus.

Le cas présente la situation de manière assez factuelle, puis trois experts se prononcent sur le cas.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont toujours les bienvenus.

 

Un plan de fusion avorté entre deux OBNL

 

 

Kalinda chairs a small disability-sector not for profit company. For almost a year the company has been in friendly merger discussions with a similar company operating in an adjacent geographic area.

Kalinda’s CEO and CFO were elected to the board of the neighbouring company in advance of the merger. Everyone expected the merger to proceed. Kalinda’s CEO and CFO reported that the merger was a major topic of that board’s discussions, but they could not give details as it would be a conflict of interest and they were excluded from most of the discussions.

Now Kalinda has received a letter from the chair of the other board saying the merger is not going ahead because due diligence uncovered some ‘worrying information’.

The letter also said the CEO and CFO must resign immediately as it was ‘no longer appropriate’ for them to be directors. Kalinda immediately called the executives who said they had no idea what had happened: They had not been made aware of any issues.

Kalinda’s executives called the CEO of the other company but she refused to talk to them and said the other directors had voted them off in a special meeting three days ago. Kalinda tried calling the other chair but her calls were all declined.

She wants to know what has been found and if there is any possibility of getting the merger discussions back on course. Her company has deferred several strategic projects, incurred legal costs, and refrained from bidding for a government contract so as not to compete against the other company.

What should Kalinda do?

 

Julia’s Answer

Kalinda should identify the actual reasons for the merger failing and analyse whether the show stoppers are on her side, the partner’s side, or connected to a third-party.

What if the problem is in her company and not evident to her? It could possibly be known or even invented (?) by the partner company – but they don’t seem to be open to providing any information. They could even think she is involved herself. It could be fraud, financial problems or any other major issues they consider as deal breaking. Kalinda needs to do her homework in her own company, carefully prioritising, and usually with external support. Her aim is to eliminate any potential time bombs quickly and efficiently.

Step two – analysing third party show stoppers on the partner’s side: The partner has been offered more attractive merger conditions by another company – Kalinda should identify the competitor and consider adapting her conditions, or they decided not to merge anymore, e.g. due to changing market circumstances or new, promising chances for business growth without a partner – Kalinda should find out what these could be and what they mean for her. The partner could also think that his and Kalinda’s executives are not a good match in general. In this case Kalinda needs to evaluate the consequences of a future with a merger but without her CEO and CFO.

Kalinda also needs to consider a completely new strategy starting from scratch – without the original target partner, possibly with a different partner or a business model and growth strategy her executive team drives alone. In each case Kalinda should evaluate whether her executive team is capable of delivering the future target performance and adds value with regards to the option/s she finally chooses and whether alternative executives would add more value.

Julia Zdrahal-Urbanek is Managing Partner of AltoPartners Austria and heads their board practice. She is based in Vienna, Austria.

 

Julie’s Answer

What a mess!

Kalinda is too far removed from the negotiations. She needs to talk with whoever has been handling the merger discussions from her company’s side and find out what are the issues that have led to this decision. If these are a concern to the prospective merger partner they should be a concern to the board.

She then needs to decide how she is going to move forwards when her two most senior executives are on the other party’s board and thus bound to act in the other party’s interests.  Kalinda is in no position to instruct her CEO and/or CFO on whether they should resign; that is a personal decision for them to make. Whilst they are on the other board they cannot act for Kalinda’s board on the merger.

It is the members, rather than the directors, who can vote directors off a board and, until there is a properly constituted members’ meeting they remain on the board unless they resign; they are not off the board simply because the other directors said so!

There should be a draft heads of agreement setting out how the parties will treat each other. Kalinda should reread it and see what it says about the costs of the deal, non-compete on tendering, deferral of projects, and other issues, that have now harmed her company.  She needs to consult her company’s legal adviser and find out if they can recover costs or claim damages.

Most important, she needs to schedule a board meeting and build consensus on a way forward. That is a board decision and not hers, as chair, to make. With any merger, acquisition, or divestment, a good board should always have a contingency plan. It is now time to implement it.

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

 

Brendan’s Answer

Kalinda needs to take a hard look at how they approached this potential and so called “friendly” merger.

Conscious Governance uses a six-step model for assessing partnerships, alliances, mergers and acquisitions: you must have the right strategy, information, timing, price, conditions, and integration.

From the information available, Kalinda, her Board and her executives failed significantly in their duty to their own organisation, especially on the first three items.

Firstly, I hear no clear strategic imperative for the merger to be entertained.  It is also puzzling why Kalinda’s CEO and CFO were elected to the other Board.  It is puzzling why Kalinda’s and the organisation’s policies allowed them to join the other board as Directors.  It is also puzzling, if not troubling, that the other Board facilitated their engagement as Directors, especially while merger discussions were underway.

Conscious Governance also encourages Boards to consider 20 tough questions (copies available on request) before embarking on merger discussions, and hopefully before someone wants to merge with you.  One question proposes a $30,000 break fee if the other party pulls out of the merger discussions.  This will test how serious they are.  It would also would have helped Kalinda’s organisation cover some costs but would not recompense lost business opportunities or contracts.

Brendan Walsh is a Senior Associate at Conscious Governance. He is based in Parkville, Victoria, Australia.

 

 

 

 

Composition du conseil d’administration d’OSBL et recrutement d’administrateurs | En rappel


Ayant collaboré à la réalisation du volume « Améliorer la gouvernance de votre OSBL » des auteurs Jean-Paul Gagné et Daniel Lapointe, j’ai obtenu la primeur de la publication d’un chapitre sur mon blogue en gouvernance.

Pour donner un aperçu de cette importante publication sur la gouvernance des organisations sans but lucratif (OSBN), j’ai eu la permission des éditeurs, Éditions Caractère et Éditions Transcontinental, de publier l’intégralité du chapitre 4 qui porte sur la composition du conseil d’administration et le recrutement d’administrateurs d’OSBL.

Je suis donc très fier de vous offrir cette primeur et j’espère que le sujet vous intéressera suffisamment pour vous inciter à vous procurer cette nouvelle publication.

Vous trouverez, ci-dessous, un court extrait de la page d’introduction du chapitre 4. Je vous invite à cliquer sur le lien suivant pour avoir accès à l’intégralité du chapitre.

 

La composition du conseil d’administration et le recrutement d’administrateurs

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « composition du CA »

 

Vous pouvez également feuilleter cet ouvrage en cliquant ici

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

__________________________________

 

Les administrateurs d’un OSBL sont généralement élus dans le cadre d’un processus électoral tenu lors d’une assemblée générale des membres. Ils peuvent aussi faire l’objet d’une cooptation ou être désignés en vertu d’un mécanisme particulier prévu dans une loi (tel le Code des professions).

L’élection des administrateurs par l’assemblée générale emprunte l’un ou l’autre des deux scénarios suivants:

1. Les OSBL ont habituellement des membres qui sont invités à une assemblée générale annuelle et qui élisent des administrateurs aux postes à pourvoir. Le plus souvent, les personnes présentes sont aussi appelées à choisir l’auditeur qui fera la vérification des états financiers de l’organisation pour l’exercice en cours.

ameliorezlagouvernancedevotreosbl

2. Certains OSBL n’ont pas d’autres membres que leurs administrateurs. Dans ce cas, ces derniers se transforment une fois par année en membres de l’assemblée générale, élisent des administrateurs aux postes vacants et choisissent l’auditeur qui fera la vérification des états financiers de l’organisation pour l’exercice en cours.

 

La cooptation autorise le recrutement d’administrateurs en cours d’exercice. Les personnes ainsi choisies entrent au CA lors de la première réunion suivant celle où leur nomination a été approuvée. Ils y siègent de plein droit, en dépit du fait que celle-ci ne sera entérinée qu’à l’assemblée générale annuelle suivante. La cooptation n’est pas seulement utile pour pourvoir rapidement aux postes vacants; elle a aussi comme avantage de permettre au conseil de faciliter la nomination de candidats dont le profil correspond aux compétences recherchées.

Dans les organisations qui élisent leurs administrateurs en assemblée générale, la sélection en fonction des profils déterminés peut présenter une difficulté : en effet, il peut arriver que les membres choisissent des administrateurs selon des critères qui ont peu à voir avec les compétences recherchées, telles leur amabilité, leur popularité, etc. Le comité du conseil responsable du recrutement d’administrateurs peut présenter une liste de candidats (en mentionnant leurs qualifications pour les postes à pourvoir) dans l’espoir que l’assemblée lui fasse confiance et les élise. Certains organismes préfèrent coopter en cours d’exercice, ce qui les assure de recruter un administrateur qui a le profil désiré et qui entrera en fonction dès sa sélection.

Quant à l’élection du président du conseil et, le cas échéant, du vice-président, du secrétaire et du trésorier, elle est généralement faite par les administrateurs. Dans les ordres professionnels, le Code des professions leur permet de déterminer par règlement si le président est élu par le conseil d’administration ou au suffrage universel des membres. Comme on l’a vu, malgré son caractère démocratique, l’élection du président au suffrage universel des membres présente un certain risque, puisqu’un candidat peut réussir à se faire élire à ce poste sans expérience du fonctionnement d’un CA ou en poursuivant un objectif qui tranche avec la mission, la vision ou encore le plan stratégique de l’organisation. Cet enjeu ne doit pas être pris à la légère par le CA. Une façon de minimiser ce risque est de faire connaître aux membres votants le profil recherché pour le président, profil qui aura été préalablement établi par le conseil. On peut notamment y inclure une expérience de conseil d’administration, ce qui aide à réduire la période d’apprentissage du nouveau président et facilite une transition en douceur.

L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de conseils d’administration ? En reprise


Voici une question que beaucoup de personnes expertes avec les notions de bonne gouvernance se posent : « L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de conseils d’administration ? »

En d’autres termes, les administrateurs indépendants (AI) de 65 ans et plus sont-ils plus avisés, ou sont-ils carrément trop âgés ?

L’étude menée par Ronald Masulis* de l’Université de New South Wales Australian School of Business et de ses collègues est très originale dans sa conception et elle montre que malgré toutes les réformes réglementaires des dernières années, l’âge des administrateurs indépendants est plus élevé au lieu d’être plus bas, comme on le souhaitait.

L’étude montre que pendant la période allant de 1998 à 2014, l’âge médian des administrateurs indépendants (AI) des grandes entreprises américaines est passé de 60 à 64 ans. De plus, le pourcentage de firmes ayant une majorité de AI de plus de 65 ans est passé de 26 % à 50 % !

L’étude montre que le choix d’administrateurs indépendants de plus de 65 ans se fait au détriment d’une nouvelle classe de jeunes administrateurs dynamiques et compétents. Cela a pour effet de réduire le bassin des nouveaux administrateurs requis pour des postes d’administrateurs de la relève, ainsi que pour les besoins criants d’une plus grande diversité.

In our new study Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?, we investigate this boardroom aging phenomenon and examine how it affects board effectiveness in terms of firm decision making and shareholder value creation. On the one hand, older independent directors can be valuable resources to firms given their wealth of business experience and professional connections accumulated over the course of their long careers. Moreover, since they are most likely to have retired from their full-time jobs, they should have more time available to devote to their board responsibilities. On the other hand, older independent directors can face declining energy, physical strength, and mental acumen, which can undermine their monitoring and advisory functions. They can also have less incentive to build and maintain their reputation in the director labor market, given their dwindling future directorship opportunities and shorter expected board tenure as they approach normal retirement age.

Dans la foulée des mouvements activistes, plusieurs entreprises semblent faire le choix d’AI plus âgés. Cependant, l’analyse coût/bénéfice de l’efficacité des AI plus âgés montre que leurs rendements est possiblement surfait et que la tendance à éliminer ou à retarder l’âge limite de retraite doit faire l’objet d’une bonne réflexion !

Si le sujet vous intéresse, je vous invite à lire l’article original. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

Bonne lecture !

 

Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « age of board member »

 

The past two decades have witnessed dramatic changes to the boards of directors of U.S. public corporations. Several recent governance reforms (the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the revised 2003 NYSE/Nasdaq listing rules, and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act) combined with a rise in shareholder activism have enhanced director qualifications and independence and made boards more accountable. These regulatory changes have significantly increased the responsibilities and liabilities of outside directors. Many firms have also placed limits on how many boards a director can sit on. This changing environment has reduced the ability and incentives of active senior corporate executives to serve on outside boards. Faced with this reduced supply of qualified independent directors and the increased demand for them, firms are increasingly relying on older director candidates. As a result, in recent years the boards of U.S. public corporations have become notably older in age. For example, over the period of 1998 to 2014, the median age of independent directors at large U.S. firms rose from 60 to 64, and the percentage of firms with a majority of independent directors age 65 or above nearly doubled from 26% to 50%.

In our new study Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?, we investigate this boardroom aging phenomenon and examine how it affects board effectiveness in terms of firm decision making and shareholder value creation. On the one hand, older independent directors can be valuable resources to firms given their wealth of business experience and professional connections accumulated over the course of their long careers. Moreover, since they are most likely to have retired from their full-time jobs, they should have more time available to devote to their board responsibilities. On the other hand, older independent directors can face declining energy, physical strength, and mental acumen, which can undermine their monitoring and advisory functions. They can also have less incentive to build and maintain their reputation in the director labor market, given their dwindling future directorship opportunities and shorter expected board tenure as they approach normal retirement age.

We analyze a sample of S&P 1500 firms over the 1998-2014 period and define an independent director as an “older independent director” (OID) if he or she is at least 65 years old. We begin by evaluating individual director performance by comparing board meeting attendance records and major board committee responsibilities of older versus younger directors. Controlling for a battery of director and firm characteristics as well as director, year, and industry fixed effects, we find that OIDs exhibit poorer board attendance records and are less likely to serve as the chair or a member of an important board committee. These results suggest that OIDs either are less able or have weaker incentives to fulfill their board duties.

We next examine major corporate policies and find a large body of evidence consistently pointing to monitoring deficiencies of OIDs. To measure the extent of boardroom aging, we construct a variable, OID %, as the fraction of all independent directors who are categorized as OIDs. As the percentage of OIDs on corporate boards rises, excess CEO compensation increases. This relationship is mainly driven by the cash component of CEO compensation. A greater OID presence on corporate boards is also associated with firms having lower financial reporting quality, poorer acquisition profitability measured by announcement returns, less generous payout polices, and lower CEO turnover-to-performance sensitivity. Moreover, we find that firm performance, measured either by a firm’s return on assets or its Tobin’s Q, is significantly lower when firms have a greater fraction of OIDs on their boards. These results collectively support the conclusion that OIDs suffer from monitoring deficiencies that impair the board’s effectiveness in providing management oversight.

We employ a number of approaches to address the endogeneity issue. First, we include firm-fixed effects wherever applicable to control for unobservable time-invariant firm-specific factors that may correlate with both the presence of OIDs and the firm outcome variables that we study. Second, we employ an instrumental variable regression approach where we instrument for the presence of OIDs on a firm’s board with a measure capturing the local supply of older director candidates in the firm’s headquarters state. We find that all of our firm-level results continue to hold under a two-stage IV regression framework. Third, we exploit a regulatory shock to firms’ board composition. The NYSE and Nasdaq issued new listing standards in 2003 following the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which required listed firms to have a majority of independent directors on the board. We show that firms non-compliant with the new rule experienced a significantly larger increase in the percentage of OIDs over the 2000-2005 period compared to compliant firms. A major reason for this difference is that noncompliant firms needed to hire more OIDs to comply with the new listing standards. Using a firm’s noncompliance status as an instrument for the change in the board’s OID percentage, we find that firm performance deteriorates as noncompliant firms increase OIDs on their boards. We also conduct two event studies, one on OID appointment announcements and the other on the announcements of firm policy changes that increase the mandatory retirement age of outside directors. We find that shareholders react negatively to both announcements.

In our final set of analysis, we explore cross-sectional variations in the relation between OIDs and firm performance and policies. We find that the negative relation between OIDs and firm performance is more pronounced when OIDs hold multiple outside board seats. This evidence suggests that “busyness” exacerbates the monitoring deficiency of OIDs. We also find that for firms with high advisory needs, the relation between OIDs and firm performance is no longer significantly negative and in some cases, becomes positive. These results are consistent with OIDs using their experience and resources to provide valuable counsel to senior managers in need of board advice. Also consistent with OIDs performing a valuable advisory function, our analysis of acquirer returns shows that the negative relation between OIDs and acquirer returns is limited to OIDs who have neither prior acquisition experience, nor experience in the target industry. For OIDs with either type of experience, their marginal effect on acquirer returns is non-negative, and sometimes significantly positive.

Our research is the first investigation of the pervasive and growing phenomenon of boardroom aging at large U.S. corporations and its impact on board effectiveness and firm performance. As the debate over director age limits continues in the news media and among activist shareholders and regulators, our findings on the costs and benefits associated with OIDs can provide important and timely policy guidance. For companies considering lifting or waiving mandatory director retirement age requirements, so as to lower the burden of recruiting and retaining experienced independent directors, our evidence should give them pause. Similarly, while recent corporate governance reforms and the rise in shareholder activism have made boards, and especially independent directors, more accountable for managerial decisions and firm performance, they may also have created the unintended consequence of shrinking the supply of potential independent directors who are younger active executives. This result has led firms to tap deeper into the pool of older director candidates, which our analysis shows can undermine the very objectives that corporate governance reforms seek to accomplish.

The complete paper is available for download here.

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*Ronald Masulis is Scientia Professor of Finance at University of New South Wales Australian School of Business; Cong Wang is Professor of Finance at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and the associate director of Shenzhen Finance Institute; Fei Xie is Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Delaware; and Shuran Zhang is Associate Professor of Finance at Jinan University. This post is based on their recent paper.

Les actions multivotantes sont populaires aux États-Unis. Les entreprises canadiennes devraient-elles emboîter le pas ?


Je vous recommande la lecture de cet article d’Yvan Allaire*, président exécutif du conseil d’administration de l’IGOPP, paru dans le Financial Post le 6 mars 2019.

Comme je l’indiquais dans un précédent billet, Les avantages d’une structure de capital composée d’actions multivotantes, celles-ci « n’ont pas la cote au Canada ! Bien que certains arguments en faveur de l’exclusion de ce type de structure de capital soient, de prime abord, assez convaincants, il existe plusieurs autres considérations qui doivent être prises en compte avant de les interdire et de les fustiger ».

Cependant, comme l’auteur le mentionne dans son article, cette structure de capital est de plus en plus populaire dans le cas d’entreprises entrepreneuriales américaines.

Il y a de nombreux avantages de se prévaloir de la formule d’actions multivotantes. Selon Allaire, les entreprises canadiennes, plus particulièrement les entreprises québécoises, devraient en profiter pour se joindre au mouvement.

J’ai reproduit, ci-dessous, l’article publié dans le Financial Post. Quelle est votre opinion sur ce sujet controversé ?

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

 

Dual-class shares are hot in the U.S. again. Canada should join in

 

 

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Some 69 dual-class companies are now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down from 100 in 2005. Peter J. Thompson/National Post 

American fund managers are freaking out about the popularity of multiple voting shares among entrepreneurs going for an initial public offering (IPO). In recent years, some 20 per cent of American IPOs (and up to a third among tech entrepreneurs) have adopted a dual-class structure. Fund managers are working overtime to squelch this trend.

In Canada, this form of capital structure has been the subject of unrelenting attacks by some fund managers, proxy-advisory firms and, to a surprising degree, by academics. Some 69 dual-class companies are now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down from 100 in 2005. Since 2005, only 23 Canadian companies went public with dual-class shares and 16 have since converted to a single-class.

A dual class of shares provides some measure of protection from unwanted takeovers as well as from the bullying that has become a feature of current financial markets. (The benefits of homegrown champions, controlled by citizens of the country and headquartered in that country need no elaboration. Not even the U.S. tolerates a free-for-all takeover regime, but Canada does!)

These 69 dual-class companies have provided 19 of Canada’s industrial champions as well as 12 of the 50 largest Canadian employers. The 54 companies (out of the 69 that were listed on the TSX 10 years ago) provided investors with a mean annual compounded return of 8.98 per cent (median 9.62 per cent) as compared to 5.06 per cent for the S&P/TSX Index and 6.0 per cent for the TSX 60 index (as per calculations by the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations).

As for the quality of their governance, by the standards set by The Globe and Mail for its annual governance scoring of TSX-listed companies, the average governance score of companies without a dual-class of shares is 66.15 while the score of companies with multiple voting shares, once the penalty (up to 10 points) imposed on dual-class companies is removed, is 60.1, a barely significant difference.

 


*Cet article a été et rédigé par Yvan Allaire, Ph. D. (MIT), MSRC, président exécutif du conseil d’administration de l’IGOPP.

Vague de déréglementation des sociétés américaines sous l’administration Trump | Est-ce judicieux ?


Aujourd’hui, un article publié par Mark Lebovitch et Jacob Spaid de la firme Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, paru dans HLS Forum, a attiré mon attention.

En effet, l’article décrit les gestes posés par l’administration Trump qui sont susceptibles d’avoir un impact significatif sur les marchés financiers en réduisant la transparence et la reddition de compte des grandes entreprises publiques soumises à la réglementation de la SEC.

Les auteurs brossent un portrait plutôt sombre des attaques portées à la SEC par l’administration en place.

« Several administration priorities are endangering financial markets by reducing corporate accountability and transparency.

Nearly two years into the Trump presidency, extensive deregulation is raising risks for investors. Several of the administration’s priorities are endangering financial markets by reducing corporate accountability and transparency. SEC enforcement actions under the Administration continue to lag previous years. The Trump administration has also instructed the SEC to study reducing companies’ reporting obligations to investors, including by abandoning a hallmark of corporate disclosure: the quarterly earnings report. Meanwhile, President Trump and Congress have passed new legislation loosening regulations on the same banks that played a central role in the Great Recession. It is important for institutional investors to stay abreast of these emerging developments as they contemplate the risk of their investments amid stark changes in the regulatory landscape ».

L’article s’intitule « In Corporations We Trust : Ongoing Deregulation and Government Protections ». Les auteurs mettent en lumière les actions menées par les autorités réglementaires américaines pour réaffirmer les prérogatives des entreprises.

La SEC fait-elle fausse route en amoindrissant la réglementation des entreprises ? Quel est votre point de vue ?

 

In Corporations We Trust: Ongoing Deregulation and Government Protections

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « SEC »

 

The number of SEC actions against public companies is plummeting

 

The number of SEC actions enforcing the federal securities laws is now lower than in previous administrations. In 2016, before President Trump took office, the SEC filed 868 enforcement actions and recovered $4.08 billion in settlements. These figures declined to 754 enforcement actions and $3.78 billion in settlements in 2017. Enforcement actions against public companies in particular dropped by a third, from 92 actions in 2016 to just 62 in 2017. The first half of 2018 witnessed an even more precipitous decline in SEC enforcement actions. Compared to the same six-month period in 2017, enforcement actions against public companies have dropped by 66 percent, from 45 such actions to just 15. More importantly, recoveries against public companies over the same time period were down a stunning 93.5 percent.

The most recently released data confirms the SEC’s retreat from enforcement. On November 2, 2018, the SEC released its fiscal year 2018 Annual Report: Division of Enforcement, which shows that the SEC’s enforcement efforts and results during the first 20 months under the Trump administration pale in comparison to those of the same period under the Obama administration, with the SEC (1) charging far fewer high-profile defendants, including less than half as many banks and approximately 40 percent fewer public companies; (2) shifting its focus from complex, market-manipulation cases involving large numbers of investors, to simpler, less time-intensive cases involving fewer investors, such as actions against investment advisors accused of lying and stealing; (3) recovering nearly $1 billion less; and (4) returning approximately 62 percent less to investors ($1.7 billion compared to $5 billion).

The enforcement numbers with regard to public companies are consistent with Chairman Jay Clayton’s stated intention to change the SEC’s focus away from enforcement actions against large companies that commit fraud. During his first speech as SEC Chairman, Clayton expressly rejected the enforcement philosophy of former SEC Chair Mary Jo White, who had pushed the SEC to be “aggressive and creative” in pursuing penalties against all wrongdoers to ensure that the SEC would “have a presence everywhere and be perceived to be everywhere.” Clayton stated that “the SEC cannot be everywhere” and that “increased disclosure and other burdens” on public companies “are, in two words, not good.” Rather than utilizing SEC enforcement powers to protect investors and deter fraud, Clayton’s priority is to provide information to investors so they can protect themselves. As Clayton explained, his “short but important message” for investors is that “the best way to protect yourself is to check out who you are dealing with, and the SEC wants to make that easier.” This comment comes dangerously close to “caveat emptor.”

A recent appointee to the SEC under President Trump, Commissioner Hester M. Peirce, is also an advocate for limiting enforcement. Peirce views civil penalties against corporations not as an effective regulatory tool, but rather as an “area of concern” that justifies her vetoing enforcement actions. Commissioner Peirce has also publicly admitted (perhaps touted) that the current SEC is not inclined to bring any cases that involve novel issues that might “push the bounds of authority,” such as those involving “overly broad interpretations of ‘security’ or extraterritorial impositions of the law.” Far from focusing on the interests of investors whose capital literally keeps our markets at the forefront of the global economy, Peirce has expressed concern for the “psychological toll” that an SEC investigation can take on suspected perpetrators of fraud.

Given the SEC’s stark departure from its previous stance in favor of pursuing enforcement actions to protect investors, investors should take extra measures to stay informed about the companies in which they are invested. Investors should also demand increased transparency in corporate reporting, and evaluate their rights in the face of suspected fraud.

 

President Trump directs the SEC to consider eliminating quarterly reporting requirements

 

For generations, investors in the US stock markets have relied on quarterly reports to apprise them of companies’ financial condition, recent developments, and business prospects. Such quarterly reports have been required by the SEC since 1970, and are now widely considered part of the bedrock of corporate transparency to investors. Even before 1970, more than half of the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange voluntarily issued quarterly reports.

Consistent with a focus on protecting companies, some of whom may well violate SEC rules and regulations, at the expense of the investing public, in August 2018, President Trump instructed the SEC to study whether eliminating quarterly reporting requirements will “allow greater flexibility and save money” and “make business (jobs) even better.” President Trump stated that he based his instruction on advice from “some of the world’s top business leaders,” but provided no evidence of that assertion.

While eliminating quarterly reporting would certainly “allow greater flexibility” for corporations doing the reporting, investors would suffer from the resulting lack of transparency. Unsurprisingly, some of the world’s most prominent financial leaders, including Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, have criticized the suggested elimination of quarterly reporting. Buffett and Dimon have explained that such reporting is necessary for corporate transparency and “an essential aspect of US public markets.” This makes sense for numerous reasons, including that without quarterly reports, significant corporate events that took place in between reporting periods could go unreported. Notably, Buffett and Dimon acknowledge that quarterly earnings guidance can over-emphasize short-term profits at the expense of long-term focus and growth. Yet they still favor the transparency and accountability offered by quarterly reporting over a world in which companies can effectively “go dark” for extended periods of time.

It is unclear how quickly the SEC may move to review President Trump’s suggested elimination of quarterly reporting. In October 2018, SEC Chairman Clayton explained that quarterly reporting will remain in effect. But days later, the SEC announced that it may, in fact, draft a notice for public feedback on the proposed change.

Meanwhile, Congress is moving forward with legislation that could lead to the elimination of quarterly reporting. In July 2018, the House of Representatives passed the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018 (aka “JOBS Act 3.0”). If enacted into law, the Act would require that the SEC provide to Congress a cost-benefit analysis of quarterly reporting requirements, as well as recommendations of ways to decrease corporate reporting costs. The harm to investors from decreased reporting is not necessarily a focus of Congress’s request. The Senate is expected to consider the JOBS 3.0 in the near term.

Congress and regulators weaken banking regulations

 

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) is the landmark legislation passed in response to the high-risk, predatory and fraudulent banking practices that led to the Great Recession, and which has as a primary focus on increasing regulation of the financial services industry. President Trump, however, has referred to Dodd-Frank as a “disaster” that has prevented many “friends of [his], with nice businesses” from borrowing money. President Trump made promises on the campaign trail that he would “kill” Dodd-Frank and repeated the same vow early in his presidency, stating that he would “do a big number on” Dodd-Frank.

Making good on his promises, on May 24, 2018, President Trump signed into law Senator Mike Crapo’s Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act (the Crapo Bill). The Crapo Bill removes many mandatory oversight measures put in place to ensure that banks engage in transparent and safe lending, investing, and leverage activities, striking a significant blow to Dodd-Frank protections and placing investors’ assets at risk. As Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, despite the Crapo Bill being sold as one that will relieve “small” banks from “big” bank regulation, it puts “American consumers at greater risk.” The Crapo Bill rolled back certain regulations for banks with less than $250 billion in assets under management and rolled back additional regulations for banks with less than $10 billion in assets under management.

For example, the Crapo Bill raises from $50 to $250 billion the threshold at which a bank is considered a systemically important financial institution (SIFI)—the point at which the Federal Reserve’s heightened prudential standards become mandatory (e.g., mandatory stress tests that measure a bank’s ability to withstand a financial downturn). At the time Dodd-Frank was enacted, approximately 40 banks were considered SIFIs. Only 12 banks would now meet that standard. Moreover, proponents of the bill refer to the $250 billion threshold as an “arbitrary” benchmark to assess a bank’s systemic risk, arguing that over sight should be lessened even for banks with more than $250 billion. In short, the Crapo Bill essentially opens the door for the same type of high-risk, predatory and fraudulent banking practices that led to the financial crisis and threatens the stability and prominence of the United States’ financial markets.

A new direction at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) similarly invites banks to increase their leverage and thus threatens the stability of the financial system. OCC head Joseph Otting, a former CEO of OneWest Bank, recently instructed financial institutions that they should not feel bound by OCC leverage regulations, encouraging them to “do what you want as long as it does not impair safety and soundness. It’s not our position to challenge that.” Far from “challenging” the financial entities that the OCC is tasked with regulating, Otting instead has told bankers that they are the OCC’s “customers” and the Trump administration is “very banker-supportive.”

 

Institutional investors are the last line of defense

 

Congress and federal regulators have taken significant steps to change the regulatory landscape, and new efforts are underway to weaken well-established norms from SEC enforcement to quarterly reporting requirements. The core philosophy of those running the SEC and other critical regulators seems to abandon historic concern for investors in favor of a view that government should exist to protect and benefit corporations (whether or not they comply with the law). The institutional investor community should continue to speak out in favor of corporate transparency and help ensure the continued health and prominence of the United States’ financial

Les avantages d’une structure de capital composée d’actions multivotantes


C’est avec ravissement que je vous recommande la lecture de cette onzième prise de position d’Yvan Allaire* au nom de l’IGOPP.

Au Canada, mais aussi dans plusieurs pays, les actions multivotantes n’ont pas la cote ! Bien que certains arguments en faveur de l’exclusion de ce type de structure de capital soient de prime abord assez convaincantes, il existe plusieurs autres considérations qui doivent être prises en compte avant de les interdire et de les fustiger.

Comme l’auteur le mentionne dans ses recommandations, l’analyse attentive de ce type d’action montre les nombreux avantages à se doter de cet instrument.

J’ai reproduit, ci-dessous, le sommaire exécutif du document ainsi que les recommandations. Pour plus de détails, je vous invite à lire le texte au complet.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus. Ils orienteront les nouvelles exigences en matière de gouvernance.

 

Prise de position en faveur des actions multivotantes

 

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « action multivotantes »

 

Sommaire exécutif

 

En 2018, 69 sociétés ayant des actions à droit de vote supérieur (ADVS) étaient inscrites à la bourse de Toronto alors qu’elles étaient 100 en 2005. De 2005 à 2018, 38 n’avaient plus d’ADVS suite à des fusions, acquisitions, faillites et autres, 16 sociétés avaient converti leurs ADVS en actions à droit de vote unique et 23 nouvelles sociétés ayant des ADVS s’étaient inscrites à la bourse de Toronto
en émettant des ADVS.

Les arguments pour ou contre ce type de structure de capital-actions sont nombreux et, à certains égards, persuasifs. D’une part, certains fonds « proactifs » (notamment les fonds de couverture « activistes ») insistent auprès de conseils et des directions de sociétés publiques ciblées pour que soient prises des mesures et des décisions, qui selon eux feraient accroître le prix de l’action, quand ce n’est pas carrément de chercher à imposer la vente prématurée de l’entreprise au plus offrant. Évidemment, ce phénomène a renforcé la détermination des entrepreneurs à se protéger contre de telles pressions en adoptant lors de leur premier appel public à l’épargne des actions ayant différents droits de vote (davantage aux USA qu’au Canada).

D’autre part, les fonds indiciels et les fonds négociés en bourse (FNB ou ETF en anglais), désormais des investisseurs importants et en croissance, mais obligés de refléter soigneusement dans leurs placements la composition et la valeur des titres des indices boursiers, ne peuvent donc pas simplement manifester leurs insatisfactions en vendant leurs actions. Ils doivent exercer leur influence sur la direction d’une société par l’exercice de leur droit de vote (lequel est restreint dans les sociétés ayant des ADVS) et en exprimant haut et fort leur frustration et leurs désaccords. C’est sans surprise que ces fonds sont farouchement opposés aux actions à droit de vote supérieur, exhortant avec succès les fournisseurs d’indices (ex. : Dow-Jones, et autres) à exclure toutes nouvelles sociétés ayant des actions à droit de vote supérieur.

Ils font aussi campagne, avec moins de succès à ce jour, auprès de la Securities and Exchange Commission des États-Unis (SEC) afin qu’elle interdise cette structure de capital-actions. Leur dernier stratagème en date, promu par le Council of Institutional Investors (CII), serait d’imposer une clause crépusculaire temporelle obligatoire rentrant en vigueur 7 ans après un PAPE3. Bien entendu, ce terme pourrait être renouvelé par un vote majoritaire de  l’ensemble des actionnaires (quels que soient leurs droits de vote).

La question des « clauses crépusculaires » est ainsi devenue un enjeu névralgique. Certains investisseurs institutionnels, les agences de conseils en vote et autres gendarmes de la gouvernance ainsi qu’un certain nombre de chercheurs académiques proposent de restreindre, de contrôler et d’imposer un temps limite à la liberté relative que procurent aux entrepreneurs et aux entreprises familiales les actions à droits de vote supérieurs.

Au cours des dernières années, un vif débat s’est engagé, particulièrement aux États-Unis, entre les apôtres du dogme « une action, un vote » et les hérétiques qui estiment bénéfiques les actions ayant des droits de vote inégaux.

 

Recommandations

 

Les sociétés ayant des ADVS et les entreprises familiales comportent de grands avantages à la condition que soient bien protégés les porteurs d’actions ayant des droits de vote inférieurs.

La clause d’égalité de traitement (« coattail ») imposée depuis 1987 par la Bourse de Toronto, une caractéristique uniquement canadienne, doit être conservée pour les sociétés qui ont émis ou voudraient émettre des actions ayant différents droits de vote.

Comme l’IGOPP l’a fait en 2006, il recommande à nouveau en 2018 que le ratio des droits de vote des ADVS soit plafonné à 4:1, ce qui signifie qu’il est nécessaire de détenir 20 % de la valeur des capitaux propres de la société pour en détenir le contrôle absolu (50 % des votes et plus).

La bourse TSX de Toronto devrait plafonner le ratio des droits de vote des ADVS à 10:1.

Les actions sans droit de vote devraient être interdites ; en effet, il est impossible d’accorder le droit d’élire un tiers des membres du conseil à des actionnaires qui n’ont aucun droit de vote ; ou encore d’assurer un décompte distinct des votes sur les propositions des actionnaires et pour l’élection des membres du conseil à une classe d’actionnaires sans droit de vote !

Nous recommandons fortement un décompte distinct des voix pour chaque classe d’actions et de rendre les résultats publics, tant pour l’élection des membres du conseil d’administration que pour toute autre proposition soumise au vote des actionnaires.

Les actionnaires disposant de droits de vote inférieurs devraient avoir le droit d’élire un tiers des membres du conseil d’administration, dont les candidatures seraient proposées par le conseil. Jumelée au décompte distinct des voix pour chaque classe d’actions, cette mesure inciterait le conseil et les gestionnaires à sélectionner des candidats susceptibles de s’attirer les faveurs des actionnaires « minoritaires ». Évidemment, tous les membres du conseil d’administration ne doivent agir que dans l’intérêt de la société.

Pour les raisons citées précédemment et expliquées par la suite dans la position, l’IGOPP s’oppose résolument à l’imposition de clauses crépusculaires temporelles pour les sociétés ayant des ADVS. Nous sommes aussi contre les clauses crépusculaires déclenchées par un événement précis ainsi que par celles déclenchées en fonction de l’âge du fondateur, de l’entrepreneur ou de l’actionnaire de contrôle.

Toutefois, l’IGOPP recommande qu’à l’avenir une clause crépusculaire basée sur un seuil de propriété (dilution sunset) soit incluse lors du PAPE d’une société faisant usage d’ADVS.

Dans la suite logique de notre démonstration de la valeur économique et sociale des entreprises familiales, l’IGOPP est favorable à une grande latitude de transférabilité du contrôle aux membres de la famille du fondateur.

Également dans la suite de notre appui aux ADVS comme rempart contre les visées à court terme et l’influence indue de certains types de spéculateurs, nous recommandons que le contrôle de ces sociétés puisse aussi être transmis à une fiducie dirigée par une majorité de fiduciaires indépendants au bénéfice des héritiers du fondateur.

Lorsqu’un parent ou un descendant de l’actionnaire de contrôle est candidat pour le poste de PDG, les administrateurs indépendants, conseillés adéquatement, devraient discuter des mérites des divers candidats avec l’actionnaire de contrôle et faire rapport de la démarche adoptée par le conseil pour arrêter son choix à l’assemblée annuelle des actionnaires suivant l’entrée en fonction d’un nouveau chef de la direction.

L’IGOPP est favorable à l’adoption d’une forme d’ADVS comportant des droits de vote supérieurs que pour l’élection de la majorité (ou la totalité) des membres du conseil.

« L’examen approfondi des arguments et des controverses à propos d’actions multivotantes nous mène à la conclusion que les avantages de cette structure l’emportent haut la main sur ses inconvénients.

Non seulement de plus en plus d’études confortent leur performance économique, mais le fait de combiner la propriété familiale et les actions à droit de vote supérieur résulte en une plus grande longévité de l’entreprise, en une meilleure intégration dans les collectivités hôtes, à moins de vulnérabilité aux pressions des actionnaires de court terme et à moins de susceptibilité aux « modes » stratégiques et financières.

Cette précieuse forme de propriété doit être assortie de mesures assurant le respect et la protection des droits des actionnaires minoritaires. Nous avons formulé un certain nombre de recommandations à cette fin. Nous encourageons les sociétés ayant présentement des ADVS et les entrepreneurs qui souhaiteront demain inscrire une société en bourse et émettre des ADVS à adopter nos recommandations ».

 


*Ce document a été préparé et rédigé par Yvan Allaire, Ph. D. (MIT), MSRC, président exécutif du conseil d’administration de l’IGOPP.

Dissension au conseil d’administration et violation de confidentialité


Voici un cas publié sur le site de Julie Garland McLellan qui expose un sérieux problème de gouvernance auquel plusieurs conseils d’administration sont confrontés, surtout dans les OBNL.

Certains administrateurs ont beaucoup de difficulté à soutenir les prises de position du conseil lorsqu’ils sont en profond désaccord avec les décisions du CA.

Comment un président de CA doit-il agir afin de s’assurer que les décisions prises au conseil sont confidentielles et que les administrateurs sont tenus d’y adhérer, même s’ils ne sont pas de l’avis du CA ?

Et comment le président du CA doit-il se comporter lorsque la situation dégénère lourdement comme dans le cas exposé ci-dessous ?

À tout le moins, le membre dissident ne devrait pas défendre son point de vue dissident sur la place publique !

Le cas présente une situation bien réelle et plus fréquente que l’on pense ; puis, trois experts se prononcent de façon relativement unanime sur le dilemme que vit Henry, le président du CA. Il s’agit de :

Jane Davel is a non-executive director and consultant. She is based in Auckland, New Zealand

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

Lauren Smith is President of the Florida Chapter of NACD and a director on five boards. She is based in Miami, Florida, USA

Je vous invite donc à prendre connaissance de ces avis, en cliquant sur le lien ci-dessous, et me faire part de vos commentaires, si vous le souhaitez.

Bonne lecture !

 

Dissension au conseil d’administration et violation de confidentialité

 

 

 

 

Henry chairs a not-for-profit company and usually finds it a gratifying experience. Recently the company has been through hard times as the government ceased funding some activities although the community still needs them.

Henry and his board worked hard to develop new income streams to support continuing the company’s work. They achieved some success, but not enough to avoid having to discontinue some work and reduce headcount. All directors regretted having to make long-serving and loyal staff redundant. However, they had to find a balance of activity and income that would be sustainable; this was a necessary part of the strategy for success.

One director was vehemently opposed to the changes, preferring to run at a loss, eat into reserves, and hope for a change of heart from the government. When it was clear that this director would never agree, Henry took the matter to a vote and the cuts were approved with only one dissenter. Henry reminded the board that board decisions were ‘board decisions’ and all agreed that they would publicly support the approved course of action.

Since then the CEO has complained to Henry that the dissenting director has spoken to staff suggesting they ‘lawyer up’ to protect themselves from redundancies, oppose the closure of the unsustainable activities, and start a Facebook campaign to ‘shame the government into resuming funding’. Henry has also heard from friends that his dissenter is complaining publicly about the decision even though board policy is that the CEO or Chair are the two authorised spokesmen.

How can Henry handle this dissident director?

Les politiques des Cégeps et la gouvernance créatrice de valeur


Nous publions ici un billet de Danielle Malboeuf* qui nous renseigne sur une gouvernance créatrice de valeur eu égard à la gestion des CÉGEP.

Comme à l’habitude, Danielle nous propose son article à titre d’auteure invitée.

Je vous souhaite bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Cégeps : politiques et gouvernance

par

Danielle Malboeuf*  

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « gouvernance créatrice de valeur »

 

Un enjeu à ne pas négliger

 

Chaque année, des personnes motivées et intéressées investissent leur temps et leur énergie dans les conseils d’administration (CA) des collèges. Elles surveillent particulièrement la gestion financière du collège et assurent une utilisation efficace et efficiente des sommes d’argent qui y sont dédiées. Toutefois, comme j’ai pu le constater lors de mes échanges avec des administrateurs, ces personnes souhaitent jouer un rôle qui va au-delà de celui de « fiduciaire ». Elles veulent avoir une contribution significative à la mission première du Cégep : donner une formation pertinente et de qualité où l’étudiant et sa réussite éducative sont au cœur des préoccupations. Elles désirent ainsi soutenir les cégeps dans leur volonté d’améliorer leur efficacité et leur efficience, de se développer et d’assurer la qualité et la pertinence de leurs services. Le nouveau mode de gouvernance qui est actuellement encouragé dans les institutions tant publiques que privées répond à ces attentes. Il s’agit d’une « gouvernance créatrice de valeurs » (1). Ce mode de gouvernance permet à chacun de contribuer sur la base de ses expériences et compétences au développement de nos collèges.

Pour permettre au CA de jouer pleinement son rôle de « créateur de valeurs », les collèges doivent compter sur des administrateurs compétents qui veillent au respect de ses obligations et à l’atteinte de haut niveau de performance. D’ailleurs, dans la suite de la parution d’un rapport de la vérificatrice générale en 2016 portant sur la gestion administrative des cégeps (2), j’ai rédigé un article dans lequel, je rappelais l’importance d’avoir, au sein des conseils d’administration (CA) des collèges, des administrateurs compétents qui ont, entre autres, une bonne connaissance des politiques, directives et exigences réglementaires en vigueur afin de répondre adéquatement aux attentes formulées dans ce rapport. La vérificatrice générale y recommandait entre autres, au regard des modes de sollicitation, le respect de la réglementation et des politiques internes (3). Il m’apparaît donc essentiel que les administrateurs soient en mesure d’évaluer régulièrement leur pertinence et leur mise en application.

Ainsi, parmi les responsabilités confiées au conseil, on retrouve celles-ci (4) :

  1. s’assurer que l’institution est administrée selon des normes reconnues et en conformité avec les lois.
  2. définir les politiques et les règlements de l’institution, les réviser périodiquement et s’assurer qu’ils sont appliqués.

 

Les collèges ont cinquante ans. Tout au cours de ces années, on a élaboré et mis en œuvre de nombreuses politiques et règlements qui ont été adoptés par les CA. Ces documents sont apparus au fil des ans pour répondre à des exigences légales et ministérielles, mais également à des préoccupations institutionnelles. Pour assurer l’application de ces politiques et règlements, les gestionnaires ont produit des outils de gestion : programmes, directives et procédures. On retrouve donc dans les collèges, des Cahiers de gestion qui regroupent tous ces documents et qui amènent des défis de mise en œuvre, de suivi et de révision.

Des collèges reconnaissent ces défis. En effet, la Commission d’évaluation de l’enseignement collégial (CEEC) fait le constat suivant dans son bilan des travaux portant sur l’évaluation de l’efficacité des systèmes d’assurance qualité. « Certains collèges ont entrepris…, la mise en place d’outils de gestion concertée et intégrée de la qualité ». « Certains collèges estiment toutefois que du travail reste à faire pour améliorer la synergie entre les mécanismes » (5).

Considérant les préoccupations actuelles et les attentes formulées par la Vérificatrice générale, j’invite tous les collèges à se doter de mécanismes au regard des politiques et règlements qui s’inscrivent dans les bonnes pratiques de gouvernance :

  1. Valider la pertinence de toute cette documentation ;

D’abord, les administrateurs doivent connaître le contenu des politiques et règlements, car ils ont, rappelons-le, la responsabilité de s’assurer qu’ils sont appliqués. Ils doivent également valider que tous ces documents sont encore pertinents. Constate-t-on des redondances ? Si c’est le cas, il faut apporter des correctifs.

2. Assurer la cohérence de toute cette documentation ;

À la lecture de documents institutionnels, on constate que les termes politiques, règlements, programmes, directives et procédures n’ont pas la même signification d’un collège à l’autre et à l’intérieur d’un même collège. On note la présence de politiques et de programmes qui sont rattachés au même objet. Alors qu’une politique est un ensemble d’orientation et de principes, un programme est un « ensemble des intentions d’action et des projets que l’institution doit mettre en œuvre pour respecter les orientations gouvernementales ou institutionnelles. »

À titre d’exemple, pour se conformer à une exigence ministérielle, les collèges ont élaboré, il y a plusieurs années, une Politique de gestion des ressources humaines pour le personnel membre d’une association accréditée au sens du Code du travail (on exclut ici les hors-cadre et cadres). Cette politique devait inclure des dispositions concernant l’embauche, l’insertion professionnelle, l’évaluation et le perfectionnement de ces employés. Dans certains collèges, ces dispositions se sont traduites par des programmes et d’autres par des politiques. Dans un même collège, on peut retrouver pour l’évaluation du personnel, un programme pour certaines catégories de personnel et une politique pour d’autres employés. Rappelons encore ici que le CA porte un regard sur les politiques et non les programmes. Cela pose un problème de cohérence, mais également d’équité.

De plus, on peut retrouver dans une politique des modalités de fonctionnement. Rappelons qu’une politique est un « ensemble d’orientations et de principes qui encadrent les actions que doit mettre en œuvre l’institution en vue d’atteindre les principes généraux préalablement fixés par le Ministère ou le CA. » Donc, dans une politique, on ne devrait pas retrouver des actions ou des modalités de fonctionnement qui s’apparentent à des directives ou des procédures. Le CA n’a pas à d’adopter des modalités de fonctionnement, car c’est une responsabilité de la direction générale.

3. Valider l’applicabilité des politiques et règlements en vigueur

Tel que suggéré par l’IGOPP (Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques), le comité d’audit devrait avoir, entre autres, le mandat de :

Prendre connaissance au moins une fois l’an des mesures de conformité aux lois, règlements et politiques (6).

Un exemple de l’importance pour le CA de s’assurer de l’application des Lois et politiques est celle liée à la gestion contractuelle. La Loi sur les contrats dans les organismes publics demande à chaque collège de nommer un responsable de l’observation des règles contractuelles (RORC). Cette personne doit transmettre au CA et au Secrétariat du Conseil du trésor un rapport qui fait état de ses activités, de ses observations et de ses recommandations. Le but visé est de valider que la gestion contractuelle du collège se conforme à la loi, aux directives et aux règlements (du gouvernement et du collège). Il faut s’assurer que cela soit fait.

4. Procéder à la révision de ces politiques et règlements de façon systématique ;

La majorité des politiques et des règlements prévoient des moments de révision. A-t-on un calendrier de suivi à cet effet ?

J’encourage donc les conseils d’administration des collèges et les gestionnaires à inscrire la validation et l’évolution des politiques et règlements, à leurs priorités institutionnelles. On permet ainsi aux administrateurs de jouer pleinement leur rôle et de participer au développement de nos institutions.


(1) Le modèle de gouvernance « Créatrice de valeurs »®, préconisé par l’Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques est celui développé par le professeur Yvan Allaire, président exécutif du conseil de l’IGOPP.

(2) Rapport du Vérificateur général du Québec à l’Assemblée nationale pour l’année 2016-2017, Gestion administrative des cégeps, Automne 2016

(3) idem, p.4

(4) Extraits du séminaire sur la gouvernance ; vers une gouvernance « Créatrice de valeurs », IGOPP (Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques)

(5) Bilan de l’an 3-2016-2017, principaux constats découlant des audits de l’an 3, Évaluation de l’efficacité des systèmes d’assurance qualité des collèges québécois, p.20

(6) Extrait du séminaire sur la gouvernance ; vers une gouvernance « Créatrice de valeurs », IGOPP (Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques), charte du comité de vérification et de finances.

_____________________________________

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


 

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

 

(1) LE RÔLE DU PRÉSIDENT DU CONSEIL D’ADMINISTRATION (PCA) | LE CAS DES CÉGEPS

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

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

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

(5) La gouvernance des CÉGEPS | Une responsabilité partagée

(6) La gouvernance des Cégeps | Le rapport du Vérificateur général du Québec

Une revue de l’activisme actionnarial


Excellente revue de l’activisme actionnarial en 2018 par Jim Rossman, directeur de Shareholder Advisory de la firme Lazard. L’article a été publié sur le forum de la Harvard Law School aujourd’hui.

Vous trouverez ci-dessous les faits marquants de l’année. Je vous encourage à prendre connaissance des nombreuses illustrations infographiques dans la version complète.

Bonne lecture !

2018 Review of Shareholder Activism

 

 Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Shareholder Activism »

1. A New High-Water Mark for Global Activist Activity

  1. A record 226 companies were targeted in 2018, as compared to 188 companies in 2017
  2. $65.0bn of capital deployed in 2018, up from $62.4bn in 2017
  3. In spite of significant market volatility, Q4 2018 was the most active Q4 on record both by campaign volume and capital deployed
  4. Against the backdrop of a robust M&A market, 33% of 2018 activist campaigns were M&A related

2. Broadening Use of Activism as a Tactic

  1. A record 131 investors engaged in activism in 2018, reflecting the continued expansion of activism as a tactic
  2. 40 “first timers” launched activist campaigns in 2018, as compared to 23 “first timers” in 2017
  3. Nine of the top 10 activists (by current activist positions [1]) invested more than $1bn in 2018 (60 new campaigns in aggregate)
  4. Elliott continued to be the most prolific activist, with 22 new campaigns launched in 2018

3. Activism Is Reshaping Boardrooms

  1. 161 Board seats won in 2018, [2] up 56% from 2017 and 11% higher than the previous record of 145 seats in 2016
  2. Starboard led the way in 2018, winning 29 seats exclusively through negotiated settlements
  3. Activists continue to name accomplished candidates, with 27% of activist appointees having public company CEO/CFO experience
  4. However, only 18% of activist appointees in 2018 were female, as compared to 40% of new S&P 500 directors in 2018 [3]

4. Activism Has Global Reach

  1. Activist campaigns in Europe and APAC accounted for 23% and 12% of companies targeted, respectively
  2. 58 European campaigns and 30 APAC campaigns in 2018 were each record highs
  3. National champions, iconic family owned companies and regulated industries featured prominently among targeted companies

5. Traditional Active Managers Are the “New Vocalists”

  1. Traditional active managers are increasingly comfortable sharing their views on major activist campaigns in private interactions with
    management and more public forums
  2. Traditional managers like T. Rowe Price, Janus Henderson and GBL publicly voiced their opinions on major activist campaigns

6. Shareholder Dynamics Are Attracting Scrutiny

  1. BlackRock’s Larry Fink set the tone for the year, calling on companies to identify and follow through on their social purpose
  2. Stakeholder duties, employee Board representation and capital allocation / share buybacks became political issues
  3. Voting power of index funds remains a highly debated topic, and regulators have begun to explore the influence of proxy advisory firms and the proxy voting process itself

The complete publication, including Appendix, is available here.

L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de conseils d’administration ?


Voici une question que beaucoup de personnes expertes avec les notions de bonne gouvernance se posent : « L’âge des administrateurs de sociétés représente-t-il un facteur déterminant dans leur efficacité comme membres indépendants de conseils d’administration ? »

En d’autres termes, les administrateurs indépendants (AI) de 65 ans et plus sont-ils plus avisés, ou sont-ils carrément trop âgés ?

L’étude menée par Ronald Masulis* de l’Université de New South Wales Australian School of Business et de ses collègues est très originale dans sa conception et elle montre que malgré toutes les réformes réglementaires des dernières années, l’âge des administrateurs indépendants est plus élevé au lieu d’être plus bas, comme on le souhaitait.

L’étude montre que pendant la période allant de 1998 à 2014, l’âge médian des administrateurs indépendants (AI) des grandes entreprises américaines est passé de 60 à 64 ans. De plus, le pourcentage de firmes ayant une majorité de AI de plus de 65 ans est passé de 26 % à 50 % !

L’étude montre que le choix d’administrateurs indépendants de plus de 65 ans se fait au détriment d’une nouvelle classe de jeunes administrateurs dynamiques et compétents. Cela a pour effet de réduire le bassin des nouveaux administrateurs requis pour des postes d’administrateurs de la relève, ainsi que pour les besoins criants d’une plus grande diversité.

In our new study Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?, we investigate this boardroom aging phenomenon and examine how it affects board effectiveness in terms of firm decision making and shareholder value creation. On the one hand, older independent directors can be valuable resources to firms given their wealth of business experience and professional connections accumulated over the course of their long careers. Moreover, since they are most likely to have retired from their full-time jobs, they should have more time available to devote to their board responsibilities. On the other hand, older independent directors can face declining energy, physical strength, and mental acumen, which can undermine their monitoring and advisory functions. They can also have less incentive to build and maintain their reputation in the director labor market, given their dwindling future directorship opportunities and shorter expected board tenure as they approach normal retirement age.

Dans la foulée des mouvements activistes, plusieurs entreprises semblent faire le choix d’AI plus âgés. Cependant, l’analyse coût/bénéfice de l’efficacité des AI plus âgés montre que leurs rendements est possiblement surfait et que la tendance à éliminer ou à retarder l’âge limite de retraite doit faire l’objet d’une bonne réflexion !

Si le sujet vous intéresse, je vous invite à lire l’article original. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

Bonne lecture !

Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?

 

 

figure 3

 

 

The past two decades have witnessed dramatic changes to the boards of directors of U.S. public corporations. Several recent governance reforms (the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the revised 2003 NYSE/Nasdaq listing rules, and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act) combined with a rise in shareholder activism have enhanced director qualifications and independence and made boards more accountable. These regulatory changes have significantly increased the responsibilities and liabilities of outside directors. Many firms have also placed limits on how many boards a director can sit on. This changing environment has reduced the ability and incentives of active senior corporate executives to serve on outside boards. Faced with this reduced supply of qualified independent directors and the increased demand for them, firms are increasingly relying on older director candidates. As a result, in recent years the boards of U.S. public corporations have become notably older in age. For example, over the period of 1998 to 2014, the median age of independent directors at large U.S. firms rose from 60 to 64, and the percentage of firms with a majority of independent directors age 65 or above nearly doubled from 26% to 50%.

In our new study Directors: Older and Wiser, or Too Old to Govern?, we investigate this boardroom aging phenomenon and examine how it affects board effectiveness in terms of firm decision making and shareholder value creation. On the one hand, older independent directors can be valuable resources to firms given their wealth of business experience and professional connections accumulated over the course of their long careers. Moreover, since they are most likely to have retired from their full-time jobs, they should have more time available to devote to their board responsibilities. On the other hand, older independent directors can face declining energy, physical strength, and mental acumen, which can undermine their monitoring and advisory functions. They can also have less incentive to build and maintain their reputation in the director labor market, given their dwindling future directorship opportunities and shorter expected board tenure as they approach normal retirement age.

We analyze a sample of S&P 1500 firms over the 1998-2014 period and define an independent director as an “older independent director” (OID) if he or she is at least 65 years old. We begin by evaluating individual director performance by comparing board meeting attendance records and major board committee responsibilities of older versus younger directors. Controlling for a battery of director and firm characteristics as well as director, year, and industry fixed effects, we find that OIDs exhibit poorer board attendance records and are less likely to serve as the chair or a member of an important board committee. These results suggest that OIDs either are less able or have weaker incentives to fulfill their board duties.

We next examine major corporate policies and find a large body of evidence consistently pointing to monitoring deficiencies of OIDs. To measure the extent of boardroom aging, we construct a variable, OID %, as the fraction of all independent directors who are categorized as OIDs. As the percentage of OIDs on corporate boards rises, excess CEO compensation increases. This relationship is mainly driven by the cash component of CEO compensation. A greater OID presence on corporate boards is also associated with firms having lower financial reporting quality, poorer acquisition profitability measured by announcement returns, less generous payout polices, and lower CEO turnover-to-performance sensitivity. Moreover, we find that firm performance, measured either by a firm’s return on assets or its Tobin’s Q, is significantly lower when firms have a greater fraction of OIDs on their boards. These results collectively support the conclusion that OIDs suffer from monitoring deficiencies that impair the board’s effectiveness in providing management oversight.

We employ a number of approaches to address the endogeneity issue. First, we include firm-fixed effects wherever applicable to control for unobservable time-invariant firm-specific factors that may correlate with both the presence of OIDs and the firm outcome variables that we study. Second, we employ an instrumental variable regression approach where we instrument for the presence of OIDs on a firm’s board with a measure capturing the local supply of older director candidates in the firm’s headquarters state. We find that all of our firm-level results continue to hold under a two-stage IV regression framework. Third, we exploit a regulatory shock to firms’ board composition. The NYSE and Nasdaq issued new listing standards in 2003 following the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which required listed firms to have a majority of independent directors on the board. We show that firms non-compliant with the new rule experienced a significantly larger increase in the percentage of OIDs over the 2000-2005 period compared to compliant firms. A major reason for this difference is that noncompliant firms needed to hire more OIDs to comply with the new listing standards. Using a firm’s noncompliance status as an instrument for the change in the board’s OID percentage, we find that firm performance deteriorates as noncompliant firms increase OIDs on their boards. We also conduct two event studies, one on OID appointment announcements and the other on the announcements of firm policy changes that increase the mandatory retirement age of outside directors. We find that shareholders react negatively to both announcements.

In our final set of analysis, we explore cross-sectional variations in the relation between OIDs and firm performance and policies. We find that the negative relation between OIDs and firm performance is more pronounced when OIDs hold multiple outside board seats. This evidence suggests that “busyness” exacerbates the monitoring deficiency of OIDs. We also find that for firms with high advisory needs, the relation between OIDs and firm performance is no longer significantly negative and in some cases, becomes positive. These results are consistent with OIDs using their experience and resources to provide valuable counsel to senior managers in need of board advice. Also consistent with OIDs performing a valuable advisory function, our analysis of acquirer returns shows that the negative relation between OIDs and acquirer returns is limited to OIDs who have neither prior acquisition experience, nor experience in the target industry. For OIDs with either type of experience, their marginal effect on acquirer returns is non-negative, and sometimes significantly positive.

Our research is the first investigation of the pervasive and growing phenomenon of boardroom aging at large U.S. corporations and its impact on board effectiveness and firm performance. As the debate over director age limits continues in the news media and among activist shareholders and regulators, our findings on the costs and benefits associated with OIDs can provide important and timely policy guidance. For companies considering lifting or waiving mandatory director retirement age requirements, so as to lower the burden of recruiting and retaining experienced independent directors, our evidence should give them pause. Similarly, while recent corporate governance reforms and the rise in shareholder activism have made boards, and especially independent directors, more accountable for managerial decisions and firm performance, they may also have created the unintended consequence of shrinking the supply of potential independent directors who are younger active executives. This result has led firms to tap deeper into the pool of older director candidates, which our analysis shows can undermine the very objectives that corporate governance reforms seek to accomplish.

The complete paper is available for download here.

___________________________________________________________________________________

*Ronald Masulis is Scientia Professor of Finance at University of New South Wales Australian School of Business; Cong Wang is Professor of Finance at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and the associate director of Shenzhen Finance Institute; Fei Xie is Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Delaware; and Shuran Zhang is Associate Professor of Finance at Jinan University. This post is based on their recent paper.

Dix sujets « hots » pour les administrateurs en 2019


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

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

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

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

 

Top 10 Topics for Directors in 2019

 

 

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1. Corporate Culture

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

2. Board Diversity

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

3. #MeToo Movement

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

4. Corporate Social Responsibility

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

5. Corporate Strategy

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

6. Sanctions

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

7. Shareholder Activism

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

8. Cybersecurity

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

9. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

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

10. SEC Regulation and Enforcement

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

Bonus: Midterm Elections

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

The complete publication is available here.

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


Les plus jeunes administrateurs sont appelés à devenir de nouvelles voix influentes dans les conseils ;

 

New Voices in the Boardroom: The Gradual Evolution of Board Composition

 

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The stakes for having the right people around the boardroom table have never been higher. Directors need to have the skills and experiences that not only align with their company’s long-term strategic direction but also enable their boards to effectively advise management amid unprecedented change and business disruption. Board succession has emerged as a key priority for shareholders, who increasingly expect boards to have a rigorous process in place for assessing board composition and refreshment. Of particular concern are whether there is enough diversity in the boardroom, whether the board has the right combination of skills, and how the board views director tenure.

Notably, directors with diverse profiles are increasingly joining US boardrooms. However, a chronically low rate of director turnover is bringing about only gradual shifts in the overall makeup of US boards. The modest pace of change is likely to persist, meaning that corporate boards are likely to evolve only incrementally.

Directors with diverse profiles are increasingly joining US boardrooms.

Looking to the year ahead, the following represent the board trends Spencer Stuart believes will continue or accelerate in 2019, and how they are likely to shape board composition in 2019 and beyond.

 

Turnover will continue to be driven by director departures and mandatory retirement in the near term.

 

In 2018, S&P 500 companies added the highest number of new directors since 2004 — roughly 0.88 new independent directors per board. That said, overall turnover in US boardrooms is modest, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, impeding meaningful year-over-year change in the overall composition of S&P 500 boards. During the 2018 proxy season, a little more than half of S&P 500 boards (57%) added one or more new directors.

Barring changes in boardroom refreshment practices, this trend is likely to continue. Limits on director tenure are rare today. Only 25 S&P 500 boards (5%) set explicit term limits for nonexecutive directors, with terms ranging from 9 to 20 years. Additionally, it does not appear that individual and/or peer assessments are regularly used by boards to promote refreshment. Only 38 percent of S&P 500 companies report some form of individual director evaluations, a percentage largely unchanged over the past five years.

Instead, S&P 500 boards are likely to continue relying on mandatory retirement policies to stimulate board turnover. Today, 71 percent of S&P 500 boards disclose a mandatory retirement age for directors, consistent with the past five years. Retirement ages also continue to climb. In 2008, a meager 11 percent of S&P 500 companies with mandatory retirement policies set the age limit at 75 or older, compared to 43.5 percent today. More than half of these companies mandate a retirement age of at least 73 or older. Three boards have a retirement age of 80.

 

 

Three-quarters of the independent directors who left S&P 500 boards in the 2018 proxy season served on boards with mandatory retirement ages. The age limits appeared to have influenced many of these departures — 37 percent of retirees had reached or exceeded the age limit at retirement, and another 16 percent left within three years of the retirement age. Currently, only 16 percent of the independent directors on S&P 500 boards with age caps are within three years of mandatory retirement.

Experience as a CEO, board chair, or similar position is no longer viewed as the only qualifying credential for director candidates.

The boardroom will gradually be reshaped by new perspectives and expertise.

 

While modest turnover will continue, evidence suggests that boards will use openings from director departures to inject fresh perspectives and expertise into emerging areas of need.

For one thing, experience as a CEO, board chair, or similar position is no longer viewed as the only qualifying credential for director candidates. Of the 428 new independent directors added to S&P 500 boards in the 2018 proxy year, only 35.5 percent were active or retired CEOs, board chairs, or similar, down from 47 percent a decade ago. Nor is a background in a public company boardroom a requirement. First-time public company directors constituted 33 percent of the 2018 class of new S&P 500 directors. These first-timers are younger than their peers and more likely to be actively employed (64% versus 53%). They are less likely to be CEOs or chief operating officers, and more likely to have other managerial experiences such as line or functional backgrounds or to hold roles in division/subsidiary leadership. They are also more likely to be minorities: 24 percent of first-time directors in 2018 are minorities, versus 19 percent of all new S&P 500 directors.

Of the 428 new independent directors added to S&P 500 boards in the 2018 proxy year, only 35.5 percent were active or retired CEOs, board chairs, or similar, down from 47 percent a decade ago.

*Includes directors who had served or were serving as an executive director on a public company board.

 

Recognizing the strategic imperative for new perspectives and experience in the boardroom, boards are increasingly adding directors with backgrounds in technology, digital transformation and technologies, consumer marketing, and other areas of emerging importance. Financial talent remains prized, especially the experiences of chief financial officers, finance executives, and/or investment professionals. That said, as investors have continued to press for more gender diversity, S&P 500 boards have increased the number of women directors, reaching a new high: 40 percent of new directors in the 2018 proxy year are women, an increase from 36 percent in 2017.

Financial talent remains prized, especially the experiences of chief financial officers, finance executives, and/or investment professionals.

 

Boards are also likely to enhance disclosures about composition. As interest in boardroom composition among investors has increased, a growing number of companies are voluntarily enhancing their disclosures to highlight the diversity of their boards and to showcase how director skills and qualifications align with company strategy. In fact, nearly a third (30%) of S&P 500 companies have published a board matrix spotlighting the skills and qualifications of each director on their governance web page.

Younger directors may become a potent new voice in the boardroom.

 

As boards prioritize new areas of expertise — such as industry and functional experience in technology and digital transformation, and certain areas of marketing and finance — many are tapping “next-generation” directors whose qualifications align with the needs of their organizations. One out of six directors (17%) in the 2018 class of new directors is age 50 or younger.

Given that their backgrounds and profiles differ from more traditional board members, these directors are likely to bring varied perspectives to boardroom discussions. Nearly two-thirds of these “next-gen” corporate directors have expertise in three sectors: technology/telecommunications (34%), consumer goods (16%), and private equity/investments (14%). A majority (almost two-thirds) are serving on their first public company board. More than half (53%) are women.

Interestingly, these directors may also be less likely to have lengthy tenures, due to factors such as the demands of their careers, a desire to move on, or dissatisfaction with their board experience. Twenty-eight (7%) of the 417 directors who left an S&P 500 board seat in the 2018 proxy season were 55 years old or younger, with an average tenure of five years. Other directors who departed their boards over the same period had a much longer tenure on average (12.7 years) and were 68.4 years old on average.

Business demands and investor pressure are likely to change how boards think about composition and refreshment strategies.

The implications for your board

 

Business demands and investor pressure are likely to change how boards think about composition and refreshment strategies. Increasingly, directors are recognizing that board composition should support and reflect the strategic needs of the organization. Boards can use the following recommendations to enhance short- and long-term approaches to their composition:

Have an ongoing refreshment strategy.

The composition of the board should be viewed as a strategic asset. Boards will be better prepared to plan for and take advantage of openings if there is a formal approach to refreshment. This includes regularly reviewing and aligning the board’s makeup to the company’s strategic direction, identifying desired competencies for future directors, and regularly infusing the board with perspectives relevant to the organization’s future needs.

Increasingly, investors consider meaningful full-board and individual assessments as “best practice” not only for evaluating and enhancing board and director performance but also for promoting boardroom refreshment. While annual evaluations have become the norm for boards, far fewer — 38 percent of S&P 500 boards — report some form of individual director evaluations. Proactive boards assess skills and attributes, incorporating results from board self-assessments. They also take a multiyear view of departures, including upcoming board leadership changes, and set clear expectations around director tenure.

Key Questions for Directors to Consider:

 

  1. Does the board as currently constituted give the company its best shot at success in supporting the strategy?
  2. What additional, and potentially underrepresented, skills or expertise would significantly enhance the board’s ability to do its job?
  3. What are our refreshment mechanisms and strategy, and how are they communicated to stakeholders, including investors?
  4. Are we using board evaluations to help identify gaps in expertise and skills the board may require in the coming years?
  5. Is our onboarding program robust and tailored to individual director needs and backgrounds?
Position new directors for success.

The nominating and governance committee chair and other board leaders should ensure that the board has a robust new-director orientation program in place. Incoming directors, particularly younger and first-time board members, benefit from an orientation and continuing education that familiarize them with the company’s needs and the board’s approach to governance. At a minimum, a director onboarding program should provide insights about public disclosures and nonpublic materials (such as board meeting minutes, forecasts, budgets, strategic plans, etc.) and socialize the new director(s) with key executives and members of senior management. Additionally, the board should recognize that new directors may find it helpful to partner with a mentor — formally or informally — who they can turn to for questions and feedback.

With greater focus on diversity, board culture becomes critical.

Boards are adding new perspectives to enhance board deliberations and improve outcomes. But greater diversity also increases the likelihood of misunderstanding and tension among directors with different points of view and backgrounds. In the past, boards tended to be more homogeneous and, as a result, there was typically more implicit agreement about director interaction and behavior. Today, with higher levels of diversity in the boardroom — whether in terms of experiences, skills, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and/or age — it’s critical to create a boardroom culture that facilitates constructive interactions between board members. All boards can benefit from cultures that value inquisitiveness and flexibility, and where directors are comfortable challenging one another’s — and management’s — assumptions and ideas.

_____________________________________________________________

Note: This article was originally published in the NACD 2019 Governance Outlook.

*Julie Hembrock Daum leads the North American Board Practice and was a long standing board member of Spencer Stuart. She consults with corporate boards, working with companies of all sizes from the Fortune 10 to pre-IPO companies. She has conducted more than 1,000 board director assignments, recently recruiting outside directors for Johnson & Johnson, Whole Foods, Amazon, Saudi Aramco, Nike, numerous IPOs and spin off boards.

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


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

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

L’auteur fait ressortir les éléments critiques suivants :

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

 

Bonne lecture !

 

Looking Ahead: Key Trends in Corporate Governance

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Board’s Role and Director Duties Remain Durable

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shareholder Primacy and Shareholder Influence Under Scrutiny

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reform of Proxy Voting and Regulation of Proxy Advisors Under Consideration

 

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

Topics discussed at the roundtable included:

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

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

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

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

mandating use of universal proxy cards in proxy contests.

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

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

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

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

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

requiring disclosure of preliminary vote tallies.

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

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

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

The Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act

 

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

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

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

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

Policies and procedures to manage conflicts of interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Convergence of Ideas on Corporate Governance Practices Continues

 

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

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

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

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

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

These recommendations are in line with evolving practices.

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

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

 

Shifting Focus of Private Ordering to ESG Issues

 

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

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

 

Continuing Demand for Shareholder Engagement and Attention to Activist Investors

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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