Spencer Stuart Board Index | 2019.


Julie Hembrock Daum , Laurel McCarthy et Ann Yerger, associés de la firme  Spencer Stuart présentent les grandes lignes du rapport annuel Spencer Stuart Board Index | 2019.

Comme vous le noterez, les changements observés sont cohérents avec les changements de fonds en gouvernance.

Cependant, puisque les CA ont tendance à être de plus petites tailles et que la rotation des administrateurs sur les conseils est plutôt faible, les changements se font à un rythme trop lent pour observer une modernisation significative

The 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index finds that boards are heeding the growing calls from shareholders and other stakeholders and adding new directors with diversity of gender, age, race/ethnicity and professional backgrounds. However, because boardroom turnover remains low, with the new directors representing only 8% of all S&P 500 directors, changes to overall numbers continue at a slow pace.

Voici les points saillants de l’étude.

Bonne lecture !

2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index

 

A summary of the most notable findings in the 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index.

Key Takeaways—2019 Spencer Stuart Board Index

Diversity is a priority

Of the 432 independent directors added to S&P 500 boards over the past year, a record-breaking 59% are diverse (defined as women and minority men), up from half last year. Women comprise 46% of the incoming class. Minority women (defined as African-American/Black, Asian and Hispanic/Latino) comprise 10% of new S&P 500 directors, and minority men 13%.

The professional experiences of S&P 500 directors are changing

Two thirds (65%) of the 2019 incoming class come from outside the ranks of CEO, chair/vice chair, president and COO. Financial talent is a focus area; 27% of the new directors have financial backgrounds. Other corporate leadership skills are valued, with 23% bringing experiences as division/subsidiary heads or as EVPs, SVPs or functional unit leaders.

Diverse directors are driving the changing profile of new S&P 500 directors

Only 19% of the diverse directors are current or former CEOs, compared to 44% of non-diverse men. Meanwhile 34% of the diverse directors are first-time corporate directors, nearly double the 18% of the non-diverse directors. Diverse directors bring other types of corporate leadership experience to the boardroom, with 31% of the diverse directors offering experiences as current or former line or functional leaders, compared to just 11% of the non-diverse men.

Sitting CEOs are increasingly not sitting on outside boards

This year’s survey found that on average, independent directors of S&P 500 companies serve on 2.1 boards, unchanged over the past five years. Meanwhile 59% of S&P 500 CEOs serve on no outside boards, up from 55% last year. Only 23 S&P 500 CEOs (5%) serve on two or more outside boards, and 79 independent directors (2%) serve on more than four public company boards.

Boards are adding younger directors, but the average age of S&P 500 directors is unchanged

Once again, one out of six directors added to S&P 500 boards are 50 or younger. Over half (59%) bring experiences from the private equity/investment management, consumer and information technology sectors. These younger directors are more diverse than the rest of the incoming class, with 69% either women (57% of “next gen” group) or minority men (12% of “next gen” group). They are also more likely to be serving on their first corporate board; 54% are first-time directors.

However, an overwhelming number of new directors are older. More than 40% of the incoming class is 60 or older; the average age of a new S&P 500 independent director is 57.5 years. Of the universe of S&P 500 independent directors, 20% are 70 or older, while only 6% are 50 or younger. The average age of an S&P 500 independent director is 63, largely unchanged since 2009.

Low turnover in the boardroom persists

Consistent with past years, 56% of S&P 500 boards added at least one independent director over the past year. More than one quarter (29%) made no changes to their roster of independent directors—neither adding nor losing independent directors—and 15% reduced the number of independent directors without adding any new independent directors.

The end result: in spite of the record number of female directors, representation of women on S&P 500 boards increased incrementally to 26% of all directors, up from 24% in 2018 and 16% in 2009. Today, 19% of all directors of the top 200 companies are male or female minorities, up from 17% last year and 15% in 2009.

Individual director assessments are gaining traction, but mandatory retirement policies continue to proliferate

This year 44% of S&P 500 companies disclosed some form of individual director assessment (up from 38% last year and 22% 10 years ago). However, 71% of S&P 500 boards (largely unchanged over the past five years) disclosed a mandatory retirement age for directors, and retirement ages continue to rise, with 46% of boards with caps setting the age at 75 or older, compared to just 15% in 2009.

Age caps influenced the majority of director departures from boards with retirement policies, with 41% either exceeding or reaching the age cap and another 14% leaving within three years of the retirement age.

Demographically, only 15% of the independent directors on boards with age caps are within three years of mandatory retirement. As a result, most S&P 500 directors have a long runway before reaching mandatory retirement.

Independent board chairs continue to grow in numbers and pay

Today more than half of S&P 500 boards (53%) split the chair and CEO roles, up from 37% a decade ago. One-third (34%) are chaired by an independent director, up from 31% last year and 16% in 2009.

Although the roles and responsibilities of an independent board chair and a lead director are frequently similar, the difference in compensation is wide and growing. Independent chairs receive, on average, an additional $172,000 in annual compensation, compared to an annual average supplement of $41,000 for independent lead directors.

For the first time, total director pay at S&P 500 boards averages more than $300,000

The average total compensation for S&P 500 non-employee directors, excluding independent chairs, is around $303,000, a 2% year-over-year increase. Director pay varies widely by sector, with a $100,000 difference between the average total pay of the highest and lowest paying sectors.

Key Takeaways—Survey of S&P 500 Nominating and Governance Committee Members

Our survey of more than 110 nominating and governance committee members of S&P 500 companies portends a continuation of trends identified in 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index.

Turnover in the boardroom will remain low

On average, the surveyed nominating and governance committee members anticipate appointing/replacing one director each year over the next three years.

Boards will increase their focus on racial/ethnic diversity and continue to focus on gender diversity

Diversity considerations are two of the top five issues for the next three years. While 75% of the surveyed committee members reported that gender diversity was addressed in the past year, 66% said it would continue to be a priority over the next three years. Only 38% reported that racial/ethnic diversity was addressed in the past year, but 65% said it was a top priority for the next three years.

Industry experience will be a key recruiting consideration

The top priority for the next three years—cited by 82% of the surveyed committee members—is expanding director sector/industry experience.

Evaluations of boards and directors will be examined

Enhancing board and individual director evaluations is another top priority for the next three years, identified by 61% of the respondents. While more than three quarters of respondents ranked their full board and committee assessments as very or extremely effective, only 62% gave similar marks to peer evaluations and a just over a majority (53%) gave similar rankings to self-assessments.

Boards will have to cast a wide net to identify director talent

The top five recruiting priorities for the next three years are: female directors (40%); technology experience (38%); active CEO/COO (35%); digital/social media experience (29%); and minorities (27%). Finding a single director who meets all of these criteria is difficult at best, and given supply/demand pressures, boards will have to dig deeper to identify qualified director candidates.

Together the 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index and Spencer Stuart’s Survey of S&P 500 Nominating and Governance Committee Members indicate that the profile of S&P 500 directors will continue to change and board composition will continue to evolve. But the pace of change will remain measured.

Actionnaires de contrôle des entreprises | cibles des activistes


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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

Fall of the Ivory Tower: Controlled Companies and Shareholder Activism

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Define Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Demonstrate unfair and abusive treatment of minority shareholders

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

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

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

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

L’activisme actionnarial | la situation en France


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

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

Après un bref historique du phénomène, les auteurs ont :

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

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

Bonne lecture !

ACTIVISME ACTIONNARIAL | Club des juristes français

 

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Sommaire du rapport

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Table des matières du rapport 

PREMIÈRE PARTIE – ÉTAT DES LIEUX 

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

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

II. DES COMPORTEMENTS PARFOIS DISCUTABLES

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

DEUXIÈME PARTIE – PISTES DE RÉFLEXION 

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

II. L’AMÉLIORATION DU DIALOGUE ENTRE éMETTEURS ET INVESTISSEURS 

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

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

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

Conclusions

La responsabilité des administrateurs eu égard aux risques climatiques


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

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

Bonne lecture !

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

 

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

climate, climate change, ice melting

Image: Bernhard Staehli/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

A major push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An opportunity for leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A board responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________

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

Prix Fidéide | Saine gouvernance


Je me fais le porte-parole du Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS) pour vous sensibiliser au lancement d’un Prix Fidéide visant à reconnaître et encourager les meilleures pratiques en gouvernance : le Fidéide Saine gouvernance.

Le CAS s’associe à nouveau à la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Québec (CCIQ) pour la sélection des candidats à ce prix Fidéide.

J’ai donc décidé, à la suite d’une demande de Chantale Coulombe, présidente du Collège des administrateurs de sociétés, d’aider à susciter des candidatures pour ce prestigieux prix en gouvernance. Le prix sera présenté en collaboration avec le cabinet d’avocats Jolicoeur Lacasse.

Voici donc le communiqué que la direction du Collège souhaite partager avec les abonnés de mon blogue.

 

 

Fidéide Saine gouvernance

 

Les critères

Au nombre des critères pour se mériter ce prix, l’entreprise doit avoir en place un comité consultatif ou un conseil d’administration et elle doit s’être distinguée en ayant adopté une ou des pratiques de gouvernance reconnue(s) au cours des trois dernières années que ce soit en lien notamment avec :

(i) la gestion de risque

(ii) les mesures de la performance financière et non financière

(iii) l’implantation de sous-comités

(iv) la parité

(v) les dossiers de ressources humaines

(vi) la relève au sein du CA et\ou au sein de la direction de l’organisation

(vii) le développement durable

(viii) les technologies ou

(iv) la responsabilité sociale.

 

Retour sur le Fidéide Saine Gouvernance 2019

Connus et reconnus dans la grande région de la Capitale-Nationale et de Chaudière-Appalaches, les Fidéides visent à récompenser des entreprises qui se sont démarquées pour des performances exceptionnelles. L’an dernier, pour la toute première fois, la Chambre ajoutait la catégorie Saine gouvernance et c’est la Coopérative des consommateurs de Lorette – Convivio IGA qui a eu l’honneur de décrocher ce premier Fidéide. Deux autres finalistes prestigieux avaient retenu l’attention du jury en 2019, soit : l’Administration portuaire de Québec et le Réseau de transport de la capitale (RTC).

 

Une occasion de reconnaître et d’encourager la saine gouvernance

À titre d’administrateur de sociétés, vous connaissez sans aucun doute des organisations qui mériteraient une telle distinction. Aussi, je vous invite fortement à les inciter à poser leur candidature au plus tard le 5 novembre.

En mettant les projecteurs sur les meilleures pratiques adoptées par ces entreprises, c’est toute la gouvernance des sociétés qui en profitera.

 

Informations et dépôt des candidatures

 

Pour plus de détails, visitez la page Fidéide Saine gouvernance 2020 sur le site du Collège ou encore, rendez-vous sur la page désignée sur le site de la Chambre.

 

Gouvernance des TI | une formation essentielle pour outiller les administrateurs de sociétés


Le Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS) offre des formations spécialisées en gouvernance. C’est le cas pour la formation en gouvernance des technologies de l’information (TI) qui sera offerte à Québec le 22 octobre 2019.

Il est bien connu que les administrateurs doivent être mieux outillés pour prendre des décisions dans ce domaine en pleine révolution.

En tant que membre d’un CA, c’est votre devoir de vous assurer d’avoir un minimum de connaissances en TI.

La présentation ci-dessous vous donne tous les détails pertinents pour vous inscrire ; ou pour réfléchir à l’idée d’améliorer vos connaissances en gouvernance des TI.

Formation Gouvernance des TI

Obtenez des assises solides pour gouverner les TI

Serait-il acceptable que des administrateurs ne s’intéressent pas aux éléments financiers sous prétexte qu’ils ne sont pas des comptables professionnels agréés ? Il en va de même pour les TI. Les administrateurs doivent s’intéresser à la question et prendre part aux débats.

Cette formation de haut niveau vise à réhabiliter les administrateurs, les chefs d’entreprise, les hauts dirigeants et les investisseurs en leur donnant des assises solides pour bien gouverner les technologies de l’information et contribuer ainsi au processus de création de valeur.

Consultez le dépliant de la formation Gouvernance des TI

 

Formatrice

Mme Paule-Anne Morin, ASC, C. Dir., Adm.A., CMC
Consultante et administratrice de sociétés

Biographie [+]

 

Clientèle cible

 

Membres de conseils d’administration

Hauts dirigeants

Gestionnaires

Investisseurs

 

Admissibilité

 

Correspondre à la clientèle cible.

Aucun préalable universitaire n’est requis.

Prochaines sessions de formation

 

22 octobre 2019, à QuébecInscription en ligne

24 mars 2020, à Montréal
Inscription en ligne

 

Objectifs

 

        1. Comprendre les quatre rôles des administrateurs en regard de la gouvernance des TI
        2. Connaître les informations requises pour pouvoir s’acquitter de ces rôles
        3. Outiller les administrateurs afin qu’ils soient des acteurs engagés dans la gouvernance des TI
        4. Réfléchir et échanger entre administrateurs et hauts dirigeants sur les sujets reliés aux technologies de l’information

Thèmes abordés

 

        1. La gouvernance des TI par les conseils d’administration : devoirs et obligations
        2. Stratégie et alignement des TI
        3. Surveillance de la performance des TI
        4. Gestion des risques en TI
        5. Modalités de gouvernance des TI par les conseils d’administration

Conversation avec une administratrice – la gouvernance des TI dans l’action

 

La journée de formation se termine sur un échange avec une administratrice pour aborder son point de vue sur les particularités de la gouvernance des TI, les défis rencontrés et les éléments à prendre en considération. Elle abordera entre autres les particularités de la gouvernance des TI, les défis rencontrés et les éléments à prendre en considération pour assurer une meilleure gouvernance des TI.

Session de Québec – Administratrice invitée

Lyne Bouchard, professeure agrégée
Directrice de l’Observatoire de gouvernance des technologies de l’information
Vice-rectrice aux ressources humaines de l’Université Laval

Mme Lyne Bouchard compte plus de vingt années d’expérience dans le monde des affaires et des technologies de l’information, ainsi qu’en recherche et en enseignement universitaires. Elle a notamment été directrice pour l’est du Canada des programmes pour dirigeants chez Gartner, présidente directrice générale de TechnoMontréal et chef de la stratégie chez Fujitsu Canada/DMR. Madame Bouchard a siégé à plusieurs conseils et siège actuellement au conseil de la SAQ et au comité de la gestion des risques du Fonds de solidarité FTQ.

 

Anne-Marie Croteau, ASC

Session de Montréal – Administratrice invitée

Anne-Marie Croteau, ASC
Doyenne de l’École de gestion John-Molson (JMSB), Université Concordia

En plus d’être doyenne de l’École de gestion John Molson de l’Université de Concordia, Mme Anne-Marie Croteau siège à de nombreux conseils d’administration dont celui d’Hydro-Québec où elle est vice-présidente du Comité des affaires financières, projets et technologies. Elle siège aussi au conseil d’administration de la Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec où elle préside le Comité des technologies de l’information.

Environnement numérique et matériel en ligne

Cette formation spécialisée est réalisée en collaboration avec l’Observatoire en gouvernance des technologies de l’information (OGTI) de la Faculté des sciences de l’administration de l’Université Laval.

Reconnaissance professionnelle

 

Cette formation, d’une durée de 7,5 heures, est reconnue aux fins des règlements ou des politiques de formation continue obligatoire des ordres et organismes professionnels suivants : Barreau du Québec, Ordre des ADMA du Québec, Ordre des CPA du Québec, Ordre des CRHA et Association des MBA du Québec.

Frais d’inscription, modalités de paiement, annulation

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


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

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

La nouvelle politique aborde plusieurs sujets :

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

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

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

Pay for Performance—A Mirage?

 

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

Simplified and tailored plans

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

Reference points and peers

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

Elements of comp

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

Time-based restricted stock

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

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

Performance-based pay

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

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

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

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

SideBar

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

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

Fixed pay

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

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

SideBar

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

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

Stock ownership guidelines

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

Clawbacks

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

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


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

Les sujets touchent :

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

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

(3) compensation ; and

(4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.

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

Bonne lecture !

ISS 2019 Benchmarking Policy Survey—Key Findings

 

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

Summary

1. Board Composition/Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

2. Board/Capital Structure

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

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

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

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

3. Compensation

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

4. Climate Change Risk Oversight & Disclosure

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

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

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

 


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

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


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

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

Résumé

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

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

 

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

 

Voir l’article ci-dessous :

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

Répertoire des articles en gouvernance publiés sur LinkedIn


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

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

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

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

 

Liste des 10 articles publiés à ce jour en 2019

 

Image associée

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Manuel de saine gouvernance au Canada

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

9. Indice de diversité de genre | Equilar

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

 

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

 

Bonne lecture !

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture !

 

Auditor resignations indicate new attitude to client selection

 

 

auditor
Image: Shutterstock

 

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

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

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

Should we be surprised?

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

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

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

 

Client selection

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media attention

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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


Lors de mes consultations en gouvernance des sociétés, je constate que j’interviens souvent sur des problématiques communes à un grand nombre d’organisations et qui sont cruciales pour l’exercice d’une gouvernance exemplaire.

Aujourd’hui, j’aborde l’une des plus grandes difficultés qui confrontent les conseils d’administration : la gestion des relations de pouvoir entre le président du CA (et certains administrateurs) et la direction générale.

 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « collège des administrateurs de sociétés »

 

Dans des billets ultérieurs, je reviendrai sur plusieurs autres problématiques de gouvernance qui font l’objet de préoccupations par les conseils d’administration :

 

La clarification des rôles et responsabilités des principaux acteurs de la gouvernance : (1) conseil d’administration (2) présidence du conseil d’administration (3) direction générale (4) comités du conseil (5) secrétaire du conseil d’administration.

La composition et les rôles des comités du conseil soutenant la gouvernance : (1) comité de gouvernance et d’éthique (2) comité des ressources humaines et (3) comité d’audit.

La révision de la composition du conseil d’administration : nombre d’administrateurs, profils de compétences, types de représentation, durée et nombre de mandats, indépendance des administrateurs, etc.

La réévaluation du rôle du comité exécutif afin de mieux l’arrimer aux activités des autres comités.

L’importance du rôle du secrétaire du conseil eu égard à son travail, avant, pendant et après les réunions du conseil.

L’évaluation du processus de gestion des réunions du CA qui met l’accent sur l’amélioration de la dynamique d’équipe et la justification d’un huis clos productif et efficace.

La raison d’être d’un processus d’évaluation annuelle de l’efficacité du conseil et la proposition d’instruments d’auto-évaluation des administrateurs.

Les caractéristiques d’une bonne reddition de compte de la part de la direction générale.

L’intégration des nouveaux administrateurs afin de les rendre opérationnels rapidement.

L’adoption d’un code d’éthique des administrateurs exemplaire.

 

Le maintien de relations harmonieuses et continues entre le président du conseil et le directeur général est, selon mon expérience, absolument essentiel à l’exercice d’une saine gouvernance.

Selon de nombreux auteurs sur l’efficacité des conseils d’administration, il est important que le président ait la légitimité et la crédibilité requises pour gérer une saine tension entre les administrateurs et la direction générale de l’organisation.

Il n’y a pas de place pour la complaisance au conseil. Les administrateurs doivent bien comprendre que leur rôle est de veiller aux « intérêts supérieurs » de la société, et non aux intérêts propres à certains groupes de membres. Les administrateurs ont également la responsabilité de tenir compte des parties prenantes lors de leurs délibérations.

Le directeur général (DG) de la société est embauché par le CA pour gérer et exécuter la mission de l’organisation, en réalisant une stratégie liée à son modèle d’affaires. Lui aussi doit travailler en fonction des intérêts de la société, mais c’est la responsabilité fiduciaire du conseil d’administration de s’en assurer en mettant en place les mécanismes de surveillance appropriés.

La théorie dite de « l’agence », sur laquelle reposent les règles de gouvernance, stipule que le conseil d’administration représente l’autorité souveraine de l’organisation (puisqu’il possède la légitimité que lui confèrent les membres en assemblée générale).

Le CA confie à un DG qui, avec son équipe de gestionnaires, a la responsabilité de réaliser les objectifs stratégiques retenus. Les deux parties — le CA et la direction générale — doivent bien comprendre leurs rôles respectifs, et trouver les bons moyens pour gérer la tension inhérente à l’exercice de la gouvernance et de la gestion.

Les administrateurs doivent s’efforcer d’apporter une valeur ajoutée à la gestion en conseillant la direction sur les meilleures orientations à adopter, ainsi qu’en instaurant un climat d’ouverture, de soutien et de transparence propice à la réalisation de performances élevées.

Il est important de noter que l’organisation s’attend à la loyauté des administrateurs ainsi qu’à leur indépendance d’esprit face à la direction. Les administrateurs sont imputables envers la société. C’est la raison pour laquelle le conseil d’administration doit absolument mettre en place un processus d’évaluation de son fonctionnement et divulguer sa méthodologie.

De plus, il est important de noter qu’à l’instar des administrateurs, le président élu doit loyauté envers l’organisation et le conseil d’administration, et non envers les membres ou les actionnaires.

Les experts en gouvernance suggèrent que les rôles et les fonctions de président de l’organisation soient distincts de ceux du DG. Ils affirment que la séparation des fonctions entre la présidence et la direction générale est généralement bénéfique à l’exercice de la responsabilité de fiduciaire des administrateurs, c’est-à-dire que des pouvoirs différents permettent d’éviter les conflits d’intérêts, tout en assurant la légitimité du processus de gouvernance.

L’un des documents fondamentaux pour un président de CA est la publication  » La présidence du conseil d’administration d’une société d’État  » a été rendue possible grâce à l’appui du ministère du Conseil exécutif du Québec et des partenaires fondateurs du Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS).

Dans ce document, très complet, on retrouve toute l’information essentielle concernant les rôles et les responsabilités des présidents de conseil, notamment à l’égard du directeur général. En voici la table des matières :

 

    1. Quel est le rôle du président envers le CA ?
    2. Quel est le rôle du président à l’égard des membres du CA ?
    3. Quel est le rôle du président d’un CA d’une société d’État à l’égard de son président-directeur général ?
    4. Quel est le rôle du président à l’égard du ministre responsable, de son ministère et des parlementaires ?
    5. Quelle est la responsabilité du président quant à la gouvernance du CA ?
    6. Le président a-t-il une responsabilité particulière quant à l’éthique de l’organisation ?
    7. Quelle est la responsabilité du président quant au recrutement, à l’accueil et au perfectionnement des membres du CA ?
    8. Comment le président peut-il planifier le travail du CA ?
    9. Quelle est la responsabilité du président quant à l’information fournie aux membres du CA ?
    10. Quelle est la responsabilité du président quant aux réunions du CA ?
    11. Quelle est la responsabilité du président à l’égard des comités du CA ?
    12. Quelle est la responsabilité du président relativement à la solidarité des membres et aux possibles dissensions au sein du CA ?
    13. Quelle est la responsabilité du président quant à la performance de l’organisation ?
    14. Quelle est la responsabilité du président du CA à l’égard de la représentation externe de l’organisation ?
    15. Le président a-t-il une responsabilité particulière à l’égard des risques et des crises ?
    16. Quelle est la responsabilité du président dans l’évaluation du conseil d’administration et du PDG ?
    17. Quelle responsabilité le président a-t-il dans la reddition de comptes tant externe qu’interne de son organisation ?
    18. Quelle est la responsabilité du président du CA quant à la relève éventuelle du PDG et à sa propre succession ?
    19. Quelles sont les caractéristiques personnelles et administratives d’un président de CA ?

 

Ce document présente toutes les définitions de fonctions de la présidence ainsi que tous les pouvoirs qui lui sont conférés. Il serait, à mon avis, essentiel que celui-ci serve de base à la rédaction du règlement général. Il pourrait en faire partie intégrante puisque ce texte a été conçu pour les présidents de conseil d’administration en général.

Voici, à titre d’exemple, un extrait de la section 3 portant sur le rôle du président d’un CA à l’égard de son directeur général.

En ce qui a trait à la relation entre le président du CA et le DG, le principe fondamental est simple : le président dirige le CA qui, lui-même, a autorité sur le DG.

« Le président s’assure que le conseil joue pleinement son rôle, notamment à l’égard de l’approbation des orientations stratégiques, de la gestion de la performance et des risques ainsi que de la surveillance effective de la direction.

Par sa position, le président est amené à faire en sorte que la responsabilité de supervision du CA ne s’exerce pas au détriment de celles plus opérationnelles de la direction générale. En effet, le DG est le prolongement du CA dans l’organisation et, à ce titre, c’est lui qui a autorité sur la haute direction et l’effectif de l’organisation ; il n’appartient pas aux membres du CA d’intervenir dans la gestion interne, sauf lorsque la loi le prévoit. Le président du CA doit lui-même respecter, et faire respecter par chacun des membres du conseil, cette limitation de leur champ de responsabilité.

Étant plus fréquemment que les autres membres du CA en contact avec le DG, le président est à même d’appuyer l’action de ce dernier. Pour ce faire, il doit s’assurer que les orientations et les décisions du CA lui laissent la marge de manœuvre et l’autorité qu’il lui faut. Il doit aussi, avec la collaboration du comité des ressources humaines, procéder à l’évaluation de la performance du DG selon le processus et les balises déterminés et en fonction des attentes formulées par le CA.

Des rencontres régulières entre le président du CA et le DG sont indispensables au maintien d’une relation empreinte de confiance. Cette relation privilégiée est d’autant plus importante que, généralement et dans tous les organismes et sociétés assujettis à la Loi sur la gouvernance des sociétés d’État, le DG est d’office membre du conseil d’administration. Tous deux ont avantage à avoir la même compréhension de leur rôle respectif, à partager l’information dont ils disposent avec la plus grande transparence, à faire preuve d’une grande franchise dans leurs échanges et à se soutenir mutuellement dans l’accomplissement de leurs tâches respectives.

Cependant, vu la différence des rôles qu’ils ont à jouer, leur relation ne doit laisser place à aucune complaisance. Ainsi conduite, cette relation devient le gage d’une action globale efficace ».

Au cours des prochaines semaines, j’aborderai les autres problématiques vécues lors de mes interventions-conseils.

Bonne lecture. Vos commentaires sont les bienvenus.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complete article is available here.

________________________________________________________________

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

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

 

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

 

Afin de satisfaire ces attentes, les entreprises publiques doivent :

 

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

_________________________________________________________

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

Un document incontournable en gouvernance 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

 

 

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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.

La prévalence de l’activisme actionnarial en 2019


Voici une mise à jour de Martin Lipton*, associé fondateur de la firme Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, qui se spécialise dans les politiques et stratégies organisationnelles ayant un impact sur la gouvernance des entreprises. L’article a été publié aujourd’hui sur le site de HLS Forum sur la gouvernance.

En 2019, les auteurs prédisent que la menace de l’activisme sera encore plus prévalente.

Bonne lecture !

 

Activism: The State of Play at Year-End 2018

 

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As we noted [in 2018], the threat of activism continues to be high, and has become a global phenomenon. The conclusion of a volatile and dynamic 2018 prompts a brief update of the state of play.

  1. Activist assets under management remain at elevated levels, encouraging continued attacks on large successful companies in the U.S. and abroad. In many cases, activists have been taking advantage of recent stock market declines to achieve attractive entry points for new positions. These trends have been highlighted in several recent media reports, including in The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.
  2. While the robust M&A environment of much of 2018 has recently subsided, deal-related activism remains prevalent, with activists instigating deal activity, challenging announced transactions (e.g., the “bumpitrage” strategy of pressing for a price increase) and/or pressuring the target into a merger or a private equity deal with the activist itself.
  3. “Short” activists, who seek to profit from a decline in the target’s market value, remain highly aggressive in both the equity and corporate debt markets. In debt markets, we have also recently seen a rise in “default activism,” where investors purchase debt on the theory that a borrower is already in default and then actively seek to enforce that default in a manner by which they stand to profit.
  4. Elliott Management was the most active and in many cases aggressive activist of 2018. The Wall Street Journal noted that Elliott has publicly targeted 24 companies in 2018, with Icahn and Starboard runners-up with nine public targets each. The New Yorker published a lengthy profile of Paul Singer and Elliott in August, “Paul Singer, Doomsday Investor”. “Singer has excelled in this field in part because of a canny ability to discern his opponents’ weaknesses and a seeming imperviousness to public disapproval.”
  5. Enhanced ESG disclosure remains a topic of great interest to institutional investors and the corporate governance community. In October, two prominent business law professors, supported by investors and other entities with over $5 trillion in assets under management, filed a petition for rulemaking calling for the SEC to “develop a comprehensive framework requiring issuers to disclose identified environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects of each public-reporting company’s operations.” In November, the Embankment Project of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism issued its report outlining proposed ways to measure long-term sustainable value creation beyond financial results. And earlier this month, ESG disclosure was the subject of a lively discussion at a meeting of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, with various views expressed regarding the merits of regulatory efforts versus private ordering in this area.

It has become increasingly evident that the activism-driven corporate world is relatively fragile and is proving to be unsustainable, particularly when viewed in the broader context of rapidly changing political and social norms and increasing divisiveness across many planes of the social contract. A number of initiatives have been underway to establish a modern corporate governance framework that is calibrated to the current environment. For our part, at the request of the World Economic Forum, we prepared a paper titled, The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth, which was issued in September 2016 and most recently updated in our memo, Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2019.

In essence, The New Paradigm conceives of corporate governance as a collaboration among corporations, shareholders and other stakeholders working together to achieve long-term value and resist short-termism. While we have seen considerable interest in The New Paradigm and similar initiatives from major institutional investors and other key stakeholders, until such a framework is widely adopted, it is unlikely that absent legislation, there will be any decrease in activism. Accordingly, companies should regularly review and adjust their plans to avoid an activist attack and to successfully deal with an activist attack if one should occur. Effective engagement with major shareholders is the essential element of activist defense.

____________________________________________________________

*Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy, and Zachary S. Podolsky is a corporate associate. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum authored by Mr. Lipton and Mr. Podolsky. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here); Dancing with Activists by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (discussed on the Forum here); and Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? A Flesh-and-Blood Perspective on Hedge Fund Activism and Our Strange Corporate Governance System by Leo E. Strine, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

Tendances globales en gouvernance et « Trends » régionaux


À l’occasion de la nouvelle année 2019, je partage avec vous une étude de la firme Russell Reynolds Associates sur les tendances en gouvernance selon différentes régions du monde.

L’article a été publié sur le site de Harvard Law School Forum par Jack « Rusty » O’Kelley, III, Anthony Goodman et Melissa Martin.

Ce qu’il y a de particulier dans cette publication ,c’est que l’on identifie cinq (5) grandes tendances globales et que l’on tente de prédire les Trends dans plusieurs régions du monde telles que :

(1) Les États-Unis et le Canada

(2) L’Union européenne

(3) La Grande-Bretagne

(4) Le Brésil

(5) l’Inde

(6) Le Japon

Les grandes tendances observées sont :

(1) la qualité et la composition du CA

(2) le degré d’attention apportée à la surveillance de la culture organisationnelle

(3) les activités des investisseurs qui limitent la primauté des actionnaires en mettant l’accent sur le long terme

(4) la responsabilité sociale des entreprises qui constitue toujours une variable critique et

(5) les investisseurs activistes qui continuent d’exercer une pression sur les CA.

Je vous recommande la lecture intégrale de cette publication pour vous former une opinion réaliste de l’évolution des saines pratiques de gouvernance. Les États-Unis et le Canada semblent mener la marche, mais les autres régions du globe ont également des préoccupations qui rejoignent les tendances globales.

C’est une lecture très instructive pour toute personne intéressée par la gouvernance des sociétés.

Bonne lecture et Bonne Année 2019 !

 

2019 Global & Regional Trends in Corporate Governance

 

 

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Institutional investors (both active managers and index fund giants) spent the last few years raising their expectations of public company boards—a trend we expect to see continue in 2019. The demand for board quality, effectiveness, and accountability to shareholders will continue to accelerate across all global markets. Toward the end of each year, Russell Reynolds Associates interviews a global mix of institutional and activist investors, pension fund managers, proxy advisors, and other corporate governance professionals regarding the trends and challenges that public company boards may face in the coming year. This year we interviewed over 40 experts to develop our insights and identify trends.

Overview of Global Trends

 

In 2019, we expect to see the emergence or continued development of the following key global governance trends:

 

1. Board quality and composition are at the heart of corporate governance.

Since investors cannot see behind the boardroom veil, they have little choice but to rely on various governance criteria as a stand-in for board quality: whether the board is truly independent, whether its composition is deliberate and under regular review, and whether board competencies align with and support the company’s forward-looking strategy. Directors face increased scrutiny around how equipped the board is with industry knowledge, capital allocation skills, and transformation experience. Institutional investors are pushing to further encourage robust, independent, and regular board evaluation processes that may result in board evolution. Boards will need to be vigilant as they consider individual tenure, director overboarding, and gender imbalance—all of which may provoke votes against the nominating committee or its chair. Gender diversity continues to be an area of focus across many countries and investors. Companies can expect increased pressure to disclose their prioritization of board competencies, board succession plans, and how they are building a diverse pipeline of director candidates. Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has set a new standard for at least two independent directors with relevant industry experience on each of their 9,000 investee boards.

2. Deeper focus on oversight of corporate culture.

Human capital and intangible assets, including organizational culture and reputation, are important aspects of enterprise value, as they directly impact the ability to attract and retain top talent. Culture risk exists when there is misalignment between the values a company seeks to embody and the behaviors it demonstrates. Investors are keen to learn how boards are engaging with management on this issue and how they go about understanding corporate culture. A few compensation committees are including culture and broader human capital issues as part of their remit.

3. Investors placing limits on shareholder primacy and emphasizing long-termism.

The role of corporations in many countries is evolving to include meeting the needs of a broader set of stakeholders. Global investors are increasingly discussing social value; long-termism; and environment, social, and governance (ESG) changes that are shifting corporations from a pure shareholder primacy model. While BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s 2018 letter to investee companies on the importance of social purpose and a strategy for achieving long-term growth generated discussion in the US, much of the rest of the world viewed this as further confirmation of the focus on broader stakeholder, as well as shareholder, concerns. Institutional investors are more actively focusing on long-termism and partnering with groups to increase the emphasis on long-term, sustainable results.

4. ESG continues to be a critical issue globally and is at the forefront of governance concerns in some countries.

Asset managers and asset owners are integrating ESG into investment decisions, some under the framework of sustainability or integrated reporting. The priority for investors will be linking sustainability to long-term value creation and balancing ESG risks with opportunities. ESG oversight, improved disclosure, relative company performance against peers, and understanding how these issues are built into corporate strategy will become key focus areas. Climate change and sustainability are critical issues to many investors and are at the forefront of governance in many countries. Some investors regard technology disruption and cybersecurity as ESG issues, while others continue to categorize them as a major business risk. Either way, investors want to understand how boards are providing adequate oversight of technology disruption and cyber risk.

5. Activist investors continue to impact boards.

Activist investors are using various strategies to achieve their objectives. The question for boards is no longer if, but when and why an activist gets involved. The characterization of activists as hostile antagonists is waning, as some activists are becoming more constructive with management. Institutional investors are increasingly open to activists’ perspectives and are deploying activist tactics to bring about desired change. Activists continue to pay close attention to individual director performance and oversight failures. We are seeing even more boards becoming “their own activist” or commissioning independent assessments to preemptively identify vulnerabilities. Firms such as Russell Reynolds are conducting more director-vulnerability analysis, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of board composition and proactively identifying where activists may attack director composition. In the following sections, we explore these trends and how they will impact the United States and Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, Brazil, India, and Japan.

 

The United States and Canada

Investor stewardship.

Eighty-eight percent of the S&P 500 companies have either Vanguard, BlackRock, or State Street as the largest shareholder, and together these investors collectively own 18.7 percent of all the shares in the S&P 500. Because the index funds’ creators are obligated to hold shares for as long as a company is included in a relevant index (e.g., Dow Jones, S&P 500, Russell 3000), the institutional investors view themselves as permanent capital. These investors view governance not as a compliance exercise, but as a key component of value creation and risk mitigation. Passive investors are engaging even more frequently with companies to ensure that their board and management are taking the necessary actions and asking the right questions. Investors want to understand the long-term value creation story and see disclosure showing the right balance between the long term and short term. They take this very seriously and continue to invest in stewardship and governance oversight. Several of the largest institutional investors want greater focus on long-term, sustainable results and are partnering with organizations to drive the dialogue toward the long term.

Board quality.

Investors are pushing for improved board quality and view board composition, diversity, and the refreshment process as key elements. There is similarly a push for richer insight into director skill relevancy. The Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0 has encouraged more companies to disclose a “board matrix,” setting out the skills, experiences, and demographic profile of directors. That practice is fast becoming the norm for proxy disclosure. Many more institutional investors want richer disclosure around director competencies and a clearer, more direct link between each director’s skills and the company’s strategy. As one investor noted, “We want to know why this collection of directors was selected to lead the company and whether they are prepared for change and disruption.” Some of the largest US institutional investors are pushing for better board succession and board evaluation processes and the use of external firms to assess board quality, composition, and effectiveness. Institutional investors are even more concerned about board succession processes and the continued use of automatic refreshment mechanisms (retirement ages and tenure limits) rather than a “foundational assessment process over time with a mix of internal and external reviewers.”

Board diversity.

In 2019, directors should expect more investors to vote against the nominating committee or its chair if there are no women on the board (or fewer than two women in some cases). Investors want to see an increased diversity of thought and experiences to better enable the board to identify risks and improve company performance. In the US, gender diversity has become a proxy for cognitive diversity. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has updated its policies on gender diversity for Russell 3000 and S&P 1500 companies and may recommend votes against nominating committee chairs or members beginning in 2020. This follows recent California legislation requiring gender diversity for California-headquartered companies. Some very large investors are starting to take a broader approach to diversity, particularly as it relates to ethnicity and race. In Canada, nearly 40 percent of TSX-listed companies have no women on their boards. Proxy advisors have recently established voting guidelines related to the disclosure of formal gender diversity policies and gender diversity by TSX-listed companies.

ESG.

Investors are pushing companies to consider their broader societal impact—both what they do and how they disclose it. ESG has moved from being a discrete topic to a fundamental part of how investors evaluate companies. They will increasingly focus on how companies explain their approach to value creation, the impact of the company on society, and how companies weigh various stakeholder interests. Other investors will continue to look at ESG primarily through a financial lens, screening for risk identification and measurement, incorporation of ESG into strategy and long-term value creation, and executive compensation. There is continued and growing focus in the US on sustainability and climate change across a range of sectors. In Canada, proactive companies will consider developing and disclosing their own ESG policies and upgrading boards—through both changes in director education and, on occasion, board composition—to ensure that directors are equipped to understand ESG risk.

Oversight of corporate culture.

Given many high-profile failures in corporate culture and leadership over the last few years, investors and regulators will expect more disclosure and will ask more questions regarding how a board understands the company’s culture. When engaging with institutional investors, boards should expect questions regarding how they are understanding and assessing the health of a corporation’s culture. Boards need to reflect on whether they really understand the company culture and how they plan to assess hot spots and potential issues.

Activist investing.

Shareholder activism remains part of the US corporate governance landscape and is continuing to grow in Canada. In Canada, the industries with the highest levels of activism include basic materials, energy, banking, and financial institutions, and emerging sectors with high growth potential (e.g., blockchain, cannabis) could be next. Proxy battles are showing no signs of slowing down, but activists are using other methods to promote change, such as constructive engagement. Canadian companies are also seeing an increase in proxy contests launched by former insiders or company founders. Experts in Canada anticipate this trend will continue and, as a result, increased shareholder engagement will be critical.

Executive compensation.

Investors are looking for better-quality disclosure around pay-for-performance metrics, particularly sustainability metrics linked to risk management and strategy. In the US, institutional investors may vote against pay plans where there is misalignment and against compensation committees where there is “excessive” executive pay for two or more consecutive years. Some investors are uncomfortable with stock performance being a primary driver of CEO compensation since it may not reflect real leadership impact. In Canada, investors are urging companies to adopt say-on-pay policies in the absence of a mandatory vote, even though such adoption rates have been sluggish to date. Investors will likely continue to push for this reform.

Governance codes.

Earlier this year, the Corporate Governance Principles of the Investor Stewardship Group (ISG) went into effect with the purpose of setting consistent governance standards for the US market. Version 2.0 of the Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance was also published. US companies will want to consider proactive disclosure of how they comply with these sets of principles.

European Union

Investors more active.

Institutional investors are expanding resources for their engagement and stewardship teams in Europe. In 2019, investors will focus on connecting governance to long-term value creation through board oversight of talent management, ESG, and corporate culture. Additionally, some US activists are setting their sights on Europe and raising funds focused on European companies. Institutional investors are more willing to support activist investors if inadequate oversight by the board has led to poor share price and total shareholder return (TSR) performance.

Company and board diversity.

Though EU boards tend to have more women directors due to legislation and regulation, progress on gender diversity has not carried over into the C-suite. Boards can expect to engage with investors on this topic and will need to explain the root causes and plans to address it through talent management processes and diversity and inclusion initiatives. With gender diversity regulations already widely adopted across Europe, Austria has now also stipulated that public company boards have at least 30 percent women directors. However, since board terms are usually for five years, the full impact likely will not be visible until future election cycles.

ESG.

Many investors are encouraging use of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework for consistent measurement, assessment, and disclosure of ESG risks. Investors are likely to integrate climate-change competency and risk oversight into their voting guidelines in some form, and boards will need to demonstrate that they are thinking strategically about the opportunities, risks, and impact of climate change. A new legislative proposal in France could mandate that companies consider various stakeholders, the social environment, and the nonfinancial outcome of their actions.

Revised governance codes.

A recent study found strong compliance rates for the German Corporate Governance Code, except for the areas of executive remuneration and board composition recommendations. German boards should expect more investor engagement and pressure on these matters, including enhanced disclosure. Next year, the German code may include amendments impacting director independence and executive compensation. The revised governance code in the Netherlands focuses more closely on how long-term value creation and culture are vital elements within the governance framework. Denmark’s code now recommends that remuneration policies be approved at least every four years and bars retiring CEOs from stepping into the chairman or vice chairman role.

Board leadership.

Norges Bank Investment Management (commonly referred to as The Government Pension Fund Global) is pushing globally for the separation of CEO and chairman roles and independent chair appointments. In France, investors are focused on board composition and quality. Boards should expect to see continued pressure on separating the CEO and chairman roles as well as strengthening the role and prevalence of the lead director. Companies without a lead director could see negative votes against the reelection of the CEO/chair.

United Kingdom

Revised code.

Recent legislation and market activity have set the stage for the United Kingdom to implement governance reforms that will continue to influence global markets. The new UK Corporate Governance code will apply to reporting periods starting from January 1, 2019, although many companies have begun to apply it more quickly. The new code was complemented by updated and enhanced Guidance on Board Effectiveness to reemphasize that boards need to focus on improving their effectiveness—not just their compliance. Meanwhile the voluntary principle of “comply or explain” is itself being tested as the Kingman Review reconsiders the Financial Reporting Council’s powers and its twin role as both the government-designated regulator and the custodian of a voluntary code. Proxy advisors, who are growing more powerful, are also frequently voting against firms choosing to “explain” rather than comply. 2019 code changes include guidance around the board’s duty to consider the perspective of key stakeholders and to incorporate their interests into discussion and decisionmaking. Employees can be engaged via designating an existing non-executive director (already on the board), a workforce advisory committee, or a workforce representative on the board.

Board leadership and composition.

Other changes in the code include prioritizing non-executive chair succession planning and capping non-executive chair total tenure at nine years (including any time spent previously as a non-executive director)—a recommendation which could impact over 10 percent of the FTSE 350. Several investors noted that they understand the new tenure rule may cause unintended consequences around board chair succession planning. Investors are likely to focus on skills mix, diversity, and functional and industry experience. While directors can expect negative votes against their reelection if they are currently on more than four boards, better disclosure of director capacity and commitment may help sway investors.

Culture oversight.

The board’s evolving role in overseeing corporate culture—now explicit in the revised code—will be a primary focus for investors in 2019. The Financial Reporting Council has suggested that culture can be measured using several factors, such as turnover and absenteeism rates, reward and promotion decisions, health and safety data, and exit interviews. The code emphasizes that the board is responsible for a healthy culture that should promote delivering long-term sustainable performance. Auditor reform. Given public concern about recent corporate collapses, the role of external auditor and the structure of the audit firm market are under scrutiny. The government is under pressure to improve auditing and increase competition. Audit independence, rigor, and quality are likely to be examined, and boards may face greater pressure to change auditors more regularly. ISS is changing its policies for its UK/Ireland (and Continental European) policies beginning in 2019. ISS will begin tracking significant audit quality issues at the lead engagement partner level and will identify (when possible) any lead audit partners who have been linked to significant audit controversies.

Activist investors.

While institutional investors’ concerns center around the impact of disruption and how companies are responding with an eye toward long-termism and sustainability, activist campaigns continue to act as a potential counterweight. UK companies account for about 55 percent of activist campaigns in Europe, and UK companies will likely continue to be targeted next year.

Company diversity.

Diversity will continue to be a priority for board attention, including gender and ethnic diversity. The revised code broadened the role of the nominating committee to oversee the development of diversity in senior management ranks and to review diversity and inclusion initiatives and outcomes throughout the business.

Brazil

Outlook.

Following the highly polarized presidential election, Brazil is still facing some political uncertainty around the potential business and political agenda the new government will pursue. Despite recent ministry appointments being generally well received, global investors will likely still be cautious about investing in the country given the government’s deep history of entanglement with corporate affairs.

Governance reforms and stewardship.

Governance regulation is still in its early stages in Brazil and continues to be focused on overhauling compliance practices and implementing governance reforms. Securities regulator CVM recently issued guidelines regarding indemnity agreements between companies and board members (and other company stakeholders), which could lead to possible disclosure implications. The guidance serves to warn companies about potential conflicts of interest, and directors are cautioned to pay close attention to these new policies. Brazilian public companies are now required to file a comply-or-explain governance report as part of the original mandate stemming from the 2016 Corporate Governance Code, with an emphasis on the quality of such disclosures. Stewardship continues to be of growing importance, and boards are at the center of that discussion. The Association of Capital Market Investors is focusing on ensuring that the CVM and other market participants are holding companies to the highest governance standards not issuing waivers or failing to hold companies accountable for their actions.

Improved independence.

There is an ongoing push for more independence within the governance framework. More independent directors are being appointed to boards due to wider capital distribution. Brazil is working toward implementing reforms targeting political appointments within state-owned enterprises (SOE), but progress could slow depending upon the new government’s priorities. Recently, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved legislation that would allow politicians to once again be nominated to SOE boards. The Federal Senate will soon decide on the proposal, but its approval could trigger a backlash. Organizations like the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance are firmly positioning themselves against the law change, viewing it as a step back from recent governance progress. However, the Novo Mercado rules and Corporate Governance Code are strengthening the definition of independence and using shareholder meetings to confirm the independence of those directors.

Remote voting.

The recent introduction of the remote voting card for shareholders could have a major impact on boards. Public companies required to implement the new system should expect to see more flexibility and inclusion of minority shareholder-backed nominees on the ballot. While Brazil is making year-over-year progress toward minority shareholder protections, they continue to be a challenge.

Board effectiveness.

Experts anticipate increased pressure to upgrade board mechanics and processes, including establishing a nominations policy regarding board director and committee appointments, routine board evaluation processes, succession planning, and onboarding/training programs. CVM, along with B3 (the Brazilian stock exchange), continues to push for higher governance standards and processes. There is an increased focus on board and director assessment (whether internally or externally led) to ensure board effectiveness and the right board composition. Under the Corporate Governance Code, companies will have to comply or explain why they do not have a board assessment process.

Compensation disclosure.

For almost a decade, Brazilian companies used a court injunction (known as the “IBEF Injunction”) to avoid having to disclose the remuneration of their highest-paid executives. Now that this has been overturned, public companies will be expected to start disclosing compensation information for their highest-paid executives and board members. Companies are concerned that the disclosure may trigger a backlash among minority shareholders and negative votes against remuneration.

India

Regulatory reform.

Motivated by a desire to attract global investments, curb corruption, and strengthen corporate governance, India is continuing to push for regulatory reform. In the spring of 2018, much to the surprise of many, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) adopted many of the 81 provisions put forward by the Kotak Committee. The adoption of the recommendations has caused many companies to consider and aspire to meet this new standard. Kotak implementation has triggered a significant wave of governance implications centered around improving transparency and financial reporting. The adoption of these governance reforms is staggered, with most companies striving to reach compliance between April 2019 and April 2020.

Board composition, leadership, and independence.

Boards will face enhanced disclosure rules regarding the skills and experience of directors, which has triggered many companies to engage in board composition assessments. Directors will also be limited in the number of boards they can serve on simultaneously: eight in 2019; seven in 2020. The top 1,000 listed companies in India will need to ensure they have a minimum of six directors on their boards by April 2019, with the next 1,000 having an additional year to comply. Among other changes are new criteria for independence determinations and changes to director compensation. Additionally, the CEO or managing director role and the chair role must be separated and cannot be held by the same person for the top 500 listed companies by market capitalization. This will significantly change board leadership and control in many companies where the role was held by the same person, and it will boost overall independence. To further drive board and director independence, the definition of independence was strengthened, and board interlocks will receive greater scrutiny.

Board diversity.

India continues to make improvements toward gender diversity five years after the Companies Act of 2013 and ongoing pressure from investors and policymakers. Nevertheless, institutional investors and proxy advisors are calling for more progress, as a quarter of women appointments are held by family members of the business owners (and are thus not independent). Starting in 2019, boards of the top 500 listed companies will need to ensure they have at least one independent woman director; by 2020, the top 1,000 listed companies will need to comply.

Board effectiveness.

The reforms also include a requirement for the implementation of an oversight process for succession planning and updating the board evaluation and director review process.

Investor expectations.

Governance stakeholders are eager to see how much progress Indian companies will make during the next 18 months, but many are not overly optimistic given the magnitude of change required in such a short period of time. Investors are setting their expectations accordingly and understand that regional governance norms will not transform overnight. While it is unclear exactly how the government and regulators will respond to noncompliance, companies and their boards are feeling anxious about the potential repercussions and penalties.

Japan

Continued focus on governance.

The Japanese government continues to be a driving force for corporate governance improvements. To make Japan more attractive to global investors, policymakers are increasingly focused on improving board accountability. Despite a trend toward more proactive investor stewardship, regulatory bodies including the Financial Services Agency continue to lead reforms, with several new comply-or-explain guidelines added to the Amended Corporate Governance Code that came into effect in 2018. These guidelines, such as minimum independence requirements, establishing an objective CEO succession and dismissal process, and the unloading of cross-shareholdings, are aimed at enhancing transparency.

Director independence.

Director independence has been a concern for investors, with outside directors taking only about 31 percent of board seats. Though some observers perceive a weakening of language in the code regarding independence, investors are unlikely to lower their expectations and standards. The amended code now calls for at least one-third of the board to be composed of outside directors (up from the quota requirement of two directors that existed previously). The change is intended to encourage transparency and accountability around the board’s decision-making process. Starting next year, ISS will adopt a similar approach to its Japanese governance policies, employing a one-third independence threshold as well.

Executive compensation.

Given recent scandals, institutional investors and regulators will continue to pay close attention to the structure of executive compensation. Performance-based compensation plans will be a major area of focus in 2019. More companies are introducing new types of equity-based compensation schemes, such as restricted stock, and are expected to follow the trend into next year. Board diversity. Over 50 percent of listed companies still have no women on their boards. To upgrade board quality and performance, investors will likely engage more forcefully on gender diversity, board composition and processes, board oversight duties and roles, and the board director evaluation process.

ESG.

In 2019, boards can expect more shareholder interest in sustainability metrics and strategy. Investors are keen to see enhanced disclosure that aids their understanding of value creation and the link to performance targets, as well as explanations concerning board monitoring.

Activist investing.

Activism continues to rise in Japan, and we expect that trend to continue. Activists are showing a willingness to demand a board seat and engage in proxy battles, and institutional investors are increasingly willing to support the activist recommendations.

Governance practices.

Investors also will be paying close attention to several other governance practices, such as the earlier disclosure of proxy materials and delivery in digital format, and protecting the interest of minority shareholders. The code further emphasizes succession planning by requiring companies to implement a fair and transparent process for the CEO’s removal and succession. As a result, more companies are introducing nominating committees and discussing

CEO succession.

Companies are also being urged to unload their cross-shareholdings (when a listed company owns stock of another company in the same listing) and adopt controls that will determine whether the ownership of such equity is appropriate. Such holdings are likely to be policed more by regulators due to the tendency of such holdings to insulate boards from external pressure, including takeover bids.

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*Jack “Rusty” O’Kelley, III is Global Leader of the Board Advisory & Effectiveness Practice, Anthony Goodman is a member of the Board Consulting and Effectiveness Practice, and Melissa Martin is a Board and CEO Advisory Group Specialist at Russell Reynolds Associates.at Russell Reynolds Associates. This post is based on a Russell Reynolds memorandum by Mr. O’Kelley, Mr. Goodman, and Ms. Martin.

 

Recommandations des firmes de conseils en votation pour l’année 2019


Comme à chaque fin d’année, le blogue du Harvard Law School on Corporate Governance Forum, présente un sommaire des grandes tendances en gouvernance.

Voici les recommandations que les firmes-conseils en votation Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) et Glass Lewis & Co. font aux actionnaires qui voteront lors des assemblées annuelles de 2019.

Ces changements aux politiques de votation nous offrent une belle occasion de constater l’évolution des pratiques de saine gouvernance.

Bonne lecture !

 

ISS and Glass Lewis Policy Updates for the 2019 Proxy Season

 

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The key changes to ISS’ proxy voting policies for 2019 relate to:

Board Gender Diversity—Beginning in 2020, ISS will generally recommend voting against nominating committee chairs (and potentially other directors) at companies with no female directors unless certain mitigating factors apply.

Economic Value Added Data for Pay-For-Performance Evaluation—In 2019, solely for informational purposes, ISS will include on a phased-in basis Economic Value Added (EVA) data in its proxy research reports as a supplement to GAAP/accounting performance measures to provide additional insight into company performance when evaluating pay-for-performance alignment. ISS will continue to explore the potential future use of EVA data as part of its pay-for-performance evaluation.

Management Ratification Proposals

Under a new policy, ISS will generally recommend voting against management proposals to ratify provisions of the company’s existing charter or bylaws, unless such provisions align with best practice.

ISS will also recommend voting against or withholding from individual directors, members of the governance committee or the full board, where boards ask shareholders to ratify existing charter or bylaw provisions considering specified factors.

Under a revised policy, if a management proposal to ratify existing charter or bylaw provisions fails to receive majority support, ISS will conduct a board responsiveness analysis for the next annual meeting.

Chronic Poor Attendance by Directors—In cases of “chronic poor attendance” by a director (defined as three or more consecutive years of poor attendance without reasonable explanation), in addition to recommending votes against the director(s) with chronic poor attendance, ISS will generally recommend voting against or withholding from appropriate members of the nominating/governance committee or the full board.

Director Performance Evaluation—Under a revised policy, when evaluating director performance, ISS will assess a company’s 5-year total shareholder returns (TSR) as part of the initial screen for underperformance rather than during the second step of its evaluation.

Reverse Stock Splits—Under a revised policy, ISS will evaluate on a case-by-case basis certain management proposals to implement reverse stock splits, taking into consideration (i) disclosure of substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern without additional financing, (ii) the company’s rationale or (iii) other factors as applicable.

Shareholder Proposals on Environmental and Social (E&S) Issues—Under a revised policy, ISS expanded the factors it will consider when analyzing E&S shareholder proposals to include whether there are significant controversies, fines, penalties or litigation associated with the company’s E&S practices.

Excessive Non-Employee Director Compensation—ISS will delay until at least 2020 its previously-announced new policy of potentially issuing negative vote recommendations against members of the board committee responsible for setting or approving excessive non-employee director compensation in two or more consecutive years without a compelling rationale or other mitigating factors.

Nouvelles perspectives pour la gouvernance en 2018


Aujourd’hui, je vous propose la lecture d’un excellent article de Martin Lipton* sur les nouvelles perspectives de la gouvernance en 2018. Cet article est publié sur le site du Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Après une brève introduction portant sur les meilleures pratiques observées dans les entreprises cotées, l’auteur se penche sur les paramètres les plus significatifs de la nouvelle gouvernance.

Les thèmes suivants sont abordés dans un contexte de renouvellement de la gouvernance pour le futur :

  1. La notion de l’actionnariat élargie pour tenir compte des parties prenantes ;
  2. L’importance de considérer le développement durable et la responsabilité sociale des entreprises ;
  3. L’adoption de stratégies favorisant l’engagement à long terme ;
  4. La nécessité de se préoccuper de la composition des membres du CA ;
  5. L’approche à adopter eu égard aux comportements d’actionnaires/investisseurs activistes ;
  6. Les attentes eu égard aux rôles et responsabilités des administrateurs.

À l’approche de la nouvelle année 2018, cette lecture devrait compter parmi les plus utiles pour les administrateurs et les dirigeants d’entreprises ainsi que pour toute personne intéressée par l’évolution des pratiques de gouvernance.

Bonne lecture ! Vos commentaires sont appréciés.

 

Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2018

 

 

Introduction

 

As 2017 draws to a conclusion and we reflect on the evolution of corporate governance since the turn of the millennium, a recurring question percolating in boardrooms and among shareholders and other stakeholders, academics and politicians is: what’s next on the horizon for corporate governance? In many respects, we seem to have reached a point of relative stasis. The governance and takeover defense profiles of U.S. public companies have been transformed by the widespread adoption of virtually all of the “best practices” advocated to enhance the rights of shareholders and weaken takeover defenses.

While the future issues of corporate governance remain murky, there are some emerging themes that portend a potentially profound shift in the way that boards will need to think about their roles and priorities in guiding the corporate enterprise. While these themes are hardly new, they have been gaining momentum in prompting a rethinking of some of the most basic assumptions about corporations, corporate governance and the path forward.

First, while corporate governance continues to be focused on the relationship between boards and shareholders, there has been a shift toward a more expansive view that is prompting questions about the broader role and purpose of corporations. Most of the governance reforms of the past few decades targeted the ways in which boards are structured and held accountable to the interests of shareholders, with debates often boiling down to trade-offs between a board-centric versus a more shareholder-centric framework and what will best create shareholder value. Recently, efforts to invigorate a more long-term perspective among both corporations and their investors have been laying the groundwork for a shift from these process-oriented debates to elemental questions about the basic purpose of corporations and how their success should be measured and defined.

In particular, sustainability has become a major, mainstream governance topic that encompasses a wide range of issues such as climate change and other environmental risks, systemic financial stability, labor standards, and consumer and product safety. Relatedly, an expanded notion of stakeholder interests that includes employees, customers, communities, and the economy and society as a whole has been a developing theme in policymaking and academic spheres as well as with investors. As summarized in a 2017 report issued by State Street Global Advisor,

“Today’s investors are looking for ways to put their capital to work in a more sustainable way, one focused on long-term value creation that enables them to address their financial goals and responsible investing needs. So, for a growing number of institutional investors, the environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics of their portfolio are key to their investment strategy.”

While both sustainability and expanded constituency considerations have been emphasized most frequently in terms of their impact on long-term shareholder value, they have also been prompting fresh dialogue about the societal role and purpose of corporations.

Another common theme that underscores many of the corporate governance issues facing boards today is that corporate governance is inherently complex and nuanced, and less amenable to the benchmarking and quantification that was a significant driver in the widespread adoption of corporate governance “best practices.” Prevailing views about what constitutes effective governance have morphed from a relatively binary, check-the-box mentality—such as whether a board is declassified, whether shareholders can act by written consent and whether companies have adopted majority voting standards—to tackling questions such as how to craft a well-rounded board with the skills and experiences that are most relevant to a particular corporation, how to effectively oversee the company’s management of risk, and how to forge relationships with shareholders that meaningfully enhance the company’s credibility. Companies and investors alike have sought to formulate these “next generation” governance issues in a way that facilitates comparability, objective assessment and accountability. For example, many companies have been including skills matrices in their proxy statements to show, in a visual snapshot, that their board composition encompasses appropriate skills and experiences. Yet, to the extent that complicated governance issues cannot be reduced to simple, user-friendly metrics, it remains to be seen whether this will prompt new ways of defining “good” corporate governance that require a deeper understanding of companies and their businesses, and the impact that could have on the expectations and practices of stakeholders.

Against this backdrop, a few of the more significant issues that boards of directors will face in the coming year, as well as an overview of some key roles and responsibilities, are highlighted below. Parts II through VI contain brief summaries of some of the leading proposals and thinking for corporate governance of the future. In Part VII, we turn to the issues boards of directors will face in 2018 and suggestions as to how to prepare to deal with them.

 

Expanded Stakeholders

 

The primacy of shareholder value as the exclusive objective of corporations, as articulated by Milton Friedman and then thoroughly embraced by Wall Street, has come under scrutiny by regulators, academics, politicians and even investors. While the corporate governance initiatives of the past year cannot be categorized as an abandonment of the shareholder primacy agenda, there are signs that academic commentators, legislators and some investors are looking at more nuanced and tempered approaches to creating shareholder value.

In his 2013 book, Firm Commitment: Why the Corporation is Failing Us and How to Restore Trust in It, and a series of brilliant articles and lectures, Colin Mayer of the University of Oxford has convincingly rejected shareholder value primacy and put forth proposals to reconceive the business corporation so that it is committed to all its stakeholders, including the community and the general economy. His new book, Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2018, continues the theme of his earlier publications and will be required reading.

Similarly, an influential working paper by Oliver Hart and Luigi Zingales argues that the appropriate objective of the corporation is shareholder welfare rather than shareholder wealth. Hart and Zingales advocate that corporations and asset managers should pursue policies consistent with the preferences of their investors, specifically because corporations may be able to accomplish objectives that shareholders acting individually cannot. In such a setting, the implicit separability assumption underlying Milton Friedman’s theory of the purpose of the firm fails to produce the best outcome for shareholders. Indeed, even though Hart and Zingales propose a revision that remains shareholder-centered, by recognizing the unique capability of corporations to engage in certain kinds of activities, their theory invites a careful consideration of other goals such as sustainability, board diversity and employee welfare, and even such social concerns, as, for example, reducing mass violence or promoting environmental stewardship. Such a model of corporate decision-making emphasizes the importance of boards establishing a relationship with significant shareholders to understand shareholder goals, beyond simply assuming that an elementary wealth maximization framework is the optimal path.

Perhaps closer to a wholesale rejection of the shareholder primacy agenda, an article by Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, featured in the May-June 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, attacks the fallacies of the economic theories that have been used since 1970 to justify shareholder-centric corporate governance, short-termism and activist attacks on corporations. In questioning the benefits of hedge fund activism, Bower and Paine argue that some of the value purportedly created for shareholders by activists is not actually value created, but rather value transferred from other parties or from the public purse, such as shifting a company’s tax domicile to a lower-tax jurisdiction or eliminating exploratory research and development. The article supports the common sense notion that boards have a fiduciary duty not just to shareholders, but also to employees, customers and the community—a constituency theory of governance penned into law in a number of states’ business corporation laws.

Moreover, this theme has been metastasizing from a theoretical debate into specific reform initiatives that, if implemented, could have a direct impact on boards. For example, Delaware and 32 other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation approving a new corporate form—the benefit corporation —a for-profit corporate entity with expanded fiduciary obligations of boards to consider other stakeholders in addition to shareholders. Benefit corporations are mandated by law to consider their overall positive impact on society, their workers, the communities in which they operate and the environment, in addition to the goal of maximizing shareholder profit.

This broader sense of corporate purpose has been gaining traction among shareholders. For example, the endorsement form for the Principles published by the Investor Stewardship Group in 2017 includes:

“[I]t is the fiduciary responsibility of all asset managers to conduct themselves in accordance with the preconditions for responsible engagement in a manner that accrues to the best interests of stakeholders and society in general, and that in so doing they’ll help to build a framework for promoting long-term value creation on behalf of U.S. companies and the broader U.S. economy.”

Notions of expanded stakeholder interests have often been incorporated into the concept of long-termism, and advocating a long-term approach has also entailed the promotion of a broader range of stakeholder interests without explicitly eroding the primacy of shareholder value. Recently, however, the interests of other stakeholders have increasingly been articulated in their own right rather than as an adjunct to the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance. Ideas about the broader social purpose of corporations have the potential to drive corporate governance reforms into uncharted territory requiring navigation of new questions about how to measure and compare corporate performance, how to hold companies accountable and how to incentivize managers.

 

Sustainability

 

The meaning of sustainability is no longer limited to describing environmental practices, but rather more broadly encompasses the sustainability of a corporation’s business model in today’s fast-changing world. The focus on sustainability encompasses the systemic sustainability of public markets and pressures boards to think about corporate strategy and how governance should be structured to respond to and compete in this environment.

Recently, the investing world has seen a rise of ESG-oriented funds—previously a small, niche segment of the investment community. Even beyond these specialized funds, ESG has also become a focus of a broad range of traditional investment funds and institutional investors. For instance, BlackRock and State Street both offer their investors products that specifically focus on ESG-oriented topics like climate change and impact investing—investing with an intention of generating a specific social or environmental outcome alongside financial returns.

At the beginning of 2017, State Street’s CEO Ronald P. O’Hanley wrote a letter advising the boards of the companies in which State Street invests that State Street defines sustainability “as encompassing a broad range of environmental, social and governance issues that include, for example, effective independent board leadership and board composition, diversity and talent development, safety issues, and climate change.” The letter was a reminder that broader issues that impact all of a company’s stakeholders may have a material effect on a company’s ability to generate returns. Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, Laurence D. Fink remarked similarly in his January 2017 letter that

“[e]nvironmental, social and governance factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.”

Similarly, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment remind corporations that ESG factors should be incorporated into all investment decisions to better manage risk and generate sustainable, long-term returns.

Shareholders’ engagement with ESG issues has also increased. Previously, ESG was somewhat of a fringe issue with ESG-related shareholder proxy proposals rarely receiving significant shareholder support. This is no longer the case. In the 2017 proxy season, the two most common shareholder proposal topics related to social (201 proposals) and environmental (144 proposals, including 69 on climate change) issues, as opposed to 2016’s top two topics of proxy access (201) and social issues (160). Similar to cybersecurity and other risk management issues, sustainability practices involve the nuts and bolts of operations—e.g., life-cycle assessments of a product and management of key performance indicators (KPIs) using management information systems that facilitate internal and public reporting—and provide another example of an operational issue that has become a board/governance issue.

The expansion of sustainability requires all boards—not just boards of companies with environmentally sensitive businesses—to be aware of and be ready to respond to ESG-related concerns. The salient question is whether “best” sustainability practices will involve simply the “right” messaging and disclosures, or whether investors and companies will converge on a method to measure sustainability practices that affords real impact on capital allocation, risk-taking and proactive—as opposed to reactive—strategy.

Indeed, measurement and accountability are perhaps the elephants in the room when it comes to sustainability. Many investors appear to factor sustainability into their investing decisions. Other ways to measure sustainability practices include the presence of a Chief Sustainability Officer or Corporate Responsibility Committee. However, while there are numerous disclosure frameworks relating to sustainability and ESG practices, there is no centralized ESG rating system. Further, rating methodologies and assessments of materiality vary widely across ESG data providers and disclosure requirements vary across jurisdictions.

Pending the development of clear and agreed standards to benchmark performance on ESG issues, boards of directors should focus on understanding how their significant investors value and measure ESG issues, including through continued outreach and engagement with investors focusing on these issues, and should seek tangible agreed-upon methodologies to address these areas, while also promoting the development of improved metrics and disclosure.

Promoting a Long-Term Perspective

 

As the past year’s corporate governance conversation has explored considerations outside the goal of maximizing shareholder value, the conversation within the shareholder value maximization framework has also continued to shift toward an emphasis on long-term value rather than short term. A February 2017 discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute in cooperation with Focusing Capital on the Long Term found that long-term focused companies, as measured by a number of factors including investment, earnings quality and margin growth, generally outperformed shorter-term focused companies in both financial and other performance measures. Long-term focused companies had greater, and less volatile, revenue growth, more spending on research and development, greater total returns to shareholders and more employment than other firms.

This empirical evidence that corporations focused on stakeholders and long-term investment contribute to greater economic growth and higher GDP is consistent with innovative corporate governance initiatives. A new startup, comprised of veterans of the NYSE and U.S. Treasury Department, is working on creating the “Long-Term Stock Exchange”—a proposal to build and operate an entirely new stock exchange where listed companies would have to satisfy not only all of the normal SEC requirements to allow shares to trade on other regulated U.S. stock markets but, in addition, other requirements such as tenured shareholder voting power (permitting shareholder voting to be proportionately weighted by the length of time the shares have been held), mandated ties between executive pay and long-term business performance and disclosure requirements informing companies who their long-term shareholders are and informing investors of what companies’ long-term investments are.

In addition to innovative alternatives, numerous institutional investors and corporate governance thought leaders are rethinking the mainstream relationship between all boards of directors and institutional investors to promote a healthier focus on long-term investment. While legislative reform has taken a stronger hold in the U.K. and Europe, leading American companies and institutional investors are pushing for a private sector solution to increase long-term economic growth. Commonsense Corporate Governance Principles and The New Paradigm: A Roadmap for an Implicit Corporate Governance Partnership Between Corporations and Investors to Achieve Sustainable Long-Term Investment and Growth were published in hopes of recalibrating the relationship between boards and institutional investors to protect the economy against the short-term myopic approach to management and investing that promises to impede long-term economic prosperity. Under a similar aim, the Investor Stewardship Group published its Stewardship Principles and Corporate Governance Principles, set to become effective in January 2018, to establish a framework with six principles for investor stewardship and six principles for corporate governance to promote long-term value creation in American business. A Synthesized Paradigm for Corporate Governance, Investor Stewardship, and Engagement provides a synthesis of these and others in the hope that companies and investors would agree on a common approach. In fact, over 100 companies to date have signed The Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership: A Roadmap for Sustainable Long-Term Growth and Opportunity, sponsored by the World Economic Forum, which includes the key features of The New Paradigm.

Similarly, the BlackRock Investment Stewardship team has proactively outlined five focus areas for its engagement efforts: Governance, Corporate Strategy for the Long-Term, Executive Compensation that Promotes Long-Termism, Disclosure of Climate Risks, and Human Capital Management. BlackRock’s outline reflects a number of key trends, including heightened transparency by institutional investors, more engagement by “passive” investors, and continued disintermediation of proxy advisory firms. In the United Kingdom, The Investor Forum was founded to provide an intermediary to represent the views of its investor members to investee companies in the hope of reducing activism, and appears to have achieved a successful start.

Similarly, in June 2017, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and Ernst & Young jointly announced the launch of a project on long-term value creation. Noting among other elements that trust and social cohesion are necessary ingredients for the long-term success of capitalism, the project will emphasize reporting mechanisms and credible measurements supporting long-term value, developing and testing a framework to better reflect the full value companies create beyond simply financial value. There is widespread agreement that focusing on long-term investment will promote long-term economic growth. The next step is a consensus between companies and investors on a common path of action that will lead to restored trust and cohesion around long-term goals.

 

Board Composition

 

The corporate governance conversation has become increasingly focused on board composition, including board diversity. Recent academic studies have confirmed and expanded upon existing empirical evidence that hedge fund activism has been notably counterproductive in increasing gender diversity—yet another negative externality of this type of activism. Statistical evidence supports the hypothesis that the rate of shareholder activism is higher toward female CEOs holding all else equal, including industries, company sizes and levels of performance. A study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology investigated the reasons that hedge fund activists seemingly ignore the evidence for gender-diverse boards in their choices for director nominees and disproportionately target female CEOs. The authors suggest these reasons may include subconscious biases of hedge funds against women leaders due to perceptions and cultural attitudes.

In the United Kingdom, the focus on board diversity has spread into policy. The House of Commons Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee report on Corporate Governance, issued in 2017, included recommendations for improving ethnic, gender and social diversity of boards, noting that “[to] be an effective board, individual directors need different skills, experience, personal attributes and approaches.” The U.K. government’s response to this report issued in September 2017 notes its agreement on various diversity-related issues, stating that the “Government agrees with the Committee that it makes business sense to recruit directors from as broad a base as possible across the demographic of the UK” and further, tying into themes of stakeholder capitalism, that the “Government believes that greater diversity within the boardroom can help companies connect with their workforces, supply chains, customers and shareholders.”

In the United States, institutional investors are focused on a range of board composition issues, including term limits, board refreshment, diversity, skills matrices and board evaluation processes, as well as disclosures regarding these issues. In a recent letter, Vanguard explained that it considers the board to be “one of a company’s most critical strategic assets” and looks for a “high-functioning, well-composed, independent, diverse, and experienced board with effective ongoing evaluation practices,” stating that “Good governance starts with a great Board.” The New York Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0 is focused on increasing diversity of boards in order to strengthen their independence and competency. In connection with launching this campaign, the NYC Pension Funds asked the boards of 151 U.S. companies to disclose the race and gender of their directors alongside board members’ skills in a standardized matrix format. And yet, similar to the difficulty of measuring and comparing sustainability efforts of companies, investors and companies alike continue to struggle with how to measure and judge a board’s diversity, and board composition generally, as the conversation becomes more nuanced. Board composition and diversity aimed at increasing board independence and competency is not a topic that lends itself to a “check-the-box” type measurement.

In light of the heightened emphasis on board composition, boards should consider increasing their communications with their major shareholders about their director selection and nomination processes to show the board understands the importance of its composition. Boards should consider disclosing how new director candidates are identified and evaluated, how committee chairs and the lead director are determined, and how the operations of the board as a whole and the performance of each director are assessed. Boards may also focus on increasing tutorials, facility visits, strategic retreats and other opportunities to increase the directors’ understanding of the company’s business—and communicate such efforts to key shareholders and constituents.

 

Activism

 

Despite the developments and initiatives striving to protect and promote long-term investment, the most dangerous threat to long-term economic prosperity has continued to surge in the past year. There has been a significant increase in activism activity in countries around the world and no slowdown in the United States. The headlines of 2017 were filled with activists who do not fit the description of good stewards of the long-term interests of the corporation. A must-read Bloombergarticle described Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp., which manages $34 billion of assets, as “aggressive, tenacious and litigious to a fault” and perhaps “the most feared activist investor in the world.” Numerous recent activist attacks underscore that the CEO remains a favored activist target. Several major funds have become more nuanced and taken a merchant banker approach of requesting board representation to assist a company to improve operations and strategy for long-term success. No company is too big for an activist attack. Substantial new capital has been raised by activist hedge funds and several activists have created special purpose funds for investment in a single target. As long as activism remains a serious threat, the economy will continue to experience the negative externalities of this approach to investing—companies attempting to avoid an activist attack are increasingly managed for the short term, cutting important spending on research and development and focusing on short-term profits by effecting share buybacks and paying dividends at the expense of investing in a strategy for long-term growth.

To minimize the impact of activist attacks, boards must focus on building relationships with major institutional investors. The measure of corporate governance success has shifted from checking the right boxes to building the right relationships. Major institutional investors have reiterated their commitment to bringing a long-term perspective to public companies, including, for example, Vanguard, which sent an open letter to directors of public companies world-wide explaining that a long-term perspective informed every aspect of its investment approach. Only by forging relationships of trust and credibility with long-term shareholders can a company expect to gain support for its long-term strategy when it needs it. In many instances, when an activist does approach, a previously established relationship provides a foundation for management and the board to persuade key shareholders that short-term activism is not in their best interest—an effort that is already showing some promise. General Motors’ resounding defeat of Greenlight Capital’s attempt to gain shareholder approval to convert its common stock into two classes shows a large successful company’s ability to garner the

support of its institutional investors against financial engineering. Trian’s recent proxy fight against Procter & Gamble shows the importance of proactively establishing relationships with long-term shareholders. Given Trian’s proven track record of success in urging changes in long-term strategy, Nelson Peltz was able to gain support for a seat on P&G’s board from proxy advisors and major institutional investors. We called attention to importantlessons from this proxy fight (discussed on the Forum here and here).

 

Spotlight on Boards

 

The ever-evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have equivalent influence on board and company behavior. In the coming year, boards will be expected to:

Oversee corporate strategy and the communication of that strategy to investors;

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 strategic goals;

Choose the CEO, monitor the CEO’s and management’s performance and develop a succession plan;

Determine the agendas for board and committee meetings and work with management to assure appropriate information and sufficient time are available for full consideration of all matters;

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;

Develop a working partnership with the CEO and management and serve as a resource for management in charting the appropriate course for the corporation;

Oversee and understand the corporation’s risk management and compliance efforts, and how risk is taken into account in the corporation’s business decision-making; respond to red flags when and if they arise (see Risk Management and the Board of Directors, discussed on the Forum here);

Monitor and participate, as appropriate, in shareholder engagement efforts, evaluate potential corporate governance proposals and anticipate possible activist attacks in order to be able to address them more effectively;

Evaluate the board’s 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;

Review corporate governance guidelines and committee charters and tailor them to promote effective board functioning;

Be prepared to deal with crises; and

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.

To meet these expectations, major public companies should seek to:

Have a sufficient number of directors to staff the requisite standing and special committees and to meet expectations for diversity;

Have directors who have knowledge of, and experience with, the company’s businesses, even if this results in the board having more than one director who is not “independent”;

Have directors who are able to devote sufficient time to preparing for and attending board and committee meetings;

Meet investor expectations for director age, diversity and periodic refreshment;

Provide the directors with the data that is critical to making sound decisions on strategy, compensation and capital allocation;

Provide the directors with regular tutorials by internal and external experts as part of expanded director education; and

Maintain a truly collegial relationship among and between the company’s senior executives and the members of the board that enhances the board’s role both as strategic partner and as 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 publication by Mr. Lipton, Steven A. Rosenblum, Karessa L. Cain, Sabastian V. Niles, Vishal Chanani, and Kathleen C. Iannone.