Public and private businesses today face many decisions that do not arise from, and have consequences far beyond, solely financial performance.  Rather, these decisions are primarily driven by, and implicate, important social, cultural and political concerns.  They include harassment, pay equity and other issues raised by the #MeToo movement; immigration and labor markets; trade policy; sustainability and climate change; the manufacture, distribution and financing of guns and opioids; corporate money in politics; privacy regulation in social media; cybersecurity; advertising, boycotts and free speech; race relations issues raised by the pledge of allegiance controversy; the financing of healthcare; the tension between religious freedom and discrimination laws; and the impact of executive pay on income inequality, among others.  If the nature of the issues is not unprecedented, the number, diversity and polarization seem to be.  Continue Reading <i>Caremark</i> and Reputational Risk Through #MeToo Glasses

A challenge to a transaction between a Delaware corporation and its controlling stockholder generally will be subject to the highest level of judicial review—“entire fairness”.  As a result, a critical factual question often is whether a significant, but minority, stockholder could be viewed as controlling the corporation.

In a recent decision,[1] the Delaware Court of Chancery (the “Court”) concluded that it was reasonably conceivable that Elon Musk, the founder and the owner of 22.1% of the stock of Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”), was a controlling stockholder of Tesla and controlled Tesla’s board of directors in connection with its decision to acquire (the “Acquisition”) SolarCity Corporation (“SolarCity”), another company founded by Musk and his cousins and of which Musk owned 21.9% of its stock.  As a result, the transaction could be subject to the heightened entire fairness standard of review notwithstanding that it was approved by the holders of a majority of Tesla’s disinterested shares.

Continue Reading Delaware Chancery Court Denies Motion to Dismiss and Permits Discovery into 22.1% Minority Stockholder’s Controller Status

Earlier this month, partners Jennifer Kennedy Park and Kimberly Spoerri participated in a panel co-hosted by The Conference Board and Cleary Gottlieb to discuss the board’s oversight role in issues related to sexual harassment.

Moderator Doug Chia, executive director of The Conference Board, Jen and Kim discussed relevant legal regulations and frameworks and the risks of non-compliance, as well as the policies, procedures and best practices boards and senior management can employ to mitigate risks.  They discussed the responsibility the board has in setting company culture through tone at the top, and how the failure by the board and senior management to be proactive in this area can affect compliance and oversight throughout a company.  The discussion also included ways the board can tangibly address these issues.  Continue Reading Cleary Partners Participate in Panel Discussion on Board Oversight of Sexual Harassment

Maintaining a workplace environment free of discrimination, sexual harassment and other misconduct is critical to both the short-term productivity and long-term health of a business.  Reports of sexual harassment allegations at public corporations can have material negative effects on stock price, with some corporations seeing double digit single day drops after accusations are made public.  As we have written elsewhere, the primary obligation to manage these risks on a day-to-day basis falls to executive leadership.[1]  But the #MeToo movement also has raised questions about the role of boards of directors to provide oversight of management and, to the extent that senior management may be a source of the problem, the board’s obligation to take more direct action.

This note discusses some key issues for General Counsel to consider as they advise corporate boards about how to navigate their responsibilities in this environment.  Continue Reading Bringing The #MeToo Movement Into The Board Room

Forbes has published an interesting article that opens as follows:

Every CEO and every board member of every publicly traded company (and every thinking-about-being-publicly traded company) should drop whatever they are doing and read two short things right now:

  • This week’s annual letter to CEOs from BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink; and
  • The January 8 client bulletin from Cleary Gottlieb, “The Schizophrenic Investor Landscape: The Significance for Boards and Management of the JANA/CalSTRS Letter to Apple.”

BlackRock is the largest investor in the world, managing $6 trillion in assets. Cleary is one of the largest and most prestigious international law firms in the world. These are two of the most influential institutions that drive the behavior of the corporations that shape our society and our lives. . . . Let’s hope . . . that investors are beginning to see—and will begin to act—more “Cleary”-eyed.

Click here for the Forbes article and here for the original Cleary blog post by our partner Ethan Klingsberg.

In recent months, sexual harassment allegations against well-known figures across a growing number of industries have become a common feature in news headlines.  In the wake of these allegations, many companies have concluded that their current policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and discrimination are inadequate.  Against the backdrop of this rapidly evolving landscape, companies are considering how to improve their policies and procedures not only to appropriately and effectively respond to allegations of sexual harassment, but also to deter inappropriate behavior going forward and foster an environment of openness, diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.  To that end, we address 8 key questions that companies should be asking themselves in developing policies and procedures to confront sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct in today’s workplace.

Click here, to read the full memo.

In recent years, shareholder plaintiffs have brought a series of claims before the Delaware Court of Chancery alleging that directors of Delaware companies have abused their discretion in granting themselves excessive equity compensation for their board service.  These cases raised the threshold question of whether the plaintiffs’ challenges should be reviewed under the “entire fairness” standard, which requires the company to bear the burden of proving that the director awards were fair, or the more deferential “business judgment” standard, which grants considerable discretion to directors’ decisions, often resulting in dismissal of claims that fail to plead particularized facts indicating fiduciary lapses by the directors. Continue Reading New Year’s Resolutions For Director Compensation From <i>Investors Bancorp</i>

2017 began with a heightened level of uncertainty as the beginning of the year brought significant change in the legal environment, including a change in administration that promised to significantly alter the tenor of regulation. While certain changes did occur in 2017, in many respects, 2018 is setting itself up as the year to watch for continuing developments in areas that are likely to fundamentally transform how companies operate and interact with an increasingly larger number of vocal stakeholders. The trends discussed in each of the sections of this memorandum will increasingly be a focus of boards of directors and companies in the United States and across the globe, particularly as boards consider how best to assess and assist in mitigating associated risks. The role that the board and its oversight plays in guiding companies in these times will be critical and a strong understanding of the issues and challenges facing boards and companies over the next year and beyond will assist boards in addressing the issues and complexities that will undoubtedly arise in 2018.

We invite you to review these topics by clicking on the links below.

For a PDF of the full memorandum, please click here.

Selected Issues for Boards of Directors 2018 (Home Page)

Developments in Best Practices in the Boardroom

Significant Regulation and Reform Under the Trump Administration

Activism in 2018

Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Updates

The New DOJ FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy Highlights the Continued Importance of Anti-Corruption Compliance

Evolution or Revolution for Companies with Multi-Class Share Structures

Corporate Governance in the Context of Brexit and Political Uncertainty in the United Kingdom and Europe

 

On December 5, 2017, the Financial Reporting Council launched a consultation on its proposal to significantly revise the UK Corporate Governance Code.

The amendments seek to encourage continued improvement in the quality of corporate governance in the UK and are centered around the themes of company culture and diversity, employee and other stakeholder representation, responding to significant shareholder opposition, independence of the chairman and other non-executive directors and executive remuneration. In this memorandum, we briefly explore the main proposed reforms.

Click here, to continue reading.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen traditional, actively managed funds, such as Neuberger Berman, borrow activist tactics and push for changes to accelerate increases in share prices.  In parallel with this arguable trend toward convergence between actively managed funds and activist funds, a chasm appeared to be developing elsewhere in the investor landscape as pension and passive strategy funds increasingly focused on “social good” issues, while brand name activist funds remained primarily focused on nearer term financial performance and returns.  But the activists desperately need the support of the pension and passive strategy funds, as evidenced by the proxy contests over the past year where support from these funds was neither predictable nor easily locked up.  The announcement on January 6, 2018 by JANA Partners, a high profile activist fund, and CalSTRs, an outspoken pension fund, that they have teamed up to accumulate a $2 billion equity position in Apple for the purpose of launching a specific “social good” campaign is the strongest indication to date that the magnitude of assets under management focused on social good matters cannot be ignored and that even a successful activist fund like JANA needs to burnish its reputation in this area.  Continue Reading The Schizophrenic Investor Landscape: The Significance for Boards and Managements of the JANA/CalSTRs Letter to Apple