While much of the focus today is on restarting segments of the economy and developing action plans to reopen businesses, history outside of corporate America teaches us important lessons on how incentives can play a role in driving effective outcomes.  It shows us that incentives, not just rules, may be the solution businesses need.  Consider the British prisoner dilemma over two centuries ago as a powerful lesson in incentives and how these lessons can be applied to the current pandemic.
Continue Reading Incentives in the Pandemic

This is an updated version of our prior post to address Governor Cuomo’s most recent Executive Orders.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo declared a disaster emergency and ceased operation of all non-essential businesses in New York state with the March 7 Executive Order 202 and its successor Executive Orders.  In particular, the March 20th Executive Order 202.8 provided temporary suspension of several state law regulatory requirements, including with respect to shareholder meetings of New York corporations.
Continue Reading UPDATE: Cuomo Executive Order Gives New York Corporations Relief on Physical Annual Meetings

In the current climate of market volatility prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more public companies with valuable US tax assets (e.g., net operating loss carryforwards) may, or at least should, consider adopting a shareholder rights plan in order to preserve those tax assets.  These plans are commonly referred to as “NOL rights plans” (or “NOL poison pills”).
Continue Reading Is Now a Good Time to Adopt an NOL Rights Plan?

On April 8, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) published additional guidance on application of its benchmark voting policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] ISS had previously issued its 2020 benchmark policies update to be applied for shareholder meetings on or after February 1, 2020.[2] Noting the societal and economic uncertainty wrought by COVID-19 since its prior update, ISS provides further guidance focused on four key areas:

  • Annual General Meeting (“AGM”) Issues;
  • Poison Pills, Shareholder Rights and Boards/Directors;
  • Compensation Issues; and
  • Capital Structure and Payouts.


Continue Reading ISS Issues Additional Voting Policy Guidance in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

Executive pay in the midst of the pandemic presents an obvious dilemma.  On the one hand, it would be a stretch to blame fairly management teams for most of the adverse financial performance that will stretch across a broad range of industries.  On the other, they cannot escape the consequences either.

Consider that while stock values may bounce back for many companies in the reasonably short term, it is unlikely that business will quickly return to the status quo ante.  In some industries, the markets for products and services may change permanently; in other industries, supply chain and inventory management may also be permanently affected.  Not least, rank and file employees and other stakeholders across the economy will suffer.  Many executives will take short-term salary cuts in recognition of the hardship, but that is a preliminary and largely symbolic step and compensation committees need to find the right overall balance between reward and respect for the economic environment.
Continue Reading The Executive Pay Dilemma

Last month, we described the increased threat of activists and acquirors seeking to capitalize on the COVID-19 sell-off to build positions in high-value companies at depressed prices.  Even before the current crisis emerged, we recommended that all U.S. public companies regularly review their defense profile and have a shareholder rights plans “on the shelf.” For companies uniquely impacted by the crisis—especially those whose market capitalization has fallen below $1 billion—we suggested they re-assess their vulnerabilities in this new environment and consider whether now was the right time to adopt a rights plan to ward off potential opportunistic behavior. Some companies have done just that—since March 1, 2020, 24 U.S. public companies have adopted a defensive shareholder rights plan (6 other U.S. public companies have adopted NOL rights plans).
Continue Reading ISS and Glass Lewis Issue Guidance for Poison Pills in COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in the U.S. and abroad, public companies are grappling with the ramifications (real or potential) of a senior executive(s) contracting the virus.  Together with senior management, boards of directors should be actively reviewing their emergency preparedness plans, including their emergency succession plans for key executives.  Boards also need to proactively address the possibility that one or more directors become sick, including by reviewing the board’s contingency plans to ensure the board will be able to continue to perform its duties.
Continue Reading The Keys to Emergency Succession: Planning For Boards and Senior Management During a Health Pandemic

On March 30, 2019, Paul Shim and Jim Langston joined Patrick Ramsey, Global Head of M&A at BofA Securities, and Amy Lissauer, Global Head of Activism and Raid Defense at BofA Securities, on a conference call panel titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Shareholder Activism and Hostile M&A.”

The panelists shared their views on the state of activism and hostile attacks in the current environment, how the activism playbook may evolve, when and how the next wave of activism and hostile attacks is likely to emerge, and what companies can do today to prepare for the storm.

Dial-in Details are as follows:
U.S. toll-free: 888 203 1112
International: +1 719 457 0820
Passcode: 1219818

The replay will be available from Monday, March 30, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. through Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

Continue Reading The Impact of COVID-19 on Activism and Hostile Attacks: Key Takeaways

Glass Lewis recently announced an update of its guidelines, which temporarily relaxes its standard policy against virtual meetings in light of COVID-19. The update provides that “[f]or companies opting to hold a virtual-only shareholder meeting during the 2020 proxy season (March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020), [Glass Lewis] will generally refrain from recommending to vote against members of the governance committee on this basis, provided that the company discloses, at a minimum, its rationale for doing so, including citing COVID-19.”[1]  This formal update of Glass-Lewis’s guidelines comes on the heels of statements by both Glass-Lewis and ISS indicating openness to relax their positions on virtual meetings, which we discussed here.
Continue Reading Glass Lewis Revised Guideline Regarding Virtual Meetings for 2020 Proxy Season

This is an updated version of our prior post to address a new guideline issued by Glass Lewis.

With rising concerns around the spread of COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) in the United States and globally, in order to mitigate health risks, many public companies may consider adding a virtual component to the format of their annual shareholder meetings.  In the United States, state law generally governs the availability of a virtual meeting format.  At the federal level, the SEC regulates the filing and mailing of proxy solicitation materials.  While we have not seen direct guidance from state legislatures on virtual or hybrid meetings in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, on March 13, 2020, the SEC released guidance (“SEC Coronavirus Guidance”) addressing annual shareholder meetings[1] in light of recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and other public health officials to cancel, or explicitly state policies that prohibit, large, in-person gatherings[2] in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.[3]  Set forth below are various considerations that a company should take into account when determining whether to move from an in-person to a virtual or hybrid[4] annual meeting
Continue Reading UPDATE: Coronavirus & Virtual Annual Meetings