The Delaware Supreme Court has clarified that controlling stockholder take-private transactions will be reviewed under the business judgment rule, rather than the less deferential entire fairness standard, if the controlling stockholder self-disables by committing to special committee and majority-of-the-minority approval before “economic negotiations” take place, even if the controlling stockholder fails to do so in its initial written offer.  See Flood v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., No. 101, 2018 (Del. Oct. 9, 2018).[1]

The Delaware Supreme Court first announced in Kahn v. M&F Worldwide Corp., 88 A.3d 635 (Del. 2014) (“MFW”) that business judgment review applies to a merger proposed by a controlling stockholder conditioned “ab initio” on two procedural protections: (1) the approval of an independent, adequately-empowered Special Committee that fulfills its duty of care; and (2) the uncoerced, informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders.[2] Continue Reading Delaware Supreme Court Provides Significant Guidance on Timing Requirement Under <i>MFW</i>

Over the last few years, boards have come under mounting pressure to focus on board composition and refreshment, including length of tenure, individual and aggregate skills mix and diversity.  A few years ago, CalPERS’ revised its Global Governance Principles to call for companies to conduct rigorous evaluations of director independence after twelve years’ service, and ISS’ QualityScore metric rewards companies where the proportion of non-executive directors with fewer than six years tenure makes up more than one-third of the board, in addition to scrutinizing boards where average tenure exceeds 15 years.  Companies also face demands to justify the contributions of individual directors and to conduct rigorous evaluations to ensure that the board functions effectively and with the right mix of skills.  Correspondingly, refreshment is one of the top areas of continued governance focus from other investors and advocates.  This update is intended to provide boards with data that brings them up to date on developments in this area, since it is certain to be an area of continuing focus for various constituencies in the near future. Continue Reading Update on Board Diversity Developments

During the course of the last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought two enforcement actions related to inadequate disclosure of perquisites.  In early July, the SEC issued an order finding that, from 2011 through 2015, an issuer failed to follow the SEC’s perquisite disclosure standard,[1] which resulted in a failure to disclose approximately $3 million in named executive officer perquisites.[2]   In addition to the imposition of a $1.75 million civil penalty, the SEC order mandated that the issuer retain an independent consultant (at its own expense) for a period of one year to conduct a review of its policies, procedures, controls and training related to the evaluation of whether payments and expense reimbursements should be disclosed as perquisites, and to adopt and implement all recommendations made by such consultant. Continue Reading Recent SEC Enforcement Actions on Inadequate Perquisite Disclosure

On 16 July 2018, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) published the final, revised version of the UK Corporate Governance Code (UK CGC).[1] This will apply (on a “comply or explain” basis) to all companies with a premium listing in the UK for accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2019.

The new UK CGC is one of a range of corporate governance reforms currently being implemented in the UK in response to the UK Government’s wide-ranging Green Paper Consultation on UK corporate governance reform.[2] Its publication concludes a seven-month consultation by the FRC, following the publication of a draft revised UK CGC in December 2017.[3] The FRC received 275 responses to its consultation from a wide range of stakeholders and has made a number of changes to its original proposals to address the feedback received. We briefly explore the most significant of these changes below. Continue Reading New UK Corporate Governance Code Unveiled

As “social good” objectives (like the protection of the environment, the improvement of public health and the alleviation of poverty) rise up the corporate agenda in the UK, we examine how UK companies are reconciling the pursuit of these objectives with their directors’ duties, which normally require the prioritisation of the creation of shareholder value above other objectives. We also briefly explore the current trend of UK companies seeking to embed social and environmental purposes in their constitutions. Continue Reading Social Good, Shareholders’ Interests and Directors’ Duties: Recent Developments in the UK

When the staff (the “Staff”) of the Division of Corporation Finance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”) last fall, it seemed that the Staff was potentially signaling that it would be taking a more issuer-friendly approach in its review of no-action letter requests (“NALs”). In particular, the language in SLB 14I regarding the role of the board of directors suggested that the Staff may defer to the board’s determination of whether a shareholder proposal focuses on a significant policy issue, in the case of the “ordinary business” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(7)), and whether the shareholder proposal is significantly related to the issuer’s business, in the case of the “economic relevance” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(5)), as long as the NALs provided a sufficiently detailed discussion of the board’s analysis and the “specific processes employed by the board to ensure that its conclusions are well-informed and well-reasoned.” For example, SLB 14I stated that these types of “determinations often raise difficult judgment calls that the Division believes are in the first instance matters that the board of directors is generally in a better position to determine.” One could read that language to mean that including a well-developed board analysis could significantly influence the outcome for a NAL based on the “ordinary business” exception and/or the “economic relevance” exception. Continue Reading Making Sense of the SEC’s 2018 NALs on Shareholder Proposals for the Proxy Statement

In a previous post, we wrote that the UK Government announced a series of reforms to the UK Corporate Governance regime in August 2017. Some of these reforms are being addressed through the on-going consultation on revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code (UK CGC) (see our previous post for further details). The UK CGC is the main corporate governance code in the UK and applies (on a “comply or explain” basis) to all UK companies with a premium listing in the UK.

Another of the announced reforms was the development of a corporate governance code for large private companies, backed by new reporting requirements. This was a significant proposal because corporate governance efforts in the UK have historically focussed on publicly listed companies where shareholders are often distant from executives running the company. The Government’s proposal was driven by evidence that private companies constitute a vast (and increasing) portion of the UK economy and its recent experience that their actions (including several recent large-scale failures) can have a significant impact on their employees, suppliers and other stakeholders. This reform is expected to have important implications for a wide variety of large private companies in the UK, including UK subsidiaries of multinational groups and UK portfolio companies of private equity funds.

Continue Reading UK Proposes a New Corporate Governance Code for Large Private Companies

Beyond the cacophonous din of voices calling for companies to serve a “social purpose,” adopt a variety of governance proposals, achieve quarterly performance targets, and listen to (and indeed even “think like”) activists, there is now, most promisingly, a call from genuine long term shareholders for public companies to articulate and pursue a long term strategy.[1]  This latest shareholder demand directly supports the achievement of traditional corporate purposes, and seems, more than any other shareholder demand of the last decade, the most likely to increase shareholder value.  Yet in current circumstances, where all corporate defenses have been stripped in the name of “good governance,” boards and management have been given zero space in which to formulate and implement a long term strategy.  Indeed, the very fact that shareholders must demand corporations focus on long term strategy demonstrates just how effectively the governance movement has been co-opted by market forces to serve the interests of short term activists and traders to the detriment of long term investors.  It is time for long term investors to recognize that aspects of the good governance movement have in fact come at significant cost to their own investors, to be perhaps a bit more wary of partnerships with activists, and to actively create the conditions that will allow boards and management to focus on the long term.  Exhortations are not enough. The first step should be to bring back staggered boards. Continue Reading Long-Term Investors Have a Duty to Bring Back the Staggered Board (and Proxy Advisors Should Get on Board)

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