The CEOs of 150 major US public companies recently pledged to act for all of their “stakeholders” – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and yes, even stockholders.[1] Much commentary ensued. But before we get too excited about whether these CEOs are grasping the mantle of government to act on behalf of the citizenry and other people who aren’t paying them, there is the prior question of whether, as a matter of Delaware law, they can.
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Institutional investors are howling for US public companies to focus more on the long-term.[1]  This is unsurprising. Long-term focused companies produce significantly better results over time, reporting far greater revenue growth with less volatility, far higher levels of economic profit, and greater total return to shareholders.[2] So if you are holding stock for a long time, a long-term focus for your portfolio companies is critical.
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The modus operandi of shareholder activism is to agitate for change, often involving campaigns to convince other shareholders to support proposals to change the composition of the board and the company’s strategy.

Under UK law a shareholder activist, in its capacity as shareholder, can attack the board and its strategy in the press and in

In recent years, in part in response to decisions like Corwin that have raised the pleading standard for stockholder plaintiffs, the Delaware courts have encouraged stockholders to seek books and records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) before filing stockholder derivative or post-merger damages suits, and – in response – each year more stockholders have done so.  As a result of this trend, we have already seen several important decisions addressing books and records demands in 2019.  These decisions have (i) clarified the types of documents that may be obtained, including (in some limited circumstances) personal emails or text messages; (ii) explained when a stockholder’s demand will be denied as impermissibly lawyer-driven (and when it will not be); and (iii) described the threshold showing of suspected wrongdoing that stockholders must make.  As the plaintiffs’ bar makes more use of Section 220, these are important issues for boards of directors to consider.
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If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.”  Ernest Rutherford

Sometimes you need to get into the fundamentals to understand if your belief system is sound.  In corporate governance literature of the last two decades, there is no more fundamental concept than Tobin’s Q, which legions of law professors have used as a proxy for firm value.  Based on regression analyses examining variations in Tobin’s Q, they have made definitive pronouncements about any number of corporate governance topics, from staggered boards to the value of activism.  Yet tracing the evolution of Tobin’s Q to its current state—a state completely alien to the original conception—reveals a twisted tale, proceeding like an epidemiological disaster in which Tobin’s Q transforms from an innocent and useful organism in macroeconomics to an unrecognizably mutated and widespread disease in corporate governance literature, infecting policies and practices throughout the corporate governance world.
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Cleary Gottlieb and The Conference Board recently hosted the webcast “A Discussion on Long-Termism, Activist Hedge Funds and Staggered Boards”.  The webcast was moderated by Doug Chia of The Conference Board Governance Center, and the panelists were:

Voting rights held by shareholders who are “acting in concert” are mutually attributed for purposes of the German Securities Trading Act (“WpHG”) and the German Takeover Act (“WpÜG”).  Such attribution may thus not only trigger (additional) voting rights notifications, if the relevant voting rights thresholds are reached or crossed, but also the obligation to launch a mandatory offer, if based on the voting rights so attributed a shareholder acquires control of a company.  In light of these implications, the question of what type of behavior constitutes acting in concert is of high practical relevance.  Unfortunately, the definition in statutory law is open-ended, and several details are heavily disputed.  In its decision of September 25, 2018 (II ZR 190/17), the German Federal Court of Justice (“FCJ”) had the opportunity to clarify two important questions:

First, the coordination of shareholder behavior in an individual case does not qualify as acting in concert. According to the FCJ, the question of whether coordination among shareholders is limited to an “individual case” is to be determined applying a formal rather than substantive test. Second, mutual coordination of conduct among shareholders does not constitute acting in concert if it is aimed at maintaining an existing corporate strategy (or defining it for the first time), rather than at bringing about a permanent and material change to an existing corporate strategy.
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As both shareholder activists, and the companies they target, become more geographically diverse, it is increasingly important for legal and corporate practitioners to understand the legal framework and emerging trends of shareholder activism in the various international jurisdictions facing activism. The Shareholder Rights and Activism Review is designed as a primer on these aspects of

On May 14, 2018, certain members of the CBS board filed suit in Delaware seeking authorization to issue a special dividend intended to dilute the voting control of NAI, CBS’s controlling stockholder. Shortly after NAI filed a countersuit on May 29, 2018, NAI moved to compel the production of certain communications involving CBS’s outside and in-house counsel, including privileged documents concerning the decision to declare the dilutive dividend. NAI’s motion raised important issues regarding the rights of board members to access privileged communications with company counsel, which we discuss in our latest post.
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The recent dispute between CBS and its controlling stockholder, National Amusements (NAI), should serve as a reminder that determining whether a director is “independent” is context specific. This post summarizes the applicable standards regarding independence and discusses how and when varying standards should be utilized in the context of controlled companies.
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