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ISS Launches Annual Benchmarking Policy Survey

Yesterday, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) announced its annual Benchmarking Policy survey. ISS will use survey responses to inform its policies governing 2020 shareholder meetings. Institutional investors, public companies, board directors, corporate advisors and other market participants are welcome to participate. Participants can make survey submissions until 5:00 PM ET on August 9, 2019.  ISS typically publishes the survey results a few weeks thereafter.

While the survey includes questions targeting both global and designated geographic markets, the key questions affecting the U.S. markets fall into the following categories: (1) board composition/accountability, including gender diversity and overboarding, (2) board/capital structure, including dual or multi-class shares and combined CEO/chairs, (3) compensation and (4) climate change risk oversight and disclosure.
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Delaware Supreme Court on Director Risk Oversight and Independence

Key Holding and Facts. In Marchand vs. Barnhill, Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. writing on behalf of the Delaware Supreme Court earlier this month reversed the Court of Chancery’s 2018 dismissal of a stockholder derivative suit alleging Caremark claims.  Caremark claims are essentially claims asserting bad faith by board members such that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The facts underlying the case are well documented and spanned over several years, but generally involved a listeria outbreak at the ice cream production facilities of Blue Bell Creameries, a privately held monoline ice cream manufacturer, which resulted in devastating losses, including the death of three consumers, plant shutdowns, financial impairment and various regulatory investigation and private party litigation, including by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
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Director Survey Reflects Tension and Skepticism of Investor Priorities

PwC’s annual corporate directors survey concludes that boards are evolving and seeking change, rather than primarily valuing collegiality and consensus.  The survey also shows some discontent among directors with their fellow members, and that they remain unconvinced about the importance of some key investor prerogatives.

About 45% of directors think that a member of their board should be replaced, with 21% of them indicating that two or more directors are underperforming.  The types of issues that directors cite as indicators of poor behavior include both too much as well as too little involvement; 18% believe that fellow directors overstep the boundaries of his or her oversight role, while 16% point to other directors’ reluctance to challenge management as a significant issue.
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California Enacts Law Requiring Public Company Boards to Include Women

As our client memo explains, yesterday the governor of California signed a bill that requires public companies with executive offices in the state to include a specific number of women on their boards of directors.

Governor Brown’s statement acknowledges that “serious legal concerns” have been raised about the bill, and that “flaws” in the bill may “prove fatal to its ultimate implementation.”  However, he believes that “recent events in Washington D.C. [and] beyond” make it “crystal clear that many are not getting the message.”

His letter was copied to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Mr. Clayton Goes to Washington

SEC Chair nominee Jay Clayton’s March 23rd hearing before the Senate Banking Committee covered much of the expected ground. In a series of responses designed to avoid controversy, Clayton repeatedly returned to the three core mandates of the SEC – capital formation, investor protection and efficient markets – as touchstones for his future leadership of the Commission, should he be confirmed. Beyond these general areas, Clayton offered few specifics or signals as to how he might steer the Commission during his term as Chair. He did, however, discuss concerns about growing companies finding the U.S. public markets unattractive due to the burdens of being a public company.
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Delaware Supreme Court Finds Relationships Taint Director Independence, Promotes Internet Searches

Recently, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Court of Chancery in Sandys v. Pincus on findings of director independence at Zynga.  The Court of Chancery had dismissed the suit for failure to make pre-suit demand on the board or alleging that demand would have been futile, but the Delaware Supreme Court found that the plaintiff had created a reasonable doubt that the board could have properly exercised independent, disinterested business judgment in responding to a demand.  If director independence is compromised, then demand is excused.  

The plaintiff had brought suit for breach of fiduciary duties after the board exempted several insiders, both top managers and directors, from its insider trading policy. 
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