SDASM Archives
SDASM Archives

Even as we speculate about the likelihood and potential impact of massive deregulation here in the US, the EU is going in the opposite direction.  Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a Shareholder Rights Directive that contains some “interesting” provisions, including the following:

  • Say-on-Pay: Issuers would be required to hold prospective and retrospective say-on-pay votes (i.e., shareholders would have to approve pay plans in advance as well as how those plans worked out). These votes would be binding unless a member state opts out of this provision.
  • Director Pay: While director pay has generated more scrutiny here in the US, the EU proposes to do something about it – specifically, it appears that director pay would also be subject to shareholder approval, though it’s not clear whether the mechanics would be the same as those for executive compensation. Note that shareholder proposals seeking a say-on-pay vote on director compensation have fared poorly here in the past.
  • Related Party Transactions: “Material” related party transactions would be subject to shareholder approval.

While these items seem pretty scary, the Directive includes some features that companies are likely to approve: Continue Reading Shore patrol

Cornell University Library
Cornell University Library

New York Surrogate Gideon Tucker (1826-1899) is credited with originating the maxim that “no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”  Were Surrogate Tucker around today, he might have added boards of directors to those who should be wary of legislative action.

There are numerous weird bills rumbling around the hallowed halls of Washington these days, but one of the bills that is making me unhappy is the Cybersecurity Disclosure Act of 2017.  The good news is that the bill is very short.

The bad news is threefold. Continue Reading Beware when the legislature is in session

Bob Lamm wins Lifetime Achievement AwardCongratulations to our esteemed colleague, Bob Lamm, for winning this prestigious award! While we all know that Bob is the guru in the governance space, it’s great that he was recognized for all of his achievements (to date!). Well deserved!

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 29, 2016) – Gunster, one of Florida’s oldest and largest full-service business law firms, is pleased to announce that Bob Lamm received the Lifetime Achievement award at the ninth annual Corporate Secretary Corporate Governance Awards.

Lamm serves as co-chair of Gunster’s securities & corporate governance practice. He has devoted his career to governance in his prior positions with companies such as Pfizer; CA, Inc.; and W.R. Grace & Co. In addition to his role at Gunster, Lamm acts as an independent senior advisor to the Deloitte Center for Board Effectiveness and as an advisory director of Argyle, and he has actively been involved as a long-term member of the Society for Corporate Governance. In addition, Lamm serves as a senior fellow of the Conference Board Center for Corporate Governance, as well as a director for the Junior Achievement of South Florida.

“As an independent senior advisor, Bob has made an indelible mark. His dedication shows his deep passion for investing in the next generation of independent directors,” said Deb DeHaas, vice chair and managing partner at the Deloitte Center for Board Effectiveness. “Throughout my career, it has been my experience that truly brilliant people are also kind and generous of spirit. In this respect, Bob is a special treasure; an expert lawyer with a big heart and the soul of a teacher, who shares his knowledge without pretension, and always praises the qualities he sees in others,” added Iain Poole, managing director at Argyle. Bill Perry, Gunster’s CEO and managing shareholder stated that “Bob’s commitment to excellence in corporate governance and securities law is exceptional. We are fortunate to call Bob a colleague and as Florida’s law firm for business, we are honored to have him among our ranks.”

On Thursday, Nov. 3, more than 400 industry professionals in the governance, risk and compliance world gathered together in New York to celebrate the best of the best in the industry and celebrate the lifelong accomplishments of all the evening’s honorees. There were over 300 nominations received in 14 different categories.

 

It remains to be seen whether the new administration will actually drain the swamp or do away with political correctness, but one hope that some of us have – regardless of our views on the election – is that the SEC may finally get around to some issues that have been on the back burner for years.

One such issue is a long-overdue overhaul of the rules surrounding shareholder proposals, including the submission and resubmission thresholds for proposals under SEC Rule 14a-8.  Many organizations, including the Society for Corporate Governance, have repeatedly urged the SEC to update these rules, which have been in place for many years.  However, the SEC has been reluctant to plunge into the area due to the likely political firestorm that would result.

Now, another organization has jumped in.  At the end of October, the Business Roundtable published “Modernizing the Shareholder Proposal Process”, a rational and well thought-out series of suggestions for bringing shareholder proposals into the 21st Century.

Continue Reading A modest proposal about more modest proposals

3102056181_031bf572a9_zIn the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the next President, there has been a lot of speculation about the effect of a Trump administration on securities law and corporate governance.  Looking into a crystal ball is always risky, but here are some observations.

Conflict Minerals:  It’s too soon to tell whether Dodd-Frank will be repealed in its entirety, if it will die the death of 1,000 cuts, or if it will stay pretty much as is.  What I will say is that few will cry if the conflict minerals provisions are eliminated (and I will not be among those few).  Complying with the conflict minerals rules is time-consuming  (and therefore costly), and it’s questionable whether many people care.  Perhaps of equal or greater importance is that there is some evidence that the conflict minerals requirements are actually hurting the people they were supposed to help.

Pay Ratio: More of the same here.  There is some support for pay ratio disclosure among labor pension funds, but that’s about it.  Companies don’t like it (duh…), and mainstream investors have no use for it.  Given how the Democrats seem to have fared in the industrial states, it’s not clear that they would fall on their collective sword to save this one. Continue Reading The SEC’s brave new (Trump) world

The morning after a surprising election outcome seems as good a time as any to bear in mind the old saw that the more things change the more they stay the same.

And so it goes with corporate governance trends.  Lost in the piles of paper and ink (real and virtual) expended on the Wells Fargo scandal is an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago suggesting that the beleaguered bank will benefit from its post-oops decision to separate the positions of CEO and Chairman of the Board.

I’ve studied this issue for several years, and I can state with confidence that there is no proof that separating the positions or having an independent Board Chair does anything to improve performance or to avoid problems.  The most that can be said is that the studies are inconclusive.

Continue Reading CEO/Chair separation — the more things change…

Whistleblowers receive protection
Photo by Kai Schreiber

We are pleased to provide a posting from our colleague, Holly L. Griffin, an attorney in Gunster’s Labor and Employment practice group.

Within the course of one week, the SEC took administrative action against two companies for language contained within severance agreements which restricted employee rights to obtain a monetary award for reports of potential law violations to the SEC. The SEC took aim at two types of provisions which commonly appear in severance agreements: the confidentiality clause and the waiver of rights.

Background

In one of the cases, the company required all employees accepting severance pay to sign an agreement that contained a clause prohibiting disclosure of company confidential information and trade secrets, except when the employee is compelled by law to disclose the information.  In the event the employee was required to disclose company confidential information, the agreement required the employee to provide notice to the company.  The SEC determined that the confidentiality agreement put former employees between a rock and a hard place if they wanted to report potential law violations; they could either identify themselves as a whistleblower to the company by providing notice, or risk breaching the agreement and forfeiting severance by disclosing confidential information.

In both matters, the companies required all employees accepting severance to sign an agreement that contained a waiver of rights. Although the severance agreements did not prohibit the employees from reporting or participating in an investigation into a potential law violation, they explicitly prohibited the employees from receiving monetary compensation for such reports.  The SEC found both companies in violation of an SEC Rule which prohibits public companies from taking action which impede a whistleblower from communicating with the SEC regarding possible law violations.  Congress enacted the “Dodd-Frank Act with the stated purpose of encouraging whistleblowers to report potential law violations to the SEC, by offering financial incentives or awards for reports.  The SEC determined that requiring employees to waive their right to financial recovery undermines the public policy purpose behind the Dodd-Frank Act and violates SEC rules.

Both companies were required to notify former employees of the ruling and to pay monetary civil penalties, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars each. One company was also required to amend its severance agreements to include a section titled “Protected Rights,” which notified employees of the right to report any suspected law violation to a governmental agency and to receive an award for providing such information.

What it means  Continue Reading SEC Attacks Standard Severance Agreements–Companies Would be Well Advised to Take Notice and Adjust Accordingly

This posting is a reprint of an article, co-authored by Bob Lamm and David Scileppi, that appeared in the Daily Business Review on July 15, 2016.    

Recent months have been difficult for the initial public offering market. In fact, year-to-date, IPOs are down nearly 60 percent compared to last year. One of the bright spots in this IPO down market has been Sensus Healthcare Inc., a Boca Raton-based medical device company.

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We are proud to have worked with Sensus Healthcare on its IPO, which priced on June 2; Sensus is now listed on NASDAQ under the SRTSU symbol.

Though we’ve worked on numerous offerings over the course of our careers, the Sensus transaction reminded us of some key things that companies should consider as they proceed toward an IPO. Continue Reading Top Five Considerations in a Challenging IPO Market

The United Kingdom has a new Prime Minister.  Her name is Theresa May, and she’s a member of the

Photo by Scott P
Photo by Scott P

Conservative Party.  Remember that, because what you are about to read will probably lead you to think otherwise.

In a speech made a couple of days before Ms. May became Prime Minister, she said that she would pursue the following actions if she were to become Prime Minister: Continue Reading What happens in England

4532941987_9004c36616_mIn a June 27 speech to the International Corporate Governance Network, SEC Chair Mary Jo White engaged in a bit of full disclosure herself:

“I can report today that the staff is preparing a recommendation to the Commission to propose amending the rule to require companies to include in their proxy statements more meaningful board diversity disclosures on their board members and nominees where that information is voluntarily self-reported by directors.”

As noted in her remarks, the SEC adopted the current disclosure requirements on board diversity in 2009.  However, the requirements were added to other board-related disclosure requirements at the last minute, when it was reported that Commissioner Aguilar refused to support the other requirements unless diversity disclosure was also mandated.  As a result, the diversity requirements were never subjected to public comment, did not define “diversity,” and seemed to require disclosure only if the company had a diversity “policy”.   When companies failed to provide the disclosure because they had no policy, the SEC clarified that if diversity was a factor in director selection then, in fact, the company would be deemed to have a policy, thus requiring disclosure.

Continue Reading Coming soon to an SEC filing near you: board diversity (but not sustainability…for now)