I’ll start by making a few things clear: I support a clean environment, stopping or slowing climate change, and many other good things.  I also believe that corporations should (and many do) consider constituencies other than shareholders and seek to do more than increase shareholder value.   There.  I’ve gotten that out of my system.

But that doesn’t mean

I recently read an article suggesting that companies need to consider appointing a chief resilience officer. That got me thinking about all the other “chief” positions that pundits may be encouraging companies to create.  Here’s a partial list:

Chief Analytics OfficerChief Happiness Officer
Chief Automation OfficerChief Inclusion Officer
Chief Behavioral OfficerChief Information Officer
Chief

Boards of directors have a lot – maybe too much – to do.  Subjects long believed to be the province of management are now viewed as being in the board’s wheelhouse, and when a problem arises with respect to any of those subjects, the first question asked by investors, regulators, the media, and others is often “where was the board?”  So it is with a degree of reluctance that I am writing to suggest another subject that I believe boards need to address.

Some background may be in order.  A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the American Bar Association International Law Section in Madrid.  (How a US-centric lawyer ended up at that meeting is a tale for another day.)  The trip, the city, and the conference were wonderful; I met some extraordinary people and was beyond grateful that I was able to go.  I also learned a lot, mostly on things like international trade and customs law, cross-border discovery, and other topics that I don’t often encounter in my practice.

Another panel that I thought had little to do with my practice turned out to be the most compelling panel of them all, and it definitely is relevant to my practice and to the observation above about the ever-growing responsibilities of the board.  The title of the panel was “Recognizing Human Trafficking as a Common Occurrence During Conflict, and Building Protection and Anti-Trafficking Strategies into Global Responses”.  I suppose the title of the panel could have been more succinct, but – as the moderator of the panel suggested – a more helpful change might have been to give a trigger warning before the panel got underway.
Continue Reading Yet another thing for boards to consider

Since the 1980s, Section 102(b)(7) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”) has enabled Delaware corporations to provide exculpation from breaches of the fiduciary duty of care to directors – but not officers – in certain circumstances.  Officers can now come in from the cold, as Section 102(b)(7) has now been amended to provide similar protection for certain officers.  Specifically, the amendments, which became effective on August 1, 2022, allow Delaware corporations to provide exculpation from breaches of the duty of care to specified officers in certain circumstances. The new provisions allow a qualifying officer to be exculpated from such claims made directly by stockholders but do not provide relief in connection with other fiduciary duties, derivative actions, or actions brought by a corporation’s board against its officers.

We view this amendment as a major forward step.  If your company (or any subsidiary) is a Delaware corporation, you should seriously consider amending its certificate of incorporation to provide this protection.  And if you are an officer of a Delaware corporation, you should make sure your board of directors is aware that this protection is available and urge your board to take the steps needed to provide the protection..

Continue Reading Coming in from the cold: Delaware provides exculpation protection to corporate officers

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Hating lawyers may not have started with Shakespeare, but he didn’t help things when he wrote “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” in Henry VI.  Any lawyer who’s been practicing law for more than a couple of weeks knows that part of the price of bar admission is having to endure lawyer jokes (most of which aren’t very good) and experiences like having a client say to you at the outset of your first meeting, “just so you know, I don’t like lawyers” or words to that effect.

It’s particularly painful, however, when an attack on our profession comes from one of our own, who also happens to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  I refer to a March 4 speech by Commissioner Allison Herren Lee in which she notes her “deep regard for the ideals of public service that our profession represents” and that her “belief in the ideals of the profession – ideals I know you all share – has only grown stronger with time” but then goes on to castigate corporate lawyers for failing to fulfill our “role…as gatekeepers in the capital markets.”  She distinguishes corporate lawyers from litigators – a dubious distinction that suggests we should be less zealous in representing our clients than our litigation colleagues – and says that in passing Section 307 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (more on that below) “Congress was concerned…that counsel often acted in the interests of the executives who hired them rather than the company and its shareholders to whom their duty and responsibility is [sic] owed.”
Continue Reading Who needs Shakespeare when you’ve got the SEC?

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The Nasdaq Stock Market has developed a reputation for being the hip securities exchange, technologically and otherwise.  In many ways, it deserves this reputation.  For example:

  • In 1991, Nasdaq became the world’s first electronic stock market.
  • In 1992, it joined with the London Stock Exchange to form the first intercontinental linkage of capital markets.
  • In 1998, using the slogan “the stock market for the next hundred years,” Nasdaq became the first U.S. stock market to trade online.
  • In 2016, Adena Friedman was promoted to chief executive officer, becoming the first woman to run a major exchange in the U.S.

So it is not particularly surprising that, once again, in August 2021, Nasdaq took center stage and became the first major stock exchange to adopt a board diversity rule for its listed companies.

WHY THIS RULE?  WHY NOW?

The answer to the first question is clear. Notwithstanding widespread acknowledgement by corporate America that board diversity leads to greater innovation, smarter decision-making, and improvements to the bottom line, actual board diversity remains elusive.  As of 2020, only 20.9% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by White women, and a mere 5.7% were held by Black and Latina women; and while 2021 saw gains of 300% in new directors who are Black and 200% gains in Latino directors, 80% of all Fortune 500 board members are White, and 70% are male.[1]  So even though the new rule will not create “instant” diversity, it will create measurable board diversity goals, forcing companies that have given lip service to diversity to act – or to disclose that they have failed to act.

Why now?  Personally, I ask, “Why not before?”  The answers to those questions, however, are beyond the scope of this blog.  For this moment, I am cautiously optimistic that Nasdaq’s new diversity rule can be a catalyst for meaningful change that leads to the bona fide board diversity that corporate America has been incapable of accomplishing thus far.
Continue Reading Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule: The “Hip” Exchange Does It Again

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I have long been a champion of shareholder engagement.  Since as far back as the 1980s, I have believed that companies and investors alike greatly benefit from engagement; I even advocated for engagement by individual directors – a view that generated some strong adverse commentary from those in the corporate community who disagreed with me.  It’s therefore extremely gratifying to me that what was a rare and often disparaged occurrence has become the norm.  Even prestigious law firms that referred to director-investor meetings as “corporate governance run amok” now embrace the practice.

I also admit that, despite my disagreement with the principles behind say on pay votes, such votes have had the very positive unintended consequence of making engagement commonplace.  In fact, there is so much engagement going on that some investors can’t find the time to meet with the companies they own.

So far, so good.

However, I believe that things may be going too far.  I refer, specifically, to the new movement to have a “say on climate” vote at every public company’s annual meeting (or, as the corporate community increasingly refers to it, the annual general meeting, or AGM – as opposed to an annual “specific” meeting, I suppose).  The vote would be similar to the say on pay vote – advisory, non-binding, and so on.  I have not yet heard anything about a second advisory vote to determine how often a say on climate vote would need to be taken, but I would not be surprised to learn that it’s under consideration somewhere.
Continue Reading Say what???

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In 1729, the great satirist, Jonathan Swift, penned an essay called “A Modest Proposal.”  The essay suggested that rather than allowing poor, starving children to be a burden on society, they should be fattened up and eaten.

How does this relate to corporate governance, you ask?  Well, here goes.  Anyone who has ever had children or spent any time around children knows that at some point most rug rats become incessant and indefatigable interrogators, their favorite question being “why?”  “Why do I have to eat vegetables?” [Because they’re good for you.] “Why?” [Because if you don’t eat vegetables you won’t grow to be big and strong] “Why?” [Because vegetables have vitamins and minerals that you need] “Why?”  And so on.  These wee tads are never satisfied with any answers, regardless of their logic or compelling authority; thus, responses like “Because I’m your father and I make the rules” go unheeded.  The “whys” just keep on coming, ad nauseam (literally).
Continue Reading A Modest Proposal II: Don’t eat children; put them on boards instead!

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First, Broc Romanek

I don’t often write about the people I’ve come across in the course of my absurdly long career, but there are some exceptions.  One exception was a December 2019 post in which I noted that Broc Romanek had retired from thecorporatecounsel.net.  At the time, I predicted (probably because I hoped it would be true) that we hadn’t heard the last of him.  I am thrilled to report that my prediction has come true, as Broc has recently launched ZippyPoint.com, his latest and no doubt greatest achievement.

Why “ZippyPoint”?  Well, why not?  It’s punchy and catchy.  The fact that the name has nothing whatsoever to do with securities law or corporate governance makes it all the more endearing (though the website is all about securities law and corporate governance).  It’s also typical of Broc’s great and weird sense of humor.
Continue Reading Ups and Downs