Forum Home Page [see Broadridge note below]

 The Shareholder ForumTM`

Fair Investor Access

See related case examples of

Dell Inc.

appraisal rights for intrinsic value realization

and

Walgreen Co.

stock buyback policies

"Fair Access" Home Page

"Fair Access" Program Reference

For graphs of specific company and related industry returns, see

Returns on Corporate Capital

For graphs of specific company voting for the past 5 years, see

Shareholder Support Rankings

 

 

 

Forum reference:

Compensation advisor's views for management defense of activism

 

For graphs of each Russell 3000 company's shareholder voting for executive pay since 2011, see

Shareholder Support Rankings

 

Source: The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, June 18, 2015 posting

Shareholder Activism and Executive Compensation

Posted by Jeremy L. Goldstein, Jeremy L. Goldstein & Associates, LLC, on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Editor’s Note: Jeremy L. Goldstein is founder of Jeremy L. Goldstein & Associates, LLC. This post is based on a publication by Mr. Goldstein. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

In today’s environment in which all public companies—no matter their size, industry, or performance—are potential targets of shareholder activists, companies should review their compensation programs with an eye toward making sure that the programs take into account the potential effects of the current wave of shareholder activism. In this regard, we have provided below some considerations for public company directors and management teams.

“Say on Pay”: Early Warning Sign

Low levels of support for a company’s “say on pay” vote can serve as an early warning sign for both companies and activists that shareholders may have mixed feelings about management’s performance or a board’s oversight. An activist attack following a failed vote may be particularly inopportune for target companies because a failed vote can result in tension between managements and boards. Moreover, activists will not hesitate to use pay as a wedge issue, even if there is nothing wrong with a company’s pay program. Companies should get ahead of potential activists by (1) understanding how their pay programs diverge from standards of shareholders and proxy advisors, (2) developing a robust, year-round program of shareholder engagement by management and independent directors, and (3) considering appropriate changes to pay and governance structures if advisable. Companies that are the most aggressive at shareholder outreach and develop the best relationships with both the investment and the governance representatives of their major holders will be best able to address an activist attack if it occurs.

What Pay Programs Do Activists Like to See?

While we have seen several recent situations in which certain prominent activist firms have expressed a preference for programs that emphasize return on invested capital, economic profit and/or return on equity rather than earnings per share or revenue-related targets, there is not a general type of pay program favored by most activists. In fact, few activist “white papers” even address executive pay and those that do usually only cite negative reports by proxy advisory firms and make vague reference to pay for performance disconnects in an effort to use pay as a wedge issue. The best way for a company to withstand these criticisms is to make sure that its pay programs reward executives for achievement of stated strategic and operational goals and that such goals are consistent with the company’s attempt to achieve sustainable, long-term growth.

Are Your Employees Protected if an Activist Attacks?

All too often change of control protections in compensation plans do not trigger under circumstances in which an activist is most likely to take control of a company in the current environment. Amending compensation programs—particularly change of control and severance protections—in the midst of an activist situation can often be difficult if not, from time-to-time as a practical matter, nearly impossible. Companies should therefore review the change of control provisions of their compensation programs on a clear day to ensure that they fulfill their intended purpose. In this regard, we note that many change of control programs do not trigger if an activist takes control of the majority of a board by reason of the settlement of an actual or threatened proxy contest. This can be a critical problem, given the number of activists that have recently attempted to gain control of at least a majority of board seats and given that ISS is increasingly showing support for “control” slates.

Do Your Pay Programs Work if an Activist Agenda is Implemented?

Activists pushing for changes at public companies most frequently advocate in favor of returns of capital through extraordinary dividends and share buybacks; divestitures through sales, spin-offs or otherwise; and sales of the entire company. Companies should review their pay programs to ensure that they work properly if any of these events occur, regardless of whether the activist actually obtains seats on the board or control of the company. Specifically, companies should take measures to ensure that (1) adjustment provisions of stock plans permit adjustments to awards in the event of both extraordinary dividends and divestitures, (2) all plans are clear as to whether an employee ceasing to be part of the affiliated group of companies in a divestiture will be treated as a terminated employee for purposes of the relevant plans, (3) performance goals still work after extraordinary dividends, the divestiture of a major business and, particularly if there are per share performance metrics, a share buyback, and (4) performance plans are designed in a manner to minimize the effect of such events and related adjustments on the deductibility of compensation under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code. Finally, while it has become less fashionable in recent years to focus on change in control protections, companies should, in light of the robust activist and M&A environment, have their change of control programs reviewed on a clear day by advisors who are experienced with how these programs should work when an actual change of control is threatened or occurs.

* * *

In today’s environment, all public companies are susceptible to attack from activist investors. As part of their advanced preparation efforts for activist attacks, companies should review their executive compensation programs to ensure that they understand any features of their programs that can be exploited by activists in winning the hearts and minds of shareholders or are likely to function improperly if and when an activist strikes. After careful review, companies should consider whether they wish to make any appropriate changes.

 

Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation
All copyright and trademarks in content on this site are owned by their respective owners. Other content © 2015 The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

 

 

This Forum program is open, free of charge, to anyone concerned with investor interests in the development of marketplace standards for expanded access to information for securities valuation and shareholder voting decisions. As stated in the posted Conditions of Participation, the Forum's purpose is to provide decision-makers with access to information and a free exchange of views on the issues presented in the program's Forum Summary. Each participant is expected to make independent use of information obtained through the Forum, subject to the privacy rights of other participants.  It is a Forum rule that participants will not be identified or quoted without their explicit permission.

This Forum program was initiated to address issues and objectives defined by participants in the 2010 "E-Meetings" program relevant to broad public interests in marketplace practices, rather than investor decisions relating to only a single company. The Forum may therefore invite program support of several companies that can provide both expertise and examples of leadership relating to the issues being addressed.

Inquiries about this Forum program and requests to be included in its distribution list may be addressed to access@shareholderforum.com.

The information provided to Forum participants is intended for their private reference, and permission has not been granted for the republishing of any copyrighted material. The material presented on this web site is the responsibility of Gary Lutin, as chairman of the Shareholder Forum.

Shareholder Forum™ is a trademark owned by The Shareholder Forum, Inc., for the programs conducted since 1999 to support investor access to decision-making information. It should be noted that we have no responsibility for the services that Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., introduced for review in the Forum's 2010 "E-Meetings" program and has since been offering with the “Shareholder Forum” name, and we have asked Broadridge to use a different name that does not suggest our support or endorsement.