Friday, February 24, 2017
One of the many questions surrounding benefit corporations is whether their choice of legal entity form will scare away investors?
As previously reported, we now have our first publicly traded benefit corporation. And in this week's news certified B corp and benefit corporation Data.world announced a 18.7 million dollar raise. This raise ranks in the top-ten largest raises by a benefit corporation, according to the information I have seen on benefit corporations. I compile the information I have seen on social enterprise raises (including by benefit corporations) in a forthcoming symposium article for the Seattle University Law Review. It is quite possible that there are raises that have been kept quiet and that I have not seen. This Data.world news was announced days after final edits and will not be in my article.
As is often the case in social enterprise news, this news could be seen as encouraging or discouraging for fans of the benefit corporation form.
On one hand, this is a fairly sizeable raise and evidence that not all serious investors are scared away by a legal form that mandates a general public benefit purpose.
On the other hand, the mere fact that a raise of under $20 million dollars is big news in the benefit corporation world (commanding its own announcement e-mail from benefit corporation proponent organization B Lab) shows that the benefit corporation form has yet to go mainstream. A raise under $20 million dollars hardly qualifies as news in the traditional financial world. And, as mentioned, to date, there have only been a handful of raises of this size for companies using the social enterprise forms.
Still, I think it is fair to say that benefit corporations have come further than the harshest critics originally thought was possible. The benefit corporation form still needs to evolve significantly, in my opinion, but the form is still growing and the positive news for the form has not stopped yet.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Assistant Professor of Business Law Position at Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan
New job posting here; information below.
How to Apply
A cover letter is required for consideration for this position and should be attached as the first page of your resume. The cover letter should address your specific interest in the position and outline skills and experience that directly relate to this position.
Applicants are required to submit their applications electronically by visiting the website: http://www.bus.umich.edu/FacultyRecruiting and uploading the following:1. Evidence of teaching experience and competence (if any)2. A curriculum vitae that includes three references
Please contact Jen Mason, Area Administrator, via email with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is a diverse learning community grounded in the principle that business can be an extraordinary vehicle for positive change in today's dynamic global economy. The Ross School of Business mission is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Through thought and action, members of the Ross community drive change and innovation that improves business and society.Ross is consistently ranked among the world's leading business schools. Academic degree programs include the BBA, MBA, Part-time MBA (Evening and Weekend formats), Executive MBA, Global MBA, Master of Accounting, Master of Supply Chain Management, Master of Management, and PhD. In addition, the school delivers open-enrollment and custom executive education programs targeting general management, leadership development, and strategic human resource management.
The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan has a tenure-track position at the assistant professor level available in Business Law starting in the Fall, 2018 term. The successful candidate will have a research and teaching focus in the area of the regulation of financial and banking organizations. Strong preference will be given to candidates with demonstrated experience and expertise in this area; ideally, this would include expertise on the definition of systemically important financial institutions, international financial standards such as Basel III, and legal standards as applied to mergers and acquisitions of banks and other financial institutions.
Qualified candidates must have an earned J.D. in from an ABA accredited law school with an excellent academic record and must demonstrate interest and ability in conducting high-quality, scholarly research. A qualified candidate must demonstrate excellence in university teaching or the potential to be an outstanding teacher in business law. Preference will be given to candidates with significant professional experience as a lawyer and/or evidence of prior excellence in teaching.
For more detailed descriptions of the Business Law Area, Ross School of Business, and the University of Michigan, Please consult our websites:
- Business Law Area: http://michiganross.umich.edu/faculty-research/areas-of-study/business-law
- Ross School of Business: http://michiganross.umich.edu/
- University of Michigan: www.umich.edu
- Benefits Information: www.umich.edu/~benefits
The University of Michigan conducts background checks on all job candidates upon acceptance of a contingent offer and may use a third party administrator to conduct background checks. Background checks will be performed in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
The review of applications will begin immediately. Job openings are posted for a minimum of seven calendar days. This job may be removed from posting boards and filled anytime after the minimum posting period has ended.
U-M EEO/AA Statement
The University of Michigan is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Laureate Education recently became the first standalone publicly traded benefit corporation. They are organized under Delaware's public benefit corporation (PBC) law, are also a certified B corporation, and will be trading as LAUR on NASDAQ.
Plum Organics, also a Delaware PBC, is a wholly owned subsidiary of publicly-traded Campbell Soup Company. And Etsy is a publicly traded certified-B corporation, but is organized under traditional Delaware corporation law.
Whether the for-profit educator Laureate will hurt or help the popularity of benefit corporations remains to be seen, but some for-profit educators have not been getting good press lately.
Inside Higher Ed reports on Laureate Education's IPO as a benefit corporation below:
The largest U.S.-based for-profit college chain became the first benefit corporation to go public Wednesday morning.
Laureate Education, which has more than a million students at 71 institutions across 25 countries, had been privately traded since 2007. Several major for-profit higher education companies have over the last decade bounced back and forth between publicly and privately held status; also yesterday, by coincidence, the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, formally went back into private hands….In its public debut, the company raised $490 million….
Becker said the move to become the first benefit corporation that is public is one way to show that Laureate is putting quality first.“There is certainly plenty of skepticism about whether for-profit companies can add value to society, and I feel strongly we can,” Becker said, adding that Laureate received certification from the nonprofit group B Lab after years of “rigorous” evaluations….
But the certification and the move to becoming a benefit corporation doesn’t prove a for-profit will not make bad decisions or commit risky actions that hurt students, said Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and for-profit critic.
"The one thing that being a benefit corporation does is reduce the likelihood that shareholders would sue the corporation for failing to operate in the shareholders' financial interest," Shireman said. "So it makes a marginal difference, and there's no evidence that benefit corporations, in the 10 or so years they've existed in the economy, cause better behavior."
Companies and investors could make better choices and decisions for their students without needing a benefit corporation model to do that, Shireman said, adding that the legal protection it provides is small.
"What's more important are what commitments are being made under the rubric of being a benefit corporation," he said. "How is that going to be measured and enforced … and how can they be changed or overruled by stockholders."
Head of Legal Policy at B Lab Rick Alexander, also authored a post on Laureate Education. For those who do not know, B Lab is the nonprofit responsible for the B Corp Certification and an important force behind the benefit corporation legislation that has passed in 30 states.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Prominent corporate governance, corporate finance and economics professors face off in opposing amici briefs filed in DFC Global Corp. v. Muirfield Value Partners LP, appeal pending before the Delaware Supreme Court. The Chancery Daily newsletter, described it, in perhaps my favorite phrasing of legal language ever: "By WWE standards it may be a cage match of flyweight proportions, but by Delaware corporate law standards, a can of cerebral whoopass is now deemed open."
Point #1: Master Class in Persuasive Legal Writing: Framing the Issue
Reversal Framing: "This appeal raises the question whether, in appraisal litigation challenging the acquisition price of a company, the Court of Chancery should defer to the transaction price when it was reached as a result of an arm’s-length auction process."
Affirmance Framing: "This appeal raises the question whether, in a judicial appraisal determining the fair value of dissenting stock, the Court of Chancery must automatically award the merger price where the transaction appeared to involve an arm’s length buyer in a public sale."
Point #2: Summary of Brief Supporting Fair Market Valuation: Why the Court of Chancery should defer to the deal price in an arm's length auction
- It would reduce litigation and simply the process.
- The Chancery Court Judges are ill-equipped for the sophisticated cash-flow analysis (ouch, that's a rough point to make).
- Appraisal does not properly incentivize the use of arm's length auctions if they are not sufficiently protected/respected.
- Appraisal seeks the false promise of THE right price, when price in this kind of market (low competition, unique goods) can best be thought of as a range. The inquiry should be whether the transaction price is within the range of a fair price. A subset of this argument (and the point of the whole brief) is that the auction process is the best evidence of fair price.
- Appraisal process is flawed because the court discounted the market price in its final valuation. The argument is that if the transaction price is not THE right price, then it should not be a factor in coming up with THE right price.
- Appraisal process is flawed because the final valuation relies upon expert opinions that are created in a litigation vacuum, sealed-off from market pressure of "real" valuations.
- The volatility in the appraisal market—the outcome of the litigation and the final price—distorts the auction process. Evidence of this is the creation of appraisal closing conditions.
Point #3: Summary of Brief Supporting Appraisal Actions: Why the Court of Chancery should reject a rule that the transaction price—in an arm's length auction—is conclusive evidence of fair price in appraisal proceedings.
- Statutory interpretation requires the result. Delaware Section 262 states that judges will "take into account all factors" in determining appraisal action prices. To require the deal price to be the "fair" price, eviscerates the statutory language and renders it null.
- The Delaware Legislature had an opportunity to revise Section 262—and did so in 2015, narrowing the scope of eligible appraisal transactions and remedies—but left intact the "all factors" language.
- The statutory appraisal remedy is separate from the common law/fiduciary obligations of directors in transactions so a transaction without a conflict of interest and even cured by shareholder vote could still contain fact-specific conditions that would make an appraisal remedy appropriate.
- There are appropriate judicial resources to handle the appraisal actions because of the expertise of the Court of Chancery, which is buttressed by the ability to appoint a neutral economic expert to assist with valuations and to adopt procedures and standards for expert valuations in appraisal cases.
- The threat of the appraisal action creates a powerful ex ante benefit to transaction price because it helps bolster and ensure that the transaction price is fair and without challenge.
- Appraisal actions serve as a proxy for setting a credible reserve in the auction price, which buyers and sellers may be prohibited from doing as a result of their fiduciary duties.
- Any distortion of the THE market by appraisal actions is a feature, not a bug. All legal institutions operate along side markets and exert influences, situations that are acceptable with fraud and torts. Any affect that appraisal actions create have social benefits and are an intended benefit.
- Let corporations organized/formed in Delaware enjoy the benefits of being a Delaware corporation by giving them full access to the process and expertise of the Delaware judiciary.
My thinking in the area more closely aligns with the "keep appraisal action full review" camp on the theory--both policy and economic. Also the language in the supporting/affirmance brief is excellent (they describe the transaction price argument as a judicial straight jacket!). I must admit, however, that I am sympathetic to the resources and procedural criticisms raised by the reversal brief. That there is no way for some corporate transactions, ex ante, to prevent a full scale appraisal action litigation—a process that is costly and time consuming—is a hard pill to swallow. I can imagine the frustration of the lawyers explaining to a BOD that there may be no way to foreclose this outcome. Although I hesitate to put it in these terms, my ultimate conclusion would require more thinking about whether the benefits of appraisal actions outlined in the affirmance brief outweigh the costs to the judiciary and to the parties as outlined in the reversal brief. These are all points that I invite readers to weigh in on the comments--especially those with experience litigating these cases.
I also want to note the rather nuanced observation in the affirmance brief about the distinction between statutory standards and common law/fiduciary duty. This important intellectual distinction about the source of the power and its intent is helpful in appraisal actions, but also in conflict of interest/safe harbor under Delaware law evaluations.
For the professors out there, if anyone covers appraisal actions in an upper-level course or has students writing on the topic-- these two briefs distill the relevant case law and competing theories with considerable force.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Conference information from an e-mail I recently received.
The second annual Susilo Symposium of the Susilo Institute for Ethics in the Global Economy will be held on June 15-17, 2017 at Boston University Questrom School of Business.
The event will feature distinguished and varied speakers, including Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, and site visits at Aeronaut Brewing, Bright Horizons, and Fenway Park, among other exciting area companies.
The Susilo Symposium will be part of a new Global Business Ethics week, which begins at Bentley University from June 12-15 for the Global Business Ethics Symposium and teaching workshop, and then will move to BU for June 15-17.
The event promises an audience of both scholars and practitioners from around the world. All seek to explore and exchange ideas in a unique and interactive forum about the role of ethics in the global economy.
This year’s Susilo Symposium follows the inaugural symposium, which was held in May 2016 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Featuring foremost business, academic, and political leaders, it reflected on “Global Business Ethics – East Meets West.”
What to Expect
The program is directed specifically toward both academics and practitioners. Our hope is that attendees will learn from each other and take away ideas and practices that they can implement immediately.
It will feature onsite visits to global corporations and the latest start-ups, from which you will learn about today’s cutting-edge responses to challenging dilemmas.
Symposium sessions will range from traditional academic paper presentations on the most recent research on global ethics, to interactive panels of faculty and practitioners discussing their shared perspectives, to active problem-solving and learning, to programs showcasing effective practices by leading corporate decision-makers.
The conference design intentionally builds in plenty of opportunities for networking among your colleagues and between academics and practitioners, including a Thursday evening social event, a Friday luncheon and Friday evening reception.
Registration & Questions
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Belmont Health Law Journal - What’s Next? The Movement from Volume to Value-based Healthcare Delivery
The Belmont Health Law Journal is hosting its first symposium tomorrow, January 27th.
The theme of the symposium will be What's Next? The Movement from Volume to Value-based Healthcare Delivery, and will feature Congressman Jim Cooper as keynote speaker.
Information is available here.
Registration is from 8:30am to 9:00am. Speakers will present from 9:00 am until noon. CLE credit and lunch provided.
Friday, January 20, 2017
In addition to building a team of amateur runners, Oiselle sponsors a number of professional athletes. Kate Grace was the first of the sponsored athletes, signing with Oiselle in 2012. Last year Kate won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 800m, and she made the Olympic finals in the same distance.
Kate Grace’s sponsorship contract with Oiselle expired at the end of 2016, and Oiselle recently posted a classy goodbye.
A 2011 Yale University graduate, and now an Olympian, Kate Grace is talented, promising, and instantly likeable. She has already accomplished a great deal in the running world, but she is likely to accomplish even more. Kate Grace is on record as praising Oiselle as incredibly supportive of her and full of people with whom she has strong relationships.
So why didn’t Kate Grace and Oiselle sign a sponsorship contract for 2017 and beyond? This is a question I may pose to my negotiation classes.
To be clear, everything below is pure speculation. I have no inside knowledge. I do not know anyone at Oiselle or Kate Grace personally.
Assuming no personal fallouts, the most obvious reason for Kate Grace to move on is financial. Oiselle is still a niche brand and now that Kate is an Olympian, she is likely receiving much more lucrative offers.
But if I were on the Oiselle management team, and I wanted to keep Kate Grace as a sponsored athlete, I would be creative with the contract offer terms. Oiselle may not be able to match the cash offers of the larger companies, but Oiselle could do something like offer significant equity in the company, which larger companies are highly unlikely to do. Oiselle could also offer Kate Grace a longer-term contract than some of the big companies that will probably only want to sponsor her at her peak. Finally, Oiselle could offer her a spot on their board of directors and/or employment in another role, which may last past her running days. All of those options would be creative ways to negotiate a contract to keep top talent.
If not Oiselle, then who will sponsor Kate Grace? It is risky to predict, but I think New Balance is the best fit, based on brand and values. That said, New Balance already sponsors quite a number of strong female distance and mid-distance runners. ASICS or Adidas probably need to sponsor someone like Kate Grace the most, so they will probably throw a lot of money at her. Nike seems to have the deepest pockets, but I would be surprised if Kate Grace signed with them after how they, allegedly, treated Boris Berian, and what her fellow Oiselle athlete Kara Goucher had to say about the Nike Oregon Project.
Update, 1/28/17: Well, this is somewhat surprising. Kate Grace recently signed with Nike. While Nike has gotten some bad press over the past year and is seen by some as the anti-Oiselle, Nike does have a rich track & field history, is an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, has amazing facilities (including a tree-lined track), and was founded by a middle distance runner and his track coach. I am willing to wager that Kate Grace entertained multiple offers. I wish I could see the terms and analyze what influenced her. As mentioned in the original post, Nike probably has the deepest pockets and they could have blown the other offers out of the water from a financial perspective. Also, Nike has focused on track & field more intensely, for a longer period of time than most, if not all, of its competitors. Regardless of the terms and the sponsor, I do wish Kate Grace the very best running going forward.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Bernard Sharfman, a prolific author on corporate governance, has written his fourth article on the business judgment rule. The piece provides a thought-provoking look at a subject that all business law professors teach. He also received feedback from Myron Steele, former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, and William Chandler III, former Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery during the drafting process. I don’t think I will assign the article to my students, but I may take some of the insight when I get to this critical topic this semester. Sharfman has stated that he aims to change the way professors teach the BJR.
The abstract is below:
Anyone who has had the opportunity to teach corporate law understands how difficult it is to provide a compelling explanation of why the business judgment rule (Rule) is so important. To provide a better explanation of why this is so, this Article takes the approach that the Aronson formulation of the Rule is not the proper starting place. Instead, this Article begins by starting with a close read of two cases that initiated the application of the Rule under Delaware law, the Chancery and Supreme Court opinions in Bodell v. General Gas & Elec. By taking this approach, the following insights into the Rule were discovered that may not have been so readily apparent if the starting point was Aronson.
First, without the Rule, the raw power of equity could conceivably require all challenged Board decisions to undergo an entire fairness review. The Rule is the tool used by a court to restrain itself from implementing such a review. This is the most important function of the Rule. Second, as a result of equity needing to be restrained, there is no room in the Rule formulation for fairness; fairness and fiduciary duties must be mutually exclusive. Third, there are three policy drivers that underlie the use of the Rule. Protecting the Board’s statutory authority to run the company without the fear of its members being held liable for honest mistakes of judgment; respect for the private ordering of corporate governance arrangements which almost always grants extensive authority to the Board to make decisions on behalf of the corporation; and the recognition by the courts that they are not business experts, making deference to Board authority a necessity. Fourth, the Rule is an abstention doctrine not just in terms of precluding duty of care claims, but also by requiring the courts to abstain from an entire fairness review if there is no evidence of a breach in fiduciary duties or taint surrounding a Board decision. Fifth, stockholder wealth maximization (SWM) is the legal obligation of the Board and the Rule serves to support that purpose. The requirement of SWM enters into corporate law through a Board’s fiduciary duties as applied under the Rule, not statutory law. In essence, SWM is an equitable concept.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Professor Mike Schuster of Oklahoma State University, Spears School of Business, will be guest blogging at BLPB for the next 4 weeks. Prior to joining Oklahoma State's faculty, Professor Schuster was at attorney at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston, Texas. His research is primarily in the intellectual property space, which, as we all know, is quite important to businesses.
Professor Schuster's most recent academic article, "Invalidity Assertion Entities and Inter Partes Review: Rent Seeking as a Tool to Discourage Patent Trolls" is forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review and his SSRN page is available here.
Please join me in welcoming Professor Mike Schuster to BLPB.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Over at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Rick Alexander has a post on benefit corporations. I plan to post some comments on Rick's post next week, when I have a bit more time, but for now, I will just bring our readers' attention to the post and include a small portion of his post below:
Benefit corporations dovetail with the movement to require corporations to act more sustainably. However, the sustainability movement often treats the symptom (irresponsible behavior), not the root cause—the focus on individual corporate financial performance. Proponents of corporate responsibility often emphasize “responsible” actions that increase share value, by protecting reputation or decreasing costs. Enlightened self-interest is an excellent idea, but it is not enough. As long as investment managers and corporate executives are rewarded for maximizing the share value of individual companies, they will have incentives to impose costs and risks on everyone else.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
RESEARCH COLLOQUIUM: CALL FOR PAPERS
Law and Ethics of Big Data
Hosted and Sponsored by:
The Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Virginia Tech Center for Business Intelligence Analytics
The Department of Business Law and Ethics, Kelley School of Business
Washington & Lee Law School
April 21st and 22nd 2017
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Abstract Submission Deadline: February 24, 2017
We are pleased to announce the research colloquium, "Law and Ethics of Big Data," at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, co-hosted by Professor Philip M. Nichols, Assistant Professor Angie Raymond of Indiana University and Professor Janine Hiller of Virginia Tech.
Due to the success of this multi-year event that is in its fourth year, the colloquium will be expanded and we seek broad participation from multiple disciplines; please consider submitting research that is ready for the discussion stage. Each paper will be given detailed constructive critique. We are targeting cross-discipline opportunities for colloquium participants, and the Wharton community has expressed interest in sharing in these dialogues.
A non-inclusive list of topics that are appropriate for the colloquium include: Ethical principles for the Internet of Things, Intellectual Property and Data Intelligence, Bribery and Algorithms, Health Privacy and MHealth, Employment and Surveillance, National Security, Civil Rights, and Data, Algorithmic Discrimination, Smart Cities and Privacy, Cybersecurity and Big Data, Data Regulation. We seek a wide variety of topics that reflects the broad ecosystem created by ubiquitous data collection and use, and its effect in society.
TENTATIVE Colloquium Details:
- The colloquium will begin at noon on April 21st and conclude at the end of the day on April 22nd 2017.
- Approximately 50 minutes is allotted for discussion of each paper presentation; 5-10 minute author comments, and then a discussant will lead the overall discussion.
- The manuscripts will be posted in a password protected members-only forum online.
- Participants agree to read and be prepared to participate in discussions of all papers. Each author may be asked to lead discussion of one other submitted paper.
- A limited number of participants will be provided with lodging, and all participants will be provided meals during the colloquium.
Submissions: To be considered, please submit an abstract of 500-1000 words to Lauretta Tomasco at email@example.com by February 24, 2017. Abstracts will be evaluated based upon the quality of the abstract and the topic’s fit with the theme of the colloquium and other presentations. Questions may be directed to Angie Raymond at firstname.lastname@example.org or Janine Hiller at email@example.com. If you are interested in being a discussant, but do not have a paper to present, please send a statement of interest to the same.
Authors will be informed of the decision by March 3, 2016. If accepted, the author agrees to submit a discussion paper by April 10, 2017. While papers need not be in finished form, drafts must contain enough information and structure to facilitate a robust discussion of the topic and paper thesis. Formatting will be either APA or Bluebook. In the case of papers with multiple authors, only one author may present at the colloquium.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
The University of Georgia, Terry College of Business has posted information about two legal studies professor positions - one tenure-track and one lecturer. I know each of the University of Georgia legal studies professors; they are an impressive and thoughtful and friendly group.
Assistant or Associate Professor of Legal Studies:
Lecturer of Legal Studies:
Applications received by February 15, 2017, are assured of consideration; however applications will continue to be accepted until the positions are filled.
Monday, December 19, 2016
In her post on Saturday, co-blogger Ann Lipton offered observations about possible legal issues resulting from the President-Elect's tweets regarding public companies. She ends her post with the following:
So, it's all a bit unsettled. Let's just say these and other novel legal questions regarding the Trump administration are sure to provide endless fodder for academic analysis in the coming years.
Today, I take on a somewhat related topic. I briefly explore the President-Elect's conflicting interests through the lens of a corporate law advisor. For the past few weeks, the media (see, e.g., here and here and here) and many folks I know have been concerned about the potential for conflict between the President-Elect's role as the POTUS, public investor and leader of the United States, and his role as "The Donald," private investor and leader of the Trump corporate empire.
The existence of a conflicting interest in an action or transaction is not, in and of itself, fatal or even necessarily problematic. In a number of common situations, fiduciaries have interests in both sides of a transaction. For example, a business founder who serves as a corporate director and officer may lease property she owns to the corporation. What matters under corporate law is whether the fiduciary's participation in the transaction on both sides results in a deal made in a fully informed manner, in good faith, and in the bests interests of the corporation. Conflicting interests raise a concern that the fiduciary is or may be acting for the benefit of himself, rather than for and in the best interest of the corporation.
Corporate law generally provides several possible ways to overcome concerns that a fiduciary has breached her duty because of a conflicting interest in a particular action or transaction:
- through good faith, fully informed approval of the action or transaction (e.g., after disclosure of information about the nature and extent of the conflicts) by either the corporation's shareholders or members of the board of directors who are not interested in the transaction; and
- through approval of a transaction that is entirely fair--fair as to process and price.
See, e.g., Delaware General Corporation Law Section 144. Yet, if I believe what I read, no similar processes exist to combat concerns about actions or transactions in which the POTUS has or may have conflicting interests. In particular, to the extent one does not already exist, should a disinterested body of monitors be identified or constituted to receive information about actual and potential conflicting interests of the POTUS and approve the action or transaction involving the conflicting interests? Perhaps the Office of Government Ethics ("OGE") already has something like this in place . . . . If it does, then both the public media and I are underinformed about it. While there seems to be OGE guidance on the President-Elect's nominees for executive branch posts (see, e.g., here and here) and on overall executive branch standards of conduct (see here), I have not found or read about anything applicable to the President-Elect or POTUS.
In making these observations, I recognize that our federal government is different in important ways from the corporation. I also understand that the leadership of a country/nation is different from the leadership of a corporation. Having said that, however, conflicting interests can have similar deleterious effects in both settings. The analogy I raise here and this overall line of inquiry may be worth some more thought . . . .
Friday, December 16, 2016
My favorite new (to me) podcast is NPR's How I Built This. They describe the podcast as "about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world's best known companies and brands."
So far, I have listened to two of the episodes: one about the Sam Adams founder Jim Koch and one about the Clif Bar co-founder Gary Erickson.
On the Sam Adams episode, I liked Jim Koch's distinction between scary and dangerous -- repelling off a mountain with an expert guide is scary but not not necessarily dangerous; walking on a snow-covered, frozen lake on a sunny day is dangerous but not necessarily scary. Jim said that his comfortable job at Boston Consulting Group was not scary, but it was dangerous in luring him away from his true calling. However, founding his own company (Sam Adams) was scary, but not really as dangerous as working for BCG. Also, it was interesting to find out that Jim Koch is a Harvard JD/MBA.
On the Clif Bar episode, though I have eaten more than my share of Clif Bars, I was surprised to learn that the bars were named for Gary's father, Clif. The Clif Bar episode also gave great insight into the emotions that can come out when deciding whether to sell your business; Gary decided not to sell to Quaker Oats at the last minute and then needed to buy-out his partner. Separately, Gary talked about the need for corporate counsel (and how a "handshake deal" with a distributor almost cost him his business), but he also noted how many attorneys are simply too expensive for small businesses.
Both entrepreneurs drew on lessons they learned during their outdoor adventure experiences. And both entrepreneurs discussed some combination of lawsuits, contracts, and regulatory challenges.
Looking forward to listening to more episodes.
Friday, December 9, 2016
Below are some resources related to the integration of faith and work stemming from businesses or business people.
- Acton Institute
- C12 Group
- Christian Legal Society
- Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics
- Jobs for Life
- Faith and Art - Vito Auito
- Vocation is Integral - Steven Garber
- Faith & Work Summit - Troy Tomlinson and Bill Lee
Books and Articles
- Vocation Needs No Justification - Steven Garber
- Faith and Fortune - Marc Gunther
- Why Work - Dorothy Sayers
- Redeeming Law - Michael Schutt
Thursday, December 8, 2016
A friend of mine is considering teaching his constitutional law seminar based almost entirely on current and future decisions by the President-elect. I would love to take that class. I thought of that when I saw this article about Mr. Trump’s creative use of Delaware LLCs for real estate and aircraft. Here in South Florida, we have a number of very wealthy residents, and my Business Associations students could value from learning about this real-life entity selection/jurisdictional exercise. Alas, I probably can’t squeeze a whole course out of his business interests. However, I am sure that using some examples from the headlines related to Trump and many of his appointees for key regulatory agencies will help bring some of the material to life.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Today, I share a quick teaching tip/suggestion.
I taught my last classes of the semester earlier today. For my Business Associations class, which met at 8:00 am, I was looking for a way to end the class meeting, tying things from the past few classes up in some way. I settled on using the facts from a case that I used to cover in a former casebook that is not in my current course text: Coggins et al. v. New England Patriots Football Club, Inc., et al. Here are the facts I presented:
- New England Patriots Football Club, Inc. (“NEPFC”), the corporation that owns the New England Patriots, has both voting and nonvoting shares of stock outstanding.
- The former president and owner of all of the voting shares of NEPFC, Sullivan, takes out a personal loan that only can be repaid if he owns all of the NEPFC stock outstanding.
- The board and Sullivan vote to merge NEPFC with and into a new corporation in which Sullivan would own all the shares.
- In the merger, holders of the nonvoting shares receive $15 per share for their common stock cashed out in the merger.
From this, I noted that three legal actions are common when shareholders are discontented with a cash-out merger transaction: appraisal actions, derivative actions for breach of fiduciary duty, and securities fraud actions. Shareholders in NEPFC brought all three types of action. (Footnote 9 of the Coggins case and the accompanying text explain that.)
Having just covered business combinations, including approval and appraisal rights, and wanting to address some new information about the process of derivative litigation, the facts from the case worked well. I am sure there are other cases or materials that also could have done the job. (Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.) But adding a little football and conflicting interests to the last class seemed like the right idea . . . .
Friday, November 25, 2016
It is not secret that Patagonia is one of the companies that I admire most; it may be my favorite company and is certainly in my top-five.
Patagonia's decision regarding its Black Friday sales adds to the reason I like the company. Patagonia will donate 100% of its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups.
As I read it, the donations will be 100% of revenue, not profits, and the donations are estimated to be millions of dollars.
Patagonia is both a California benefit corporation and B corporation certified, but unlike many social enterprises, Patagonia often does things like the above that don't appear to be done just for the PR, and may actually hurt the company in the very short-term.
That said, Patagonia definitely has a good PR team and is probably getting millions of dollars of exposure out of this decision. And their apparel is quite expensive, so they may be able to afford to do things like this, based, in part, on the margins and goodwill built over time.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
I have been thinking about the long-short term investment horizon debate, definitions, empirics and governance design consequences for some time now (see prior BLPB post here and also see Joshua Fershee's take on the topic). This has been on mind so much that I am now planning a June, 2017 conference on that very topic in conjunction with the Adolf A. Berle Jr. Center on Corporations, Law & Society (founded by Charles “Chuck” O’Kelley at Seattle University School of Law). In planning this interdisciplinary conference where the goal is to invite corporate governance folks, finance and economics scholars, and psychologists and neuroscientist, I have had the pleasure of reading a lot of out-of-discipline work and talking with the various authors. It has been an unexpected benefit of conference planning. I also want some industry voices represented so I have reached out to Aspen Institute, Conference Board and a new group, Focusing Capital on the Long Term (FCLT), which I learned about through this process.
I share this with BLPB readers for several reasons. The first is that the FCLT, is a nonprofit organization, a nonprofit organization for BUSINESS issues created and funded by BUSINESSES. In July 2016, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, McKinsey & Company together with BlackRock, The Dow Chemical Company and Tata Sons founded FCLT. Other asset managers, owners, corporations and professional services firms (approximately 20) have joined FCLT as members. Rather than the typical application of a chamber of commerce style organization or trade industry group, here the stated missing of FCLT is to “actively engage in research and public dialogue regarding the question of how to encourage long-term behaviors in business and investment decisions.”
Second, FCLT has access to otherwise proprietary information—like C-suite executive surveys---and is conducting original research and publishing white papers and research reports on the issues of management pressures, and governance designs that may promote a long-term time horizon.
I know for some folks reading, especially those strongly aligned with a shareholder rights camp, will view this with skepticism as a backdoor campaign to promote executive/management power and bolster the reputation of professional service firms hired by those managers.** For me, though the anecdotal experience is a valuable component to considering all sides to the debate. It also helps articulate why and how the feedback loop of short-term pressures—even if it is only perceived rather than structurally quanitifable—may exist.
Third, I found some of the materials, particularly the Rising to the Challenge of Short-termism, written by Dominic Barton, Jonathan Bailey, and Joshua Zoffer in 2016 to be a useful reading for my corporate governance seminar. It helped to explain the gap between the law and the pressure of short-termism. It also helped provide a window into at least some aspects of decision making and payoffs in the governance setting. It can be quite hard to give students a window in the C-suite and BOD dynamics that they are naturally curious about while in law school. Even if you ideologically or empirically disagree with the claim of short-termism when trying to structure balanced reading materials that provide an introduction to the full scope of measures, these are resources worth considering.
Rising to the Challenge of Short-termism, written by Dominic Barton, Jonathan Bailey, and Joshua Zoffer in 2016, draws upon a McKinsey survey of over 1,000 global C-Suite executives and board members. The report describes increasing pressures on executives to meet short-term financial performance metrics and that the window to meet those metrics was decreasing. The shortening time horizon shapes both operations decisions as well as strategic planning where the average plan has shrunk to 2 years or less. Culture matters. Firms with self-reported long-term cultures reported less willingness to take actions like cut discretionary spending or delay projects when faced with a likely failure to meet quarterly benchmarks compared with firms that didn’t self-report a long-term culture. Sources of the pressure are perceived to come from within the board and executives, but also cite to greater industry-wide competition, vocal activist investors, earning expectations and economic uncertainty. The article concludes with 10 elements of a long-term strategy as a mini action plan.
Straight talk for the long term: How to improve the investor-corporate dialogue published in March 2015.
Investing for the future: How institutional investors can reorient their portfolio strategies and investment management to focus capital on the long term, published in March 2015. The paper identifies 5 core action areas for institutional investors focusing on investment beliefs, risk appetite statement, bench-marking process, evaluations and incentives and investment mandates to evaluate investment horizons.
A roadmap for focusing capital on the long term: A summary of ideas for asset owners, asset managers, boards of directors, and corporate management to focus on long-term value creation, published March 2015.
Long-term value summit in 2015 with a published discussion report made available February 2016. “120 executives, investors, board members, and other leaders from around the world gathered in New York City for the Long-Term Value Summit. Their mandate: to identify the causes and mechanisms of the short-term thinking that has come to pervade our markets and profit-seeking institutions and, more importantly, to brainstorm actionable solutions”
**The initial board of directors, announced on September 28, 2016 at the first board meeting, include some well positioned folks within BlackRock (Mark Wiseman), McKinsey & Co. (Dominic Barton), Dow Chemical (Andrew Liveris), Unilever (Paul Polman) and more. The BOD will be advised by Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, as well.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Thanks to all who responded to my query two weeks ago on teaching corporate fiduciary duties. I continue to contemplate your suggestions as I recover from the cold that has consumed me now for a week. Don't catch this version of the common cold! It's a bear.
Anyway, the weekend after I published that post, I presented at a super symposium on shareholder rights at the University of Oklahoma College of Law--"Confronting New Market Realities: Implications for Stockholder Rights to Vote, Sell, and Sue," hosted by the Oklahoma Law Review. (I spoke on rights to sell securities purchased in an offering exempt from registration under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act.) Although it was not part of the formal agenda for the symposium, I got a chance to chat informally with a group of folks at and after the conference, including our host, Megan Shaner, along with Jessica Erickson, Gordon Smith, and Vice Chancellor Travis Laster from the Delaware Chancery Court (among others) about fiduciary duty complexity. All, even the Vice Chancellor, had sympathy, offering ideas for simplifying corporate fiduciary duty law (as opposed to merely the teaching of it) that made sense. And it seems that among those of us in the academy, there are many ways this material currently is taught in an introductory Business Associations/Organizations or Corporations course.
Of course, I am not the only one worried about teaching the law of business associations. In extended discussions on the topic, co-blogger Marcia Narine raised a great question. In general, she asked how one might teach business associations law to a relatively small class. I understand that she in the past has taught 60-75 students in a four-credit-hour course. That's similar to my situation at UT Law. I typically teach up to 72 students (although I teach a three-credit-hour-course). But in the future, Marcia may teach as few as 30 students in her four-credit-hour offering.
She noted that she doesn't want to overburden the students or herself, but she wants to think about doing things differently. She floated the idea of more peer grading. I suggested in response that my oral midterm exam becomes more palatable in a smaller class. I also noted that I would generally use more skills training in that environment and maybe even introduce current events or group presentations (2-3 students in each group) over the course of the semester. But I also allowed as how I wouldn't try too many things all at once. In fact, I noted that she might be better off just deepening what she already does that works.
What ideas do you have? Do some of you teach a Business Associations class that includes as few as 30 students? Do you use any specific pedagogies or tools that may be especially useful in a course like Business Associations/Organizations--a basic doctrinal upper-division course--when taught to a 30-student class? Do you have any tricks of the trade you would feel comfortable offering? If so, please post them in the comments.
In other Business Associations teaching news, I requested and have received permission to increase my Advanced Business Associations offering to three credit-hours from two. This is great news. I use this course to focus in more on publicly held and closely held firms, business combinations, derivative and securities litigation, and social enterprise and corporate social responsibility topics. I ask the students to describe and assess the interaction among policy, theory, doctrine, and practice skills in corporate governance. I like to have the students read full cases and law review articles, in addition to teaching text and excerpts. (And I now plan to add Ann Lipton's new book chapter to the reading list this spring for the part of the course in which we cover the importance of bylaw amendments to contemporary corporate governance. Great timing.)
Bottom line? The course, structured this way, just felt too densely packed with only two hours per week of teaching time. So, my last two-credit-hour version of the course will be taught this spring. Then, I will revamp the syllabus to add the extra credit-hour for 2018. Interestingly, it was my students who came to me originally asking for the change, because they wanted to pause more over some of the material. I did, too. So, now I am not worried about this any more. One thing to take off the ever-growing list of Business Associations teaching worries . . . .