Monday, April 17, 2017

Visioning the Publicly Held Benefit Corporation

As Haskell earlier announced here at the BLPB, The first U.S. benefit corporation went public back in February--just before publication of my paper from last summer's 8th Annual Berle Symposium (about which I and other BLPB participants contemporaneously wrote here, here, and here).  Although I was able to mark the closing of Laureate Education, Inc.'s public offering in last-minute footnotes, my paper for the symposium treats the publicly held benefit corporation as a future likelihood, rather than a reality.  Now, the actual experiment has begun.  It is time to test the "visioning" in this paper, which I recently posted to SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

Benefit corporations have enjoyed legislative and, to a lesser extent, popular success over the past few years. This article anticipates what recently (at the eve of its publication) became a reality: the advent of a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation — a corporation with public equity holders that is organized under a specialized U.S. state statute requiring corporations to serve both shareholder wealth aims and social or environmental objectives. Specifically, the article undertakes to identify and comment on the structure and function of U.S. benefit corporations and the unique litigation risks to which a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation may be subject. In doing so, the article links the importance of a publicly held benefit corporation's public benefit purpose to litigation risk management from several perspectives. In sum, the distinctive features of the benefit corporation form, taken together with key attendant litigation risks for publicly held U.S. benefit corporations (in each case, as identified in this article), confirm and underscore the key role that corporate purpose plays in benefit corporation law.

Ultimately, this article brings together a number of things I wanted to think and write about, all in one paper.  While many of the observations and conclusions may seem obvious, I found the exploration helpful to my thinking about benefit corporation law and litigation risk management.  Perhaps you will, too . . . .

April 17, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

United Airlines, the Law, and Company Culture

By now, I am sure virtually all of our readers have heard about the United Airline issue involving the dragging of a passenger off the plane.

If not, you can catch up here, here, and here. And you can watch the viral video here.  

Shortly following the incident, United Airlines stock dropped sharply, losing hundreds of millions of dollars of value. (Of course, it is difficult to tell how much of this drop is related to the incident).

The CEO of United Airlines' first public statement was tone deaf at best. He wrote, "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers" when better terms would have been "unacceptable" and "immediate corrective procedures." There is not evidence that they "had" to remove passengers; they removed passengers because they wanted to transport some of their employees on that flight. The internal e-mail to the corporation's employees was no better, calling the passenger "disruptive and belligerent."

My social media feeds, which include many lawyers and legal academics, are full of debate over whether United Airlines acted within the bounds of the law and their terms & conditions. While this is an interesting discussion, I think it is largely beside the point in this case. Regardless of whether United Airlines was legally correct, they surely could have handled the situation better (by offering more money for volunteers to go on a later flight, by explaining the terms of the deal better, by having their employees transported in another plane, etc.)

United Airlines is already paying a heavy public relations price. One thinks they would have learned from the United Airlines Breaks Guitars incident that went viral a few years ago and which I use in my negotiation classes every year.

After this incident, I just kept thinking how unlikely it would be for something like this to happen at Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines has a famously great company culture. See here, here, and here. Their employees always treat me significantly better than any other airline employee I have dealt with on my travel. Southwest Airlines is not perfect--I don't love their odd boarding procedure, for example---but they do strive to treat their consumers and their own employees extremely well, not just as poorly as the law will allow.

Southwest Airlines' company culture has also translated to remarkably reliable profits. Perhaps United needs to take notes.

Note: This appears to detail the rights of passengers who are denied boarding (up to $1,350) that many in the media are citing, though one can wonder whether this applies since the passenger in question had already boarded.

April 14, 2017 in Business Associations, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Impact Esq. and Kickstarter's 2016 Benefit Statement

Attorney Kyle Westaway has started a monthly e-mail that compiles information about social enterprise and impact investing law. You can subscribe here.

In the latest Impact Esq. newsletter, Kyle included a link to the Kickstarter’s 2016 Benefit Statement. Kyle wrote that he had “never seen [a benefit report] as strong as Kickstarter’s.” Personally, I am not sure I would go that far. I think Greyston Bakery’s Report and Patagonia’s Report are at least as good. I do think the Kickstarter report is relatively good, but the bar is incredibly low, as many benefit corporations are ignoring the statutory reporting requirement or doing a pathetically bad job at reporting.

While the Kickstarter report is more detailed than most, it still reads mostly like a PR piece to me. The vast majority of the report is listing cherry-picked, positive statistics. That said, Kickstarter did note a few areas for possible improvement, which is extremely rare in benefit report. Kickstarter stated that they could do more to promote “sustainability,” that they could do more to encourage staff to “take advantage of the paid time off we provide for volunteering,” and that they wanted to “encourage greater transparency from creators, better educate backers about the risks and rewards of this system, and further empower our Integrity team in their work to keep Kickstarter safe and trusted.” These “goals” for improvement are quite vague, and I would have liked to see more specific goals.

A few other things to note:

  • University of Pennsylvania produced a study, which was cited and used in the report. I think involving universities in the creation of these reports could be a good idea, though possible conflicts should be considered.
  • “Including both salary and equity, our CEO's total compensation equaled 5.52x the median total compensation of all non-CEO, non-founder employees in 2016. For context, a 2015 study examining the executive pay gap found that the average CEO earns 204 times that of the median worker for the same company.” I would be interested in how Kickstarter’s number compares to companies in their industry, especially direct competitors. I imagine the CEO/Employee compensation ratio is lower in the technology industry, where the market demands fairly high employee compensation, but even considering the industry, Kickstarter's ratio still seems quite low.
  • “Kickstarter overall team demographics: 53% women; 47% men. 70% White/Caucasian; 12% Asian; 12% two or more races; 4% Hispanic or Latino; 2% Black/African American.” This seems to be a good bit more diverse, especially as to gender, than other technology companies who have released similar data.
  • “Everyone who works at Kickstarter receives an annual Education Stipend to explore their interests outside the office. In 2016, our employees used their stipends towards blacksmithing classes, a bookmaking class, a synthesizer, pottery courses, an herbal medicine workshop, art supplies, improv classes, a neon light making seminar, and embroidery.” I didn’t see how much the education stipend was, but this seems like a good perk.
  • “We donated 5% of our after-tax profits to six organizations working to build a more creative and equitable world.” Profits are easier to manipulate than revenues; I’d like to see a revenue floor (as Patagonia does – donating the greater of 10% of profits and 1% of revenues). That said 5% of profits can be significant and does show some commitment to these causes.

March 24, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Did On My Spring Break

Ringling1

No.  This is not a travelogue.  Rather, it's a brief additional bit of background on a case that business associations law professors tend to enjoy teaching (or at least this one does).

In Ringling Bros. Inc. v. Ringling, 29 Del. Ch. 610 (Del. Ch. 1947), the Delaware Chancery Court addresses the validity of a voting agreement between two Ringling family members, Edith Conway Ringling (the plaintiff) and Aubrey B. Ringling Haley (the defendant).  The fact statement in the court's opinion notes that John Ringling North is the third shareholder of the Ringling Brothers corporation.

I spent two days in Sarasota Florida at the end of Spring Break last week.  While there, I spent a few hours at The Ringling Circus Museum.  It was fascinating for many reasons.  But today I will focus on just one.  I noted this summary in one of the exhibits, that seems to directly relate to the Ringling case:

Ringling2

Interestingly, 1938 is the year in which the plaintiff and defendant in the Ringling case created their original voting trust (having earlier entered into a joint action agreement in 1934).  The agreement at issue was entered into in 1941.  Could it be that, perhaps, the two women entered into this arrangement as a reaction to John Ringling North's desire to acquire--or successful acquisition of--management control of the firm?  I want to do some more digging here, if I can.  But I admit that the related history raised some new questions in my mind.  John Ringling North was all but forgotten in my memory and teaching of the case, until the other day . . . .  The case takes on new interest in my mind (more broadly as a close corporation case) because of my museum visit and discovery. 

[Postscript - March 21, 2017:  Since posting this, I have been blessed by wonderful, helpful email messages offering general support, PowerPoint slides (thanks, Frank Snyder), a video link (thanks, Frances Fendler), and referrals to/copies of Mark Ramseyer's article on the Ringling case, Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows v. Ringling: Bad Appointments and Empty-Core Cycling at the Circus, which offers all the detail I could want (thanks, again, Frances, and thanks, Jim Hayes) to help fill in the gaps--while still creating a bit of mystery . . . .  I am a much better informed instructor as a result of all this!  Many thanks to all who wrote.]

March 20, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Q&A with the Managing Editor of the Peer-Reviewed Atlantic Law Journal

Professor Keith Diener of Stockton University School of Business, who is a former law school classmate of mine and the current managing editor of the Atlantic Law Journal, agreed to answer some questions related to the journal.  

The flagship journals for the Academy of Legal Studies in Business ("ALSB") are the American Business Law Journal (ABLJ) and the Journal of Legal Studies Education (JLSE, primarily pedagogy articles and teaching cases). In addition to these two journals, each regional association is generally responsibly for at least one journal with the Atlantic Law Journal coming out of the Mid-Atlantic region.

As Keith explains below, these journals are open to a wide range of scholars, including professors from law schools. I would encourage legal scholars who have not published in a traditional peer reviewed journal to consider submitting to one of the ALSB journals. I have published in both the ABLJ and the JLSE, and I have had good experiences in both cases.

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Please provide us a brief overview of the Atlantic Law Journal and the MAALSB.

The Mid-Atlantic Academy for Legal Studies in Business (MAALSB) is an association of teachers and scholars primarily in the fields of business law, legal environment, and law-related courses outside of professional law schools with members from the Mid-Atlantic states, including Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia & West Virginia.  Residence in those states is not required for membership in the MAALSB, and many of our members come from different regions and states. In addition to sponsoring the Atlantic Law Journal, MAALSB holds an annual conference for our region usually in April of each year, where our members meet, present papers, and exchange ideas. The MAALSB is one of the regional branches of the national Academy of Legal Studies in Business (ALSB).

For over a decade, the Atlantic Law Journal was tied to the MAALSB annual conference. Presentation at the conference provided an opportunity for publication in the journal. A few years ago, the journal restructured and began accepting articles on a rolling basis, year-round. We welcome submissions from law professors, whether in law schools or not, but generally do not accept student-authored articles. We are soon entering our twentieth year as a viable legal publication.

What is your current role with the journal and what roles do other faculty members play?

The Atlantic Law Journal has a dedicated team of editors who, depending on classification, perform different roles within the journal.

Our Editor-and-Chief, Professor Cynthia Gentile, leads the journal, manages its website, publishes the annual volume, manages its listings in Cabell’s and Washington and Lee’s Journal Rankings, and coordinates indexing and archiving on Westlaw. As Editor-and-Chief, Professor Gentile is primarily responsible for journal outreach, growth, and sustainability.

I currently serve the journal as the Managing Editor. In this capacity, I receive all submissions to the journal, sanitize them for double, blind peer review, send the sanitized articles to our staff editors for review, receive their recommendation and feedback forms, and notify authors of publication decisions.

We currently have two Articles Editors, Professors Laura Dove and Evan Peterson, who work with the accepted authors to prepare their manuscripts for publication, by editing the articles and making suggestions for improvement even after acceptance.

We also have a team of roughly 30-40 professors from around the country who serve the journal as Staff Editors. Without our Staff Editors, our journal would not function. They are responsible for peer-reviewing the submitted articles, and making recommendations for (i) acceptance, (ii) conditional acceptance, (iii) revision and resubmission, or (iv) rejection of the submitted articles.

What details can you provide about the submission process, including contact information, desired word-count range, typical article topics, etc.?

We generally publish annually, usually in July or August. September through January are typically the best months to submit if you are seeking to be published in the following summer. Spring semester submissions are also welcome, but are often more competitive. Although there are no per se word ranges, article lengths typically span 7,500 to 15,000 words. We publish a wide range of articles, but to be published in the Atlantic Law Journal, the article must have a nexus to business law theory or pedagogy, broadly construed.

The acceptance rate remains at or below 25%. This means that for every article we accept, at least three are initially turned down (although some are given the opportunity to resubmit).

You can submit by emailing the Managing Editor a complete copy and a blind copy, with Bluebook formatted footnotes, in accordance with the instructions and contact information found on our website.

What details can you provide about the review process and editing process?

Upon submission, you will receive a response, typically within a few days, confirming receipt of your article. From there, soon after, the article is typically sent to Staff Editors for peer review.   To the extent possible, we match article content with the expertise of our Staff Editors to ensure a fair and professional review. We also find that the feedback provided by Staff Editors to authors is most helpful when they have expertise related to the article.   Once appropriate and available Staff Editors are identified, they then review the article and return their recommendations to the Managing Editor. The Managing Editor then notifies the author of the publication decision. If an article is accepted, then the author is introduced to one of our Articles Editors for finalization of the essay.

We strive to inform authors of publication decisions within eight (8) weeks of submission.

In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with the Atlantic Law Journal?

In my opinion, there are many advantages to publishing with the Atlantic Law Journal.

The first advantage is that (unlike many law reviews today), if you submit to the Atlantic Law Journal, someone will respond to you when you submit it. Yet, not only will you receive a response, but you will also have your article read and reviewed by professional academics in the field of business law (who are also lawyers). We do not utilize law students in our publication process, and all our editors are professional academics.

Second, the Atlantic Law Journal is listed in Cabell’s, ranked by Washington and Lee, and available on Westlaw. This means that articles appear not only in our volumes linked on our website, but are also indexed, searchable, and fully archived on Westlaw. This produces the potential for a broad impact and increased author visibility.

Third, while there appears to be a trend towards some law reviews accepting shorter articles, the Atlantic Law Journal already accepts shorter pieces (circa 7500 words). Let’s face it, sometimes there’s just not 50,000 words to say about certain topics. If you have a shorter piece that might not be long enough for a law review, the Atlantic Law Journal may be interested in it.

Fourth, unlike many law reviews, the Atlantic Law Journal is interested in articles, not only as to theoretical and scholastic topics, but also topics related to business law pedagogy. If you’ve tried something new in the classroom, had good results, and desire to share it with others, the Atlantic Law Journal may be interested. Our primary readership includes business law professors, who are always looking for new and innovative pedagogical techniques. We also welcome scholarly and theoretical articles, and try to include a mix of both scholarly and pedagogical articles in each edition.

Finally, all articles are double, blind peer reviewed. If your article is not accepted, we endeavor to provide high quality feedback that will allow you to improve your article as you continue your work on it. Our blind review is a genuine process. As Managing Editor of the journal, I am committed to ensuring the journal’s integrity by sanitizing all submissions (removing all meta-data) prior to sending the articles for review.

For more on the MAALSB and the Atlantic Law Journal, see our website.

  • Dr. Keith William Diener

                                                                                                                               

March 17, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Research/Scholarhip, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 10, 2017

The FairShares Model

On of the many interesting things discussed during the social enterprise law workshop at Notre Dame Law School was the "FairShares Model." Nina Boeger (University of Bristol-UK) brought the model to the group's attention, and the model was new news to me.

The FairShares Model was "created during a research programme on democratising charities, co-operatives and social enterprises involving academics at Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK."

The FairShares Model cites the "Social Enterprise Europe Ltd" when noting that social enterprises "aim to generate sustainable sources of income, but measure their success through:

  • Specifying their purpose(s) and evaluating the impact(s) of their trading activities;

  • Conducting ethical reviews of their product/service choices and production/consumption practices;

  • Promoting socialized and democratic ownership, governance and management."

To address theses aims, the FairShares Model offers social audits and suggests the issuing some combination of (1) founder shares, (2) labour shares, (3) investor shares, (4) user shares.

While I agree that significant corporate governance changes should be considered, at first glance this model seems a bit unwieldy if all four types of shares are issued. Still, I am interested in learning more. 

March 10, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards Article is Posted

With co-editor Joan Heminway (and Anne Tucker via Skype), I am at Notre Dame for a symposium on social enterprise law. I will be presenting on aforthcoming book chapter, which builds on my stakeholder advisory board idea. My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards article was recently published in the American Business Law Journal and I posted it to SSRN this week. The abstract is reproduced below.

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Over the past decade, interest in socially responsible business has grown exponentially. The social business movement seeks to have firms focus on the interests of all corporate stakeholders, rather than solely the financial interests of shareholders. Coupled with the social business movement of the past decade has been the passage of social enterprise statutes by over thirty states. The social enterprise statutes provide legal frameworks for firms that seek profit alongside broader social and environmental ends. A plethora of social enterprise legal forms have been created in the United States since 2008, including benefit corporations, public benefit corporations, benefit LLCs, low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs), general benefit corporations, specific benefit corporations, sustainable business corporations, and social purpose corporations.

Despite the interest in social business and the passage of numerous social enterprise laws, the basic corporate governance framework has stayed largely the same. In both socially-focused traditional companies and in newly formed social enterprises, the corporate governance system is one that empowers directors, officers, and shareholders, but largely ignores other stakeholders such as employees, customers, vendors, creditors, the environment, and the community at large.

This Article explores the shortcomings of the current corporate governance framework, reveals inadequacies in previous proposals to focus firms on all stakeholders, and proposes a stakeholder advisory board as a solution. As proposed, the stakeholder advisory board will give all major stakeholders a more direct voice in firm governance and will grant more stakeholders limited but significantly powers, without harmfully disrupting the efficiency of the board of directors. If adopted, the stakeholder advisory board will better align the corporate governance framework with the recent social business movement by including representatives of all stakeholder groups in decision-making. This proposal suggests mandating adoption of a stakeholder advisory board for large social enterprises, and encourages the voluntary adoption of a stakeholder advisory board by all firms that take their social commitments seriously.

March 3, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Financing Benefit Corporations - Data.world raises $18.7 million

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 compiled the publicly available information I was able to uncover 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 supporters of the benefit corporation form.

On one hand, this is a fairly sizeable raise and a bit of 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 already come further than harsh 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 yet stopped.  

February 24, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

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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 masonlj@umich.edu

Job Summary

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.

Responsibilities*

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.

Required Qualifications*

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. 

Additional Information

For more detailed descriptions of the Business Law Area, Ross School of Business, and the University of Michigan, Please consult our websites:

Background Screening

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.

Application Deadline

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.

February 16, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Haskell Murray, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

First Standalone Publicly Traded Benefit Corporation - Laureate Education

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.

 

February 10, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Appraisal Standard Intellectual "Cage Match": DFC Global Corp Amici Briefs

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."

vs.

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 marketthe outcome of the litigation and the final pricedistorts 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 262and did so in 2015, narrowing the scope of eligible appraisal transactions and remediesbut 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.

Conclusions:

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 litigationa process that is costly and time consumingis 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.  

-Anne Tucker

February 8, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Delaware, Litigation, M&A, Shareholders, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Susilo Institute for Ethics Symposium - June 15-17 - Boston, MA

Conference information from an e-mail I recently received. 

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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

Registration is open now. If you have additional questions, please contact us by e-mail at susilo@bu.edu

January 30, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Conferences, Ethics, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

January 26, 2017 in Business Associations, Haskell Murray, Law Reviews, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Signing Kate Grace

If you were at the SEALS Conference panel on crowdfunding last summer, you heard me talk a bit about women’s athletic apparel company Oiselle and the interesting running team part of their business.

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.   

January 20, 2017 in Business Associations, Compensation, Haskell Murray, Negotiation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Importance of the Business Judgment Rule

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.

 

 

January 19, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Delaware, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Welcome Professor Mike Schuster to BLPB!

Mike.schuster

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. 

January 16, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Intellectual Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Alexander on Benefit Corporations

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.

January 13, 2017 in Business Associations, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Law and Ethics of Big Data - Call for Papers

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

Co-Hosted by:

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

at the

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 tomascol@wharton.upenn.edu 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 angraymo@indiana.edu or Janine Hiller at jhiller@vt.edu. 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.

January 10, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Call for Papers, Conferences, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

University of Georgia, Terry College of Business - Legal Studies Professor Positions

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:

https://facultyjobs.uga.edu/postings/1754

Lecturer of Legal Studies:

https://facultyjobs.uga.edu/postings/1750

Applications received by February 15, 2017, are assured of consideration; however applications will continue to be accepted until the positions are filled.

January 7, 2017 in Business Associations, Business School, Haskell Murray, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Conflicting Interests of the POTUS through a Corporate Lawyer's Eyes

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.

Probably right.

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 . . . .

December 19, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Family Business, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (8)