Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should, Detroit Lions Edition

Last weekend, retired NFL receiver Calvin Johnson made news when he revealed that he was not pleased with the Detroit Lions and how they handled his retirement. Johnson is apparently frustrated that the Lions required him to pay back about 10% of the  unearned $3.2 million remaining on his $16 million signing bonus from his 2012 contract. This is apparently a thing for the Lions, who sought all of the unearned signing bonus money remaining on Barry Sanders' contract when he abruptly retired in 1999.

This is in contrast to Tony Romo's retirement, in which the Dallas Cowboys released him, making the $5 million remaining on the signing bonus Romo's.  Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was following the “Do Right Rule” when he allowed the team to release him.  The Seattle Seahawks made a similar decision with Marshawn Lynch.  

Some have argued that Johnson is being "pettier" than the Lions in this spat.  Mike Florio, a sports writer and graduate of WVU College of Law, where I teach, argued that "while Johnson has every right to be miffed at the Lions, Johnson also should be miffed at himself. Or at whoever advised him to retire instead of biding his time until the Lions would have released him." Florio correctly notes that Johnson had a big cap number likely to come due had he not retired or accepted a restructured deal, so he was coming from a position of power in negotiating, which would have likely forced the Lions to cut him. Still, that doesn't mean Johnson is wrong to be frustrated.  

Perhaps Johnson didn't ever want to be cut in his career, even at that point in his carerr. Maybe he just wanted to retire.  The Lions were worried, perhaps about "precedent" that other players could use to walk away without paying back the bonus, though there is already such precedent out there, as discussed above, and the Lions have non-binding precedent already in the Barry Sanders case, where an arbitrator said Sanders had to pay back some of his signing bonus.  Beyond that, the response to most players would simply be, "I know we didn't ask Calvin Johnson for any money back. You're not Calvin Johnson." 

It is  true that the Lions could seek money from Johnson, and that Johnson almost certainly, from a legal sense, owed the money.  But having a legal right to something doesn't always mean it is a good idea.  And that is important for lawyers to remember.  The question I would have asked the Lions front office is this: "Is it really worth $320,000 when it is possible that one of your greatest players will feel disrespected by the process? Especially when you already created a rift with one of you other greatest players fifteen years ago?"  

Maybe it was asked, and the answer was yes, but I just don't see the upside.  My guess is that the Lions asked for a lot more and the two sides negotiated to this figure.  But that process, not the payment, is likely what irked Johnson.  Why does it matter? Because it tells future people the team wants, especially coaches and free agents, how the Lions do business.  And when choosing between two similar offers, that could very well lead one to choose the other team.  

I often use these kinds of issues facing a business when teaching the importance of the business judgment rule and allowing a board of directors not to pursue claims it can win (as long as there is no fraud or self dealing).  Sometimes, it is better for the entity to let a claim go than to extend a bad story or scare off potential talent.  Back in 2007, for example, Billy Donovan was hired to leave his head coaching job at the University of  Florida to lead the NBA's Orlando Magic.  Just days later, Donovan decided he did not want to leave Florida, and asked the Magic to let him return to the college game. The Magic decided to let him do so without any financial penalty, though they did ask him to agree not to coach in the NBA for five years.

Why let Donovan back out and return to Florida without a payment?  For one, the Magic needed to hire a new coach, and you want to send a message that you are a good employer.  Second, Donovan was beloved in Florida. He had won two NCAA championships in a key market for the team.  Don't irritate your prime audience is always a good bit of advice.  There was little upside to being difficult. The team was almost certainly irritated, but there is little value in letting that lead to bad publicity and unnecessary public spats. This principle extends well beyond the sports realm, but it is especially important in any area where employers fight for talent, which is common in the sports and entertainment areas. 

In assessing the legal (and business) options for the Calvin Johnson situation, good lawyering requires a recognition that key issues were likely related to perception and respect, not money.  As such, the fact that there was an argument about repayment at all was the issue that made Johnson frustrated (and now could have repercussions in the future free agent market).  It is certainly possible the Lions assessed this risk and decided it was worth it.  I disagree that it was worth it, but that would be a reasonable decision.  (As a life-long Lions fan, I will need more evidence the problem was properly assessed, though I do hold out hope for the new front office.) 

Such decisions, if made simply on the legal merits (e.g., Would I win in court?), run the risk of what Jeff Lipshaw calls "pure lawyering," which is essentially legal reasoning without context or assessment of non-legal impacts or opportunities. As Lipshaw explains in the preface to his book, Beyond Legal Reasoning, A Critique of Pure Lawyering

Legal reasoning is merely one way of creating meaning out of circumstances in the real world. In its pure form, it does nothing more than convert a real-world narrative to a set of legal conclusions that have no necessary connection either to truth or morality.

Or the ability to recruit free agents.  

May 23, 2017 in ADR, Compensation, Contracts, Corporate Personality, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Equal Pay Day Applied to M & A

The Washington Post reports

Back in 2015, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff admitted something many CEOs wouldn't: The company had found a pay gap between the men and women who worked for the cloud computing giant, and it was spending $3 million to fix it. Now after acquisitions and rampant growth at the company brought in 7,000 new employees in the past year, he's doing it again, announcing Tuesday that the company has spent another $3 million to adjust for a pay gap that affects 11 percent of its more than 25,000 employees.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Benioff said he believed the re-opened gap was largely because of the company's acquisitive streak -- it bought 14 companies in its last fiscal year, the largest in its history. When companies acquire others, Benioff said, "you buy their pay practices, and this pay practice -- of, basically, gender discrimination -- is quite dramatic through our industry and other industries," he said.

If one cares about equal pay, and I think people should (beyond just today), one needs to account for it in the purchase price of another entity.  This is a great reminder about the due diligence process. We need to think about all the things that matter to our clients (and ask them what those things are). The cost of implementing those things that matter, in addition to all the traditional things we worry about in an acquisition, should be accounted for if we want to maximize benefit for clients.   

April 4, 2017 in Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee | 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)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shared Ownership & Corporate Incentives

Last week, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced a 10% company stock grant to all company employees.  Chobani joined the ranks of high profile stock grants including Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple and Twitter.  Stock grants, while more common in tech industries, are a part of hybrid corporate law-employment law conversation on shared ownership.  Employee ownership in companies can occur in several different forms such as ERISA-governed benefit plans where the company stock issued or bought as a part of a retirement saving plan. Alternatively, a stock grant may be structured as a bonus plan, a standard compensation, or a vesting employee benefit eligible after threshold years and types of service.  All of these plans fall under the rubric of shared ownership.  In 2015, the National Center for Employee Benefits estimated that over 9000 companies participated in some form of shared ownership.

In a similar vein, actors in the hit (and record-breaking with 16 Tony Nominations) musical Hamilton have entered into a profit-sharing agreement with producers.  The deal is different for these actors, but the sentiment is the same in sharing profits, aligning interests, and promoting employee loyalty.

Shared ownership plans, especially the ERISA-governed ones can have specific tax and financing benefits for companies.  Creating a shared ownership plan, however is often focused on creating certain firm-specific benefits such as recruiting and retaining talent, and improving firm performance by aligning interests between employees and the company.   The recruitment and retention aspect can be especially valuable to start-up firms that struggle to compete with mature firms on salary and reputation. Empirical studies have found improved workplace performance, on average, for firms with shared capitalism plans, with positive effects observed most strongly when combined with policies such as low supervision, decision-making participation, and competitive pay.

I note these stories with particular interest for several reasons. The first is that I am routinely embarrassed by how little play I give employees in my corporation class .  I seem all too happy to ignore this very important piece of the corporate power puzzle, engine for the machine, etc., etc.  Second, I have been looking at shared ownership in the context of a recent research project, so look for more on that topic in a separate post once the project progresses.  Third, my sense is that social enterprise movement will bring with it greater demands for shared ownership as a means to address social factors such as retirement security, employee autonomy and wage inequality. Look for more of these stories in the headlines and an emphasis on it in scholarship.

-Anne Tucker

May 4, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Will a Change in Executive Compensation Lead to Safer Food? A Chipotle Shareholder Thinks So

I feel badly for Chipotle. When I have taught Business Associations, I have used the chain’s Form 10-K to explain some basic governance and securities law principles. The students can relate to Chipotle and Shake Shack (another example I use) and they therefore remain engaged as we go through the filings. Chipotle has recently been embroiled in a public relations nightmare after a spate of food poisonings occurred last fall and winter, a risk it pointed out in its February 2015 10-K filings. The stock price has fluctuated from $750 a share in October to as low as $400 in January and then back to the mid $500 range. After some disappointing earnings news the stock is now trading at around $471.

Clean Yield Group, concerned that the company will focus only on bringing its stock back to “pre-crisis levels,” filed a shareholder proposal March 17th asking the company to link executive compensation with sustainability efforts. The proposal claims that the CEO was overpaid by $40 million in 2014 and states in part:

A number of studies demonstrate a firm link between superior corporate sustainability performance and financial outperformance relative to peers. Firms with superior sustainability performance were more likely to tie top executive incentives to sustainability metrics.

Leading companies are increasingly taking up this practice. A 2013 study conducted by the Investor Responsibility Research Institute and the Sustainable Investments Institute found that 43.4% of the S&P 500 had linked executive pay to environmental, social and/or ethical issues. These companies traverse industry sectors and include Pepsi, Alcoa, Walmart, Unilever, National Grid, Intel and many others…

Investor groups focusing on sustainable governance such as Ceres, the UN Global Compact, and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (which represents investors with a collective $59 trillion AUM) have endorsed the establishment of linkages between executive compensation and sustainability performance.

Even with the adjustments to executive pay incentives announced this week in reaction to Chipotle’s ongoing food-borne illness crisis, Chipotle shareholders have consistently approved excessively large pay packages to our company’s co-chief executives that dangerously elide accountability for sustainability-related risks. This proposal provides the opportunity to rectify this situation.

If shareholders approve the compensation package on our company’s 2016 proxy ballot, by year-end, Mr. Ells and Mr. Moran will have pocketed nearly $211 million for their services since 2011. Shareholders have not insisted upon direct oversight of sustainability matters as a condition of employment or compensation, and the present crisis illustrates the probable error in that thinking.

This week, the Compensation Committee of the Board announced that it would withhold 2015 bonuses for executive officers. It has also announced that executive officers’ 2016 performance bonuses will be solely tied to bringing CMG stock back, over a three-year period, to its pre-crisis level.

This is a shortsighted approach that skirts the underlying issues that may have contributed to the E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that have left hundreds of people sickened, injured sales, led to ongoing investigations by health authorities and the federal government, damaged our company’s reputation, and will likely lead to expensive litigation. For years, Chipotle has resisted calls by shareholders to implement robust and transparent management and reporting systems to handle a range of environmental, social and governance issues that present both risks to operations as well as opportunities. While no one can know for certain whether a more rigorous management approach to food safety might have averted the current crisis, moving forward, shareholders can insist upon a proactive approach to the management of sustainability issues by altering top executives’ compensation packages to incentivize it.

The last sentence of the paragraph above stuck out to me. The shareholder does not know whether more rigorous sustainability practices would have prevented the food poisonings but believes that compensation changes incentivizing more transparency is vital. I’m not sure that there is a connection between the two, although there is some evidence that requiring more disclosure on environmental, social, and governance factors can lead to companies uncovering operational issues that they may not have noticed before. Corporate people are fond of saying that “what gets measured gets treasured.” Let’s see what Chipotle’s shareholders treasure at the next annual meeting.

March 25, 2016 in Business Associations, Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Future of Respectability for Lawyers (Part 5)

In my final post on the subject of “respectability” of lawyers (the first four can be found here, here, here and here), I’d like to tie my thoughts together, discussing what the various parties can do to make Bird and Orozco’s thesis of assimilation of lawyers into corporate business teams the “new normal”.  This should give lawyers more career opportunities in the future, slow the loss of influence of the legal profession in businesses, and make legal education a more attractive choice.  Much of the discussion in academia has ignored the in-house counsel approach as being a viable option for the woes of the legal industry.  Below the fold, this post will discuss the roles that academia, in-house counsel, and business firms each may play in increasing the potential for success of a new model for business lawyers.

Continue reading

June 25, 2015 in Business School, Compensation, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Jobs, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Future of Respectability for Lawyers (Part 3)

In my first post of this series, I asked whether business leaders had unknowingly provided the legal industry with a long-term solution to declining interest in the legal profession and potential waning influence.  I suggested that business leaders may be the driving force that ends up saving the legal profession, and its "respectability".  In my second post, I discussed the current state of in-house attorneys.  In this post, I would like to look at the current state of private firms as it relates to the in-house attorney discussion.  My view is that the competitive marketplace reactions of a growing number of firms are partially contributing to the dimming of their own future prospects.  Firms will need to evolve rather quickly; how they can, I’ll discuss in a future post.  However, because of the firms’ relatively weaker position compared to corporations, many firms are in very precarious circumstances.

In this interim period between past firm dominance and the future corporate acceptance of Professors Bird and Orozco’s “corporate legal strategy” (in which attorneys are fully accepted and integrated as part of business teams in corporations, resulting in greater legal opportunities), firms are struggling.   From my discussions with attorneys, I have learned that many private firms are beginning to intentionally screen out attorneys that even appear to be on a path to in-house corporate life in the future.  They feel less inclined to provide expensive training for someone that has (in their perception) little intention of making a career of private practice, especially their private practice.  This diminishes the number of opportunities for new lawyers.  Firms have a harder time training the new lawyers they have, because much of the basic business work is now taken up by in-house counsel.  Corporations, for their part, have exacerbated the lack of work for new associates by using their increased influence and wealth to insist that only the most senior firm attorneys handle their corporate work—perhaps shortsightedly robbing firms of talent continuity that has historically benefitted the corporations in the end.  Expensive summer clerkships and recruiting drives have all but disappeared. 

Additionally, firms have become focused on hiring attorneys with portable business for the “quick hit” of income and are less concerned about hiring new law graduates.  This cannibalization of mature legal talent has always occurred, but it now seems to be a much greater part of firm business plans. It has resulted in some lawyers commoditizing themselves, rather than some of their clients doing so, perhaps further weakening the profession's "respectability".  Of course, because the legal industry is currently well staffed, this “horse-trading” approach will work for the present.  However, it will eventually be unsustainable—as lawyers retire, there will be fewer talented lawyers to replace them or have the capacity to buy out retiring partners’ percentages.  Of those, even fewer still will invite the rigors of private practice if the rewards diminish.

I, for one, am not a complete believer in the “end of Big Law”, or any size "Law", for that matter.  (The late Professor Larry Ribstein discussed the subject here--disappointingly, he only briefly touched on the in-house counsel effect, and instead, focused on the firms themselves.)  However, I do believe in the necessary evolution of “All Law”—where the legal industry (firm, in-house, and academia) evolves to a point of natural and mutual support which benefits society as a whole (creating greater “respectability” for all lawyers)—and businesses will initially play a dominant role.  How will businesses do so?  More soon in a post coming your way!

--Marcos Antonio Mendoza

 

May 22, 2015 in Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Chance at the Top for Boys AND Girls

We want the best for both of our kids, and we are working to help them learn as much as they can about being good people and successful people. We're fortunate that we have a (relatively) stable life, we've had good health, and we're able to provide our children a lot of opportunities.  For my daughter, as I have noted before, I do worry about institutional limits that are placed on her in many contexts. 

She's in first grade, but expectations are already being set.  On her homework last week: a little boy in her reading comprehension story builds a tower with sticks and bricks and stones.  Next story: a little girl gets fancy bows in her hair instead of her usual ponytails.  I wish I were making this up.  

This is more pervasive than I think many people appreciate.  Take, for example, the Barbie computer science book that had people raising their eyebrows (and cursing).  NPR has a report explaining the basic issues here. The basics:

A book called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was originally published in 2010. Author and Disney screenwriter Pamela Ribon discovered the book at a friend's house and was initially excited at the book's prospects, she tells guest host Tess Vigeland.

But then she continued reading.

"It starts so promising; Barbie is designing a game to show kids how computers work," Ribon says. "She's going to make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks."

But then Barbie's friend Skipper asks if she can play it, and the book continues:

" 'I'm only creating the design ideas,' Barbie says, laughing. 'I'll need Steven's and Brian's help to turn it into a real game.' "

Sigh. 

Harvard Business Review recently published a piece, Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top, that offers some insights.  It's a good read, and is shows that success at the highest levels  is often limited to women pursuing a different path and in companies with a particular culture. At a minimum, the article suggest that the advice we give women about how to get ahead may not be useful. (Not shocking given that the advice is often coming from men.) Here's an excerpt with my biggest takeaways, but I recommend the whole things (it's a short read): 

The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.

* * * 

It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs. But they did have to find a good place to climb.

To be clear, I am thankful things have progressed to the point that my daughter really does have a legitimate shot at the same success as my son. Things are better than they were, and I see that.  I'm just not satisfied that we're where we need to be, because her access to opportunities do not mean she has the same likelihood of success. We'll keep working on it, as I'd like to think we all should.  

November 25, 2014 in Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Preventative Lawyering and Succession Planning

On Monday, The University of Tennessee (UT) College of Law hosted Larry Cunningham to talk about his book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, which he previewed with us here on the BLPB a few months ago in a series of posts (here, here, and here).  As you may recall, the book focuses on corporate culture and succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway.  Joining Larry at the book session was UT College of Law alumnus James L. (Jim) Clayton, Chairman and principal shareholder of Clayton Bank and the founder of Clayton Homes, one of the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries featured in the book.  The impromptu conversation between Larry and Jim was an incredible part of the event (although Larry's prepared presentation on the book also was great).

As part of the event, Larry and Jim answered a variety of  audience questions.  Included among them was a question from UT College of Law Dean Doug Blaze on the role of lawyers in management,  transactions, and entrepreneurialism.  As part of Jim Clayton's response, he noted the value of preventative lawyering--advising businesses to keep them out of trouble.  I was so glad, as a business law advisor, to hear him say that! 

Following on that, given that (a) Larry's book focuses on the factors influencing succession planning,  (b) I am teaching the Disney case to my Business Associations students this week, and (c) the Disney case is about . . . well . . . failed succession and executive compensation, I asked about management compensation in the context of succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway.  Both Larry and Jim (whose son Kevin is President and Chief Executive Officer of Clayton Homes) were clear that Warren Buffett is an exacting manager, but that he believes in paying his portfolio company managers well.  Of course, the precise nature of the compensation arrangements of those portfolio firm executives (unlike Michael Ovitz's compensation arrangements at issue in the Disney case) are not a matter of public record.  But given the markedly different contexts, I assume the arrangements are very different . . . .

As I approach discussing the Disney case once again in the classroom, I am (as always) looking for new angles, new insights to share with the class (in addition to the core fiduciary duty doctrine).  One I will share this year is Jim Clayton's advice about preventative lawyering.  What could lawyers have done to reduce the likelihood of controversy and litigation?  I have some thoughts and will develop others in the next 24 hours.  Leave your thoughts here, if you have any . . . .

November 3, 2014 in Books, Business Associations, Compensation, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (3)