Friday, August 28, 2015

Can Conscious Consumers or Class Action Lawsuits Change Corporate Behavior?

I’m the socially-conscious consumer that regulators and NGOs think about when they write disclosure legislation like the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals law that I discussed last week. I drive a hybrid, spend too much money at Whole Foods for sustainable, locally-farmed, ethically-sourced goods, make my own soda at home so I minimize impacts to the environment with cans and plastic bottles, and love to use the canvas bags I get at conferences when I shop at the grocery store. As I (tongue in cheek) pat myself on the back for all the good I hope to do in the world, I realize that I may be a huge hypocrite. I know from my research that consumers generally tell survey takers that they want ethically sourced goods, but they in fact buy on quality, price, and convenience.

I thought about that research when I read the New York Times expose and CEO Jeff Bezos’ response about Amazon’s work environment. As a former defense-side employment lawyer and BigLaw associate for many years, I wasn’t in any way surprised by the allegations (and I have no reason to believe they are either true or false). I have both provided legal defenses and lived the life alleged by some former and current Amazonians. But now that I research and teach on corporate social responsibility and strive to be more socially conscious myself, can I in fact shop at Amazon? I considered this because I ordered almost a dozen packages to be delivered to me over the past weeks. I was literally about to click “order now”  for another delivery when I was reading the article. And then I clicked anyway.

I confess that I may be the consumer discussed in an article I cite in my research entitled “Sweatshop Labor is Wrong Unless the Shoes are Cute: Cognition Can Both Help and Hurt Moral Motivated Reasoning.” As the authors point out, “Our findings show that consumers will actually change what they believe if they strongly desire a product … As long as companies continue to create value and maintain loyalty, it is likely store shelves won’t see ‘sweatshop-free’ products.”

I’ve argued that for that reason, consumers generally don’t have as much impact as people think. While hashtag activism in an era of slacktivism may raise awareness in social movements, I’m not sure that it does much to change company behavior, with the notable exception of SeaWorld, which has seen a drop in attendance after a CNN story about treatment of killer whales and subsequent calls for boycott.

Maybe I’m wrong. I look forward to seeing what, if anything, Costco shoppers do when/if they learn about the putative class action lawsuit filed this week in California claiming that Costco knowingly sold shrimp farmed by Thai slaves and misled consumers. According to the complaint (which has graphic pictures), “this case arises from the devaluing of human life. Plaintiff and other California consumers care about the origin of the products they purchase and the conditions under which the products are farmed, harvested or manufactured. Slavery, forced labor and human trafficking are all practices which are considered to be abhorrent, morally indefensible and acts against the interests of all humanity.” The complaint also cites Costco’s supplier code of conduct and notes that its practices are inconsistent with its statement of compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, another name and shame disclosure law meant to root out slavery and human trafficking. This is the first US lawsuit related to these kinds of disclosures, but may not be the last.

Costco was supposed to be one of the good guys with its fair wages and benefits compared to its competitors and  its “reasonable” CEO salary. This favorable PR has likely cloaked Costco with the CSR halo effect, where consumers believe that when a company does something good for workers, for example, the company also cares about the environment, even though there may be no relationship between the two. This may cause them to spend more money with the company, and some believe, may cause regulators to look more favorably upon a firm.

Will socially conscious consumers stop buying at Costco? Will they stand their ground and rush over to Whole Foods? Although I don’t have a Costco card, I admit I have considered it because I liked the labor practices and for years have refused to shop in another big box retailer because of its treatment of workers. I’m also interested to see what investors think of Costco. What will the shareholders resolutions look like next year? In 2015, the only shareholder proposal in the proxy concerned “reducing director entrenchment.” How will this lawsuit affect the stock price, if at all?

Next week I will explore the Wal-Mart decision to stop selling assault rifles. Did Trinity and other socially-responsible investors get their way after all?? Wal-Mart’s CEO says no, but I’m not so sure.

 

 

 

 

August 28, 2015 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Important 30th Anniversaries

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  I am married to the best husband and dad in the entire world.  (Sorry to slight all of my many male family members and friends who are spouses or fathers, but I am knowingly and seriously playing favorites here!)  My husband and I bought the anniversary memento pictured below a few years ago, and it just seems to be getting closer and closer to the reality of us as a couple (somewhat endearing, but aging) as time passes . . . .

IMG_0872

Of course, our wedding was not the only important event in 1985.  There's so much more to celebrate about that year!  In fact, it was a banner year in business law.  Here are a few of the significant happenings, in no particular order.  Most relate to M&A doctrine and practice.  I am not sure whether the list is slanted that way because I (a dyed-in-the-wool M&A/Securities lawyer) created it or whether the M&A heyday of the 1980s just spawned a lot of key activity in 1985.

  1. Smith v. Van Gorkom was decided.  It was my 3L year at NYU Law.  I remember the opinion being faxed to my Mergers & Acquisitions instructor during our class and being delivered--a big stack of those goofy curly thermal fax paper sheets--to the table in the seminar room where we met.  Cool stuff.  As I entered practice, business transactional lawyers were altering their advisory practices and their board scripts to take account of the decision.

  2. Unocal v. Mesa Petroleum was decided.  The Delaware Supreme Court established its now famous two-part standard of review for takeover defenses, finding that "there was directorial power to oppose the Mesa tender offer, and to undertake a selective stock exchange made in good faith and upon a reasonable investigation pursuant to a clear duty to protect the corporate enterprise. Further, the selective stock repurchase plan chosen by Unocal is reasonable in relation to the threat that the board rationally and reasonably believed was posed."  (The italics were added by me.)  More changes to transactional practice . . . .

  3. Moran v. Household International was decided.  As a result, I spent a large part of my first five years of law practice promoting and writing poison pills that innovated off the anti-takeover tool validated in this case.  The firm I worked for was on the losing side of the Moran case, so we determined to build a better legal mousetrap, which then became the gold standard.

  4. The Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (RULPA) was amended by the Uniform Law Commission.  Among the 1985 changes was an evolution of the rules relating to the liability of limited partners for partnership obligations.  The 2001 version of the RULPA took those evolutions to their logical end point, allowing limited partners to enjoy limited liability for partnership obligations even if the limited partners exercise management authority over the partnership.

  5. Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth was decided.  Stock is a security under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, unless the context otherwise requires.  The Court determined that instruments labeled stock that have the essential attributes of stock should be treated as stock in an offering context, even when the stock is transferred to sell a business.  Bye-bye "sale of business" doctrine . . . .

That's enough on 30th anniversaries  for this post.  I am sure you all will think of more 30th anniversaries in business law that we can celebrate in 2015.  Feel free to leave those additional 1985 memories in the comments.

August 26, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, M&A, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Conflict over Conflict Minerals and Other Social Governance Disclosures

Today’s post will discuss the DC Circuit’s recent ruling striking down portions of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule on First Amendment grounds for the second time. Judge Randolph, writing for the majority, clearly enjoyed penning this opinion. He quoted Charles Dickens, Arthur Kostler, and George Orwell while finding that the SEC rule requiring companies to declare whether their products are “DRC Conflict Free” fails strict scrutiny analysis. But I won’t engage in any constitutional analysis here. I leave that to the fine blogs and articles that have delved into that area of the law. See here, here here, here, here, and more.  The NGOs that have vigorously fought for the right of consumers to learn how companies are sourcing their tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold have had understandably strong reactions. One considers the ruling a dangerous precedent on corporate personhood. Global Witness, a well respected NGO, calls it a dangerous and damaging ruling.

Regular readers of this blog know that I filed an amicus brief arguing that the law meant to defund the rebels raping and pillaging in the Democratic Republic of Congo was more likely to harm than help the intended recipients—the Congolese people.  I have written probably a dozen blog posts on Dodd-Frank 1502 and won’t list them all but for more information see some of my most recent posts here, here, and here. The goal of this name and shame law is to ensure that consumers and investors know which companies are sourcing minerals from mines that are controlled by rebels. The theory is that consumers, armed with disclosures, will pressure companies to make sure that they use only “conflict-free” minerals in their cameras, cell phones, toothpaste, diapers, jewelry and component parts. I assume that the SEC will seek a full re-hearing or some other relief even though Chair May Jo White has said, “seeking to improve safety in mines for workers or to end horrible human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are compelling objectives, which, as a citizen, I wholeheartedly share … [b]ut, as the Chair of the SEC, I must question, as a policy matter, using the federal securities laws and the SEC’s powers of mandatory disclosure to accomplish these goals.”

I agree with Chair White even though I applaud the efforts of companies like Apple and Intel to comply with this flawed law. Indeed, the Enough Project, which with others has led the fight for this and other laws, now reports that there are 140 “conflict-free” smelters. But the violence continues as just this week the press reports that the Congolese government announced that it is investigating its own peacekeeprs/soldiers for rape in the neighboring Central African Republic and the UN acknowledged that fighting between armed militias is still a problem and that they are still resisting state authority. News reports indicated two days ago that clinics are closing because of fear of attack by Ugandan rebels.  This hits particularly close to me because my connection with DRC and the conflict mineral fight stems from the work that an NGO that I work with has done training doctors and midwives in the heart of the conflict zone there.

I don’t know how effective Dodd-Frank will be if the issuers don’t have to disclose what the court has called the Scarlet letter of “non DRC-conflict free.” But more important, as I argue in my writings, I don’t think that consumers’ buying habits match what they say when surveyed about ethical sourcing. In my most recent article (which I will post once the editors are done), I point out the following:

A recent survey used to support the new UK Modern Slavery Act indicates that two-thirds of UK consumers would stop buying a product if they found out that slaves were involved in the manufacturing process and that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for slave-free products…The numbers are similar but slightly lower for those surveyed in the United States. But note, “when asked if they would be willing to pay more for their favourite products if this ensured they were produced without the use of modern slavery: 52% of American consumers said they would pay more to ensure products were produced without modern slavery; 27% were not sure; 21% said they would not pay more.” This means that at least 20% and possibly almost half of informed consumers would not likely change their buying habits. (italics added).

I’m probably more informed than most about the situation in the DRC because I have been there and read almost every report, blog post, article, hearing committee transcript and tweet about conflict minerals. I have seen children digging gold out of the ground while armed rebels stood guard. I have met the village chiefs in the conflict zones. I have been detained by the UN peacekeepers who wanted to know what I was researching and then warned me not to visit the mines because of the five dead bodies (which I saw) lying in the road from a rebel attack the night before. I have stayed in monasteries guarded by men with machine guns and been warned that if I left after dark I was just as likely to be raped by a police officer as a rebel. I have met with many women who were gang raped by rebels and members of the Congolese army. I have had dinner with Nobel nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege, who back in 2011 wanted to know why the US wasn’t stopping the atrocities. I know the situation is terrible. But it won't change and hasn’t changed because of a corporate governance disclosure that most average consumers won’t read (even if the SEC had prevailed) and won’t necessarily act on if they did read it.

Next week I will post about my personal conflict with disclosures. Should I, who refuses to shop at a certain big box retailer, still shop at Amazon now that an expose has revealed a very harsh workplace? What about Costco and others? Stay tuned.

 

August 21, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Nonprofits, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Corporations

Apparently the corporate tax inversion crackdown by the Obama administration is not working. The Financial Times reported this week that three companies have announced plans to redomicile in Europe in just one week. I’m not sure that I will have time to discuss inversions in any detail in my Business Associations class, but I have talked about it in civil procedure, when we discuss personal jurisdiction.

From my recent survey monkey results of my incoming students, I know that some of my students received their business news from the Daily Show. In the past I have used Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert to illustrate certain concepts to my millennial students. Here are some humorous takes on the inversion issue that I may use this year in class. Warning- there is some profanity and obviously they are pretty one-sided. But I have found that humor is a great way to start a debate on some of these issues that would otherwise seem dry to students. 

1)   Steve Colbert on corporate inversions-1- note the discussion on fiduciary duties

2)    Steve Colbert on corporate inversions interviews Allan Sloan

3)   Jon Stewart- inversion of the money snatchers and on corporate personhood toward the end.

For those of you who are political junkies like me, I thought I would share a video that I showed when I taught a seminar on corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility. This video focuses on political campaigns, and for a number of reasons, this campaign season seems to be in full gear already. Indeed, Professor Larry Lessig from Harvard is mulling a run for president in part to highlight the need for reform in campaign financing. Below is Stephen Colbert’s take on SuperPACs and political financing.

1) Colbert's shell corporation- note the discussion of the incorporation in Delaware and the meeting of the board of directors

Enjoy, and best of luck for those starting classes next week.

August 13, 2015 in Business Associations, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Do International Business Lawyers Need to Know About US Corporate Law?

This weekend I will be in Panama filling in at the last minute for the corporate law session for an executive LLM progam. My students are practicing lawyers from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Paraguay and have a variety of legal backgrounds. My challenge is to fit key corporate topics (other than corporate governance, compliance, M & A, finance, and accounting) into twelve hours over two days for people with different knowledge levels and experiences. The other faculty members hail from law schools here and abroad as well as BigLaw partners from the United States and other countries.

Prior to joining academia I spent several weeks a year training/teaching my internal clients about legal and compliance matters for my corporation. This required an understanding of US and host country concepts. I have also taught in executive MBA programs and I really enjoyed the rich discussion that comes from students with real-world practical experience. I know that I will have that experience again this weekend even though I will probably come back too brain dead to be coherent for my civil procedure and business associations classes on Tuesday.

I have put together a draft list of topics with the help of my co-bloggers and based in part on conversations with some of our LLM and international students who have practiced law elsewhere but who now seek a US degree: 

Agency- What are the different kinds of authority and how does that affect liability? 

Business forms:             

Key issues for entity selection

- ease of formation

-  ownership and control

- tax issues

-  asset protection/liability to third parties for obligations of the business /piercing the veil of limited liability

-  attractiveness to investors

-  continuity and transferability

Main types of business forms in the United States

-Sole Proprietorship

-Partnership/General and Limited

- Corporation

                     - C Corporation

                     - S Corporation

- Limited Liability Company

 Fiduciary Duties/The Business Judgment Rule

 Basic Securities Regulation/Key issues for Initial Public Offering/Basic Disclosures (students will examine the filings for an annual report and an IPO)

Insider Trading

The Legal System in the United States

                    -how do companies defend themselves in lawsuits brought in the United States?

                     -key Clauses to Consider when drafting dispute resolution clauses in cross border contracts

Corporate Social Responsibility- Business and Human Rights 

Enterprise Risk Management/What are executives of multinationals worried about? 

Yes, this is an ambitious (crazy) list but the goal of the program is to help these experienced lawyers become better business advisors. Throughout the sessions we will have interactive exercises to apply what they have learned (and to keep them awake). So what am I missing? I would love your thoughts on what you think international lawyers need to know about corporate law in the US. Feel free to comment below or to email me at mnarine@stu.edu. Adios!

August 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Lawyering, Litigation, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rutgers University School of Law (Camden) - Job Posting

The following position posting was provided to us via e-mail:

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RUTGERS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW (CAMDEN CAMPUS) invites applications from entry-level and lateral candidates for one or more tenure-track or tenured faculty positions. Possible areas of particular interest include, but are not limited to, corporate law, corporate governance, commercial law, securities regulation, and other areas of business law. We will consider candidates with an interest in building upon our newly devised Certificate Program in Corporate/Business Law. All applicants should have a distinguished academic background and either great promise or a record of excellence in both scholarship and teaching. We encourage applications from women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and others whose background, experience, and viewpoints would contribute to the diversity of our faculty. Contact: Professor Arthur Laby, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee; Rutgers University School of Law; 217 North Fifth Street; Camden, NJ; 08102; alaby@rutgers.edu. Rutgers University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all in every aspect of its operations.

August 4, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray, Jobs, Law School, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

More Summer Reading: The Henry Ford Legacy Beyond Dodge v. Ford

Readers of this blog know I am fond of writing about Henry Ford and the Dodge v. Ford case (PDF here).  This summer, I am still working my way through Fordlandia, by Greg Grandin.  It's a really interesting read.  

Henry Ford had plans to build a town in the Amazon that would run like an ideal American town.  The industry would be rubber for car tires, and he was sure he could make a town that produced rubber AND moral people.  He was wrong.  

The book provides more about Ford than just his Amazon city planning. It highlights all sorts of what I will call "interesting" ideas Ford had (many of the quite appalling), and it provides context for a person who was far more interesting and disruptive than many people appreciate.  A good summary of the book is available from NPR here, where the author explains:

"Ford basically tried to impose mass industrial production on the diversity of the jungle," Grandin says. But the Amazon is one of the most complex ecological systems in the world — and didn't fit into Ford's plan. "Nowhere was this more obvious and more acute than when it came to rubber production," Grandin says.

Ford was so distrustful of experts that he never even consulted one about rubber trees. If he had, Grandin says, he would have learned that plantation rubber can't be grown in the Amazon. "The pests and the fungi and the blight that feed off of rubber are native to the Amazon. Basically, when you put trees close together in the Amazon, what you in effect do is create an incubator — but Ford insisted."

As Grandin explains, Ford's plans are a lasting disaster: 

[T]he most profound irony is currently on display at the very site of Ford’s most ambitious attempt to realize his pastoralist vision. In the Tapajós valley, three prominent elements of Ford’s vision—lumber, which he hoped to profit from while at the same time finding ways to conserve nature; roads, which he believed would knit small towns together and create sustainable markets; and soybeans, in which he invested millions, hoping that the industrial crop would revive rural life—have become the primary agents of the Amazon’s ruin, not just of its flora and fauna but of many of its communities.

Despite my love of the business judgment rule, it's hardly surprising that Ford was one of the folks who didn't get its protection. Stories like this give us some idea why.  

August 4, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Khan, Serafeim, & Yoon on Corporate Sustainability and Materiality

Mozaffar Khan, George Serafeim, and Aaron Yoon of Harvard Business School have posted an interesting working paper entitled Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality. The abstract follows:

An increasing number of companies make sustainability investments, and an increasing number of investors integrate sustainability performance data in their capital allocation decisions. To date however, the prior academic literature has not distinguished between investments in material versus immaterial sustainability issues. We develop a novel dataset by hand-mapping data on sustainability investments classified as material for each industry into firm-specific performance data on a variety of sustainability investments. This allows us to present new evidence on the value implications of sustainability investments. Using calendar-time portfolio stock return regressions we find that firms with good performance on material sustainability issues significantly outperform firms with poor performance on these issues, suggesting that investments in sustainability issues are shareholder-value enhancing. Further, firms with good performance on sustainability issues not classified as material do not underperform firms with poor performance on these same issues, suggesting investments in sustainability issues are at a minimum not value-destroying. Finally, firms with good performance on material issues and concurrently poor performance on immaterial issues perform the best. These results speak to the efficiency of firms’ sustainability investments, and also have implications for asset managers who have committed to the integration of sustainability factors in their capital allocation decisions.

The authors' materiality determination is based on industry-specific guidance from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). I have been following SASB’s work for some time now, but would still like to learn more about the organization if any of our readers have more detail than is available online. 

July 31, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Funding Tips from Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists

Last week I attended a panel discussion with angel investors and venture capitalists hosted by Refresh Miami. Almost two hundred entrepreneurs and tech professionals attended the summer startup series to learn the inside scoop on fundraising from panelists Ed Boland, Principal Scout Ventures; Stony Baptiste, Co-Founder & Principal, Urban.Us, Venture Fund; Brad Liff, Founder & CEO, Fitting Room Social, Private Equity Expert; and (the smartest person under 30 I have ever met) Herwig Konings, Co-Founder & CEO of Accredify, Crowd Funding Expert. Because I was typing so fast on my iPhone, I didn’t have time to attribute my notes to the speakers. Therefore, in no particular order, here are the nuggets I managed to glean from the panel.

1) In the seed stage, it’s more than an idea but less than a business. If it’s before true market validation you are in the seed round. At the early stage, there has been some form of validation, but the business is not yet sustainable. Everything else beyond that is the growth stage.

2) The friend and family round is typically the first $50-75,000. Angels come in the early stage and typically invest up to $500,000.

3) The seed rounds often overlap with angels and businesses can raise from $500,000 to $1,000,000. If you have a validated part of a business model but are not self funding then you are at Series A investment stage.  You still need outside capital despite validation. The Series A round often nets between $3-5 million and then there are subsequent rounds for growth until the liquidity event which is either the IPO or acquisition.

4) Venture capitalists are investing their LPs' money and often the LP will co-invest with the VC. Their ultimate goal is for the company to get acquired or go public.

5) At the early stages some VCs will show a deal to other investors if it looks good. Later stage VCs will become more competitive and will keep the information and good deals to themselves.

6) It’s important to find a lead investor or lead angel to champion your idea.

7) Not all funding is helpful. Some panelists discussed the concepts of “fallen angels” or “devils,” which were once helpful but now are not providing value but still take up time and energy that could be better spent focusing on building the business. “False angels” are those who could never have been helpful in the first place.

8) You don’t want to be the first or the last check the angel is writing. You want to get references on the angel investor and see where they have invested and what their plan is for you.

9) There is smart money and dumb money. Smart money gives money and additional resources or value. Dumb money just gives money and nothing else. It’s passive and doesn’t jump into the business (note the panelists disagreed as to whether this was a good or bad thing). Another panelist noted the distinction between helpful and harmful money. Harmful people think they are helpful and give advice when they don’t have a lot to add but take up a lot of time. Sometimes helpful money just gives a check and then gets out of the way. It’s the people in between that can cause the problems.

10) VCs and angels invest in teams as well as ideas. They look for the right fit and a mix of veteran entrepreneurs, a team/product fit, a mix of technical and nontechnical people, professionals whose reputations and resumes can be verified. They want to know whether the people they are investing in have been in a competitive environment and have learned from success or failure.

11) Crowdfunding can be complicated because investors don’t meet the entrepreneurs. They see everything on the web so the reputation and the need for a good team is even more important.

12) Convertible notes are the “gold standard” according to one speaker and it’s the workhorse for funding. There was some discussion of safe notes, but most panelists didn't have a lot of experience with them and that was echoed this week by attorney David Salmon, who advises small businesses and holds his own monthly meetups. One panelist said that the sole purpose of safe notes was to avoid landmines that can blow up the company. Another panelist indicated that from an investor standpoint it’s like a blackhole because it’s so new and people don’t know what happens if something goes wrong.

13) The panelists indicated that businesses need to watch out for: the maturity date for their debt (how long is the runway); when can the investors call the note and possibly bankrupt the company; how will quirky covenants affect the next round of financing and where later investors will fall in line; and covenants that are easy to violate.

14) There was very little discussion of Regulation A+ but it did raise some interest and the possibility to raise even more funds from non-accredited investors. Only 3% of the eight million who can invest through crowdfunding actually do, so Reg A+ may help with that.

16) All of the panelists agreed that entities may start out as LLCs but they will have to convert to a C Corp to get any VC funding.

There was a lot more discussion but this post is already too long. Because I've never been an angel nor sought such funding, I don’t plan to provide any analysis on what I’ve typed above. My goal in attending this and the other monthly events like this was to learn from the questions that entrepreneurs ask and how the investors answer. Admittedly, most of my students won’t be dealing with these kind of issues, but I still introduce them to these concepts so they are at least familiar with the parlance if not all of the nuances.

July 30, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, International Business, Law School, Legislation, LLCs, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Activist Shareholder and Law Prof: Robin Hood or Charles Pillsbury?

A lawyer representing Fordham Law School Professor (and Riverbed Technology shareholder) Sean Griffith argued in Delaware court that a class action settlement related to Riverbed Technology's  $3.6 billion sale to private equity firm Thoma Bravo was bad for shareholders and good for the lawyers involved, Reuters reports.  

Prof. Griffith told Reuters that "he has been buying stock of companies that have announced merger deals and intends to object to settlements if he feels the litigation is not serving stockholders." He asserts that the shareholders' attorneys "are in cahoots" to reach a settlement, without regard to value.  

This raises some interesting questions of law and policy with regard to the Professor's role here.  As a shareholder, Griffith has the right to object (assuming his time of ownership satisfies the applicable statute).  But how should a court assess the objection of a shareholder who has admitted that he bought stock for the purpose of objecting to settlements not in the interests of shareholders, when that shareholder has expressed ideological concern about the value of all disclosure-only settlements? 

Is Prof. Griffith's desire to protect shareholders a desire to enhance short- or long-term wealth of the entity from greedy lawyers and bad managers? Or is it a desire to punish those who abuse class action lawsuits to their own ends? Both would be reasonable motivations (though, for now, I reserve judgment on whether either assessment is accurate), but it seems that the law might view such motivations differently. 

Take, for example, Pillsbury v. Honeywell, Inc., 191 N.W.2d 406 (1971), which strikes me as similar in concept, if not law.  In that case, the court rejected Charles Pillsbury's request to access the company shareholder list and review books and records of Honeywell.  The request was expressly related to Pillsbury's anti-war efforts, and Pillsbury made clear that he sought the records because he thought Honeywell's activities in weapons were immoral.  The court denied access stating that 

petitioner had already formed strong opinions on the immorality and the social and economic wastefulness of war long before he bought stock in Honeywell. His sole motivation was to change Honeywell's course of business because that course was incompatible with his political views. If unsuccessful, petitioner indicated that he would sell the Honeywell stock.

We do not mean to imply that a shareholder with a bona fide investment interest could not bring this suit if motivated by concern with the long- or short-term economic effects on Honeywell resulting from the production of war munitions. Similarly, this suit might be appropriate when a shareholder has a bona fide concern about the adverse effects of abstention from profitable war contracts on his investment in Honeywell.

If Prof. Griffith is looking to protect the long-term interests of all companies by protecting merging companies from harmful class action settlements, and his mechanism is buying shares in companies that he has reason to believe will merge, then perhaps his Robin Hood-like actions (in that the actions seek to return funds to the rightful owners) have value for shareholder wealth maximization and entity wealth maximization. The fact that he holds out the possibility that he won't object to settlements where the litigation serves the purposes of the shareholder suggests he might be in this camp.  

But what if he will object to all settlement proposals? Or perhaps all disclosure-only settlement proposals, even where such settlements are allowable under the law?  Does this convert his actions to more of a Charles Pillsbury-like feel in that his actions are about opposing class actions settlements, regardless of whether settlement is in the best interest of the parties? 

Of course, his motivations don't necessarily matter under current law in this area, but I can't help but think the motivations will influence how a court views (and eventually decides upon) Prof. Griffith's objections. And I think they should.  If, in any given case, Prof. Griffith is right that the settlement is not in the best interest of the shareholders, the court should uphold his objections. But, under current law, it's possible that a disclosure-only settlement might still be the most efficient outcome.  It's the court's job to assess that in each case.

July 28, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Powers and Perils of Using Group Oral Midterm Examinations in Business Associations

For a number of years now, I have been using group (3-person teams) oral midterm examinations in my Business Associations course.  I have found these examinations to be an effective and rewarding assessment tool based on my teaching and learning objectives for this course.  At the invitation of the Saint Louis University Law Journal, as part of a featured edition of the journal on teaching business associations law, I prepared a short article giving folks the "why, how, and what" of my experience in taking this approach to midterm assessment.  The article was recently published, and I have posted it to SSRN.  The abstract reads as follows:

I focus in this Article on a particular way to assess student learning in a Business Associations course. Those of us involved in legal education for the past few years know that “assessment” has been a buzzword . . . or a bugaboo . . . or both. The American Bar Association (ABA) has focused law schools on assessment (institutional and pedagogical), and that focus is not, in my view, misplaced. Until relatively recently, much of student assessment in law school doctrinal courses was rote behavior, seemingly driven by heuristics and resulting in something constituting (or at least resembling) information cascades or other herding behaviors.

In the fall of 2011, I began offering an oral midterm examination to students in my Business Associations course as an additional assessment tool. This Article explains why I started (and have continued) down that path, how I designed that examination, and what I have learned by using this assessment method for three years. Although some (probably most) will not want to do in their Business Associations courses exactly what I have done in mine (as to the midterm examination or any other aspects of the course described in this Article), I am providing this information to give readers ideas for, or courage to make positive changes in, their own teaching (for a course on business associations or anything else).

You may think I am crazy (even--or especially--after reading this article).  Regardless, I do hope the article sparks something positive in you regarding your teaching in Business Associations or some other course.  Since I am working on finishing a long-overdue book on teaching business associations for Aspen this summer, I would welcome your honest reactions to the article and your additional thoughts on assessment or other aspects of teaching Business Associations.

July 22, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Has President Obama helped or hurt American business? Ten questions

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that President Obama has had an impact on this country. Tomorrow, I will be a panelist on the local public affairs show for the PBS affiliate to talk about the President’s accomplishments and/or failings. The producer asked the panelists to consider this article as a jumping off point. One of the panelists worked for the Obama campaign and another worked for Jeb Bush. Both are practicing lawyers. The other panelist is an educator and sustainability expert. And then there’s me.

I’ve been struggling all week with how to articulate my views because there’s a lot to discuss about this “lame duck” president. Full disclosure—I went to law school with Barack Obama. I was class of ’92 and he was class of ’91 but we weren’t close friends. I was too busy doing sit-ins outside of the dean’s house as a radical protester railing against the lack of women and minority faculty members. Barack Obama did his part for the movement to support departing Professor Derrick Bell by speaking (at minute 6:31) at one of the protests. I remember thinking then and during other times when Barack spoke publicly that he would run for higher office. At the time a black man being elected to the president of the Harvard Law Review actually made national news. I, like many students of all races, really respected that accomplishment particularly in light of the significant racial tensions on campus during our tenure.

During my stint in corporate America, I was responsible for our company’s political action committee. I still get more literature from Republican candidates than from any other due to my attendance at so many fundraisers. I met with members of Congress and the SEC on more than one occasion to discuss how a given piece of legislation could affect my company and our thousands of business customers. My background gives me what I hope will be a more balanced set of talking points than some of the other panelists. In addition to my thoughts about civil rights, gay marriage, gun control, immigration reform, Guantanamo, etc., I will be thinking of the following business-related points for tomorrow’s show: 

1) Was the trade deal good or bad for American workers, businesses and/or those in the affected countries? A number of people have had concerns about human rights and IP issues that weren’t widely discussed in the popular press.

2) Dodd-Frank turns five next week. What did it accomplish? Did it go too far in some ways and not far enough in others? Lawmakers announced today that they are working on some fixes. Meanwhile, much of the bill hasn’t even been implemented yet. Will we face another financial crisis before the ink is dried on the final piece of implementing legislation? Should more people have gone to jail as a result of the last two financial crises?

3) Did the President waste his political capital by starting off with health care reform instead of focusing on jobs and infrastructure?

4) Did the President’s early rhetoric against the business community make it more difficult for him to get things done?

5) How will the changes in minimum wage for federal contractors and the proposed changes to the white collar exemptions under the FLSA affect job growth? Will relief in income inequality mean more consumers for the housing, auto and consumer goods markets? Or has too little been done?

6) Has the President done enough or too much as it relates to climate change? The business groups and environmentalists have very differing views on scope and constitutionality.

7) What will the lifting of sanctions on Cuba and Iran mean for business? Both countries were sworn mortal enemies and may now become trading partners unless Congress stands in the way.

8) Do we have the right people looking after the financial system? Is there too much  regulatory capture? Has the President tried to change it or has he perpetuated the status quo?

9) What kind of Supreme Court nominee will he pick if he has the chance? The Roberts court has been helpful to him thus far. If he gets a pick it could affect business cases for a generation.

10) Although many complain that he has overused his executive order authority, is there more that he should do? 

I don’t know if I will have answers to these questions by tomorrow but I certainly have a lot to think about before I go on air. If you have any thoughts before 8:30 am, please post below or feel free to email me privately at mnarine@stu.edu.

July 16, 2015 in Constitutional Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Television, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shareholder Proposals and Legal Scholarship

I read with interest the recently released opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Trinity Wall Street v. Walmart Stores, Inc.  The Wall Street Journal covered the publication of the opinion earlier in the month, and co-blogger Ann Lipton wrote a comprehensive post sharing her analysis on the substance of the decision over the weekend.  (I commented, and Ann responded.)  Of course, like Ann, as a securities lawyer, I was interested in the court's long-form statement of its holding and reasoning in the case.  But I admit that what pleased me most about the opinion was its use of legal scholarship written by my securities regulation scholar colleagues.

Tom Hazen's Treatise on the Law of Securities Regulation is cited frequently for general principles.  This is, as many of you likely already know, an amazing securities regulation resource.  I also will note that many of my students find Tom's hornbook helpful when they are having trouble grappling with securities regulation concepts covered in the assigned readings in my class.

Donna Nagy's excellent article on no-action letters (Judicial Reliance on Regulatory Interpretation in S.E.C. No-Action Letters: Current Problems and a Proposed Framework, 83 Cornell L. Rev. 921 (1998)) also is cited by the court.  This piece is not praised enough, imho, for the work it does in the administrative process area of securities law.  I see the citations in the opinion as an element of needed praise.

And finally, Alan Palmiter's scholarship also is cited numerous times in the opinion.  Specifically, the court quotes from and otherwise cites to The Shareholder Proposal Rule: A Failed Experiment in Merit Regulation, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 879 (1994).  Again, this work represents an important, under-appreciated scholarly resource in securities law.

At least one other law review article is cited once in the opinion.

[Note: Alison Frankel also points out that Vice Chancellor Laster cites formatively to a paper co-authored by Jill Fisch, Sean Griffith, and Steve Davidoff Solomon in a recent opinion.  More evidence that our work matters, at least to the judiciary.]

As Ann's post notes, the Trinity opinion also is worth reading for its substance.  In addition to the matters Ann mentions, the opinion includes, for example, a lengthy, yet helpful, history of the ordinary business exclusion under Rule 14a-8.  And the analysis is instructive, even if unavailing (unclear in its moorings and effect in individual cases).

Finally, it's worth noting that the opinion is drafted with a healthy, yet (imv) professional, dose of humor.  The opinion begins, for example, as follows:

“[T]he secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want.” Sam Walton, SAM WALTON: MADE IN AMERICA 173 (1993). This case involves one shareholder’s attempt to affect how Wal-Mart goes about doing that.

And the conclusion of the opinion includes the following passage that made me smile:

Although a core business of courts is to interpret statutes and rules, our job is made difficult where agencies, after notice and comment, have hard-to-define exclusions to their rules and exceptions to those exclusions. For those who labor with the ordinary business exclusion and a social-policy exception that requires not only significance but “transcendence,” we empathize.

(This is part of the "scolding" Ann references in her post.)

Read the concurring opinion of Judge Shwartz, too.  It is thoughtful (even if not entirely helpful, as Ann notes) in making some nice additional points worth considering.

July 15, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Reading Recommendation: How Framing Shapes Our Conduct

Scott Killingsworth, a corporate attorney at Bryan Cave who specializes in compliance and technology matters and is a prolific writer (especially for one who still has billable hour constraints!) recently wrote a short and thought-provoking article: How Framing Shapes Our Conduct. The article focuses the link between framing business issues and our ethical choices and motivations noting the harm in thinking of hard choices as merely "business" decisions, viewing governing rules and regulations as a "game" or viewing business as "war."  Consider these poignant excerpts:

We know, for example, that merely framing an issue as a “business matter” can invoke narrow rules of decision that shove non-business considerations, including ethical concerns, out of the picture. Tragic examples of this 'strictly business' framing include Ford’s cost/benefit-driven decision to pay damages rather than recall explosion-prone Pintos, and the ill-fated launch of space shuttle Challenger after engineers’ safety objections were overruled with a simple 'We have to make a management decision.' (emphasis added)

Framing business as a game belittles the legitimacy of the rules, the gravity of the stakes, and the effect of violations on the lives of others. By minimizing these factors, the game metaphor takes the myopic “strictly business” framing a step further, into a domain of bendable rules, acceptable transgressions, and limited accountability. (emphasis added)

The war metaphor conditions our thinking in a way distinct from the game frame, but complementary to it. War is a matter of survival: the stakes are enormous, the mission urgent, and all’s fair. Exigent pressures grant us wide moral license, releasing us from adherence to everyday rules and justifying extreme tactics in pursuit of a higher goal; we must, after all, kill or be killed. If business is war, survival is at stake, and competitors, customers, suppliers, rivals or authorities are our enemies, then not only may we do whatever it takes to win, it’s our duty to do so. (emphasis added)

The full article is available here.

In light of the new ABA regulations on Learning Outcomes and Assessment, including the requirement that students have competency in exercising "proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system" this article seems like a great addition to a business organizations/corporations course line up.  I know that I will be including it in my corporate governance seminar this coming year.  And if I were responsible for new associate training, this would definitely merit inclusion in the materials.

-Anne Tucker

July 15, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Ethics, Law School | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS: A Workshop on Vulnerability at the Intersection of the Changing Firm and the Changing Family (October 16-17, 2015 in Atlanta, GA)

UPDATE: The deadline for submissions has been extended to July 21.

[The following is a copy of the official workshop announcement.  I have moved the "Guiding Questions" to the top to highlight the business law aspects.  Registration and submission details can be found after the break.]

A Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative Workshop at Emory Law

Guiding Questions:

This workshop will use vulnerability theory to explore the implications of the changing structure of employment and business organizations in the new information age. In considering these changes, we ask:

• What kind of legal subject is the business organization?
• Are there relevant distinctions among business and corporate forms in regard to understanding both vulnerability and resilience?
• What, if any, should be the role of international and transnational organizations in a neoliberal era? What is their role in building both human and institutional resilience?
• Is corporate philanthropy an adequate response to the retraction of state regulation? What forms of resilience should be regulated and which should be left to the 'free market'?
• How might a conception of the vulnerable subject help our analysis of the changing nature of the firm? What relationships does it bring into relief?
• How have discussions about market vulnerability shifted over time?
• What forms of resilience are available for institutions to respond to new economic realities?
• How are business organizations vulnerable? How does this differ from the family?
• How does the changing structure of employment and business organization affect possibilities for transformation and reform of the family?
• What role should the responsive state take in directing shifting flows of capital and care?
• How does the changing relationship between employment and the family, and particularly the disappearance of the "sole breadwinner," affect our understanding of the family and its role in caretaking and dependency?
• How does the Supreme Court's willingness to assign rights to corporate persons (Citizen's United, Hobby Lobby), affect workers, customers and communities? The relationship between public and private arenas?
• Will Airbnb and Uber be the new model for the employment relationships of the future?

Continue reading

July 14, 2015 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mylan and Mandatory Disclosure

I noted with favor the other day (to myself, privately) the helpful and interesting commentary on The Glom of our trusted colleague and co-blogger, Usha Rodrigues, regarding the recent press reports on Mylan N.V.'s related-party disclosures.  As the story goes, a firm managed and owned in part by the Vice Chair of Mylan's board of directors sold some land to an entity owned by one of the Vice Chair's business associates for $1, and that entity turned around the same day and sold the property to Mylan for its new headquarters for $2.9 million.  Usha's post focuses on both the mandatory disclosure rules for related-party transactions and the mandatory disclosure rules on codes of ethics.  Two great areas for exploration.

A reporter from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called me Thursday to talk about the Mylan matter and some related disclosure issues.  He and I spoke at some length yesterday.  That press contact resulted in this story, published online late last night.  The reporter was, as the story indicates, interested in prior related-party disclosures made by Mylan involving transactions with family members of directors.  This led to a more wide-ranging discussion about the status of family members for various different securities regulation purposes.  It is from this discussion that my quote in the article is drawn.  But our conversation covered many other interesting, related issues.

Continue reading

July 11, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Note to U.K. Supreme Court: LLCs Don't Have Places of Incorporation (But You're Right on Pass-Through Taxation)

A recent unanimous decision from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Anson v. Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [2015] UKSC 44, determined that a U.S. limited liability company (LLC) formed in Delaware will be treated for U.K. tax purposes as a partnership, and not a corporation. This is a good thing, as it provides the LLC members the ability to reap more completely the benefits of the entity's choice of form.

What is not so good is that the court left unaddressed a lower court determination as follows, was quoted in para. 47: 

“Delaware law governs the rights of the members of [the LLC] as the law of the place of its incorporation, and the LLC agreement is expressly made subject to that law. However, the question whether those rights mean that the income of [the LLC] is the income of the members is a question of domestic law which falls to be determined for the purposes of domestic tax law applying the requirements of domestic tax law ….” (para 71) (emphasis added)

An LLC does not have a place of incorporation!  It has a place of formation.  Here is the link to Delaware's Certificate of Formation, which is to be filed in accordance with the Limited Liability Company Act of the State of Delaware: https://corp.delaware.gov/llcform09.pdf. In contrast, you can find the Certificate of Incorporation, which is to be filed in accordance with the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware, here: http://www.corp.delaware.gov/incstk.pdf

I'm glad the high U.K. court recognized that partnership taxation status can be proper for a U.S. LLC. But, just as You Can’t Pierce the Corporate Veil of an LLC Because It Doesn't Have One, I wish they'd made clear that you can't incorporate an LLC.  

July 7, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Delaware, International Business, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Amendments to Delaware PBC Law (“The Etsy Amendments”)

Among the DGCL amendments this year were a number of amendments to the Delaware Public Benefit Corporation (“PBC”) Law. 

I refer to the Delaware PBC amendments as “The Etsy Amendments” because I believe (without being sure) that a main motivation in passing these amendments was to make it easier for Etsy (among other companies) to become a Delaware PBC. These amendments are effective as of August 1, 2015.

As mentioned in a previous post, Etsy is a certified B corporation and a Delaware C-corporation. According to B Lab’s terms for certified B corporations, Etsy will have to convert to a Delaware PBC by August 1, 2017 or forfeit its certification. This assumes that B Lab will not change its requirements or make an exception for publicly-traded companies.

The amendments to the PBC law are summarized below:

  • Eliminates requirement of "PBC" or "Public Benefit Corporation" in the entity’s formal name. This amendment makes it easier and less costly for existing entities to convert, but the amendment also makes it more difficult for researchers (and the rest of the public) to track the PBCs. In addition to the cost of changing names, Rick Alexander notes in his article below that the previous naming requirement was causing issues when PBCs registered in other states because “[s]ome jurisdictions view the term as referring to nonprofit corporations. Other jurisdictions view the phrase ‘'PBC'’ as insufficient to signal corporate identity.”
  • Reduces amount of shareholders that must approve a conversion from a traditional corporation to a PBC from 90% to 2/3rds of shareholders. This amendment brings Delaware PBC law in line with most of the benefit corporation statutes and gives Etsy a more realistic shot at converting. The requirement in Delaware to convert from a PBC to a traditional corporation was already approval by 2/3rds of shareholders.
  • Provides a “market out” exception to appraisal rights when a corporation becomes a PBC. This amendment brings the Delaware PBC law in line with their general appraisal provision in DGCL 262. This amendment also means that Etsy shareholders would not receive appraisal rights if Etsy converts to a PBC.

Additional posts about the amendments are available below:

July 3, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Legislation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tips for Those Who Know Almost Nothing About Business (aka some of my incoming students)

It's barely July and I have received a surprising number of emails from my incoming business association students about how they can learn more about business before class starts. To provide some context, I have about 70 students registered and most will go on to work for small firms and/or government. BA is required at my school. Very few of my graduates will work for BigLaw, although I have some interning at the SEC. I always do a survey monkey before the semester starts, which gives me an idea of how many students are "terrified" of the idea of business or numbers and how many have any actual experience in the field so my tips are geared to my specific student base. I also focus my class on the kinds of issues that I believe they may face after graduation dealing with small businesses and entrepreneurs and not solely on the bar tested subjects. After I admonished the students to ignore my email and to relax at the beach during the summer, I sent the following tips:

If you know absolutely NOTHING about business or you want to learn a little more, try some of the following tips to get more comfortable with the language of business:

1) Watch CNBC, Bloomberg Business, or Fox Business. Some shows are better than others. Once we get into publicly traded companies, we will start watching clips from CNBC at the beginning of every class in the "BA in the News" section. You will start to see how the vocabulary we are learning is used in real life.

2) Read/skim the Wall Street Journal, NY Times Business Section or Daily Business Review. You can also read the business section of the Miami Herald but the others are better. If you plan to stay local, the DBR is key, especially the law and real estate sections.

3) Subscribe to the Investopedia word of the day- it's free. You can also download the free app.

4) Watch Shark Tank or The Profit (both are a little unrealistic but helpful for when we talk about profit & loss, cash flow statement etc). The show American Greed won't teach you a lot about what we will deal with in BA but if you're going to work for the SEC, DOJ or be a defense lawyer dealing with securities fraud you will see these kinds of cases.

5) Listen to the first or second season of The Start Up podcast available on ITunes.

6) Watch Silicon Valley on HBO- it provides a view of the world of  re venture capitalists and funding rounds for start ups.

7) Read anything by Michael Lewis related to business.

8) Watch anything on 60 Minutes or PBS' Frontline related to the financial crisis. We will not have a lot of time to cover the crisis but you need to know what led up to Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank.

9 Watch the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job," which  is available on Netflix.

10) Listen to Planet Money on NPR on the weekends.

11) Listen to Marketplace on NPR (it's on weekday evenings around 6 pm).

12) Read Inc, Entrepreneur, or Fast Company magazines. 

13) Follow certain companies that you care about (or hate) or government agencies on Twitter. Key agencies include the IRS, SEC, DOJ, FCC, FTC etc. If you have certain passions such as social enterprise try #socent; for corporate social responsibility try #csr, for human rights and business try #bizhumanrights. For entrepreneurs try #startups. 

14) Join LinkedIn and find groups related to companies or business areas that interest you and monitor the discussions so you can keep current. Do the same with blogs. 

As I have blogged before, I also send them selected YouTube videos and suggest CALI lessons throughout the year. Any other tips that I should suggest? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section or at mnarine@stu.edu.

July 2, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Film, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Technology | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It May Be Dumb, But Short-Termism Can Be A Valid Business Strategy

Last week, S.E.C Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher, gave a speech, Activism, Short-Termism, and the SEC: Remarks at the 21st Annual Stanford Directors’ College. I agree with many of Commissioner Gallagher's views on short-termism, and (I will semi-shamelessly note) he cited one of my earlier posts about the role of activists on board decision making. In his remarks, he said, with regard to short-termsim (i.e., companies operating for short term rather than long-term gains):

The current picture is bleak . . . 

Clearly, there’s a way for all the parties . . . to co-exist peacefully. The SEC sets a level playing field; companies manage themselves for the long-term with the vigorous oversight of the board; and activists put pressure on those companies that fall short of that ideal.[47] Unfortunately, we are not in that happy place. Rather, there seems to be a predominance of short-term thinking at the expense of long-term investing. Some activists are swooping in, making a lot of noise, and demanding one of a number of ways to drive a short-term pop in value: spinning off a profitable division, beginning a share buy-back program, or slashing capital expenditures or research and development expenses. Having inflated current returns by eliminating corporate investments for the future, these activists can exit their investment and move on.

. . . .

[47] See, e.g., Joshua Fershee, Shareholder Activists Can Add Value and Still Be Wrong (Apr. 28, 2015) (positing that activists can signal to boards when the company’s strategy may be inefficient; it is then the board’s responsibility to “use the tools before it to make decisions in the best interests of the entity” — that shareholder activists can improve long-term value even if following their recommendations blindly would not).

I absolutely agree with the Commissioner that too many companies are using a short-term philosophy to guide their decision making and that directors are allowing non-controlling institutional investors too much influence in the boardroom.  But, as a believer in director primacy, I see that as a director failure, not an S.E.C. failure or an institutional investor/activist failure. Directors need to make the decisions for the entity based on their view of what is best for the entity, not on someone else's  view. 

Commissioner Gallagher is spot on when he notes his concern "that some institutional investors are paying insufficient attention to their fiduciary obligations to their clients when they determine whether to support a particular activist’s activity."  

That concern, though, has nothing to do with how the board of a company responds to its activist institutional investors that urge short-termist actions.  The institutional investor activist in that case should be held accountable to its clients, and perhaps it should not be urging such behavior, but that is not relevant to how a board of a company in which an institutional investors owns stock responds to such pressure.  

It could be that some boards really believe that short-termism is how best to run a company.  The level of complaining about activists suggests otherwise, but then it is up to boards to reject the activist's requests.  If boards are being unduly influenced by non-controlling outside forces, then shareholders need to take a break from their rational apathy, and do something.  If controlling shareholders are pushing short termism to the detriment of non-controlling shareholders, boards should not follow the controlling shareholder's request or (again) non-controlling shareholders need to push back to ensure the board and the controlling shareholders are honoring their fiduciary obligations.  

If it's just that directors like short termism as a strategy, though, and it's not a decision made for any other reason than directors think it's the right one, I believe those directors are wrong.  But that's not my call. I'm not on the board. 

June 30, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)