Tuesday, July 28, 2015
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.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
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.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
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 email@example.com.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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  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.
Friday, July 3, 2015
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:
- Gregory Williams (Richards, Layton & Finger)
- Rick Alexander (B Lab & Morris Nichols) (Written Prior to Amendments Passing)
Thursday, July 2, 2015
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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. 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.
. . . .
 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.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
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.
It’s always nice to blog and research about a hot topic. Last week I wrote about compliance challenges for those who would like to rush down to do business in Cuba- the topic of this summer’s research. Yesterday, Corporate Counsel Magazine wrote about the FCPA issues; one of my concerns. Earlier this week, I attended a meeting with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the United States International Trade Commission. Apparently, on December 17th, the very same day that President Obama made his surprise announcement that he wanted to re-open relations with Cuba, Senator Ron Wyden coincidentally sent a request to the USITC asking for an investigation and report on trade with Cuba and an analysis of restrictions. Accordingly, the nonpartisan USITC has been traveling around the country speaking to lawyers and business professionals conducting fact-finding meetings, in order to prepare a report that will be issued to the public in September 2015. Tomorrow the Miami Finance Forum is holding an event titled the New Cuba Revolution.
This will be my third and final post on business and Cuba and in this post I will discuss the focus of my second potential law review article topic. My working thesis is as follows: As relations between the United States and Cuba thaw, American businesses have begun exploring opportunities on the island. Cuba, however, remains a communist nation with a human rights record criticized by exiles, NGOs, and even members of the United States Congress. The EU has taken a "common position" on Cuba stating that the objective of the European Union in its relations with Cuba is to encourage a process of transition to a pluralist democracy, require a respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people." Individual EU member states are free to conduct business with Cuba and many European companies have joined Canadian firms in investing through joint ventures and other state-sanctioned vehicles. This Article will examine whether the US should follow the EU's model in trying to spur reform or whether allowing American firms to do business in Cuba without human rights concessions will in fact perpetuate the status quo.
As I discussed in last week’s blog post, one reason that the U.S. is unlikely to lift the embargo is the nearly 7 billion in claims for confiscated US property. Another reason is Cuba’s human rights record. For example, the island is notorious for violations of rights to freedom of press, association, assembly, and imprisonment of political protesters. The Cuban government continues to control all media limiting the access to information on the Internet due to content-based restrictions and technical limitations. Independent journalists are systematically subjected to harassment, intimidation, and detention for reporting information that was not sanctioned by the state apparatus. My colleague Jason Poblete writes often and critically about the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba. (I highly recommend him for legal advice about Cuba by the way).
Depending on whom you talk to the embargo will be lifted next year, in five year or in ten years. Personally, I don't know that the EU Common Position has been particularly effective in pressuring the Castro brothers to make human rights reforms. I don’t think the U.S. government will be any more successful either. The embargo is Exhibit A.
Most of my academic research thus far has been on what drives corporations to act in the absence of legal obligations vis a vis human rights. With that in mind, I plan to examine a few options related to Cuba. First, I am researching the effect of bilateral investment treaties. A bilateral investment treaty is an "agreement between two countries for the reciprocal encouragement, promotion and protection of investments in each other's territories by companies based in either country.” These typically grant significant rights to foreign investors, provide safeguards to investments against foreign governments, and allow foreign investors to have investment disputes adjudicated outside of the country, which will be critical for those investing in Cuba. The problem is that these BITS rarely have human rights conditions. Accordingly, some scholars have recommended that they require adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. I would also recommend reference to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidance.
Another option is to condition any renewal of a development bank such as the US’s Ex-Im Bank on requiring human rights impact assessments. The Ex-Im bank is the official export credit agency of the US. It’s used when private sector lenders are unable or unwilling to provide financing to companies entering politically or commercially risky countries. Its charter is set to expire on June 30th although its supporters claim that it financed billions in exports, which supported 200 thousand jobs last year. Opponents claim that it financed exports in countries with abysmal human rights records and/or that it supports corporate welfare. I propose that Ex-Im and other lenders follow the lead of many European financers that require human rights disclosures. I (naively?) believe labor may be the only human right remotely and partially in the control of US companies operating in Cuba in the future.
I have some other ideas but those will have to wait for the upcoming article. In the meantime, if you have some thoughts or critiques of these early ideas, please comment below or send me an email at email@example.com. I’m off to Guatemala on Saturday for a week with a group of academics studying business and human rights (another research topic for this summer). We will be exploring climate change, the extractive industries, maquiladoras, corporate social responsibility, and the effects on the rights of indigenous peoples. You can be sure I will be writing about that in a future post.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
I had the privilege of sitting in on a stimulating paper session on "Private Fiduciary Law" at the Law and Society Association conference in Seattle last month. The program featured some super work by some great scholars. My favorite piece from the session, however, is a draft book chapter written by Gordon Smith that he recently posted to SSRN. Aptly entitled The Modern Business Judgment Rule, the chapter grapples with the current state of the business judgment rule in Delaware by tracing its development and reading the disparate doctrinal tea leaves. Here is a summary of his "take," as excerpted from his abstract (spoiler alert!): "The modern business judgment rule is not a one-size-fits-all doctrine, but rather a movable boundary, marking the shifting line between judicial scrutiny and judicial deference."
In the mere 18 pages of text he uses to engage his description, analysis, and conclusion, Gordon gives us all a great gift. His summary is useful, his language is clear, and his analysis and conclusions are incredibly useful, imho. I am no soothsayer, but I predict that this will be a popular piece of work.
Gordon posted on his paper the other day on The Glom. He is inviting comments, and I know him to be serious in wanting to receive and incorporate them. So, have at it!
Friday, June 19, 2015
The book is much more “popular press” than academic, as should be clear from the splashy subtitle “liberating the heroic spirit of business.” There is a bit of academic influence in the appendix and notes, but it is mostly social business advocacy and story telling. In fact, the authors state that the primary purpose of the book “is to inspire the creation of more conscious businesses: businesses galvanized by higher purposes that serve and align the interests of all their major stakeholders.” (pg. 8). The book is interesting, passionate, and may accomplish its primary purpose.
The authors paint a compelling picture of Whole Foods Market and similar companies like Trader Joe's, The Container Store, Costco, and Southwest Airlines. These companies appear to take a long-term view and consider what is best for all their stakeholders. I would have appreciated, however, more attention to the struggles the companies must have faced in attempting to satisfy all of their stakeholders. After finishing the book, I was left wishing the authors would have spent more time discussing how to make decisions in situations where certain stakeholder interests irreconcilably conflict.
I may have more to say about this book in future posts, but as someone who has been researching in the social business area for a few years, I continue to be amazed at the proliferation of terms. The authors describe four tenants of their term “conscious capitalism”: (1) Higher Purpose (beyond just generating profits); (2) Stakeholder Integration (“optimizing value creation for all of them”); (3) Conscious Leadership (leaders “motivated primarily by service to the firm’s higher purpose and creating and creating value for all stakeholders.”); (4) Conscious Culture and Management (culture and management centering around traits like “trust, accountability, transparency, integrity, loyalty, egalitarianism, fairness, personal growth, and love and care.) (pg. 32-35)
The authors try to differentiate their term of “conscious capitalism” from similar terms, as discussed below. While some of the distinctions make sense, I wish that these various social business movements would agree on a common vocabulary and work together more consistently. Unfortunately and ironically, many associated with the social business movements seem especially territorial. Perhaps, the lack of focus on financial returns causes some to seek personal returns in the form of recognition and influence. Quotes in the bullet points below come from pages 38, 291-97 in the book.
- Corporate social responsibility. The authors note that CSR is often “grafted onto traditional business model, usually as a separate department or part of public relations," but for Conscious Capitalism “[s]ocial responsibility is at the core of the business.” The authors are not the first to note this difference between CSR and the more recent social business movements, and I think it is a fair distinction, at least in some cases.
- Natural Capitalism. According to the authors, “Conscious Capitalism included the valuable insights that natural capitalism offers about the environment and transcends them with a more comprehensive view of the entire business and economic system.” The authors seem to suggest that their term is more holistic, not merely focused on the environment, and more focused on human ingenuity than simply preserving the environment.
- Triple Bottom Line. The authors seem to think that Conscious Capitalism has a more inclusive view of stakeholders than TBL’s “people, profit, planet.” I don’t think the authors make their case for this distinction, failing to note stakeholders that don’t fall in one of TBL’s three buckets. The authors then note that their theory pays more attention to “purpose, leadership, management, and culture.” I also think this is stretching for distinctions; most of the TBL proponents I know recognize the importance of “purpose, leadership, management, and culture.” The authors admit that the TBL movement is "a fellow traveler," but I think TBL and Conscious Capitalism are roughly synonymous.
- Shared-Value Capitalism. SVC, championed by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, focuses on creating economic value for shareholders and all of society. Conscious Capitalism, the authors claim, does not only focus on economic value like SVC, but expands to human values and includes “emotional and spiritual motivators” lacking with SVC.
- Creative Capitalism. Bill Gates popularized this term in 2008 at the World Economic Forum, claiming that certain companies can use variable pricing to make products affordable to those at the “base of the pyramid” and still make a profit. The authors claim Creative Capitalism seems like an “add on” similar to CSR, only applies certain companies, and over-focuses on the reputational benefits, rather than changing the core business purpose.
- B Corporations. The authors do not seem optimistic about “[certified] B corporations” which they unfortunately use interchangeably with “benefit corporations,” even though the two terms are distinct. The main reason the authors offer for their pessimism toward B corporations is that “B corporations appear to violate the important principle that owners [shareholders] should ultimately control the corporation.” Most legal readers will notice problems with that statement. First, shareholders don’t control corporations, boards of directors do (see, e.g., DGCL 141(a)). Second, to the extent the authors are talking about aspects of corporate governance like the shareholders’ ability to elect the directors and bring derivative suits, those powers remain for shareholders of both certified B corporations and benefit corporations. Giving the authors (neither of whom are legally trained) the benefit of the doubt – perhaps they are talking about the deprioritization of shareholders in the benefit corporation statutes (shareholders are simply one of many stakeholders that the board must consider in its decision making). The authors seem concerned that shareholders, the most vulnerable of the stakeholders (according to them), will be relatively unprotected. This is a fairly common concern, but the Conscious Capitalism model seems to deprioritize shareholders as well, and even in traditional corporate law, the business judgment rule provides significant protection to the board of directors. Delaware law does give shareholders more power in the M&A context, but benefit corporations and corporations committed to Conscious Capitalism that are incorporated in a constituency statute state seem like they would operate similarly, even in the M&A context. In short, the authors do not clearly express a strong grasp of the benefit corporation statutes, and throughout the book the authors actually seem to advocate operating corporations in line with the benefit corporation statutes (considering all stakeholders in decisions).
While I am a bit critical in some of my comments above, I did appreciate learning more about Whole Foods Market and similar companies. The companies discussed are some of my favorite companies and are certainly making the world better for many of their stakeholders. The book also made a number of claims that spurred additional thinking, for which I am grateful, and which made reading the book worthwhile.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Last week I posted the first of three posts regarding doing business in Cuba. In my initial post I discussed some concerns that observers have regarding Cuba’s readiness for investors, the lack of infrastructure, and the rule of law issues, particularly as it relates to Cuba’s respect for contracts and debts. Indeed today, Congress heard testimony on the future of property rights in Cuba and the claims for US parties who have had billions in property confiscated by the Castro government- a sticking point for lifting the embargo. (In 1959, Americans and US businesses owned or controlled an estimated 75-80% of Cuban land and resources). Clearly there is quite a bit to be done before US businesses can rush back in, even if the embargo were lifted tomorrow. This evening, PBS speculated about what life would be like post-embargo for both countries. Today I will briefly discuss the Cuban legal system and then focus the potential compliance and ethical challenges for companies considering doing business on the island.
Cuba, like many countries, does not have a jury system. Cuba’s court system has a number of levels but they have both professional judges with legal training, and non-professional judges who are lay people nominated by trade unions and others. Cubans have compulsory service to the country, including military service for males. Many law graduates serve part of their compulsory service as judges (or prosecutors) and then step down when they are able. The lay judges serve for five years and receive a full month off from their employer to serve at full pay. Although there is a commercial court, only businesses may litigate there and are then they are at the mercy of the lay judges, who have equal power to the professional jurists. This lay judge system exists even at the appellate level. Most lawyers and law firms are controlled by the Cuban government, unless they work for a non agcricultural cooperative. More important, although I have received differing opinions from counsel, it is possible that hiring and paying a local lawyer there could violate US law related to doing business in Cuba. Notwithstanding these obstacles, many companies are trying to get an OFAC license to do business in Cuba right away or are planning for the eventual life of the embargo. In my view, getting there is the easy part. The hard part will be complying with US law, not because Cuba is in a nascent state of legal and economic development, but because of the sheer complexity of doing business with a foreign government.
The first challenge that immediately comes to mind is compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for a person or company to make “corrupt payments” or provide “anything of value” to a foreign official in order to obtain or retain business. Since almost everything is a state-owned enterprise or a joint venture with a state owned enterprise, US firms take a real risk entering into contracts or trying to get permits. There is no de minimis exception and facilitation payments- otherwise known as grease payments to speed things along- while customary in many countries- are illegal too. Legal fees and fines for FCPA violations are prohibitively expensive, and those companies doing business in Cuba will surely be targets.
Another concern for publicly-traded US companies is compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank whistleblower rules. Unless the law changes, most US companies will have to follow the model of Canadian and EU companies and enter into joint ventures or some contractual relationship with the Cuban government or a Cuban company (which may be controlled by the government). Most US employees are afraid to report on their own private employers in the US. How comfortable will a Cuban employee be using a hotline or some other mechanism to report wrongdoing when his employer is in some measure controlled by or affiliated with the Cuban government? As I will discuss next week, the biggest criticism of Cuba is its human rights record related to those who dissent. I have personally dealt with the challenge establishing and working with hotlines in China and in other countries where speaking out and reporting wrongdoing is not the cultural norm. I can imagine that in Cuba this could be a herculean task.
The last concern I will raise in this post relates to compliance with a company’s own code of conduct. If a company has a supplier code of conduct that mirrors its own, and those codes discuss freedom of association and workers’ rights that may be out of step with the Cuban law or culture, should the US firm conform to local rules? Even if that is legal, is it ethical? Google's code is famous for its “don’t be evil”credo and it has received criticism in the past from NGOs who question how it can do business in China. But Google was in Cuba last week testing the waters. Perhaps if Google is able to broaden access to the internet and the outside world, this will be a huge step for Cubans. (Of note, Cubans do not see the same TV as the tourists in their hotels and there are no TV commercials or billboards for advertisements).
There are a number of other compliance and ethics challenges but I will save that for my law review article. Next week’s post will deal with the role of foreign direct investment in spurring human rights reform or perpetuating the status quo in Cuba.
Monday, June 15, 2015
On June 11, 2015, the Delaware House of Representatives joined the Delaware Senate in passing a bill that would prohibit fee-shifting bylaws by Delaware stock corporations. The bill awaits signature by Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Nonetheless, the panel provides a nice debate, between practicing attorneys, and is available here. The information from the Chancery Daily is below.
Fordham Law School hosted a panel on Fee Shifting in Shareholder Litigation, featuring three members of the corporate law council of the Delaware State Bar Association, which submitted proposed amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law that would preclude the adoption of fee-shifting provisions in corporate instruments, on Thursday, March 26, 2015. A webcast video of the panel is now available online here.Professor Sean J. Griffith - Fordham Law School
Panelists:Frederick Alexander - Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell
Chris Cernich - Institutional Shareholder Services
Kurt Heyman - Proctor Heyman Enerio
Mark Lebovitch - Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman
Norman Monhait - Rosenthal Monhait & Goddess
Andrew Pincus - Mayer Brown
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. I’ve just returned from ten days in Havana so I could see it first hand both as a person who writes on business and human rights and as an attorney who consults occasionally on corporate issues. The first part of the trip was with the International Law Section of the Florida Bar. The second was with a group of art lovers. I plan to write two or three blog posts about the prospects of doing business in Cuba if and when the embargo is lifted. Because I do some consulting work, I want to make clear that these views are my own as an academic and should not be attributed to anyone else.
In this post I will just briefly list some basic facts about Cuba and foreign investment. Next week I will talk a bit more about investment, introduce the Cuban legal system, and talk about some of the business and compliance challenges. That's the subject of my research this summer. The following week I will address human rights in Cuba and how various governments and businesses are addressing those issues, the subject of another article I am working on.
Some Cuba basics:
- The island has 11 million people
- The average monthly wage is $25-45 per month
- The government is just starting to develop a comprehensive tax code
- The government is now allowing the sale of private property but the concept of mortgages is undeveloped
- 86% of people work for the government in some form but the government is now allowing “self employment” and cooperatives (small private businesses such as agricultural farms, salons, and restaurants)
- 5% of population has access to internet or a cell phone
- The government is seeking foreign investment- except in health, education, or military sectors
- Cuba is not an OECD member state. It does sit on the UN Human Rights Council
- The GDP is 62.7 billion
- The literacy rate is 99.8% and the country scores high on the human development index
- The country is in the middle of the pack in terms of the Corruption Perception Index, which measures bribery
- There are now over 60 bilateral investment treaties in place but they are not all in force
- Most lawyers and law firms work for the Cuban government
There are now three possible methods of international investment:
1) International Economic Association Contract (AEI). 49% of the companies in the 2015 registry are AEIs. This is a contract that does not create a new company and there is no sharing of profits. Certain changes of parties require government approval;
2) Full Foreign Capital Company. This is almost never approved but the foreign company has total control of the enterprise; and
3) Joint venture with the Cuban government. These are 45% of the companies in the 2015 registry. Often the hotels and other EU businesses are JVs with the government.
In the preamble to Cuba’s 2014 Laws on Foreign Investment (LFI), the Cuban National Assembly makes clear that the underlying basis for the law is: “Cuba's need to provide greater incentives to attract foreign capital, new technologies, and know-how to increase domestic production and better position Cuba to export to international markets.” The new law halves the profits tax from 30 to 15% and exempts investors from paying it for eight years. But the new law also appears to withhold many of the tax benefits from companies that are 100% foreign-owned.
Although Cuba changed its law last year, many people believe that Cuba is not ready for investment. Clearly rule of law concerns and the lack of infrastructure are real barriers. I’ll give more of my opinion on compliance and investment challenges and opportunities next week.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Last week, I attended the National Business Law Scholars Conference at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, NJ. It was a great conference, featuring (among others) BLPB co-blogger Josh Fershee (who presented a paper on the business judgment rule and moderated a panel on business entity design) and BLPB guest blogger Todd Haugh (who presented a paper on Sarbanes-Oxley and over criminalization). I presented a paper on curation in crowdfunding intermediation and moderated a panel on insider trading. It was a full two days of business law immersion.
The keynote lunch speaker the second day of the conference was Kent Greenfield. He compellingly argued for the promotion of corporate personhood, following up on comments he has made elsewhere (including here and here) in recent years. In his remarks, he causally mentioned B corporations and social enterprise more generally. I want to pick up on that thread to make a limited point here that follows up somewhat on my post on shareholder primacy and wealth maximization from last week.
June 10, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (6)
Friday, June 5, 2015
This week, while preparing for and attending the National Business Law Scholars Conference, I have had to deal with a Tennessee corporate law "brushfire" of sorts generated by a Nashville Business Journal (NBJ) article published earlier this week. The article, written by a Nashville lawyer, took a somewhat alarmist--and substantively inaccurate--view of a recent addition to the Tennessee Business Corporation Act drafted by the Business Entity Study Committee (BESC) of the Tennessee Bar Association, of which I am a member (and about which I have written here in the past, including here, here, and here). Specifically, the author asserted that Tennessee's adoption of the text of Model Business Corporation Act Section 14.09 creates new liability for Tennessee corporate directors--especially directors of insolvent Tennessee corporations. Somewhat predictably, calls and emails from directors, executives, and the Tennessee Secretary of State's office (which, itself, received many calls) ensued.
By design, and (we believe) by effect, the statutory section at issue clarifies the duties of directors of dissolved Tennessee corporations and establishes a safe harbor from liability. Accordingly, the drafting team from the BESC (me included) believed we had to jump in and correct the mischaracterizations in the article, which the author apparently was unwilling to retract or self-correct. The NBJ, greatly to its credit, understood our concerns and published a rebuttal from the BESC chair, which the BESC collaborated in drafting and co-signed. In addition, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an article that outlines the debate (in which the BESC chair and I am quoted).
So, folks do pay attention to corporate law--and they think it matters! Unfortunately, sometimes, they get it wrong. This leads to a number of lessons . . . . Apropos of that thought, it's important that a lawyer measure twice and cut once, especially when writing a critical exposé intended and destined to receive attention from an important audience--one personally affected by the contents of the exposé. Moreover, the need for experienced corporate legal counsel--lawyers steeped in the structure and function of corporate law--continues to be important in the drafting of, and public education regarding, complex corporate legal rules.