Thursday, September 18, 2014

Alibaba and the forty (not really) risk factors

Teaching the definition of a "security" to business associations students who: 1) want to be litigators; 2) are afraid of math, finance, and accounting; 3) don't know anything about business; 4) only take the class because it's required; and 5) aren't allowed to distract themselves with electronics in class is no small feat.

Thankfully, as we were discussing the definition and exemptions, we also touched on IPOs. Many of the students knew nothing about IPOs but were already Alibaba customers and going through some of the registration statement made them understand the many reasons companies want to avoid going public. Of course, now that we went through some of the risk factors, my students who seemed gung ho about the IPO after watching some videos about the hype were a little less excited about it (good thing because they probably couldn't buy anyway).  

Now if I can only figure out how to jazz up the corporate finance chapter next week.

 

September 18, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hobby Lobby Redux: 7 Corporate Law/Theory Quotes

This coming Tuesday, I am scheduled to provide a brief overview of the corporate law/theory aspects of Hobby Lobby as part of the University of Akron’s Supreme Court Roundup.  What follows are the seven key quotes from the opinion that I plan to focus on (time permitting) in order to highlight what I see as the key relevant issues raised by the opinion. Comments are appreciated.

Issue 1: Did corporate theory play a role in Hobby Lobby?

While I believe the majority made a pitch for applying a pragmatic, anti-theoretical approach (“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of … people.” Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2768 (2014)), the following quote strikes me as conveying an underlying aggregate view of corporations:

In holding that Conestoga, as a “secular, for-profit corporation,” lacks RFRA protection, the Third Circuit wrote as follows: “General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” 724 F.3d, at 385 (emphasis added). All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, “separate and apart from” the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.

134 S. Ct. at 2768.

 

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September 14, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Religion, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Delaware Judges and Law Review Articles

In 2007, J. W. Verret (George Mason) and then Chief Justice Myron Steele authored an article entitled Delaware's Guidance: Ensuring Equity for the Modern Witenagemot, which discussed "some of the extrajudicial activities in which members of the Delaware judiciary engage to minimize the systemic indeterminacy resulting from the resolution of economic disputes by a court of equity."

One of these extrajudicial activities is authoring or co-authoring law review articles.  In this post, I am not going to weigh in on whether Delaware judges should be authoring law review articles, but rather, I simply note that there are two recent law review articles and one recent book chapter by Delaware judges that warrant our attention. 

Vice Chancellor Travis Laster - Evidence-Based Corporate Law.

John Maynard Keynes is said to have observed, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" In Delaware's Choice, Professor Subramanian argues that the facts underlying the constitutionality of Section 203 have changed. Assuming his facts are correct, and the Professor says that no one has challenged his account to date, then they have implications for more than Section 203. They potentially extend to Delaware's jurisprudence regarding a board's ability to maintain a stockholder rights plan, which becomes a preclusive defense if a bidder cannot wage a proxy contest for control of the target board with a realistic possibility of success. Professor Subramanian's facts may call for rethinking not only the constitutionality of Section 203, but also the extent of a board's ability to maintain a rights plan.

Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. and Nicholas Walter (Yale), Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United.

One important aspect of Citizens United has been overlooked: the tension between the conservative majority’s view of for-profit corporations, and the theory of for-profit corporations embraced by conservative thinkers. This article explores the tension between these conservative schools of thought and shows that Citizens United may unwittingly strengthen the arguments of conservative corporate theory’s principal rival.

 

Citizens United posits that stockholders of for-profit corporations can constrain corporate political spending and that corporations can legitimately engage in political spending. Conservative corporate theory is premised on the contrary assumptions that stockholders are poorly-positioned to monitor corporate managers for even their fidelity to a profit maximization principle, and that corporate managers have no legitimate ability to reconcile stockholders’ diverse political views. Because stockholders invest in for-profit corporations for financial gain, and not to express political or moral values, conservative corporate theory argues that corporate managers should focus solely on stockholder wealth maximization and non-stockholder constituencies and society should rely upon government regulation to protect against corporate overreaching. Conservative corporate theory’s recognition that corporations lack legitimacy in this area has been strengthened by market developments that Citizens United slighted: that most humans invest in the equity markets through mutual funds under section 401(k) plans, cannot exit these investments as a practical matter, and lack any rational ability to influence how corporations spend in the political process.

Because Citizens United unleashes corporate wealth to influence who gets elected to regulate corporate conduct and because conservative corporate theory holds that such spending may only be motivated by a desire to increase corporate profits, the result is that corporations are likely to engage in political spending solely to elect or defeat candidates who favor industry-friendly regulatory policies, even though human investors have far broader concerns, including a desire to be protected from externalities generated by corporate profit-seeking. Citizens United thus undercuts conservative corporate theory’s reliance upon regulation as an answer to corporate externality risk, and strengthens the argument of its rival theory that corporate managers must consider the best interests of employees, consumers, communities, the environment, and society — and not just stockholders — when making business decisions.

Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr. and Vice Chancellor Travis Laster, The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom

One frequently cited distinction between alternative entities — such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships — and their corporate counterparts is the greater contractual freedom accorded alternative entities. Consistent with this vision, discussions of alternative entities tend to conjure up images of arms-length bargaining similar to what occurs between sophisticated parties negotiating a commercial agreement, such as a joint venture, with the parties successfully tailoring the contract to the unique features of their relationship.

As judges who collectively have over 20 years of experience deciding disputes involving alternative entities, we use this chapter to surface some questions regarding the extent to which this common understanding of alternative entities is sound. Based on the cases we have decided and our reading of many other cases decided by our judicial colleagues, we do not discern evidence of arms-length bargaining between sponsors and investors in the governing instruments of alternative entities. Furthermore, it seems that when investors try to evaluate contract terms, the expansive contractual freedom authorized by the alternative entity statutes hampers rather than helps. A lack of standardization prevails in the alternative entity arena, imposing material transaction costs on investors with corresponding effects for the cost of capital borne by sponsors, without generating offsetting benefits. Because contractual drafting is a difficult task, it is also not clear that even alternative entity managers are always well served by situational deviations from predictable defaults.

In light of these problems, it seems to us that a sensible set of standard fiduciary defaults might benefit all constituents of alternative entities. In this chapter, we propose a framework that would not threaten the two key benefits that motivated the rise of LPs and LLCs as alternatives to corporations: (i) the elimination of double taxation at the entity level and (ii) the ability to contract out of the corporate opportunity doctrine. For managers, this framework would provide more predictable rules of governance and a more reliable roadmap to fulfilling their duties in conflict-of-interest situations. The result arguably would be both fairer and more efficient than the current patchwork yielded by the unilateral drafting efforts of entity sponsors.

September 12, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray, LLCs, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is it time to repeal the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule? Maybe, but not so fast

As I predicted in 2011 here and here, in 2012 here, in 2013 in amicus brief, and countless times on this blog, the SEC Dodd-Frank conflicts minerals law has had significant unintended consequences on the Congolese people and has been difficult to comply with. Apparently the Commerce Department, which has a role to play in determining which mines are controlled by rebels so that US issuers can stay away from them, can't actually figure it out either. In the past few days, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and other experts including seventy individuals and NGOS (some Congolese) who signed a memo, have called this misguided law into question.  In my view, without the "name and shame" aspect of the law, it is basically an extremely expensive, onerous due diligence requirement that only a few large companies can or have the incentive to do well or thoroughly. More important, and I as I expected, it has had little impact on the violence on the ground and has hurt the people it purported to help.

I had hoped to be wrong. The foundation that I work with helps medical practitioners, midwives, and traditional birth attendants in eastern Congo and many of their patients and neighbors are members of the artisanal mining community. I won’t go as far as Steve Bainbridge has in calling for the law’s repeal because I think that companies should do better due diligence of their supply chains, especially in conflict zones. This law, however, is not the right one for Congo and the SEC is not the right agency to address this human rights crisis. Frankly, I don’t know that the EU's voluntary certification is the right answer either. I hope that Canada, which is looking at a similar rule, pays close heed and doesn’t perpetuate the same mistake that the US Congress made and that the SEC exacerbated. In the meantime, I will stay tuned to see how and if the courts, Congress, and the SEC revisit the rule.

 

September 11, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

More on Political Leaders and Private Industry Leaders

Last week, I posted my observations (musings?) relating to a colloquy that I had with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam at an event sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus.  At almost the same time, and not at all related to my attendance at that event, I picked up a reprint of a recent article, CEOs and Presidents, authored by Tom Lin at Temple.  Tom and I often work in overlapping fields.  In particular, both of us have shown interest, from different perspectives, in substantially similar issues relating to corporate executives. 

I commend Tom's article to you.  It provides a lucid and engaging comparison of CEOs and Presidents (as the title suggests).  (His analysis is, of course,  significantly more rich and nuanced than the reflections I shared in my earlier post.)  But Tom's piece doesn't stop there.  It goes on to critique the desirability of the "President as CEO" model based on the harms posed to both corporations and democracies and also highlights some important lessons we can learn from his study.

I do want to challenge Tom on one provocative statement that he makes in the article, however.  After critically commenting on the dangers of (among other things) government reliance on private industry and values in the accomplishment of its objectives, he observes that "[g]overnment and corporations are not actual or conceptual substitutes for one another, but are complements of one another."  He lists examples and avows that both government and private industry are optimized when they collaborate.  

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September 8, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fried on The Uneasy Case for Favoring Long-Term Shareholders

Last Monday, at Vanderbilt Law School, I attended a presentation by Jesse Fried (Harvard Law) on his new article, The Uneasy Case for Favoring Long-Term Shareholders (Yale Law Journal, forthcoming)

The paper’s abstract describes the thought-provoking thesis:

This paper challenges a persistent and pervasive view in corporate law and corporate governance: that a firm’s managers should favor long-term shareholders over short-term shareholders, and maximize long-term shareholders’ returns rather than the short-term stock price. Underlying this view is a strongly-held intuition that taking steps to increase long-term shareholder returns will generate a larger economic pie over time. But this intuition, I show, is flawed. Long-term shareholders, like short-term shareholders, can benefit from managers destroying value — even when the firm’s only residual claimants are its shareholders. Indeed, managers serving long-term shareholders may well destroy more value than managers serving short-term shareholders. Favoring the interests of long-term shareholders could thus reduce, rather than increase, the value generated by a firm over time.

I provide more information about the paper and offer a few thoughts after the break.

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September 5, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What do shareholders value? ISS asks but the US Chamber questions the questions.

Behemoth proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has released its 2015 Policy Survey.  I have listed some of the questions below:

Which of the following statements best reflects your organization's view about the relationship between goal­setting and award values?

 Is there a threshold at which you consider that the magnitude of a CEO’scompensation should warrant concern even if the company’s absolute and relative performance have been positive, for example, outperforming the peer group?

With respect to evaluating the say­ on ­pay advisory vote, how does your organization view disclosed positive changes to the pay program that will be implemented in the succeeding year(s) when a company demonstrates pay­ for ­performance misalignment or other concerns based on the year in review?

If you chose either the first or second answer in the question above, should shareholders expect disclosure of specific details of such future positive changes (e.g., metrics, performance goals, award values, effective dates) in order for the changes to be considered as a potential mitigator for pay ­for ­performance or other concerns for the year in review?

Where a board adopts without shareholder approval a material bylaw amendment that diminishes shareholders' rights, what approach should be used when evaluating board accountability?

Should directors be held accountable if shareholder ­unfriendly provisions were adopted prior to the company’s IPO?

In general, how does your organization consider gender diversity when evaluating boards?

As a general matter, what weight (relative out of 100%) would you view as appropriate for each of the categories indicated below (notwithstanding that some factors, such as repricing without shareholder approval, may be 100% unacceptable)?

How significant are the following factors when evaluating the board's role in risk oversight in your voting decision on directors (very significant, somewhat significant, not significant)?

In making informed voting decisions on the ratification of the outside auditor and the reelection of members of audit committees, how important (very important/somewhat important/not important) would the following disclosures be to you?

In your view, when is it appropriate for a company to utilize quantitative E&S (environmental and social) performance goals?

As someone who studies and consults on corporate governance issues, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey. However, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, which has argued that ISS and other proxy advisory firms have conflicts of interest and lack transparency, has issued a response to ISS because:

The CCMC is concerned that the development of the Survey lacks a foundation based on empirical facts and creates a one-size-fits-all system that failure to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors. We believe that these flaws with the Survey can adversely affect advisory recommendations negatively impacting the decision making process for the clients of proxy advisory firms. The CCMC is also troubled that certain issues presented in the Survey, such as Pay for Performance, will be the subject of Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) rulemakings in the near future. While we have provided commentary to those portions of the Survey, we believe that their inclusion in the survey is premature pending the completion of those rulemakings….It is both surprising and very troublesome that the Survey does not contain a single reference to the paramount concern of investors and portfolio managers—public company efforts to maintain and enhance shareholder value—and seeks to elicit only abstract philosophies and opinions, completely eschewing any pretense of an interest in obtaining hard facts and empirically-significant data. This confirmation—that ISS’ policies and recommendations are based solely on a miniscule sampling of philosophical preferences, rather than empirical data—is itself a matter that requires, but does not yet receive, appropriate disclosure and disclaimers on ISS research reports.

The CCMC’s letter details concerns with each of ISS’ questions.  Both the complete survey and the CCMC response are worth a read. 

September 4, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The March of the Benefit Corporation: Next Up, West Virginia (PART II)

(Note:  This is a cross-posted multiple part series from WVU Law Prof. Josh Fershee from the Business Law Prof Blog and Prof. Elaine Waterhouse Wilson from the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, who combined forces to evaluate benefit corporations from both the nonprofit and the for-profit sides.  The previous installment can be found here (NLPB) and here (BLPB).)

What It Is:   So now that we’ve told you (in Part I) what the benefit corporation isn’t, we should probably tell you what it is.  The West Virginia statute is based on Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, which (according to B Lab’s website) was drafted originally by Bill Clark from Drinker, Biddle, & Reath LLP.  The statute, a copy of which can be found, not surprisingly, at B Lab’s website, “has evolved based on comments from corporate attorneys in the states in which the legislation has been passed or introduced.”  B Lab specifically states that part of its mission is to pass legislation, such as benefit corporation statutes.

As stated by the drafter’s “White Paper, The Need and Rationale for the Benefit Corporation: Why It is the Legal Form that Best Addresses the Needs of Social Entrepreneurs, Investors, and, Ultimately, the Public” (PDF here), the benefit corporation was designed to be “a new type of corporate legal entity.”  Despite this claim, it’s likely that the entity should be looked at as a modified version of traditional corporation rather than at a new entity. 

To read the rest of the post, please click below. 

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September 3, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blessed Are the Meek Public Pension Funds

At the New York Times Dealbook, Andrew Ross Sorkin notes that public pension funds have been lately silent on the issue of corporate inversions. (See co-blogger Anne Tucker on inversions here and here.) Sorkin writes, "Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted."

Maybe I am reading too much into his choice of words, but "meek" implies more to me than "moderate" or "mild" and instead conveys a value judgment that fund managers have an obligation to speak out. I am not pretty sure that's not true.

I definitely don't like companies heading offshore for mild gains, and I don't think I would support such a choice, but as a director, I'd sure analyze the option before deciding. Fund managers, too, have obligations to look out for their stakeholders, and unless I had a clear charge on this front or thought the inverting company was clearly wrong, I'd probably stay quiet, too.

Although the meek may inherit the earth, at least at this point, I might substitute "meek" with "cautious" or even "prudent."  But that's just me.

September 2, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Merger & Acquisitions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

More on Cunningham's Berkshire Beyond Buffett

Larry Cunningham has a further post on his forthcoming book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, over at Concurring Opinions.  The post includes an excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book, Autonomy, and links to the full text of the chapter, available on SSRN for free (!) download.  Larry's and my earlier posts on the book here on the BLPB can be found herehere, here, and here.

Here's a slice of the excerpt included in the Concurring Opinions post:

. . . Berkshire corporate policy strikes a balance between autonomy and authority. Buffett issues written instructions every two years that reflect the balance. The missive states the mandates Berkshire places on subsidiary CEOs: (1) guard Berkshire’s reputation; (2) report bad news early; (3) confer about post-retirement benefit changes and large capital expenditures (including acquisitions, which are encouraged); (4) adopt a fifty-year time horizon; (5) refer any opportunities for a Berkshire acquisition to Omaha; and (6) submit written successor recommendations. Otherwise, Berkshire stresses that managers were chosen because of their excellence and are urged to act on that excellence. 

Cool stuff . . . .

September 1, 2014 in Business Associations, Books, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Government & Business: Is a Governor More Powerful Than a Corporate CEO?

On Friday, Bill Haslam, the Governor of the State of Tennessee, spoke at a session sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus.  He is our former city mayor and a hometown favorite for many.  I always enjoy his talks.

His talk on Friday focused on how Tennessee is attracting businesses and jobs and how education--including higher education--plays a role.  But before he honed in on that topic, he asked an intriguing, albeit basic, question that operates on theoretical, political, and practical planes.  That question: How is government similar to and different from private enterprise?  He wanted audience participation.  I waited to see how everyone would react.  He got lots of good answers that cut across economics, management, finance, and governance.

Provocatively (at least for me), he characterized his gubernatorial role as akin to the role of a chief executive officer in a corporation.  He has served as a corporate manager (president of his family's firm and the CEO of a division of another firm), and his vision of the state gubernatorial role is clearly framed by that experience.  He actually called the legislature his "board of directors" in his role as governor. 

Well, after that analogy, I just had to contribute to the discussion with a comment.  I endorsed the governor's view of his position, but I also noted that the executive, as the head of a separate branch of a government of three branches, has power independent of the power afforded to the legislature.  That is when things got interesting, at least for me.

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September 1, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More on "Closely Held" in the Hobby Lobby Regulatory Context

Thanks for your informative post, Anne.  I started drafting this post as a comment to yours, and then I realized it was its own post.   [sigh]

It seems to me that the U.S. Department of HHS and any commentators must grapple with what has been a difficult, fact-based question in determining how to define “closely held” to effectuate the Supreme Court’s intent in as expressed in the Hobby Lobby opinion.  That question?  What "control" means in this context.

The Court said in the Hobby Lobby opinion:  “The companies in the cases before us are closely held corporations, each owned and controlled by members of a single family, and no one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs.”  More specifically, the Court notes that the Hahns (owners of shares in Conestoga) “control its board of directors and hold all of its voting shares” and notes that Hobby Lobby and Mardel “remain closely held, and David, Barbara, and their children retain exclusive control of both companies.”  [Emphasis has been added by me in each quote.]

The definition of “control” primarily has been a question of fact in business law, making the task of defining it here somewhat difficult.  Some questions and considerations to grapple with are set forth below the fold.  I am sure that others can come up with more.  I am posting these as a way of getting the collective juices flowing.

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August 27, 2014 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

HHS Proposes Definition of Closely Held Entity in Rules for Hobby Lobby Exemption:

As I have pointed out in earlier posts on this blog, the June decision in Hobby Lobby failed to define closely-held business for purposes of the religious exemption.  On August 22nd, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued proposed rules, open for comments for 60 days, that include a definition of closely-held under one of two approaches borrowed from state law definitions like with S corporations and from IRS regulations.

In common understanding, a closely held corporation – a term often used interchangeably with a “close” or “closed” corporation – is a corporation the stock of which is owned by a small number of persons and for which no active trading market exists. ....Under the first proposed approach, a qualifying closely held for-profit entity would be an entity where none of the ownership interests in the entity is publicly traded and where the entity has fewer than a specified number of shareholders or owners....

Under a second, alternative approach, a qualifying closely held entity would be a forprofit entity in which the ownership interests are not publicly traded, and in which a specified fraction of the ownership interest is concentrated in a limited and specified number of owners.

HHS invites comments on the proposed definitions, the preferred approach, and the threshold cut offs for ownership concentration or numbers of owners.

Importantly, and answering a question raised in several posts in the on line symposium at The Conglomerate, the proposed rules would require a valid corporate action, taken in accordance with state law, to assert that the owners' religious views form the basis of the entity's objection.   HHS also invites comments "on whether to require documentation of the decision-making process and disclosure of the decision."

-Anne Tucker

 

August 26, 2014 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Is the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Law Working?

Two news articles about the Dodd-Frank whistleblower law caught my eye this week. The first was an Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which Joe Nocera profiled a Mass Mutual whistleblower, who received a $400,000 reward—the upper level of the 10-30% of financial recoveries to which Dodd-Frank whistleblowers are entitled.

Regular readers of this blog may know that I met with the SEC, regulators and testified before Congress before the law went into effect about what I thought might be unintended effects on compliance programs. I have blogged about my thoughts on the law here and here

The Mass Mutual whistleblower, Bill Lloyd, complained internally and repeatedly to no avail. Like most whistleblowers, he went external because he felt that no one at his company took his reports seriously. He didn’t go to the SEC for the money. As I testified, people like him who try to do the right thing and try resolve issues within the company (if possible) deserve a reward if their claims have merit.

The second story had a different ending. The Wall Street Journal reported on the Second Circuit opinion supporting Siemens’ claim that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation protection did not extend to its foreign whistleblowing employees. In that case, everything-- the alleged wrongful conduct, the internal reporting, and the termination--happened abroad. The employee did disclose to the SEC, but only after he was terminated, and therefore his retaliation claim relates to his internal reports. The court's reasoning  about the lack of extraterritorial jurisdiction was sound, but this ruling may be a victory for multinationals that may unintentionally undermine the efforts to bring certain claims to internal compliance officers. 

I proudly serve as a “management representative” on the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee with union members, outside counsel, corporate representatives, and academics. Although Dodd-Frank is not in our purview, two dozen other laws, including Sarbanes-Oxley are, and we regularly hear from other agencies including the SEC. I will be thinking of these two news articles at our next meeting in September.

I will also explore these issues and others as the moderator of the ABA 8th Annual Section of Labor and Employment Law Conference, which will be held in Los Angeles, November 5-8, 2014. Panelists include Sean McKessey, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, Mike Delikat of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Jordan A. Thomas of Labaton Sucharow LLP.

The program is as follows: 

 Program Title: Whistleblower Rewards:  Trends and Emerging Issues in Qui Tam Actions and IRS, SEC & CFTC Whistleblower Rewards Claims

Description:     This session will explore the types of claims that qualify for rewards under the False Claims Act and the rewards programs administered by the Securities & Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Internal Revenue Service, the quantity and quality of evidence needed by the DOJ, IRS, SEC, and CFTC to investigate a case successfully, and current trends in the investigation and prosecution of whistleblower disclosures. The panel also will address, from the viewpoint of in-house counsel, the interplay between these reward claims and corporate compliance and reporting obligations.

If you can think of questions or issues I should raise at either the DOL meeting in DC next month or with our panelists in November, please email me at mnarine@stu.edu or leave your comments below.

August 21, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How I Try to Make Business Associations Less Terrifying for the “Suits” Crowd

A brief ten-question survey is one of the most effective tools I have used in my three years as an academic. I first used one when teaching professional responsibility and then used it for my employment law, corporate governance seminar, and business associations courses. I’m using it for the first time with my civil procedure students. I count class participation in all of my classes for a portion of their grade, and responding to the survey link by the first day of class is their first “A” or first “F” of the semester.

I use survey monkey but other services would work as well. The survey serves a number of uses. First, I will get an idea of how many students actually read my emails before next Tuesday’s first day of class—interestingly as of Thursday morning, 62% of my incoming 1Ls have completed their survey, while 42% of the BA students have done theirs. Second, my BA students work in mini law firms for a number of drafting exercises and simulations. The students can pick their own firms, but I designate a “financial expert” to each firm based upon the survey responses. I remind them that they should never leave the classroom thinking they are “experts” in the real world-- they are just experts compared to the "terrified." I use this tactic to avoid having all of the MBAs and bitcoin owners (yes, I had some last year) sit together and unintentionally intimidate the other firms with their perceived advantage.

Third, I get an idea of how students have learned about business prior to BA and what news sources they use. Fourth, I tailor my remarks and hypotheticals (when appropriate) to reach the litigators or those who plan to specialize in nontransactional work. I want them to know how BA will relate to the practice areas they think they will enter. I tell them on the first day that I went to Columbia for college because it didn’t have a math requirement and I planned to do public interest work, went to law school because the LSAT was the only graduate school entrance exam that had no math on it (ok- my professor Jack Greenberg at Columbia also said I should go). I tell them that I became a litigator to avoid business and spent my first years as a non-corporate person having to learn about FASB and the definition of a "security" because I was a big-firm commercial litigator. I tell them that when I went in-house I had to take accounting for lawyers and although I don’t love the accounting, we will discuss some basics because they never know where they will end up. Many of them mat even represent entrepreneurs. My first day speech is meant to reach the 79% of my students (as of this morning) who say they want to be litigators.

Finally, I feel as though I’m not walking in on the first day completely ignorant of my students. I often use the names or storylines from popular shows or movies in class when I can. The show Suits, by the way, is the runaway favorite for my 1Ls and I know my BA students watch it as well. My BA survey questions are below. If you are interested in seeing my Civ Pro questions, email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

1. Please enter your first and last name. If your name is hard to pronounce, please provide a phonetic spelling as well (rhymes with ___ or NUH-RHINE for Narine). 

2. Have you had any experience working in a legal setting (firm, court, agency, clinic, other) BEFORE coming to law school or DURING law school? Please answer yes or no and then describe the experience if you answered "yes".

 a) Yes- please complete comment box

 b) No

Other (please specify) 

3. Which type of practice appeals to you more?

 a) Planning (e.g. transactional)

 b) Dispute resolution (e.g. litigation)

 c) I do not plan to practice law after graduation

Other (please specify) 

4. Have you or a close family member ever owned a business?

 Yes, and I have been completely involved in management and/or business discussions

 Yes, and I have been somewhat or occasionally involved in management and/or business discussions

 Yes, but I have had no involvement in management and/or business discussions

 No

5. Do you own any stocks, bonds, other types of securities (individually or through a mutual fund or trust) or bitcoin?

 Yes

 No

6. Choose up to THREE fields of law in which you would most prefer to practice

 a) bankruptcy

 b) civil rights/constitutional law

 c) corporate and securities law (including business planning)

 d) criminal law (prosecution)

 e) criminal law (defense)

 f) labor and employment law

 g) trusts and estates

 h) family law

 i) health law

 j) immigration

 k) intellectual property

 l) real estate/land use

 m) litigation (plaintiff side)

 n) litigation (defense side)

 o) sports and entertainment

 p) tax

 q) other, please describe

Other (please specify) 

7. Do you have an MBA, business, finance, accounting, or economics degree?

Yes

No

8. Do you read any business related newspapers, magazines or blogs? Do you watch any business-related television shows or listen to podcasts or radio shows? If so, please name them.

9. Other than to pass the class, what are your learning goals for this course? Are there particular topics that interest or frighten you?

10. Please describe your level of familiarity with business, finance and/or accounting.

 I am an expert and could teach this class

 I have some experience, but could use a refresher

 I have no experience, but am willing to learn

 I am completely terrified

My goals this year: help my students think like business people so that they can add value, help them pass the bar, and most important, help them realize that business isn't so terrifying. Now I just have to get my Civ Pro students to realize that the show Franklin and Bash is probably not the best way to learn about legal practice.

 

August 14, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kinder Morgan: MLPs, C-Corps & Dividends, Oh My!

Kinder Morgan, a leading U.S. energy company, has proposed consolidating its Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) under its parent company. If it happens, it would be the second largest energy merger in history (the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1998, estimated to be $110.1 billion in 2014 dollars, is still the top dog). 

Motley Fool details the deal this way:

Terms of the deal
The $71 billion deal is composed of $40 billion in Kinder Morgan Inc shares, $4 billion in cash, $27 billion in assumed debt. 

Existing shareholders of Kinder Morgan's MLPs will receive the following premiums for their units (based on friday's closing price):

  • Kinder Morgan Energy Partners: 12%
  • Kinder Morgan Management: 16.5%
  • El Paso Pipeline Partners: 15.4%
Existing unit holders of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and El Paso Pipeline Partners are allowed to choose to receive payment in both cash and Kinder Morgan Inc shares or all cash. 
As I understand it, the exiting holders of the partnerships would have to pay taxes on the merger (this is partnership to a C-corp), but please, consult your tax professional.  
 
The goal here is said to be to increase dividend potential and use the C-corp structure to maximize opportunities that the MLP structure is now apparently less effective in generating.
 
I, for one, like that this company is seeking to generate income from real products, invest in new infrastructure, and pay dividends.  I'm no financial planner or investment consultant, but I like the idea of companies that offer dividend value rather than value to shareholders solely through increase share price. It seems to me it leads to better long term planning.  I am also intrgigued by the part of Richard Kinder story where he ended up not leading Enron.  As Forbes explained in 2012,
The most important man in the American Energy Boom wears brown slacks and a checkered shirt and sits in a modest corner office with unexceptional views of downtown Houston and some forgettable art on the wall. You would expect to at least see a big map showing pipelines stretching from coast to coast. Nope. “We don’t have sports tickets, we don’t have corporate jets,” growls Richard Kinder, 68, CEO of Kinder Morgan, America’s third-largest energy firm. “We don’t have stadiums named after us.”
I will be watching to see if this deal goes through, and I think the chance to have a big study in consolidating partnerships with a C-Corp could be a great teaching moment. Stay tuned! 
 
 

August 12, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Merger & Acquisitions, Partnership, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Essays on Competing Theories of Corporate Governance

The following paragraph is an excerpt from Micro-Symposium on Competing Theories of Corporate Governance, 62 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 66, which can be found online (here) and is also available via Westlaw.

On Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, 2014, the UCLA School of Law Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy sponsored a conference on competing theories of corporate governance…. This conference provided a venue for distinguished legal scholars to define the competing models, critique them, and explore their implications for various important legal doctrines. In addition to an oral presentation, each conference participant was invited to contribute a very brief essay of up to 750 words (inclusive of footnotes) on their topic to this micro-symposium being published by the UCLA Law Review’s online journal, Discourse. These essays provide a concise but powerful overview of the current state of corporate governance thinking….

The included essays:

  • Stephen M. Bainbridge, An Abridged Case For Director Primacy
  • George S. Georgiev, Shareholder vs. Investor Primacy in Federal Corporate Governance
  • David Millon, Team Production Theory: A Critical Appreciation
  • Usha Rodrigues, David and Director Primacy
  • Stefan J. Padfield , Citizens United, Concession Theory and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Christopher M. Bruner, Corporate Governance Theory and Review of Board Decisions
  • Robert T. Miller, The Board Veto and Efficient Takeovers
  • Lisa M. Fairfax, Toward a Theory of Shareholder Leverage
  • Iman Anabtawi, Shadow Directors
  • Michael D. Guttentag, Shareholder Primacy and the Misguided Call for Mandatory Political Spending Disclosure by Public Companies
  • James J. Park, Averages or Anecdotes? Assessing Recent Evidence on Hedge Fund Activism

Shameless self-promotion excerpt:

In extremely truncated form, my argument proceeds as follows. While both director primacy and shareholder primacy differ in terms of who should control corporate decisionmaking, both identify shareholder wealth maximization as the positive and normative goal of corporate governance. In addition, while team production theory tempts advocates of CSR, in the end it also falls short of supporting mandatory CSR. As for the theories of corporate personality, both aggregate theory and real entity theory view the corporate entity as standing in the shoes of natural persons to some meaningful degree (typically the shareholders in the case of aggregate theory and the board of directors in the case of real entity theory), thereby providing corporations a basis for resisting government regulation. Only concession theory, which views the corporation as fundamentally a creature of the state created to serve public ends, can support mandatory CSR as a normative matter. Thus, the advocates of mandatory CSR should use concession theory, with its emphasis on the public roots of corporations, to provide the compelling narrative necessary to move our corporate law beyond its exclusive focus on shareholder wealth maximization.

Stefan J. Padfield , Citizens United, Concession Theory and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), 62 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 84, 86 (2014).

August 10, 2014 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Does the US Chamber of Commerce Have the Cure for Investor “Information Overload?”

On June 5, 2014, SEC Commissioner Dan Gallagher commemorated the agency’s 80th anniversary by, among other things, repeating the criticisms of the various nonfinancial disclosures that companies are compelled to make by law or asked to make through shareholder proposals. In his view, “companies’ disclosure documents are being cluttered with non-material information that can drown out or obscure the information that is at the core of a reasonable investor’s investment decision.  The Commission is not spending nearly enough time making sure that our rules elicit focused, meaningful disclosures of material information.” I assume that he is referring to the various environmental, social and governance proposals (“ESG”) brought by socially responsible investors and others. I’m writing this blog post while taking a break from reviewing dozens of these proposals for an article that I am writing on how consumers and investors evaluate ESG disclosures and those required in other countries in the human rights context.

Citing Chair White’s quote about “information overload,” last week the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness released a list of relatively non-controversial recommendations on how the SEC can modernize the current disclosure regime so that it can better serve the investing public. For a great discussion of what led to this latest round of disclosure reform see here. Some of the recommendations concern items that technology can handle. Others concern repetition and relate to factors that the SEC does not require but are there to avoid litigation. The report, entitled “Corporate Disclosure Effectiveness: Ensuring a Balanced System that Informs and Protects Investors and Facilitates Capital Formation,” focuses on near-term improvements to Regulation S-K that the Chamber believes would likely garner widespread support. The report also discusses longer-term proposals, but does not discuss in any detail the kinds of issues that Chair Gallagher and others raise. You can also watch an entire webcast of the panel discussion releasing the report featuring, among others, two former SEC Commissioners, current SEC Director of the Division of Corporate Finance Keith Higgins, and issuers counsel, including my former colleague from Ryder, Flora Perez, here (start at minute 19:45).  

Full disclosure-- I was part of the working group that reviewed some of the recommendations and gave comments before the report’s release, and while I also oppose the conflict minerals disclosure because I don’t think it should be within the SEC’s purview and didn’t take into account some of the realities of the modern supply chain, I don’t have a complete aversion to corporate disclosure of ESG or other risk factors to investors and the public. The who, what, why, how, where and when are the key questions.

Below is a list of all of the recommendations for reform taken directly from the Chamber’s one-pager:  

Near Term Improvements:

 The requirement to disclose in a company’s Form 10-K the “general development” of a business, including the nature and results of any bankruptcy, acquisition, or other significant development in the lifecycle of a business (Item 101(a)(1) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose financial information for different geographic areas in which a company operates (Item 101(d) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose whether investors can obtain a hard copy of a company’s filings free of charge or view them in the SEC’s Public Reference Room (Items 101(e)(2) and (e)(4) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to describe principal plants, mines, and other materially important physical properties (Item 102 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement that companies discuss material legal proceedings (Item 103 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose which public market a company’s shares are traded on and the high and low share prices for the preceding two years (Items 201(a)(1)(i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose the frequency and amount of dividends for a company’s stock during the preceding two years (Item 201(c) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to display a graph showing the company’s stock performance over a period of time (Item 201(e) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose any changes in and disagreements with accountants (Item 304 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose certain transactions with related parties (Item 404(a) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose the ratio between earnings and fixed charges (Item 503(d) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to file certain exhibits (Item 601 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose recent sales of unregistered securities and a description of the use of proceeds from registered sales (Item 701 of Regulation S-K)

Longer Term Improvements:

 Compensation Discussion & Analysis (CD&A)

 Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A)

 Repetition

 Risk Disclosure

 A Revised Delivery System

Take a look at the list, read the report which describes the Chamber's rationale, and if you have time watch the webcast, which provides some real-world context. What’s missing from the list? What shouldn’t be on the list? Have you seen anything in your practice or teaching that could inform the debate? I look forward to seeing your feedback on this site or via email at mnarine@stu.edu

.

 

August 7, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Was Dov Charney too hot for the American Apparel Board to handle?

Warning- do not click on the first link if you do not want to see nudity.

Dov Charney founded retailer American Apparel in 1998 and it became an instant sensation with its 20-something year old consumer base. He mixed a "made in America- sweatshop free" CSR focus with a very sexy/sexual set of ads (hence the warning- - when I first created the link, the slideshow went from a topless “Eugenia in disco pants in menthe” (seriously) to a shot of adorable children’s clothing in about 10 seconds).  No wonder my 18-year old son, who leaves for art school in two weeks, appreciates the ad campaigns. Most of his friends do too- both the males and females. In fact, he indicated that although they all know about the “sweatshop free” ethos, because “it’s in your face when you walk in the stores,” that’s not what draws them to the clothes. As a person who blogs and writes about human rights and supply chains, I almost wish he had lied to me. But he’s no different than many consumers who over-report their interest in ethical sourcing, but then tend to buy based on quality, price and convenience. I am still researching this issue for my upcoming article on CSR, disclosure regimes and human rights but see here, here, here and here for some sources I have used in the past.  My son’s friends--the retailer’s target demographic-- appreciate that the clothes are “sweatshop free” but don’t make their buying decisions because of it. They buy because of the clothes and to a lesser extent, the ads.

The first time I ever really thought about the store was after a 2005 20/20 expose about Charney, who was accused of, among other things, sexually harassing and intimidating numerous employees.  At the time I was a management-side employment lawyer and corporate compliance officer and thought to myself “what a nightmare for whomever has to defend him.” It’s pretty hard to shock an employment lawyer, but the allegations, which continued until his ouster last month, were pretty egregious.  After over 10 years of lawsuits, the company terminated him for breaching his fiduciary duty, violating company policy, and misusing corporate assets.

Recently, American Apparel’s employment practices liability insurance rose from $350,000 to $1 million, I can only assume, because of his actions and not due to the other 10,000 company employees. The company has been sued repeatedly by the EEOC and not just for sexual allegations. Purportedly, the company, which has never traded above $7.00 a share and today is a steal at $.97, could not get financing from some sources as long as Charney was at the helm.

My son and his friends did not know about the termination or the harassment allegations over the years, but he says that the nature of the allegations could have caused some of his friends to stop and think about whether they wanted to patronize the stores. I have some 30-something friends who refuse to shop there. Could this be why the store chose to add a female director? As I explained to a reporter last week, the company shouldn’t need a female perspective to realize that the founder is, to put it mildly, a risk. And in fact, as studies cited by my co-blogger Josh Fershee noted earlier this week, being the “woman’s voice” may minimize her perceived effectiveness. Yes, it’s true that American Apparel took more decisive action than the NFL last week, as Joan Heminway observed, but what took them so long? Is it too little too late? Where was the general counsel when Charney allegedly refused to take his sexual harassment training, which is required by law in California every two years? Where were the other board members who allowed the settlement of case after case involving Charney? I have often found that some of the most vigilant supporters of women in the workplace, especially in harassment matters, are older males who have daughters and wives and who know what it’s like for them. When did the board worry about whether the CEO's well-publicized alleged attacks on employees contradicted the heavy corporate responsibility branding? Did the board meet its Caremark duties?

Ironically, the company’s 10-K filed two months before his termination indicated that, “In particular, we believe we have benefited substantially from the leadership and strategic guidance of Dov Charney. The loss of Dov Charney would be particularly harmful as he is considered intimately connected to our brand identity and is the principal driving force behind our core concepts, designs and growth strategy.”

So at what point between April and June did Charney’s actions go off the scale on the enterprise risk management heat map? COSO, the standard bearer for ERM, encourages boards to focus on: what the firm is willing to accept as it pursues shareholder value; a knowledge of management’s risk management processes that have identified and assessed the most significant enterprise-wide risks; a review of the risk portfolio compared to the risk appetite; and whether management is properly responding to the most significant risks and apprising the board of those risks. Could such an objective risk assessment have even occurred with Charney (the risk) in the room? How could the company have the right tone at the top when the founder/CEO failed to comply with Code of Ethics Rule #2 --“service to the Company never should be subordinated to personal gain and advantage”? The stock price has been falling for years and the company has been struggling. Did the high rates to insure Charney’s conduct finally become too hot to handle? On the other hand, would the directors have made the same decision if the shares were trading at $97 instead of .97? Some shareholders are raising concerns too about why any of the original board members remain given the appalling financial performance.

The board now has a “suitability committee,” which will review the results of an independent investigation into Charney’s actions. Even if the report clears Charney and he’s brought back, the new independent directors will have a lot of questions to answer. The question of whether there is a woman on the board seems to be almost irrelevant given the history. For the record, even though the literature is mixed on the financial benefits of gender and racial diversity, I am a strong proponent of the diversity of viewpoints, particularly those that the underrepresented can bring to the table.

But this board needs to re-establish trust among its investors and funders and then focus on what any retailer should- potential supply chain disruptions, the impact of any immigration reform, currency fluctuations, and keeping their customer base happy and out of competitors H & M and Forever 21. The last thing they need to worry about is how to pay off the victims of their founder’s latest escapades.

 

July 31, 2014 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Women, American Apparel, and the Danger of Advocating for Diversity

This week, two of my co-bloggers shared some great insights on the revamped American Apparel board of directors.  See Marcia Narine quoted in The Guardian article American Apparel adds its first woman to revamped board of directors; Joan Heminway, American Apparel 1, NFL 0. For those not following the American Apparel saga, the New York Times recently reported:

The founder and chief executive of American Apparel, Dov Charney, was fired this week because an internal investigation found that he had misused company money and had allowed an employee to post naked photographs of a former female employee who had sued him, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation. 

Beyond the public relations problems surrounding Charney’s departure, American Apparel is struggling financially as sales have dropped dramatically. As an initial step in trying start a turnaround, the company announced four new board members, including the company’s first female director, Colleen Birdnow Brown, former chief executive of Fisher Communications. 

When I opened the Guardian article quoting Marcia, I had another article open in the tab next to it from the Washington Post’s On Leadership section: For women and minorities, advocating for diversity has a downside.  That article explained:

In corporate America, diversity is about as controversial as motherhood and apple pie. CEOs love to tout the number of women in their upper ranks. Human resource departments like to trumpet their diversity programs in glossy reports.

But a new study finds that for female and minority executives, being seen as an advocate for diversity could actually have a downside. The researchers behind the study, which will be presented at the Academy of Management's annual conference in early August, found that women and minorities who were rated by their peers as being good at managing diverse groups or respecting gender or racial differences also tended to get lower performance ratings. That's because they may be viewed as "selfishly advancing the social standing of their own low-status demographic groups," the researchers write, a no-no when it comes to rating good managers.

Please click below to read more.

Continue reading

July 29, 2014 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School | Permalink | Comments (2)