Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Connecting with Millennials: Politics and Teaching

As law professor, most of my students are Millennials. What does that mean?  Well, Neil Howe and William Strauss, in their book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, published in 1991, defined Millennials as those born between 1982 and 2004. I'll go with that.  As one who is firmly part of Generation X (the age group and not the band, though that would be cool), I'm curious. It seems that some people think so.  I don't think Gen Xers think of themselves as such very often. 

What made me think of this?  A political ad from NextGen Climate, funded by hedge fund billionaire/environmental activist Tom Steyer, apparently seeks to generate more support for Hillary Clinton by targeting Gary Johnson. The ad is below.  The ad begins: "Thinking about voting for Gary Johnson? In case you missed it, climate change will cost millennials over $8 billion if no one does anything about it."

 

 That's just weird to me.  I know it's trying to motivate that age group of voters, but I am not sure many Millennials would think of themselves as such.  That is -- does it resonate at all to have this ad targeted at them in that way? 

I guess age-group labels like this are thrown around a lot, and I just forgot.  The ABA has a mentoring article from 2004 called Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations It's for "Boomers" who have to deal with us Gen Xers and Millennials. The piece makes some pretty bold assertions (some of which certainly aren't true twelve years later). For example:

All Millennials have one thing in common: They are new to the professional workplace. Therefore, they are definitely in need of mentoring, no matter how smart and confident they are. And they'll respond well to the personal attention. Because they appreciate structure and stability, mentoring Millennials should be more formal, with set meetings and a more authoritative attitude on the mentor's part.  

Perhaps most of that is right.  There is some value here, even though my experience is that formal mentoring is not always well received. Then again, maybe that's my bias. After all, "members of Generation X dislike authority and rigid work requirements. An effective mentoring relationship with them must be as hands-off as possible. . . .Gen Xers work best when they're given the desired outcome and then turned loose to figure out how to achieve it." I don't know about the first part, but last two sentences are definitely me.  

So, while I find the description of Millennials a little overbearing, as I think about it, it explains a lot. I think a lot of us from the Gen X world can't understand why we can't tell students what we want and have them come back with a solution.  That's what WE do, not necessarily what they do (unless we make it clear that's what we want).  

I don't like broad generalizations of groups, but I have to admit that the 2004 article's suggestions for working with Millennials is actually consistent with a lot of what I have been doing (and working toward). I just never thought of it as trying to reach Millennials.  I thought of it as trying to reach students.  Turns out, in most cases, that's the same thing.  

I remain skeptical of the likely efficacy of the ad, but maybe there's more here than I originally thought.  Still, I'm not sure an anti-Gary Johnson ad gets anyone very far right about now.  

September 27, 2016 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Distraction Sickness"

In January 2015, I wrote about a resolution to take a break from e-mails on Saturdays.

That resolution failed, quickly.

Since then, I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with e-mail.

On one hand, I get a lot of positive feedback from students and colleagues about my responsiveness. On the other hand, constantly checking and responding to e-mails seems to cut against productivity on other (often more important) tasks.

Five or six weeks ago, I started drafting this post, hoping to share it after at least one week of only checking my e-mail two times a day (11am and 4pm). Then I changed the goal to three times a day (11am, 4pm, and 9pm and then 5am, 11am, 4pm). Efforts to limit e-mail in that rigid way failed, even though very little of what I do requires a response in less than 24 hours. On the positive side, I have been relatively good, recently, at not checking my e-mail when I am at home and my children are awake. 

A few days ago, I read Andrew Sullivan’s Piece in the New York Magazine on “Distraction Sickness.” His piece is long, but worth reading. A short excerpt is included below:

[The smart phone] went from unknown to indispensable in less than a decade. The handful of spaces where it was once impossible to be connected — the airplane, the subway, the wilderness — are dwindling fast. Even hiker backpacks now come fitted with battery power for smartphones. Perhaps the only “safe space” that still exists is the shower. Am I exaggerating? A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up. Just as revealing: The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did. But whether they were aware of it or not, a new technology had seized control of around one-third of these young adults’ waking hours. . . . this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any. (emphasis added)

Academics seem to vary widely on how often they respond to e-mails, but I’d love to hear about the experience and practices of others. Oddly, in my experience with colleagues, those who are most prompt to respond to e-mails are usually also the most productive with their scholarship. I can’t really explain this, other than maybe these people are sitting at their computers more than others or are just ridiculously efficient. As with most things, I imagine there is an ideal balance to be pursued.

One thing I have learned is that setting expectations can be quite helpful. With students, I make clear on the first day of class and on the syllabus that e-mails will be returned within 24 business hours (though not necessarily more quickly than 24 business hours). I often respond to e-mails much more quickly than this, but this is helpful language to point a student to when he sends a 3am e-mail asking many substantive questions before an 8am exam.

Our students also struggle with "distraction sickness," and most of them know they are much too easily distracted by technology, but they are powerless against it. Ever since I banned laptops in my undergraduate classes, I have received many more thanks than pushback. The vast majority of students say they appreciate the technology break, but some can still be seen giving into the technology urge and (not so) secretly checking their phones.

Interested in how our readers manage their e-mails. Any tricks or rules that work for you? Feel free to e-mail me or leave your thoughts in the comments.

September 23, 2016 in Business School, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Law School, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and 220 Law Professors Have in Common?

Lately, I’ve been researching the twelve nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (“TPP”) because I am looking at investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) in my work in progress proposing a model bilateral investment treaty between the U.S. and Cuba.

The TPP, which both Trump and Clinton oppose, has the support of U.S. business. Although President Obama has pushed the treaty as part of his legacy, just this morning, Vice-President Biden added his pessimistic views about its passage. More interestingly, over 220 law and economics academics, led by Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, have come out publicly to oppose TPP, stating:

ISDS grants foreign corporations and investors a special legal privilege: the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly violate loosely defined investor rights to seek damages from taxpayers for the corporation’s lost profits. Essentially, corporations and investors use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments... Through ISDS, the federal government gives foreign investors – and foreign investors alone – the ability to bypass th[e] robust, nuanced, and democratically responsive legal framework. Foreign investors are able to frame questions of domestic constitutional and administrative law as treaty claims, and take those claims to a panel of private international arbitrators, circumventing local, state or federal domestic administrative bodies and courts. Freed from fundamental rules of domestic procedural and substantive law that would have otherwise governed their lawsuits against the government, foreign corporations can succeed in lawsuits before ISDS tribunals even when domestic law would have clearly led to the rejection of those companies’ claims. Corporations are even able to re-litigate cases they have already lost in domestic courts. It is ISDS arbitrators, not domestic courts, who are ultimately able to determine the bounds of proper administrative, legislative, and judicial conduct… This system undermines the important roles of our domestic and democratic institutions, threatens domestic sovereignty, and weakens the rule of law.

Senator Warren, who also opposes TPP has argued, "“ISDS allows a small group of ultra-rich investors to extract billions of dollars from taxpayers while they undermine financial, environmental and public health rules across the world.”  I look forward to the upcoming debates to see whether either Trump, who has labeled the proposal the “rape of our country,”  or Clinton, who previously supported the deal, will cite the academics' letter as additional reason to oppose TPP. 

September 22, 2016 in Constitutional Law, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is the Era of Conflict Minerals Disclosure Coming to an End?

Earlier this week the House Financial Services Committee voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule, which I last wrote about here and in a law review article criticizing this kind of disclosure regime in general.

Under the proposed Financial Choice Act (with the catchy tagline of "Growth for All, Bailouts for None"), a number of Dodd-Frank provisions would go by the wayside, including conflict minerals because:

Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act imposes a number of overly burdensome disclosure requirements related to conflict minerals, extractive industries, and mine safety that bear no rational relationship to the SEC’s statutory mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and promote capital formation. The Financial CHOICE Act repeals those requirements. There is overwhelming evidence that Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals disclosure requirement has done far more harm than good to its intended beneficiaries – the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Central African countries. SEC Chair Mary Jo White, an Obama appointee, has conceded the Commission is not the appropriate agency to carry out humanitarian policy. The provisions of Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act are a prime example of the increasing use of the federal securities laws as a cudgel to force public companies to disclose extraneous political, social, and environmental matters in their periodic filings.

The House report cites a number of scholars and others who raise some of the same issues that I addressed in an amicus brief when the case was litigated at the trial and appellate level years ago.

This weekend I am attending the Business and Human Rights Scholars Conference co-sponsored by the University of Washington School of Law, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the Rutgers Business School, the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. I present on Cuba, human rights, and investor-state dispute resolution, but a number of papers concern conflict minerals and disclosure in general.

As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure that repeal is the answer. I do believe that the law should be re-examined and possibly reformed to ensure that the diligence and disclosure actually leads to tangible and sustained benefits for the Congolese people. In short, I want to see some evidence of linkages between this corporate governance disclosure and reductions in rape, violence, child slavery, pillaging of villages, and forced labor. I want to see proof that the individual ethical consumers who claim in surveys to care about human rights have actually changed their buying habits because of this name and shame campaign.

Although I do not agree with many of the proposals in the House report and I am not against all disclosure, I do not believe that the SEC is the appropriate agency to address these issues. The State Department and others can and should take the lead on the very serious security and justice reform issues that I witnessed firsthand in Goma and Bukavu  when I went to the DRC to research this law five years ago. These issues and the violence perpetrated by rebel groups, police, and the military persist.  I look forward to hearing how and if proponents of the conflict minerals rule address this report during the conference.

September 16, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Free Speech and Free Markets Go Together

I think, by now, most people have heard about Colin Kaepernick's protest, which he manifested by his refusal to stand for the national anthem before the 49ers' August 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.  Kaepernick explained his actions as follows: 

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Many were offended by his decision; others have applauded it.  What is it that makes people (particularly white people) so upset about someone choosing not to stand for the national anthem? I thought the anthem and flag were supposed to stand for freedom, which includes the freedom to dissent and disagree. It fascinates me that one football player could get this much press for deciding not to do something he was under no obligation to do (as his employer made clear). But it certainly explains why he did it. If nothing else, Colin Kaepernick reminded of us both of our ability to speak freely and that there are potential costs when doing so. He got people to talk about an important issue, and he used his platform to focus on a necessary conversation.

Free speech can, though, have consequences. And in many ways, it should. The Bill of Rights just protects our right to speech and limits the government's ability to impose consequences for exercising that right. The Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall lost a credit union sponsorship for his actions in support of Kaepernick's protest. Personally, if I did business with that sponsor, they'd lose my money because I support his Marshall's right to protest and because I think the the protest, conducted in a peaceful way, raised issues worthy of discussion.  (I will note that the sponsor cut ties in what appears to be a respectful and above-board way. I just disagree with the decision).  That's the free market working in a (mostly) free country.  I don't have any problem with the sponsor acting as they did, either.  They, too, were exercising their rights (assuming they did not breach a contract, and I have seen no evidence they did). I am not mad the credit union made the decision it did; I just disagree with the decision, and I would let them know that by walking away. 

Most striking to me about this uproar is the apparently binary way so many people view protests. One can love this country and hate injustice. We can protest as we try to reach our ideals. And we can disagree about the method of protest or the ideals themselves. But let's consider the point and be respectful of one another as we try to work through our differences. Brandon Marshall stated this position especially well. He explained, "I'm not against the military. I’m not against the police or America. I’m just against social injustice.”

Businesses, like people, have the right to associate with those they choose, and consumers (in turn) have a right to respond.  That is not just free speech, it is how a free market operates. 

Th United States, to me, is a great, yet greatly flawed, nation. The flag (and our national anthem) can represent the best of this nation and its people. The song and flag, like almost anything related to this nation that is more than 200 years old, also has ties to some of our very worst history, including slavery. That is also a reality. We have real and significant remaining institution problems related to race and gender, even if we're better than we used to be.  

No matter what, the national anthem and the flag are neither bigger than, nor more important than, the citizens they are intended to represent. Speaking freely, even when it is not popular, is honoring the best of what the flag should represent, the best of this nation’s history, and (I sincerely hope) a sign of a great future. Free speech is not a liberal or conservative issue, and exercising our right to speak should be celebrated, whether you agree with the speech or not.  Free speech begets free markets. 

“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I . . . could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader

 

“We are so concerned to flatter the majority that we lose sight of how very often it is necessary, in order to preserve freedom for the minority, let alone for the individual, to face that majority down.”
— William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review magazine

 

“We cannot have a society half slave and half free; nor can we have thought half slave and half free. If we create an atmosphere in which [people] fear to think independently, inquire fearlessly, express themselves freely, we will in the end create the kind of society in which [people] no longer care to think independently or to inquire fearlessly.”
— Henry Steele Commager, U.S. historian

 

September 13, 2016 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 9, 2016

ALSB Promotion and Tenure News: 2016 Edition

Last year, on the suggestion of an ALSB colleague, I did a post on promotion, tenure, and administrative appointment news for legal studies professors in business schools. I continue that series this year, below. I am happy to add to this list, as I am sure it is incomplete. Congrats to all!

Robert Bird (UConn) - promoted to full professor

De Vee Dykstra (South Dakota) - appointed associate dean of Beacom School of Business

Marc Edelman (CUNY) - promoted to full professor and awarded tenure

Josh Perry (Indiana-Kelley School of Business) - appointed to Dean of Undergraduate Affairs

Jamie Prenkert (Indiana-Kelley (Bloomington Campus)) - appointed Associate Vice Provost

Scott Shackelford (Indiana-Kelley) - promoted to associate professor and awarded tenure

 

September 9, 2016 in Business School, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

State (and possibly City) Sponsored Retirement Savings Plans for Private Sector Employees

Stock pricing in the securities market responds to supply and demand.  This is intuitive with regard to individual securities.  We understand that if more people want to buy a stock (demand) than sell it (supply), then the price moves up. Conversely, the price decreases if more want to sell than buy.  I wonder to what extent regulators have examined the role of retirement saving plans in flooding the market with demand to buy new securities and which can drive up stock prices overall.  Consider this historical graph of the NYSE trading average.  Observe the sharp rise beginning in the late 1980's with the introduction of individual retirement savings plan and the beginning of the defined contribution society. 

Nyse-composite-may

chart source: Forecast Chart

New Department of Labor regulations open the door for state governments to sponsor retirement savings plans for non-government workers.  See for example, California's proposed plans.  The rules, proposed in 2015, became final on August 30, 2016.  You can read a summary of the proposed plans published by The Brookings Institute and a DOL interpretive bulletin.  Also being considered are proposed rules authorizing high-population cities to sponsor similar plans in states that don't create the non-government worker retirement savings plans.  Collectively, these regulations are intended to facilitate the retirement savings of the estimated 55 million small business workers who do not currently have the option of participating in a retirement savings plan.  This policy decision  encourages retirement saving and promotes individual financial stability.  It also means that more worker/saver/investors (a group I have called Citizen Shareholders in prior works) will be encouraged to invest in the private securities market.  The demand cycle continues and can be sustained so long as there are as many or more worker/saver/investors as there are folks  liquidating their retirement savings. In other words, a severely aging workforce/population could pose a demand/supply problem for the securities market.

-Anne Tucker

 

September 7, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 2, 2016

EpiPen Price Hikes and Corporate Law

In his article, Making It Easier for Directors to "Do the Right Thing?" 4 Harv. Bus. L. Rev. 235, 237–39 (2014), Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine wrote:

[E]ven if one accepts that those who manage public corporations may, outside of the corporate sales process, treat the best interests of other corporate constituencies as an end equal to the best interests of stockholders, and believes that stockholders should not be afforded additional influence over those managers, those premises do very little to actually change the managers’ incentives in a way that would encourage them to consider the interests of anyone other than stockholders. . . . even if corporate law supposedly grants directors the authority to give other constituencies equal consideration to stockholders outside of the sale context, it employs an unusual accountability structure to enable directors to act as neutral balancers of the diverse, and not always complementary, interests affected by corporate conduct. In that accountability structure, owners of equity securities are the only constituency given any rights. Stockholders get to elect directors. Stockholders get to vote on mergers and substantial asset sales. Stockholders get to inspect the books and records. Stockholders get the right to sue. No other constituency is given any of these rights. (emphasis added, citations omitted)

There has been a lot of anger and shock in the reporting over the price increases by EpiPen-maker Mylan. See, e.g., here, here, here, and here, but I think Chief Justice Strine's observation about the general accountability structure of corporate law is at least a partial explanation. (To be sure, there also appears to be an executive compensation story, though the executive compensation structure may be driven by the shareholder-centric accountability structure. That said, Mylan appears to be a Netherlands-incorporate company, and I know very little about the structure of its corporate law.)

The price for an EpiPen has increased a staggering amount since 2007 when pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired the product – wholesaling for $100 in 2007; $103.50 in 2009; $264.50 in 2013; $461 in 2015; $608.61 in 2016.

The general tone of the reporting in the mainstream media is one of outrage.

But isn't this to be expected? Granted, the business judgment rule provides a lot of leeway, and I would not argue that Mylan was "forced" to hike prices, even if Mylan were incorporated in Delaware. But if we give shareholders virtually all of the significant corporate governance tools, isn't it obvious that directors and officers will often seek shareholder interests even when it is harmful to communities? The bigger story here may be that certain norms and the fear of negative press have been able to keep plenty of other companies from following suit.

My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards, due out next semester in the American Business Law Journal, suggests giving some of the corporate governance accountability tools (such as certain voting rights) to a stakeholder advisory board made up of stakeholder representatives. The article argues that adoption of stakeholder advisory boards should be mandatory for large social enterprises (because they both chose a social entity form and have the resources) and should be voluntarily adopted by other serious socially-conscious companies. An accountability change of this sort might bring public expectations and the corporate law accountability structure into line.

Separately, are there certain industries - like the health care industry - that we want to be less profit-focused than others? For those industries, perhaps requiring (or making attractive through regulations/taxes) the choice of a social enterprise form (like benefit corporation) may make some sense. However, as noted in my article, the benefit corporation accountability structure is quite shareholder-centric, similar to the structure for traditional corporations. Granted, socially-motivated shareholders may exert some pressure on benefit corporations and the benefit corporation law may give them a somewhat better chance to do so, but if we want real change, I think the corporate accountability structure needs to be more completely redesigned.

Personal Note: When I was a child, my mom carried an EpiPen for me, following an incident involving plastic armor, a tennis racket, and whacking a big bee nest. 

September 2, 2016 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Volcker Rule Data Collection Under Congressional Scrutiny

House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, sent a formal request to a slew of federal agencies to share trading data collected in connection with the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule prohibits U.S. banks from engaging in proprietary trading (effective July 21, 2015), while permitting legitimate market-making and hedging activities.  The Volcker Rule restricts commercial banks (and affiliates) from investing investing in certain hedge funds and private equity, and imposes enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities.

Representative Maloney requested  the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to analyze seven quantitative trading metrics that regulators have been collecting since 2014 including: (1) risk and position limits and usage; (2) risk factor sensitivities; (3) value-at-risk (VaR) and stress VaR; (4) comprehensive profit and loss attribution; (5) inventory turnover; (6) inventory aging; and (7) customer facing trade ratios.

Representative Maloney requested the agencies analyze the data and respond to the following questions:

  • The extent to which the data showed significant changes in banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date for the prohibition on proprietary trading. To the extent that the data did not show a significant change in the banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date, whether the agencies believe this is attributable to the banks having ceased their proprietary trading activities prior to the start of the metrics reporting in July 2014.
  • Whether there are any meaningful differences in either overall risk levels or risk tolerances — as indicated by risk and position limits and usage, VaR and stress VaR, and risk factor sensitivities — for trading activities at different banks.
  • Whether the risk levels or risk tolerances of similar trading desks are comparable across banks reporting quantitative metrics. Similarly, whether the data show any particular types of trading desks (e.g., high-yield corporate bonds, asset-backed securities) that have exhibited unusually high levels of risk.
  • How examiners at the agencies have used the quantitative metrics to date.
  • How often the agencies review the quantitative metrics to determine compliance with the Volcker Rule, and what form the agencies’ reviews of the quantitative metrics take.
  • Whether the quantitative metrics have triggered further reviews by any of the agencies of a bank’s trading activities, and if so, the outcome of those reviews
  • Any changes to the quantitative metrics that the agencies have made, or are considering making, as a result of the agencies’ review of the data received as of September 30, 2015.

The agencies' response to the request may provide insight into Dodd-Frank/Volcker Rule, the role of big data in the rule-making process (and re-evaluation), and bigger issues such as whether systemic financial risk is definable by regulation and quantifiable in data collection.  I will post regulatory responses, requested by October 30th, here on the BLPB.

-Anne Tucker

August 31, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, Legislation, Private Equity, Securities Regulation, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Look at Investor Risk and Community Risk In Private Prisons

The concept of private prisons has always seemed off to me.  Prisons have a role in society, but the idea of running such institutions for profit, it seems to me, aligns incentives in an improper way. The U.S. Justice Department apparently agrees and said yesterday that it plans to end the use of private prisons.  The announcement sent stocks tumbling for two private prison companies, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO.  Both dropped as much as 40% and remain down more than 30% from where they were before the announcement.   

Obviously, this can't make shareholders happy, but I figured this had to be a known risk. I was right -- CCA's 10-K makes clear that such government decisions related to future contracts could lead to a reduction in their profitability.  So, the disclosure seems proper from a securities regulation perspective. Still, reading the disclosure raises some serious questions for me about the proper role of government.  I frankly find this kind of outsourcing chilling.  For example, CCA states: 

Our results of operations are dependent on revenues generated by our jails, prisons, and detention facilities, which are subject to the following risks associated with the corrections and detention industry.

We are subject to fluctuations in occupancy levels, and a decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability.  . . . We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities.

. . . .

We are dependent on government appropriations and our results of operations may be negatively affected by governmental budgetary challenges. . . . [and] our customers could reduce inmate population levels in facilities we own or manage to contain their correctional costs. . . .

The idea of "customers" in this contest simply does not sit well with me.  It suggests a desire for something that is not a positive. CCA's 10-K continues: 

Competition for inmates may adversely affect the profitability of our business. We compete with government entities and other private operators on the basis of bed availability, cost, quality, and range of services offered, experience in managing facilities and reputation of management and personnel. While there are barriers to entering the market for the ownership and management of correctional and detention facilities, these barriers may not be sufficient to limit additional competition. In addition, our government customers may assume the management of a facility that they own and we currently manage for them upon the termination of the corresponding management contract or, if such customers have capacity at their facilities, may take inmates currently housed in our facilities and transfer them to government-run facilities. . . .

Competition is a good thing in many (I think most), but this is not one of them. These companies are responding to the existing demand for prison services, but there can be no question the real opportunity for market growth is to increase demand for such services (e.g., increase the number of prisoners, seek longer sentences).  This, too, is made clear in the disclosures:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions, governmental budgetary constraints, and governmental and public acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state, and local level. Legislation has also been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. 

CCA does note that their "policy prohibits [them] from engaging in lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies." These disclosures, though, sure make clear what kind of policies their shareholders would want to support.  

I don't have any illusion that government run prisons are much (if any) better, but I do think that government's incentives are at least supposed to be aligned with the public good when it comes to the prison system.  I often think government should take a more limited role than it does when it comes to regulations.  That is especially true when it comes to criminal law. But privatizing prisons is not reducing the role of government in our lives -- it is simply outsourcing one key portion of the government's role.  Private prisons do not equate to smaller government. Fewer laws, or relaxed enforcement and punishment, do. If the government is paying for it, it's still a government program.  

Here's hoping that the reduction in use of private prisons leads to a reduction in the use of all prisons.  Let's save those for truly the dangerous folks.  

August 19, 2016 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

LochMess and Morals Clauses

There has been a lot of debate online about Ryan Lochte (#LochteGate or #LochMess) and whether he and his swimming friends were actually robbed in Rio after their Olympic events had finished. See here, here, and here for some of the commentary. 

Lawyer Dan Eaton opines that Ryan Lochte is unlikely to go to jail, even if he lied.

While I agree that jail time is unlikely based on the facts available at this time, Lochte's endorsements could be at risk. Earlier this year, I blogged about morals clauses in endorsement contracts. If Lochte's contracts include morals clauses (as many do), and if he lied about the robbery, it is possible that he may lose some lucrative endorsements deals. It is still not clear what the motive for lying was (if they did lie). I assume we will learn more in the next few days.   

Update: Speedo and Ralph Lauren dropped (or are not renewing) sponsorship of Ryan Lochte. Spokespeople for both companies cited Lochte's statements about the occurrence in Rio. My wife let me know that some are now calling Lochte "Swim Shaddy."

August 18, 2016 in Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Instagram and Valuing Businesses

In the spring of 2012, around the time that Facebook purchased Instagram for roughly $1 billion, I was teaching an M&A class.

At the time, I had difficulty explaining why Facebook would pay that amount of money for a company that was not only not profitable, but also had no revenue. I spoke as someone trained to use multiples EBITDA and as someone who did not (and still does not) have an Instagram account.

Now, over four years later, Forbes estimates Instagram's value at $25billion to $50billion. That valuation still requires some creativity, as Instagram had sales of "only" $630 million in 2015. Instagram, however, has added roughly 100 million new users in the last 9 months and is projected to have revenue of $1.5billion this year. While there is reason to be wary of projections, the projected sales for Instagram in 2018 is an impressive $5billion.

This drives home that valuation is as much art as science, and the conventional valuation methods will not work well for every company. In that deal, I imagine Instagram's technology, brand, and the user base were all large value drivers. With the benefit of hindsight, Instagram is looking like a good acquisition for Facebook, even if the current projections end up being a bit optimistic. 

August 12, 2016 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, M&A | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Things Law Professors Say: I Needed to Unpack Law Professors’ Normative Behavior

I am not the first to notice that law professors, and academics generally, have their own jargon and favorite buzzwords.  Some websites do a nice job of highlighting (or mocking) many of the odds turns of phrase many of us use.  Lawyers in the practicing bar do this, too, of course, and other professionals, especially business people (see, e.g., Dilbert) and public relations professionals.

I try not to be too jargon-y, but I have caught myself more than a few times.  I am big on “incentivize,” for example.   After attending a great SEALS Conference (likely more on that to come), I came away with a bunch of new ideas, a few new friends, and some hope for future collaboration.  I also came away noticing that, sometimes, as a group, “we talk funny.”  On that front, two words keep coming to my mind: “unpack” and “normative.”

So, when did we all “need” to start “unpacking” arguments?

This seemed like a relatively recent phenomenon to me, so I checked.  A Westlaw search of “adv: unpack! /3 argument” reveals 140 uses in Secondary Sources.  The first such reference appears in a 1982 law review article: Michael Moore, Moral Reality, 1982 Wis. L. Rev. 1061 (1982).  The phrase doesn’t appear again until 1988, in this article: Jeffrey N. Gordon, Ties That Bond: Dual Class Common Stock and the Problem of Shareholder Choice, 76 Cal. L. Rev. 1 (1988). Of the 140 citations, 113 (or 80%) of those have appeared since January 1, 2000 (69, or nearly 50%, have appeared since 2010). Relatively modest numbers, frankly, compared to how often I think I heard it said, but maybe we're just getting ramped up.  

And when did things become “normative?”

It also seemed to me that it’s relatively recent that the things we expect to happen (or people to do) became “normative” in legal academic circles. Before that, I think we called things the standard or the norm, but it was far less common that legal academics discussed “normative” behavior in the way we do now.   

A Westlaw search bears this out, too. A search of all secondary sources on Westlaw before January 1, 2000, revealed that the term had been used in 2,668 pieces. Since that date, normative has shown up in 7,270.  The term has obviously been around for a long time, and has value in many contexts, but saying “normative” is the new normal.  

To be clear, I don’t think the use of all jargon is bad, and I appreciate that as law professors do more interdisciplinary work, we will expand our jargon into other fields.  Sometimes specific words help us communicate more precisely in a way that increases usefulness and understanding.  I like terms of art and specificity.  (See, e.g., any of my rants about LLCs.) I’m just observing what seems like a shift in how we talk.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a thing. 

I welcome any comments on these terms, or even better, a list of other words or phrases I missed.  I know there's a lot more out there.  

August 9, 2016 in Conferences, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Corporate Bystanders at the Rio Olympics

Greetings from SEALS in lovely Amelia Island. On Wednesday I presented on a proposed bilateral investment treaty between the US and Cuba, and tomorrow I am part of a discussion group on Sustainable Business. I will focus on the roles and responsibilities of corporate sponsors of the Rio Olympics. According to the official Olympics website, “[m]ore than just providing products and services for the event, [the sponsors] ensure that sport always comes first and that the whole world is inspired alongside us.”

Sponsors can spend up to $200 million for the privilege to inspire us. For many sponsors, the chance to have over a billion people watch their commercials and logos appear repeatedly over a period of a few weeks on television is worth the tens of millions of dollars. They often invest in slick YouTube campaigns that show their real or imagined connections to young athletes finally achieving their lifelong dream of bringing home the gold for their country. Apparently, 54% of consumers surveyed felt more positive about Nike after the company sponsored the Olympics based on how it chose to advertise. Many companies use these kinds of sponsorships as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Dow is the official “carbon” partner of the games.

As anyone who watches the news knows, the $12 billion Rio Olympics has been fraught with controversy. According to reports, the crime rate is soaring and the bay is so filthy that the athletes have been warned to keep their mouths closed during water events. Brazil was one of the ten largest economies in the world when it was awarded the games years ago and now is in free fall. As part of the deal to get the games, Brazil promised the IOC and its citizens gleaming new transportation systems, hospitals, and infrastructure but one in seven of Rio’s citizens still live in one of the 1,000 favelas and those have not improved at all. A number of people have actually lost their homes to make way for Olympic venues. Rio’s street children have asked the head of the IOC for assurances that their human rights will be respected.

Human Rights Watch prepared a report last year that outlines some key concerns about the human rights abuses that typically occur at mega sporting events. Although the Olympic Charter states at p. 14 that “the practice of sport is a human right,” the HRW report identified violations that typically occur at these kinds of events. Many have already been documented in Rio including: forced evictions without due process or compensation due to massive new infrastructure construction; environmental activism; threats, intimidation, and arrests of journalists; silencing of civil society and rights activists, and discrimination.What does any of this have to do with business? I have some questions about the role of business that I will explore tomorrow and in my research.

West Virginia Professor Jena Martin has written about the concept of the “corporate bystander.” She notes that, “TNCs often get involved in relationships with state actors who violate international human rights. TNCs then argue that they cannot be held accountable for the violations because they merely observed the underlying atrocities and did not participate in the acts that caused them.” The large corporate sponsors who tout their corporate social responsibility initiatives and who vehemently oppose human rights shareholder proposals because they already have a program in place will likely distance themselves from what is going on in Brazil. They are just sponsors after all. But is that an appropriate response? Should the IOC do more to require human rights safeguards? Should corporate sponsors conduct impact assessments or is their involvement too attenuated? Do the consumers who felt better about Nike after watching the Olympics commercials care about the street children in Brazil or the women who are displaced from their homes? Would they think twice about buying sneakers if they read some of the links in this blog? Does any of this move the share price in either direction?  What is the actual business case for balancing the corporate sponsorship with the human rights impact?

The head of the IOC has signed on to work with the UN on the Sustainable Development Goals--seventeen economic, environmental, social, and governance initiatives that the private sector, government, and civil society aim to achieve by 2030. How does that square with conducting the Olympics in locales with human rights and environmental violations? Should the IOC only hold the Olympics in host countries with "perfect" human rights records and what would that even look like?

I will be discussing these issues tomorrow and will explore it more firsthand when I head to Rio on Saturday. In the meantime, corporate sponsors may hope that the press coverage on Friday evening focuses on panoramic shots of Sugarloaf and Copacabana Beach and not the planned protests before the opening ceremonies.

August 4, 2016 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Games, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Federal Reserve Board Fines Goldman Sachs $36.3M for Leaked Documents

The Federal Reserve Board announced its enforcement actions against Goldman Sachs from 2012-2014 events where a Goldman Sachs banker, a former NY Fed employee, received confidential documents from a NY Fed employee.  The individuals involved plead guilty to the resulting charges and Goldman Sachs paid fines in New York.  The Federal Reserve Board took separate actions this week based upon evidence that the banker "repeatedly obtained, used and disseminated [confidential supervisory information or CSI] ... including CSI concerning financial institutions’ confidential CAMELS ratings, non-public enforcement actions, and confidential documents prepared by banking regulators."  Even though Goldman Sachs terminated the banker involved and reported the matter to authorities, apparently the misconduct was sustained over a long-enough period of time and used to "solicit business" in a way that compelled Federal Reserve Board Action.

The Fed's release and copies of the orders are available here.  The sanctions against Goldman Sachs include the monetary fine as well a requirement to 'Within 90 days of this Order, ...submit to the Board of Governors an acceptable written plan, and timeline for implementation, to enhance the effectiveness of the internal controls and compliance functions regarding the identification, monitoring, and control of confidential supervisory information."

Financial press coverage of the matter is available in a variety of outlets:

NY Times

Bloomberg

CNN

-Anne Tucker

August 3, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Good Corporate Governance Just a Matter of Common Sense?

Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Mary Barra (General Motors), Jeff Immet (GE), Larry Fink (Blackrock) and other executives think so and have published a set of "Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance" for public companies. There are more specifics in the Principles, but the key points cribbed from the front page of the new website are as follows:

Truly independent corporate boards are vital to effective governance, so no board should be beholden to the CEO or management. Every board should meet regularly without the CEO present, and every board should have active and direct engagement with executives below the CEO level;

■ Diverse boards make better decisions, so every board should have members with complementary and diverse skills, backgrounds and experiences. It’s also important to balance wisdom and judgment that accompany experience and tenure with the need for fresh thinking and perspectives of new board members;

■ Every board needs a strong leader who is independent of management. The board’s independent directors usually are in the best position to evaluate whether the roles of chairman and CEO should be separate or combined; and if the board decides on a combined role, it is essential that the board have a strong lead independent director with clearly defined authorities and responsibilities;

■ Our financial markets have become too obsessed with quarterly earnings forecasts. Companies should not feel obligated to provide earnings guidance — and should do so only if they believe that providing such guidance is beneficial to shareholders;

■ A common accounting standard is critical for corporate transparency, so while companies may use non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”) to explain and clarify their results, they never should do so in such a way as to obscure GAAP-reported results; and in particular, since stock- or options-based compensation is plainly a cost of doing business, it always should be reflected in non-GAAP measurements of earnings; and

■ Effective governance requires constructive engagement between a company and its shareholders. So the company’s institutional investors making decisions on proxy issues important to long-term value creation should have access to the company, its management and, in some circumstances, the board; similarly, a company, its management and board should have access to institutional investors’ ultimate decision makers on those issues.

I expect that shareholder activists, proxy advisory firms, and corporate governance nerds like myself will scrutinize the specifics against what the signatories’ companies are actually doing. Nonetheless, I commend these business leaders for at least starting a dialogue (even if a lot of the recommendations are basic common sense) and will be following this closely.

July 21, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Management, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Spotlight: Empire of the Fund by William Birdthistle

Professor William Birdthistle at Chicago-Kent College of Law is publishing his new book, Empire of the Fund with Oxford University Press.  A brief introductory video for the book (available here) demonstrates both Professor Birdthistle’s charming accent and talent for video productions (this is obviously not his first video rodeo). Professor Birdthistle has generously provided our readers with a window into the book’s thesis and highlights some of its lessons.  I’ll run a second feature next week focusing on the process of writing a book—an aspiration/current project for many of us.

Empire of the Fund is segmented into four digestible parts:  anatomy of a fund describing the history and function of mutual funds, diseases & disorders addressing fees, trading practices and disclosures, alternative remedies introducing readers to ETFs, target date funds and other savings vehicles, and cures where Birdthistle highlights his proposals. For the discussion of the Jones v. Harris case alone, I think I will assign this book to my corporate law seminar class for our “book club”.  As other reviewers have noted, the book is funny and highly readable, especially as it sneaks in financial literacy.  And now, from Professor Birdthistle:

Things that the audience might learn:

The SEC does practically zero enforcement on fees.  [pp. 215-216]  Even though every expert understands the importance of fees on mutual fund investing, the SEC has brought just one or only two cases in its entire history against advisors charging excessive fees.  Section 36(b) gives the SEC and private plaintiffs a cause of action, but the SEC has basically ignored it; even prompting Justice Scalia to ask why during oral arguments in Jones v. Harris?  Private plaintiffs, on the other hand, bring cases against the wrong defendants (big funds with deep pockets but relatively reasonable fees).  So I urge the SEC to bring one of these cases to police the outer bounds of stratospheric fund fees.

The only justification for 12b-1 fees has been debunked.  [pp. 81-83]  Most investors don't know much about 12b-1 fees and are surprised by the notion that they should be paying to advertise funds in which they already invest to future possible investors.  The industry's response is that spending 12b-1 fees will bring in more investors and thus lead to greater savings for all investors via economies of scale.  The SEC's own financial economist, however, studied these claims and found (surprisingly unequivocally for a government official) that, yes, 12b-1 fees certainly are effective at bringing in new investment but, no, funds do not then pass along any savings to the funds' investors.  I sketch this out in a dialogue on page 81 between a pair of imaginary nightclub denizens.

Target-date funds are more dangerous than most people realize.  [pp. 172-174]  Target-date funds are embraced by many as a panacea to our investing problem and have been extremely successful as such.  But I point out some serious drawbacks with them.  First, they are in large part an end-of-days solution in which we essentially give up on trying to educate investors and encourage them simply to set and forget their investments; that's a path to lowering financial literacy, not raising it (which may be a particularly acute issue if my second objection materializes).  Second, TDFs rely entirely on the assumption that the bond market is the safety to which all investors should move as they age; but if we're heading for a historic bear market on bonds (as several intelligent and serious analysts have posited), we'll be in very large danger with a somnolent investing population

Continue reading

July 13, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Revising Regulation S-K

SEC disclosures are meant to provide material information to investors. As I hope all of my business associations students know, “information is material if there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would consider the information important in deciding how to vote or make an investment decision.”

Regulation S-K, the central repository for non-financial disclosure statements, has been in force without substantial revision for over thirty years. The SEC is taking comments until July 21st on on the rule however, it is not revising “other disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K, such as executive compensation and governance, or the required disclosures for foreign private issuers, business development companies, or other categories of registrants.” Specifically, as stated in its 341-page Comment Release, the SEC seeks input on:

  • whether, and if so, how specific disclosures are important or useful to making investment and voting decisions and whether more, less or different information might be needed;
  • whether, and if so how, we could revise our current requirements to enhance the information provided to investors while considering whether the action will promote efficiency, competition, and capital formation;
  • whether, and if so how, we could revise our requirements to enhance the protection of investors;
  • whether our current requirements appropriately balance the costs of disclosure with the benefits;
  • whether, and if so how, we could lower the cost to registrants of providing information to investors, including considerations such as advancements in technology and communications;
  • whether and if so, how we could increase the benefits to investors and facilitate investor access to disclosure by modernizing the methods used to present, aggregate and disseminate disclosure; and
  • any challenges of our current disclosure requirements and those that may result from possible regulatory responses explored in this release or suggested by commenters.

As of this evening, thirty comments had been submitted including from Wachtell Lipton, which cautions against “overdisclosure” and urges more flexible means of communicating with investors; the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which observes that 40% of 10-K disclosures on sustainability use boilerplate language and recommends a market standard for industry-specific disclosures (which SASB is developing); and the Pension Consulting Alliance, which agrees with SASB’s methodology and states that:

[our] clients increasingly request more ESG information related to their investments. Key PCA advisory services that are affected by ESG issues include:

  • Investment beliefs and investment policy development
  • Manager selection and monitoring
  • Portfolio-wide exposure to material ESG risks
  • Education and analysis on macro and micro issues
  • Proxy voting and engagement

This is an interesting time for people like me who study disclosures. Last week the SEC released its revised rule on Dodd-Frank §1504 that had to be re-written after court challenges. That rule requires an issuer “to disclose payments made to the U.S. federal government or a foreign government if the issuer engages in the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals and is required to file annual reports with the Commission under the Securities Exchange Act.” Representative Bill Huizenga, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, introduced an amendment to the FY2017 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill, H.R. 5485, to prohibit funding for enforcement for another governance disclosure--Dodd-Frank conflict minerals.

SEC Chair White has herself questioned the wisdom of the SEC requiring and monitoring certain disclosures, noting the potential for investor information overload. Nonetheless, she and the agency are committed to enforcement. Her fresh look at disclosures reflects a balanced approach. If you have some spare time this summer and think the SEC’s disclosure system needs improvement, now is the time to let the agency know.

July 7, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Socio-Economics: Challenging Mainstream Economic Models and Policies"

The University of Akron Law Review recently published its Symposium on Law and SocioEconomics.  You can find a full list of the contributions here (Volume 49, Issue 2).  As one of the organizers of the symposium, I had the honor of writing a conclusion to the issue, titled Socio-Economics: Challenging Mainstream Economic Models and Policies.  I provide the abstract below, and you can read the entire piece here.

At a time when many people are questioning the ability of our current system to provide economic justice, the Socio-Economic perspective is particularly relevant to finding new solutions and ways forward. In this relatively short conclusion to the Akron Law Review’s publication, Law and Socio-Economics: A Symposium, I have separated the Symposium articles into three groups for review: (1) those that can be read as challenging mainstream economic models, (2) those that can be read as challenging mainstream policy conclusions, and (3) those that provide a good example of both. My reviews essentially take the form of providing a short excerpt from the relevant article that will give the reader a sense of what the piece is about and hopefully encourage those who have not yet done so to read the entire article.

July 3, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Law Reviews, Philosophy, Research/Scholarhip, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Legal Strategy: Boris Berian, Nike, and New Balance

Today a number of athletes will compete in various track & field events in the Olympic Trials.

One of those events is the qualifying round of the 800m, and one of the 800m runners, Boris Berian, was recently caught in a legal dispute with his old shoe sponsor (Nike) because of his attempt to sign with a new shoe sponsor (New Balance). The story of the dispute even made The Wall Street Journal

You can read the details of the case here, here, and here, but I will attempt to summarize briefly.

As I understand the timeline from the reporting and legal filings:

  • After the 2012 season, Boris dropped out of his division II college (Adams State) to pursue pro-running.
  • For a couple of years, Boris struggled to find world class success, and he worked at McDonald's.
  • Boris didn't have a real breakthrough until mid-2015, when he ran the fastest time for an American that year.
  • On June 17, 2015, shortly after his breakthrough race, Boris signed a short-term exclusive sponsorship deal with Nike (chosen from among many suitors).
  • On December 31, 2015, the Nike-Boris contract expired, though the contract gave Nike the right to match any competitor's bona fide offer within 180 days of 12/31/15.
  • On January 20, 2016, Boris' agent notified Nike than New Balance had made Boris a 3 year, $375,000 offer ($125,000 per year guaranteed).
  • Nike's response to New Balance offer is disputed and at the center of a breach of contract lawsuit that Nike filed on April 29.
  • Nike supposedly served Boris with notice of the lawsuit at a track meet.
  • In short, Boris claimed that New Balance's $375,000 offer was guaranteed, while Nike's "match" was full of potential reductions. Nike claims that the contract they sent was simply a standard form. Nike claimed that guaranteed money is unusual in track contracts and Boris' agent had not shown proof of the lack of reductions in New Balance's offer, and that if the lack of reductions was proven, Nike would have matched those terms within the deadline.
  • On June 7, a judge granted Nike's TRO, restraining Boris from competing in non-Nike gear until June 21.
  • On June 22, a judge declined to extend the TRO and stated that he would rule on June 29.
  • On June 23, Nike dropped its lawsuit (without prejudice), claiming that they wanted to "eliminate this distraction for Boris" given the upcoming Olympic Trials.
  • On June 30, Boris Berian signed with New Balance.

In the fall of 2014, Robert Bird (UConn) and David Orozco (Florida State) published a nice short article in the MIT Sloan Management Review entitled Finding the Right Corporate Legal Strategy. This has been a key article in the growing Law & Strategy area. The article notes five main legal strategies; "The five, in order of least to greatest strategic impact, are: (1) avoidance, (2) compliance, (3) prevention, (4) value and (5) transformation."

This Nike v. Boris Berian situation, in my opinion, is an interesting example of the use of corporate legal strategy. In particular, Nike appears to be using litigation as a move for firm-wide value (#4 on the Bird & Orozco list).

Why did Nike sue?  In my opinion, Nike likely sued not just because they believed Boris breached the contract, but also to send a message to its other athletes that Nike "plays hardball." This message may have been especially important given Kara Goucher's doping allegation against the Nike Oregon Project and its coach; a number of prized Nike athletes may have been watching Boris' situation and may have defected (right before the Olympics!) if Boris was treated with a light touch. Also, especially given that Boris claimed that he would rather sit out that run for Nike, perhaps Nike was simply trying to distract what could soon be a potential star for its competitor New Balance. While Nike has a number of track athletes with the star power of Boris, New Balance has a shallow bench of star track athletes and a good bit would ride on Boris' performance for NB. If Boris medals, especially with his McDonald's to track star story, that could be a huge deal for New Balance. Nike, on the other hand, has a absurd number of track stars with good stories and a high likelihood of medaling.

Why did Nike drop its lawsuit? I think the press was getting worse for Nike than Nike originally imagined. Also, perhaps the case was not resolving as quickly as Nike had guessed, and if Nike pursued the lawsuit into the Olympic Trials, the negative coverage may have exploded. That said, Nike must have known the coverage was going to be negative, so I imagine that factored into their original calculation, to some degree. Their lawyers might have gotten the impression that the judge was not going to rule in their favor when he decided against extending the TRO, so maybe Nike decided to try to win back some fans by dropping the lawsuit voluntarily. I agree with this author, eliminating the distraction for Boris was likely not Nike's main motivation, if so, they would have not sued him during the Olympic Trials build-up. As any runner knows, the months before a meet are much more important than the week before (at least as a physical matter). More likely, and perhaps unanticipated at the filing of the lawsuit, 19-year old Donavan Brazier of Texas A&M announced that he was turning pro just a few days before Nike dropped its lawsuit. Brazier, who had recently won the NCAA championships in the 800m in record time, was probably even a bigger signing target for Nike than Boris. By dropping the lawsuit, Nike may have been able to come off as altruistic to Brazier (saying something like - we had legal grounds to pursue the Boris lawsuit, but we want to do what is best for our current and former athletes). A few days after Nike dropped the lawsuit, Brazier signed with Nike. In addition, around the same time, Nike also signed another 800m star, Clayton Murphy. Both Braizer and Murphy were underclassmen and it was uncertain, until recently, whether they would turn pro. Not only did dropping the lawsuit against Boris likely help Nike in pursuing these two young athletes, but the recent strength of these athletes in the 800m made it possible that Boris would not even make the team, much less medal in Rio.

Personally, I think Boris is going to race well today (we will know in a few hours) and over the next few days, but maybe the stress of the legal battle took a toll. Brazier and Murphy and the entire field will both be tough, but the field will be a bit more open given that two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds scratched from the 800m Olympic Trials field with an injured ankle. Boris has the best qualifying time (1:43:34 v. 1:43:55), but Brazier has the best time this season (1:43:55 v. 1:44.20). Should be exciting to watch and now you know the legal background.   

Finally, perhaps of interest to some readers, Boris Berian was using crowdfunding to pay for his legal defense. Boris even got this shout-out from Malcolm Gladwell on Twitter: "Nike earned 30 billion in 2015. Berian was flipping burgers at McDonalds two years ago. Isn't one bully in American public life enough?"

Update #1: In one of the biggest surprises of the Trials, Donavan Brazier was knocked out in the first round of the 800m, running roughly 5 big seconds slower than he did in the NCAA Championships. Boris Berian won his heat. Nike was diversified with Clayton Murphy who won his heat, and Nike also had four others who qualified for the next round in the 800.

Update #2: Boris Berian led his 800m semi-final from start to finish. Looked strong. Clayton Murphy won the second semi-final race, in a bit slower race, but he also looked strong. Finals are Monday.

Update #3: In the finals, Boris Berian grabbed the lead around 400m and held on until the final 10m or so. He placed second to Clayton Murphy (Nike) who out-kicked him. Charles Jock (Nike OTC) finished third. Those top three finishers will represent the US in Rio in the 800m. 

Update #4: After getting 4th in one of his heats and needing to qualify on time rather than automatically, Clayton Murphy won the U.S.A.'s first medal in the 800m in 24 years. Murphy grabbed third place over the last 50m, and Boris Berian faded to 8th after going out fast. Berian looked strong in his heats, qualifying automatically for the final, but perhaps he did not have the necessary endurance. Clayton Murphy's specialty was the 1500m prior to the Olympics, so he likely had a stronger base. Looks like Nike hedged well and got quite the payoff from signing Murphy. All of that said, Dave Wottle (former Dean of Admissions at my alma mater, Rhodes College) still ran the most exciting 800m race ever. Watch Dave Wottle come from last place to win gold in the 1972 Olympics.

Nike Lawsuit

Boris' Response

Declaration in Support of Boris' Opposition to Nike's TRO

Second Declaration in Support of Boris' Opposition to Nike's Motion to Show Cause (Includes proposed Nike contract) (updated)

Nike's Reply in Support of its TRO

July 1, 2016 in Current Affairs, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Litigation, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)