Monday, April 17, 2017
As Haskell earlier announced here at the BLPB, The first U.S. benefit corporation went public back in February--just before publication of my paper from last summer's 8th Annual Berle Symposium (about which I and other BLPB participants contemporaneously wrote here, here, and here). Although I was able to mark the closing of Laureate Education, Inc.'s public offering in last-minute footnotes, my paper for the symposium treats the publicly held benefit corporation as a future likelihood, rather than a reality. Now, the actual experiment has begun. It is time to test the "visioning" in this paper, which I recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract.
Benefit corporations have enjoyed legislative and, to a lesser extent, popular success over the past few years. This article anticipates what recently (at the eve of its publication) became a reality: the advent of a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation — a corporation with public equity holders that is organized under a specialized U.S. state statute requiring corporations to serve both shareholder wealth aims and social or environmental objectives. Specifically, the article undertakes to identify and comment on the structure and function of U.S. benefit corporations and the unique litigation risks to which a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation may be subject. In doing so, the article links the importance of a publicly held benefit corporation's public benefit purpose to litigation risk management from several perspectives. In sum, the distinctive features of the benefit corporation form, taken together with key attendant litigation risks for publicly held U.S. benefit corporations (in each case, as identified in this article), confirm and underscore the key role that corporate purpose plays in benefit corporation law.
Ultimately, this article brings together a number of things I wanted to think and write about, all in one paper. While many of the observations and conclusions may seem obvious, I found the exploration helpful to my thinking about benefit corporation law and litigation risk management. Perhaps you will, too . . . .
April 17, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 24, 2017
In the latest Impact Esq. newsletter, Kyle included a link to the Kickstarter’s 2016 Benefit Statement. Kyle wrote that he had “never seen [a benefit report] as strong as Kickstarter’s.” Personally, I am not sure I would go that far. I think Greyston Bakery’s Report and Patagonia’s Report are at least as good. I do think the Kickstarter report is relatively good, but the bar is incredibly low, as many benefit corporations are ignoring the statutory reporting requirement or doing a pathetically bad job at reporting.
While the Kickstarter report is more detailed than most, it still reads mostly like a PR piece to me. The vast majority of the report is listing cherry-picked, positive statistics. That said, Kickstarter did note a few areas for possible improvement, which is extremely rare in benefit report. Kickstarter stated that they could do more to promote “sustainability,” that they could do more to encourage staff to “take advantage of the paid time off we provide for volunteering,” and that they wanted to “encourage greater transparency from creators, better educate backers about the risks and rewards of this system, and further empower our Integrity team in their work to keep Kickstarter safe and trusted.” These “goals” for improvement are quite vague, and I would have liked to see more specific goals.
A few other things to note:
- University of Pennsylvania produced a study, which was cited and used in the report. I think involving universities in the creation of these reports could be a good idea, though possible conflicts should be considered.
- “Including both salary and equity, our CEO's total compensation equaled 5.52x the median total compensation of all non-CEO, non-founder employees in 2016. For context, a 2015 study examining the executive pay gap found that the average CEO earns 204 times that of the median worker for the same company.” I would be interested in how Kickstarter’s number compares to companies in their industry, especially direct competitors. I imagine the CEO/Employee compensation ratio is lower in the technology industry, where the market demands fairly high employee compensation, but even considering the industry, Kickstarter's ratio still seems quite low.
- “Kickstarter overall team demographics: 53% women; 47% men. 70% White/Caucasian; 12% Asian; 12% two or more races; 4% Hispanic or Latino; 2% Black/African American.” This seems to be a good bit more diverse, especially as to gender, than other technology companies who have released similar data.
- “Everyone who works at Kickstarter receives an annual Education Stipend to explore their interests outside the office. In 2016, our employees used their stipends towards blacksmithing classes, a bookmaking class, a synthesizer, pottery courses, an herbal medicine workshop, art supplies, improv classes, a neon light making seminar, and embroidery.” I didn’t see how much the education stipend was, but this seems like a good perk.
- “We donated 5% of our after-tax profits to six organizations working to build a more creative and equitable world.” Profits are easier to manipulate than revenues; I’d like to see a revenue floor (as Patagonia does – donating the greater of 10% of profits and 1% of revenues). That said 5% of profits can be significant and does show some commitment to these causes.
Friday, March 10, 2017
On of the many interesting things discussed during the social enterprise law workshop at Notre Dame Law School was the "FairShares Model." Nina Boeger (University of Bristol-UK) brought the model to the group's attention, and the model was new news to me.
The FairShares Model was "created during a research programme on democratising charities, co-operatives and social enterprises involving academics at Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK."
The FairShares Model cites the "Social Enterprise Europe Ltd" when noting that social enterprises "aim to generate sustainable sources of income, but measure their success through:
Specifying their purpose(s) and evaluating the impact(s) of their trading activities;
Conducting ethical reviews of their product/service choices and production/consumption practices;
- Promoting socialized and democratic ownership, governance and management."
To address theses aims, the FairShares Model offers social audits and suggests the issuing some combination of (1) founder shares, (2) labour shares, (3) investor shares, (4) user shares.
While I agree that significant corporate governance changes should be considered, at first glance this model seems a bit unwieldy if all four types of shares are issued. Still, I am interested in learning more.
Friday, March 3, 2017
With co-editor Joan Heminway (and Anne Tucker via Skype), I am at Notre Dame for a symposium on social enterprise law. I will be presenting on aforthcoming book chapter, which builds on my stakeholder advisory board idea. My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards article was recently published in the American Business Law Journal and I posted it to SSRN this week. The abstract is reproduced below.
Over the past decade, interest in socially responsible business has grown exponentially. The social business movement seeks to have firms focus on the interests of all corporate stakeholders, rather than solely the financial interests of shareholders. Coupled with the social business movement of the past decade has been the passage of social enterprise statutes by over thirty states. The social enterprise statutes provide legal frameworks for firms that seek profit alongside broader social and environmental ends. A plethora of social enterprise legal forms have been created in the United States since 2008, including benefit corporations, public benefit corporations, benefit LLCs, low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs), general benefit corporations, specific benefit corporations, sustainable business corporations, and social purpose corporations.
Despite the interest in social business and the passage of numerous social enterprise laws, the basic corporate governance framework has stayed largely the same. In both socially-focused traditional companies and in newly formed social enterprises, the corporate governance system is one that empowers directors, officers, and shareholders, but largely ignores other stakeholders such as employees, customers, vendors, creditors, the environment, and the community at large.
This Article explores the shortcomings of the current corporate governance framework, reveals inadequacies in previous proposals to focus firms on all stakeholders, and proposes a stakeholder advisory board as a solution. As proposed, the stakeholder advisory board will give all major stakeholders a more direct voice in firm governance and will grant more stakeholders limited but significantly powers, without harmfully disrupting the efficiency of the board of directors. If adopted, the stakeholder advisory board will better align the corporate governance framework with the recent social business movement by including representatives of all stakeholder groups in decision-making. This proposal suggests mandating adoption of a stakeholder advisory board for large social enterprises, and encourages the voluntary adoption of a stakeholder advisory board by all firms that take their social commitments seriously.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Later this week, I will head to Indiana to present at and attend a social enterprise law conference at The Law School at the University of Notre Dame. The conference includes presentations by participating authors in the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Social Enterprise Law, edited by Ben Means and Joe Yockey. The range of presentations/chapters is impressive. Fellow BLPB editors Haskell Murray and Anne Tucker also are conference presenters and book contributors.
Interestingly (at least for me), my chapter relates to Haskell's post from last Friday. The title of my chapter is "Financing Social Enterprise: Is the Crowd the Answer?" Set forth below is the précis I submitted for distribution to the conference participants.
Crowdfunding is an open call for financial backing: the solicitation of funding from, and the provision of funding by, an undifferentiated, unrestricted mass of individuals (the “crowd”), commonly over the Internet. Crowdfunding in its various forms (e.g., donative, reward, presale, and securities crowdfunding) may implicate many different areas of law and intersects in the business setting with choice of entity as well as business finance (comprising funding, restructuring, and investment exit considerations, including mergers and acquisitions). In operation, crowdfunding uses technology to transform traditional fundraising processes by, among other things, increasing the base of potential funders for a business or project. The crowdfunding movement—if we can label it as such—has principally been a populist adventure in which the public at large has clamored for participation rights in markets from which they had been largely excluded.
Similarly, the current popularity of social enterprise, including the movement toward benefit corporations and the legislative adoption of other social enterprise business entities, also stems from populist roots. By focusing on a double or triple bottom line—serving social or environmental objectives as well as shareholder financial wealth—social enterprises represent a distinct approach to organizing and conducting business operations. Reacting to a perceived gap in the markets for business forms, charters, and tax benefits, social enterprise (and, in particular, benefit corporations) offer venturers business formation and operation alternatives not available in a market environment oriented narrowly around the maximization or absence of the private inurement of financial value to business owners, principals, or employees.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that social enterprise has been relatively quick to engage crowdfunding as a means of financing new and ongoing ventures. In addition, early data in the United States for offerings conducted under Regulation CF (promulgated under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act) indicates a relatively high incidence of securities crowdfunding by social enterprise firms. The common account of crowdfunding and social enterprise as grassroots movements striking out against structures deemed to be elitist or exclusive may underlie the use of crowdfunding by social enterprise firms in funding their operations.
Yet, social enterprise’s early-adopter status and general significance in the crowdfunding realm is understudied and undertheorized to date. This chapter offers information that aims to address in part that deficit in the literature by illuminating and commenting on the history, present experience, and future prospects of financing social enterprise through crowdfunding—especially securities crowdfunding. The chapter has a modest objective: to make salient observations about crowdfunding social enterprise initiatives the based on doctrine, policy, theory, and practice.
Specifically, to achieve this objective, the chapter begins by briefly tracing the populist-oriented foundations of the current manifestations of crowdfunding and social enterprise. Next, the chapter addresses the financing of social enterprise through crowdfunding, focusing on the relatively recent advent of securities crowdfunding (including specifically the May 2016 introduction of offerings under Regulation CF in the United States). The remainder of the chapter reflects on these foundational matters by contextualizing crowdfunded social enterprise as a part of the overall market for social enterprise finance and making related observations about litigation risk and possible impacts of securities crowdfunding on social enterprise (and vice versa).
Please let me know if you have thoughts on any of the matters I am covering in my chapter or resources to recommend in finishing writing the chapter that I may not have found. I seem to find new articles that touch on the subject of the chapter every week. I will have more to say on my chapter and the other chapters of the Handbook after the conference and as the book proceeds toward publication.
Friday, February 24, 2017
One of the many questions surrounding benefit corporations is whether their choice of legal entity form will scare away investors.
As previously reported, we now have our first publicly traded benefit corporation. And in this week's news certified B corp and benefit corporation Data.world announced a 18.7 million dollar raise. This raise ranks in the top-ten largest raises by a benefit corporation, according to the information I have seen on benefit corporations. I compiled the publicly available information I was able to uncover on social enterprise raises (including by benefit corporations) in a forthcoming symposium article for the Seattle University Law Review. It is quite possible that there are raises that have been kept quiet and that I have not seen. This Data.world news was announced days after final edits and will not be in my article.
As is often the case in social enterprise news, this news could be seen as encouraging or discouraging for supporters of the benefit corporation form.
On one hand, this is a fairly sizeable raise and a bit of evidence that not all serious investors are scared away by a legal form that mandates a general public benefit purpose.
On the other hand, the mere fact that a raise of under $20 million dollars is big news in the benefit corporation world (commanding its own announcement e-mail from benefit corporation proponent organization B Lab) shows that the benefit corporation form has yet to go mainstream. A raise under $20 million dollars hardly qualifies as news in the traditional financial world. And, as mentioned, to date, there have only been a handful of raises of this size for companies using the social enterprise forms.
Still, I think it is fair to say that benefit corporations have already come further than harsh critics originally thought was possible. The benefit corporation form still needs to evolve significantly, in my opinion, but the form is still growing and the positive news for the form has not yet stopped.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Laureate Education recently became the first standalone publicly traded benefit corporation. They are organized under Delaware's public benefit corporation (PBC) law, are also a certified B corporation, and will be trading as LAUR on NASDAQ.
Plum Organics, also a Delaware PBC, is a wholly owned subsidiary of publicly-traded Campbell Soup Company. And Etsy is a publicly traded certified-B corporation, but is organized under traditional Delaware corporation law.
Whether the for-profit educator Laureate will hurt or help the popularity of benefit corporations remains to be seen, but some for-profit educators have not been getting good press lately.
Inside Higher Ed reports on Laureate Education's IPO as a benefit corporation below:
The largest U.S.-based for-profit college chain became the first benefit corporation to go public Wednesday morning.
Laureate Education, which has more than a million students at 71 institutions across 25 countries, had been privately traded since 2007. Several major for-profit higher education companies have over the last decade bounced back and forth between publicly and privately held status; also yesterday, by coincidence, the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, formally went back into private hands….In its public debut, the company raised $490 million….
Becker said the move to become the first benefit corporation that is public is one way to show that Laureate is putting quality first.“There is certainly plenty of skepticism about whether for-profit companies can add value to society, and I feel strongly we can,” Becker said, adding that Laureate received certification from the nonprofit group B Lab after years of “rigorous” evaluations….
But the certification and the move to becoming a benefit corporation doesn’t prove a for-profit will not make bad decisions or commit risky actions that hurt students, said Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and for-profit critic.
"The one thing that being a benefit corporation does is reduce the likelihood that shareholders would sue the corporation for failing to operate in the shareholders' financial interest," Shireman said. "So it makes a marginal difference, and there's no evidence that benefit corporations, in the 10 or so years they've existed in the economy, cause better behavior."
Companies and investors could make better choices and decisions for their students without needing a benefit corporation model to do that, Shireman said, adding that the legal protection it provides is small.
"What's more important are what commitments are being made under the rubric of being a benefit corporation," he said. "How is that going to be measured and enforced … and how can they be changed or overruled by stockholders."
Head of Legal Policy at B Lab Rick Alexander, also authored a post on Laureate Education. For those who do not know, B Lab is the nonprofit responsible for the B Corp Certification and an important force behind the benefit corporation legislation that has passed in 30 states.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Over at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Rick Alexander has a post on benefit corporations. I plan to post some comments on Rick's post next week, when I have a bit more time, but for now, I will just bring our readers' attention to the post and include a small portion of his post below:
Benefit corporations dovetail with the movement to require corporations to act more sustainably. However, the sustainability movement often treats the symptom (irresponsible behavior), not the root cause—the focus on individual corporate financial performance. Proponents of corporate responsibility often emphasize “responsible” actions that increase share value, by protecting reputation or decreasing costs. Enlightened self-interest is an excellent idea, but it is not enough. As long as investment managers and corporate executives are rewarded for maximizing the share value of individual companies, they will have incentives to impose costs and risks on everyone else.
Friday, November 25, 2016
It is not secret that Patagonia is one of the companies that I admire most; it may be my favorite company and is certainly in my top-five.
Patagonia's decision regarding its Black Friday sales adds to the reason I like the company. Patagonia will donate 100% of its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups.
As I read it, the donations will be 100% of revenue, not profits, and the donations are estimated to be millions of dollars.
Patagonia is both a California benefit corporation and B corporation certified, but unlike many social enterprises, Patagonia often does things like the above that don't appear to be done just for the PR, and may actually hurt the company in the very short-term.
That said, Patagonia definitely has a good PR team and is probably getting millions of dollars of exposure out of this decision. And their apparel is quite expensive, so they may be able to afford to do things like this, based, in part, on the margins and goodwill built over time.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Happy Thanksgiving from the Dominican Republic. I'm blogging from the Fathom Adonia, Carnival's fledgling social impact cruise line. I've spent the past few days in Puerto Plata teaching English in schools and local communities. Other passengers worked on reforestation projects, built water filtration systems, installed concrete floors in homes, worked with women on cocoa farms, and learned how to recycle paper with local workers. Passengers can also do typical excursions such as zip lining and snorkeling, or can lounge around in the $80 million dollar Amber Cove built up like a resort. But most people come on this cruise for the volunteer activities and don't expect frills (our bus got stuck in the mud and we needed pig farmers in a truck to help push us out on the way back from teaching English 75 minutes outside of town). Fathom has restaurants, a spa, dancing, bars, onboard activities such as wine and paint, extremely friendly staff, and enthusiastic, young "impact guides" but no Vegas-style shows and only carries approximately 700 passengers.
Carnival has banked on profiting from people's stated desire to do good in the world. Lots of surveys support this idea in theory. However, as regular readers of this blog know, I have written several posts skeptical of those who claim to care about corporate social responsibility, but choose to buy based on convenience, quality, and price. I have also repeatedly and publicly acknowledged that I am one of those people who selectively boycotts products and vendors. Although the idea of a social impact cruise line excited me, I wondered about whether It would succeed when I first heard of it because most people I know want to relax and not work on a vacation.
Unfortunately, it appears that Carnival's bet may not be paying off. Yesterday, the Miami Herald had an article discussing the future of the social impact product. Apparently, the Fathom, which also goes to Cuba, may stop doing these impact cruises, although Carnival promises that passengers will have "voluntourism" opportunities on its other cruise lines. Carnival also plans to continue its trips to Cuba on a different line starting next summer.
This change in direction, if true, does not surprise me. The Fathom trips to the Dominican Republic have never sold out, even at prices that are one third the price of the Cuba trip- my husband and I paid less than $1000 between the two of us for a seven day cruise, and were upgraded because they had capacity. We learned from one of Fathom's partners on the ground that there have been layoffs in Puerto Plata because they don't have enough volunteers traveling on the ship. Fathom has even had to cancel some of the sailings altogether.
Although the trips have not been popular with the masses, everyone that I have met on this trip has raved about their activities (particularly the English teaching) and the interactions with the warm Dominican people. Carnival may have hoped that word of mouth would suffice and that they wouldn't need heavy marketing. It's possible that Carnival believed all of the surveys of millennials who claim they want to change the world. Either way, it appears that there won't be a cruise line dedicated to social impact after next summer. That will be a huge loss for Puerto Plata and for those who want this kind of experience and are willing to pay to work with reputable, caring organizations.
I'm pulling for Fathom to survive in some form and for this idea to spread to other cruise lines. My husband and I both found that teaching English to 5th graders in a crowded classroom in a rain storm was the best Thanksgiving we have ever spent. When the students and volunteers spoke about the expeierence at the end of today's tutoring, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. That may not be profitable for Carnival, but it was priceless for those of us who experienced it.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Georgetown University Law Center – Graduate Teaching Fellowship, Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic
Today, I received the position announcement below from my friend Alicia Plerhoples (Georgetown), who is doing exciting things in the social enterprise and nonprofit areas. This is an excellent opportunity, and I think anyone would be fortunate to work with her and her clinic.
Georgetown University Law Center –
Graduate Teaching Fellowship, Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic
Description of the Clinic
The Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center offers pro bono corporate and transactional legal services to social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and select small businesses headquartered in Washington, D.C. and working locally or internationally. Through the Clinic, law students learn to translate theory into practice by engaging in the supervised practice of law for educational credit. The Clinic’s goals are consistent with Georgetown University's long tradition of public service. The Clinic’s goals are to:
Teach law students the materials, expectations, strategies, and methods of transactional lawyering, as well as an appreciation for how transactional law can be used in the public interest.
Represent social enterprises and nonprofit organizations in corporate and transactional legal matters.
Facilitate the growth of social enterprise in the D.C. area.
The clinic’s local focus not only allows the Clinic to give back to the community it calls home, but also gives students an opportunity to explore and understand the challenges and strengths of the D.C. community beyond the Georgetown Law campus. As D.C. experiences increasing income inequality, it becomes increasingly important for the Clinic to provide legal assistance to organizations that serve and empower vulnerable D.C. communities. Students are taught how to become partners in enterprise for their clients with the understanding that innovative transactional lawyers understand both the legal and non-legal incentive structures that drive business organizations.
Description of Fellowship
The two-year fellowship is an ideal position for a transactional lawyer interested in developing teaching and supervisory abilities in a setting that emphasizes a dual commitment—clinical education of law students and transactional law employed in the public interest. The fellow will have several areas of responsibility, with an increasing role as the fellowship progresses. Over the course of the fellowship, the fellow will: (i) supervise students in representing nonprofit organizations and social enterprises on transactional, operational, and corporate governance matters, (ii) share responsibility for teaching seminar sessions, and (iii) share in the administrative and case handling responsibilities of the Clinic. Fellows also participate in a clinical pedagogy seminar and other activities designed to support an interest in clinical teaching and legal education. Successful completion of the fellowship results in the award of an L.L.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown University. The fellowship start date is August 1, 2017 and the fellowship is for two years, ending July 31, 2019.
Applicants must have at least 3 years of post J.D. legal experience. Preference will be given to applicants with experience in a transactional area of practice such as nonprofit law and tax, community economic development law, corporate law, intellectual property, real estate, and finance. Applicants with a strong commitment to economic justice are encouraged to apply. Applicants must be admitted or willing to be admitted to the District of Columbia Bar.
To apply, send a resume, an official or unofficial law school transcript, and a detailed letter of interest by December 15, 2016. The letter should be no longer than two pages and address a) why you are interested in this fellowship; b) what you can contribute to the Clinic; c) your experience with transactional matters and/or corporate law; and d) anything else that you consider pertinent. Please address your application to Professor Alicia Plerhoples, Georgetown Law, 600 New Jersey Ave., NW, Suite 434, Washington, D.C. 20001, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emailed applications are preferred. More information about the clinic can be found at www.socialenterprise-gulaw.org.
Teaching fellows receive an annual stipend of approximately $53,500 (estimated 2016 taxable salary), health and dental benefits, and all tuition and fees in the LL.M. program. As full-time students, teaching fellows qualify for deferment of their student loans. In addition, teaching fellows may be eligible for loan repayment assistance from their law schools.
Friday, September 2, 2016
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.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
My contribution is based on my 2015 West Virginia Law Review article, An Early Report on Benefit Reports, which showed under 10% compliance with benefit corporation reporting, noted problems with the statutory framework, and suggested statutory amendments.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Robert Esposito (Drinker Biddle) passed along his firm's interesting report on early crowdfunding offerings. The report is available here. Be sure to download the firm level detail spreadsheet available via the data download on the top right of the page.
The report shows that social enterprise and breweries/distilleries account for outsized portions of the early offerings. A group of us (including co-blogger Joan Heminway) predicted, at the University of Colorado's business school in July 2013, that social entrepreneurs would gravitate to equity crowdfunding. Separately, in my social enterprise law seminar, I was surprised by how many students presented on breweries that were social enterprises, and looking at this list it appears that there is at least one company (Hawaiian Ola Brewing Corporation - a Certified B Corporation) that falls into both the social enterprise and brewery categories highlighted below. It may be that both areas appeal to younger entrepreneurs who may also be eager to try this new form of capital raising.
Go read the entire report, but I provide a teaser quote below the dotted line with some emphasis added.
In general. As of June 30, 2016, 50 companies have filed a Form C with the SEC to offer securities under the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption. Minimum target offering amounts range from $20,000 to $500,000 per offering, with a median of $55,000. All but one of these issuers, however, have disclosed that they will accept offers in excess of the target amount, including 27 issuers that say they will accept investments at or near the maximum permitted offering amount of $1,000,000. In contrast, 18 of the first 50 issuers elected to cap their offering at just $100,000, with the remainder setting an offering cap of between $200,000 and $500,000. In the aggregate, if this first wave of retail crowdfundings is successful, 50 small companies will raise an aggregate of $6 to $30 million in new capital to fund their businesses.
While announced offering durations range from 21 days to one year, the median period that issuers say they will keep their offerings open is just under six months, with about half electing an offering duration between 166 and 182 days.
Eighteen different jurisdictions of incorporation are represented among the first 50 issuers; however, nearly half of the initial filers (24) are Delaware entities. Early data shows that issuers tend to be early-stage startups, with a median issuer age of just 354 days. Nevertheless, nine of the issuers were more than five years old, and the oldest was incorporated in 2003. . . .
While a total of 12 funding portals have registered with FINRA to date, the early mover Wefunder portal hosts more than half (26) of the first 50 offerings. The StartEngine portal has secured eight offerings, with the remainder split among other portals, including SeedInvest, Next Seed, Flashfunders, and Venture.co.
- Social Enterprises. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Special Topic Report on Social Entrepreneurship, social enterprises account for only 5.7 percent of entrepreneurial activity in the United States. However, early crowdfunding data shows that social enterprises are strongly represented among crowdfunding issuers. Seven issuers, representing 14 percent of the first 50 offerings, are either registered as benefit corporations or benefit LLCs, or are certified by B Lab as B Corps, and at least an additional nine issuers operate within traditional corporate forms with strong social and/or environmental missions. Combined, these issuers represent 32 percent of the first 50 offerings.
- Raise a Glass. Craft breweries, distilleries, and licensed establishments are also disproportionately represented among the first 50 issuers. Eight issuers, representing 16 percent of the first 50 offerings, fall into this category, including 2 distilleries, 2 craft breweries, 2 bars, as well as a frozen alcohol producer and a producer of ginger liqueur.
Friday, July 8, 2016
Like Anne and Joan, I enjoyed the Berle Symposium and found it incredibly valuable. As they have mentioned, former Chancellor Chandler's presentation was definitely a highlight, and it was affirming to hear Delaware law described as I understand it, if much more eloquently expressed than I have managed. Former Chancellor Chandler appeared to make clear that directors of Delaware firms could be at risk if they admit to taking an action that is not aimed at (eventually) meeting the short or long-term financial interests of shareholders.
Former Chancellor Chandler's description of Delaware law, both in the symposium and in his eBay case, coupled with the law review writings of Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine, confirm, in my mind, that benefit corporations could be useful, at least in Delaware, for entrepreneurs who want to admit pursing strategies that are not aimed at benefiting shareholders in the short or long run. For example, I think some companies, like Patagonia, make decisions that benefit the environment, even though the directors may honestly believe that financial costs will far exceed financial benefits, even in the long-term.
Interestingly, however, much of what I heard from the B Lab representatives at the symposium was about how benefit corporations can do just as well, if not better, than traditional corporations from a financial perspective. This obviously poses an empirical question that we may get better answers to in the coming years. But if you can "do well by doing good" then then entrepreneurs, even under Delaware law, seem likely to avoid legal problems given the protection of the business judgment rule and the argument that financial benefits will eventually follow from their society-focused actions.
The benefitcorp.net website has a list of reasons to become a benefit corporation, which are:
Reduced Director Liability
Expanded Stockholder Rights
A Reputation For Leadership
An Advantage in Attracting Talent
Increased Access to Private Investment Capital
Increased Attractiveness to Retail Investors and Mission Protection as a Publicly Traded Company
I am a bit surprised that more of these reasons are not focused on societal and environmental benefit (and am not sure why mission protection is limited to publicly traded companies, especially when there are no stand-alone publicly traded benefit corporations today -- though there will likely soon be some soon.) I question whether all of these benefits are true. For example, I have heard mixed things about benefit corporations from investors, and the liability issue is completely untested. But if all of these things are true, and social entrepreneurs do get better access to capital and an advantage attracting employees, etc., then I think the benefit corporation form is less necessary as a legal matter. Maybe the thought is that benefit corporations have expressive value or that they provide an extra layer of protection. But, as a legal matter, if you can justify your social actions by pointing to potential long-term financial benefits, you do not really need a new form, even in Delaware (and, of course, many other states are even more permissive with social actions). Maybe benefit corporation proponents see the real value in the M&A context when facing Unocal/Revlon, but Page & Katz showed ways around those issues, especially if focused on long-term value. Entrepreneurs could also incorporate outside of Delaware, in a state that has expressly rejected Revlon.
Personally, while it is possible for some firms to do well by doing good, I think social entrepreneurs will often be openly sacrificing financial returns---they will be doing good through purposeful financial sacrifice. As such, an benefit corporation option, at least in states like Delaware.
There was quite a lot of good discussion at the Berle Symposium, and I may have more to write about it in later posts.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Former Delaware Chancellor William (Bill) Chandler and Elizabeth Hecker, a fellow lawyer at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati presented on benefit corporations and Delaware law at the Berle VIII conference. I cannot fully communicate how exciting it was to hear a distillation of Delaware law generally and several opinions specifically from a judge involved in the cases. In short: it was thrilling.
Former Chancellor Chandler discussed the Delaware case law interpretation of shareholder value and its place in analyzing corporate transactions. While these aren't words that he used, I have been thinking a lot about this tension as a question of complimenting or competing. The simple message was that the "inc." behind corporate names means something. But the question, is what does that mean? It signals, among other things, that a Delaware court will invalidate a board of directors' other serving actions only if they are in conflict with shareholder value, but never when it is complimentary. And there is a expanding appreciation of when "other interests" are seen as complimentary to, and not in competition with, shareholder value maximization.
Former Chancellor Chandler reminded us that shareholder value can include long term interests as the Delaware Chancery Court concluded in February 2011 in the Airgas case where Delaware upheld a board's defensive actions taken, in part, on the belief that the offer didn't include the full long-term value. The Airgas opinion is available here. The original $5.9B bid for Airgas, which the BOD said, despite an informed shareholder vote in its favor, didn't capture the full value of the company. The market validated Airgas' board's position and the Delaware court's adoption of that view. Airgas completed its merger with Air Liquide in May, 2016 for $10.3B.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
SEC Chair Mary Jo White yesterday presented the keynote address, for the International Corporate Governance Network Annual Conference, "Focusing the Lens of Disclosure to Set the Path Forward on Board Diversity, Non-GAAP, and Sustainability." The full speech is available here.
In reading the speech, I found that I was talking to myself at various spots (I do that from time to time), so I thought I'd turn those thoughts into an annotated version of the speech. In the excerpt below, I have added my comments in brackets and italics. These are my initial thoughts to the speech, and I will continue to think these ideas through to see if my impression evolves. Overall, as is often the case with financial and other regulation, I found myself agreeing with many of the goals, but questioning whether the proposed methods were the right way to achieve the goals. Here's my initial take:
June 28, 2016 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, June 24, 2016
Recently, I came across this discussion on Poverty Inc. by Bill Easterly (NYU Economics) and the film's creators (Michael Matheson Miller and Mark Weber). I posted on one of Bill Easterly's books here.
In the discussion at NYU, I especially liked this quote from Michael Matheson Miller: "We tend to treat poor people as objects--as objects of our charity, objects of our pity, objects of our compassion.--instead of subjects...Poor people are not objects; they are subjects and they should be the protagonists in their own stories of development." The personal story Mark Weber tells of his trip while he was studying at Notre Dame was moving, but you will have to watch the discussion to hear it, as it would be tough to summarize. Some of the audience questions are a bit long-winded, but I think the panel does a nice job deciphering and answering.
The film's trailer, the discussion, and the Q&A with the audience are all worth watching.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Having helped a few Tennessee bar applicants get straight on their knowledge of agency, unincorporated business associations, and personal property law last Friday at my BARBRI lecture (such a nice group present at the taping to keep me company!), it's now time for me to wrap up my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour with a twofer--a week of travel to two of my favorite U.S. cities: Chicago, for the National Business Law Scholars Conference and Seattle for Berle VIII. At both events, I will present my draft paper (still in process today, unfortunately) on publicly held benefit corporations, Corporate Purpose and Litigation Risk in Publicly Held U.S. Benefit Corporations. Here's the bird's-eye view from the introduction:
Benefit corporations—corporations organized for the express purpose of realizing both financial wealth for shareholders and articulated social or environmental benefits—have taken the United States by storm. With Maryland passing the first benefit corporation statute in 2010, legislative growth of the form has been rapid. Currently, 31 states have passed benefit corporation statutes.
The proliferation of benefit corporation statutes and B Corp certifications can largely be attributed to the active promotional work of B Lab Company, a nonprofit corporation organized in 2006 under Pennsylvania law that supports social enterprise (“B Lab”). B Lab works with individuals and interest groups to generate attention to social enterprise generally and awareness of and support for the benefit corporation form and B Corp certification (a social enterprise seal of approval, of sorts) specifically. B Lab also supplies model benefit corporation legislation, social enterprise standards that may meet the requirements of benefit corporation statutes in various states, and other services to social enterprises.
Benefit corporation statutes have not, by and large, been the entity law Field of Dreams. Despite the legislative popularity of the benefit corporation form, there have not been as many benefit corporation incorporations as one might expect. In the first four years of benefit corporation authority, for example, Maryland reported the existence of fewer than 40 benefit corporations in total. Tennessee’s benefit corporation statute came into effect in January 2016, and as of May 2, 2016, Secretary of State filings evidence the organization of 26 for-profit benefit corporations. However, a review of these filings suggests that well more than half were erroneously organized as benefit corporations. Colorado, another recent adopter of the benefit corporation, does appear to have a large number of filings (90 in total as of June 12, 2016 based on the list of Colorado benefit corporations on the B Lab website). However, as with Tennessee, a number of these listed corporations appear to be erroneously classified. These anecdotal offerings indicate that published lists of benefit corporations—even those constructed from state filings—over-count the number of benefit corporations significantly.
Research for this article identified no publicly held U.S. benefit corporations. For these purposes (and as referenced throughout this article), the term “publicly held” in reference to a corporation is defined to mean a corporation (a) with a class of equity securities registered under Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“1934 Act”), or (b) otherwise required to file periodic reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission under Section 13 of the 1934 Act. Yet, benefit corporations may be subsidiaries of publicly held corporations (as Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., New Chapter Inc., and Plum, PBC have demonstrated), and corporations certified as B Corps have begun to enter the ranks of publicly held corporations (perhaps Etsy, Inc. being the most well known to date). It likely is only a matter of time before we will see the advent of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations.
With the likely prospect of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations in mind, this article engages in a thought experiment. Specifically, this article views the publicly held U.S. benefit corporation from the perspective of litigation risk. It first situates, in Part I, the U.S. benefit corporation in its structural and governance context as an incorporated business association. Corporate purpose and the attendant managerial authority and fiduciary duties are the key points of reference. Then, in Part II, the article seeks to identify the unique litigation risks associated with publicly held corporations with the structural and governance attributes of a benefit corporation. These include both state and federal causes of action. The reflections in Part III draw conclusions from the synthesis of the observations made in Parts I and II. The closing thoughts in Part III are intended to be of use to policy makers, academic observers, and advisers of corporations, among others.
As Haskell mentioned in an earlier post, he and Anne and I will be together at the Berle VIII event. What a great way to end my June tour--with my friends and colleagues from the Business Law Prof Blog! I look forward to it.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
8th Annual Berle Symposium - Benefit Corporations and the Firm Commitment Universe - June 27-28, 2016 - Seattle, WA
Three Business Law Prof Blog editors (myself included) are presenting at the upcoming Berle Symposium on June 27-28 in Seattle.
Colin Mayer (Oxford) is the keynote speaker, and I look forward to hearing him present again. I blogged on his book Firm Commitment after I heard him speak at Vanderbilt a few of years ago. The presenters also include former Chancellor Bill Chandler of the Delaware Court of Chancery. Given that Chancellor Chandler's eBay v. Newmark decision is heavily cited in the benefit corporation debates, it will be quite valuable to have him among the contributors. The author of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, Bill Clark, will also be presenting; I have been at a number of conferences with Bill Clark and always appreciate his thoughts from the front lines. Finally, the list is packed with professors I know and admire, or have read their work and am looking forward to meeting.
More information about the conference is available here.
June 16, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Law School, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)