Friday, March 15, 2024

Chancellor McCormick is Annoyed

On March 12, Chancellor McCormick issued a revised appraisal opinion in HBK Master Fund v. Pivotal Software, amending her calculations to award the petitioners 44 cents above deal price, rather than 17 cents below, as she had originally.  

But I somehow missed the original opinion, so my first read was the amended one.  Forgive me if this is old hat by now, but it was new to me, so.

The case involved a buyout of Pivotal by its sister company, VMWare, both controlled by Dell Technologies.  That raised the question whether the use of MFW procedures required deference to the deal price, in the same way it does in other kinds of appraisal actions.  Chancellor McCormick held no, because, critically, with a controlling shareholder, there can be no real market test – there are no other potential bidders, and even the shares themselves may trade at a discount to reflect the controller’s ability to extract rents.  Thus, the underpinning of cases like Dell v. Magnetar, 177 A.3d 1 (2017), is absent.

But that’s actually not what stood out to me. 

As is the usual course with these things, Chancellor McCormick began with a standard discussion of the process by which the deal was negotiated.  Along the way, she singled out the conduct of Marcy Klevorn, who was one member of a two-person Pivotal special committee, and who also held positions at Ford.  Here is what McCormick said:

Around this time, the Pivotal Special Committee decided not to canvas the market for other potential bidders….

One of the two Pivotal Special Committee members, Klevorn, was missing in action through much of this process.

  • She missed the October 8, 2018 Board meeting. She later testified that her absence was likely due to separate duties at Ford.
  • She missed the January 28, 2019 Board meeting.112 Klevorn testified that she was “probably traveling[.]”
  • She arrived late to the March 15, 2019 Board meeting. She could not recall why.
  • She missed the March 22, 2019 Board meeting. She could not recall why.
  • She left early from the April 9, 2019 Board meeting due to a “prior engagement[.]” At this meeting, Lankton provided an update to the rest of the Board on the merger.

So, through April 2019, Klevorn missed, was late for, or left early from each Pivotal Board and Special Committee meetings. Klevorn testified that being on the Pivotal Special Committee was “a lot of work and I don’t know, to be honest, how I felt about it at the time.”

The Pivotal Special Committee met on July 31, 2019. Klevorn joined the meeting late because she was busy with a meeting at Ford.

The next day, the Pivotal Special Committee held a meeting to decide whether to counteroffer, accompanied by Morgan Stanley, Mee, and other members of Pivotal leadership.  Klevorn attended, reluctantly. A few days prior, Klevorn’s assistant asked her if she could attend that meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Klevorn responded, “[u]gh. Was planning to do a bunch of returns at [S]omerset. I thought it was at 2???” After her assistant responded about the timing, Klevorn replied, “[l]ife ruiner. Ok.”

On August 14, 2019, the VMware Special Committee made what it termed a “best and final offer” of $15.00 per share.  The Pivotal Special Committee held a meeting to consider it; Klevorn was absent.


Did Klevorn’s neglect have a bearing on the outcome?  Reader, it did not.  After McCormick explained why MFW procedures could not cleanse the transaction, she pretty much moved on from any discussion of this particular process, except to briefly note that Klevorn’s absence called into doubt certain base projections – which McCormick ended up accepting anyway.  (Op. at 88-89).  Sure, I suppose Klevorn’s conduct could have had some kind of influence on McCormick’s thought process, but if so, it’s not explicit in the opinion.

Why am I mentioning this? 

Because a while ago, Edward Rock argued that Delaware’s courts operate more through parables of “good” and “bad” boards, reputational sanctions, and public shaming, than through actual interference with business decisions.  And though I can think of a certain billionaire, now 25% poorer, who might disagree with that assessment, McCormick’s somewhat gratuitous swipes at Klevorn (“life ruiner”) would seem to bear out the thesis.

If you don’t want to serve on a special committee, don’t do it.  At the very least, don’t put it in an email/text.

Ann Lipton | Permalink


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