Proxy Advisory Firms Release Policy Updates for 2016
Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, two leading proxy advisory firms, recently published their 2016 proxy voting guidelines, which include updates applicable to the 2016 proxy season.
Institutional Shareholder Services
Key policy updates for US companies reflected in ISS’s 2016 proxy voting guidelines include:
Overboarding: Beginning in 2017, ISS will issue negative vote recommendations for non-CEO directors who sit on more than five public company boards (down from six under the current policy). For CEOs, the outside directorship limit will remain at two. In 2016, ISS will note in its analysis whether a director is serving on more than five public company boards.
Unilateral Board Actions: For established public companies, ISS will continue its policy of generally recommending that shareholders withhold votes (in uncontested elections) from directors who have unilaterally adopted a classified board structure, implemented supermajority vote requirements to amend the bylaws or charter or otherwise adopted charter or bylaw amendments that diminish the rights of shareholders. The negative recommendation would continue in subsequent years until the unilateral action is reversed or approved by stockholders. For newly public companies that have taken action to diminish shareholder rights prior to or in connection with an IPO, directors may be subject to negative vote recommendations under the updated policy, determined on a case-by-case basis (with significant weight given to shareholders’ ability to change the governance structure in the future through a simple majority vote and their ability to hold directors accountable through annual director elections).
Compensation of Externally Managed Issuers: The updated “Problematic Pay Practice” policy provides that an externally managed issuer’s failure to provide sufficient disclosure for shareholders to reasonably assess the compensation practices and payments made to executive officers on the part of the external manager will be deemed a problematic pay practice, and will generally warrant a recommendation to vote against the issuer’s “say-on-pay” proposal.
For a complete overview of the 2016 updates to ISS’s proxy voting guidelines, click here. ISS also recently updated both its Equity Plan Scorecard frequently asked questions (FAQs) and QuickScore 3.0. The updated 2016 US Equity Plan Scorecard FAQs, effective for meetings on or after February 1, 2016, can be found here, and QuickScore 3.0 can be found here.
Significant policy updates to Glass Lewis’s 2016 proxy season guidelines include:
Conflicting Management and Shareholder Proposals: Going forward, Glass Lewis will consider the following factors when it is analyzing and determining whether to support conflicting management and shareholder proposals: (1) the nature of the underlying issue; (2) the benefit to the shareholders from implementation of the proposal; (3) the materiality of the differences between the management and shareholder proposals; (4) the appropriateness of the provisions in light of the company’s shareholder base, corporate structure and other relevant circumstances; and (5) a company’s overall governance profile and, specifically, its responsiveness to previous shareholder proposals and its adoption of “progressive” shareholder rights provisions.
Exclusive Forum Provisions: Glass Lewis will no longer automatically recommend a “withhold” vote against the chairman of the nominating and corporate governance committee of a company that adopts exclusive forum provisions in connection with its initial public offering. Instead Glass Lewis will weigh exclusive forum provisions in a newly public company’s governing documents with other provisions that Glass Lewis believes unduly limit shareholder rights (e.g., supermajority vote requirements, classified board and/or a fee shifting bylaw). Glass Lewis will continue, however, to recommend voting against the chairman of the nominating and corporate governance committee when a company adopts an exclusive forum provision without shareholder approval outside of an IPO, merger or spin-off.
Nominating Committee Performance: Glass Lewis may consider recommending shareholders vote against the chair of the nominating committee where the board’s failure to ensure the board has directors with relevant experience––either through periodic director assessment or board refreshment––has contributed to a company’s poor performance. Notably, Glass Lewis does not define “poor performance.”
Overboarding: Beginning in 2017, consistent with ISS’s policy update described above, Glass Lewis will generally recommend voting against (1) any director who serves on more than five public company boards and (2) any executive officer of a public company who serves on a total of more than two public company boards. Like ISS, during 2016, Glass Lewis may note a concern where a director serves on (x) more than five total boards for directors who are not also executives, and (y) more than two boards for a director who serves as an executive officer of a public company.
For a complete overview of Glass Lewis’s 2016 proxy voting guidelines, click here.