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Proxy Access: A New Version for 2013

October 16, 2012 in General

Update: This is a revised version of an earlier post this month. I’ve deleted that post because I don’t want anyone to mistakenly use the prior draft language. I’m hoping this language is a little tighter but always welcome reader suggestions.

Last month I hoped ISS would reconsider their analysis of our proxy access proposal at H&R Block (HRB-ProxyAccessProposal pdf), submitted by Kenneth Steiner. ISS had said our proposals “could undermine the efforts of larger, long-term shareholders whose interests might better reflect those of the broader shareholder base.” However, as I wrote in my September 10th post,

their logic appears flawed. Larger, longer-term shareowners would gain rights, not lose them, under the proposal… without Steiner’s proposal those larger, long-term shareholder have no right to proxy access. Additionally, the proposal does allow those larger, long-term shareowners to nominate 2 members of the board — the same number ISS appears eager to endorse. The smaller shareowners provided for in Option B can’t undermine larger, long-term shareholders, since they would file under Option A.

Nonetheless, they recommended against the proposal and it failed. We spent much of last spring trying to work proxy proposals though the SEC “no-action” process. It looks like it may take fall revisions to obtain endorsements from ISS and Glass Lewis. This post proposes a revised proxy access template, which would still create the possibility for retail shareowners to participate in proxy access nominations but also attempts to address concerns raise by proxy advisors and large institutional investors. Read the rest of this entry →

Proxy Advisors Obstruct Proxy Access

August 9, 2012 in General

The good news is that, on the second round of submissions of the USPX model proxy access proposal, the SEC rejected all no-action requests. We now have votes coming up in the next couple months at Forest Labs ($FRX), Medtronic ($MDT) and H&R Block ($HRB). All three were submtted by individual shareowner Kenneth Steiner.

The bad news is that the proxy advisory firms ISS and Glass Lewis are now standing in the way. Jim McRitchie, John Chevedden and Glyn Holton have been doing outreach to the proxy advisors and institutional investors … but we pretty much have to get support from influential ISS, or we won’t receive majority votes.

A couple weeks ago, USPX members finalized a slide presentation on the USPX Model Proxy Access Proposal. We forwarded it to ISS, and they agreed to have a conference call. It was a cordial conversation. We walked them through the careful logic behind the model proposal, as described in the release document. They listened and asked questions … and several times made a disturbing protest to the effect that some of their clients disagreed with our position that proxy access should be open to smaller investors, including individual shareowners. They didn’t exactly explain why those clients disagreed. All that mattered was that … they disagreed.

Through back channels, we later heard:

ISS is not recommending a yes vote. They said their clients are expressing support for a higher threshold of stock ownership than ISS expected. Plus their clients wanted more change in control safeguards.

ISS has come out against our proposal at Forest Labs and Medtronics. They haven’t yet taken a position on the H&R Block proposal, which is slightly different from the other two. it blocks takeover attempts by capping the number of shareowner nominees at 48% of the board—precisely the sort of change in control safeguard ISS found lacking in the other two proposals. We will wait and see what they decide.

The response from Glass Lewis has been even worse: they refused to even speak to us. Proxy access is the biggest issue in shareowner proposals this year, and our model proposal has been submitted to more companies than all other proxy access proposals combined, and they wouldn’t even speak to us …

Proxy Access Moves Forward: Forest Labs, Medtronic & H&R Block

August 1, 2012 in General

The cartoon at left accompanied an article entitled Where are the funds? (Pensions & Investments, 3/5/2012). P&I lamented, “instead of sitting on the sidelines, activist investors should take advantage of the opportunity to file access proposals… proxy access proponents must be adventurous.” Working through the USPX, individual shareowners are using the key; adventure is on the way.

Individual shareowner Ken Steiner has three proxy access proposals—all based on the updated USPX model proxy access proposal—coming up for votes at  Forest Labs ($FRX) on August 15th, Medtronic  ($MDT) on August 23rd and at H&R Block ($HRB), whose proxy materials have not yet been released. All three proposals survived no-action challenges at the SEC. Read the rest of this entry →