IPO Governance Trends: Takeover Defenses Remain Common
According to the latest survey of IPO governance trends by Davis Polk, there’s been “widespread and generally increasing adoption” of takeover defenses at both controlled and non-controlled companies in advance of IPOs — even as seasoned public companies have been abandoning the same defenses due to shareholder pressure. The survey looked at the Top 46 “controlled company” IPOs and the Top 50 “non-controlled company” IPOs by deal size from April 1, 2018 through July 10, 2020. Here are some other findings:
– Exclusive Forum Provisions: The number of both controlled and non-controlled companies that adopted exclusive forum provisions (another governance attribute disfavored by some shareholder advocates) during the current survey period continued to grow from past survey periods. In the current survey, 91% of controlled companies and 98% of non-controlled companies adopted exclusive-forum provisions. These included both exclusive forum provisions addressing claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “’33 Act”) and exclusive forum provisions addressing other claims against the company. This is a substantial increase from the 14% and 26% of controlled and non-controlled companies, respectively, that adopted such provisions in our 2014 survey.
– Direct Listings: When we compared the one comparable direct listing during the current survey period (Slack Technologies, Inc.) to the non-controlled companies, we found similar governance provisions. Slack’s takeover defenses were identical to the vast majority of non-controlled companies, including a staggered board, prohibitions on shareholder action by written consent, shareholder ability to call a special meeting, the requirement of a super majority to amend the bylaws and plurality voting for uncontested director elections.
– Dual-Class Shares: Over 25% of controlled companies, and 28% of non-controlled companies, had a class of shares with unequal voting rights.
– Shareholder Written Consent: 9% of controlled companies and 12% of non-controlled companies permitted shareholder action by written consent. We’ve blogged on The Proxy Season Blog about how this is becoming a “hot topic.”
Check out the full 60-page survey for info on board & committee structure, advance notice bylaws, board & shareholder rights, equity awards, employment agreements, and more.
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net October 16, 2020
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