Shareholder Proposals: “Micromanagement” Continues to be Hot
At the recent Society conference, shareholder proposals – in particular, exclusions based on “micromanagement” – were a hot topic. I’ve blogged that last year’s Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14J revived that prong of Rule 14a-8(i)(7)’s “ordinary business” test.
Corp Fin Staffers have explained that proposals may be excludable due to “micromanagement” if they unduly limit management’s discretion – e.g. by advocating for specific methods or policies rather than deferring to the company to determine how to address a topic. They’ve also said that the complexity of the underlying subject matter doesn’t impact the analysis. And a 46-page Sullivan & Cromwell memo about trends in shareholder proposals looks at how “micromanagement” has been applied in some recent no-action letters.
Not everyone agrees with how things are playing out. For example, the Council of Institutional Investors recently submitted a comment letter to Corp Fin that frames the Staff’s approach as an arbitrary “too complex for shareholders” test – and requests that the Staff again revisit its approach to the rule. Specifically, CII takes issue with the Staff’s no-action relief for proposals relating to the use of non-GAAP adjustments in incentive plans (the topic of a rulemaking petition that CII filed with the SEC in April) – as well as requests for companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s an excerpt:
“With regard to the each of the Devon and Exxon proposals, the Staff said that, “by imposing this requirement, the Proposal would micromanage the Company by seeking to impose specific methods for implementing complex policies in place of the ongoing judgments of management as overseen by its board of directors.”  The Staff used the word “impose” twice in this sentence, but that doubling-down does not obviate the fact that the precatory recommendation would not impose anything on the company, other than for management to place the item on its proxy card and include the proposal and supporting statement in the proxy statement. These are requests to the boards on a major public policy issue, not directives.
Nor, for that matter, do the proposals require “specific methods.” The proposals thread the needle between vagueness and recommending overly specific policies. They do not suggest specific goals or a timetable, but rather frame a general structure, well understood by investors, for disclosure of goals.”
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net July 18, 2019
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