What should corporate directors be worried about as they prepare for the New Year and the upcoming proxy season?
First, a post-election revisiting to prior strategic planning based upon a reassessment of economic and political assumptions, including impact of trade and tariff issues. But, what else?
An expert panel at the January 10 breakfast meeting of the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors also discussed an anticipated de-emphasis of business regulatory pressures. Not-yet-enacted SEC rule-making pursuant to Dodd Frank concerning ban on executive hedging, executive claw backs and “pay for performance” may well never get enacted. There also is speculation that the recently adopted SEC pay ratio proxy regulation, which applies for Fiscal Year 2017 and is reportable in 2018 proxy statements, also may well be sidelined by the SEC. There is no expectation that the existing say on pay rules will be rolled back.
There is growing pressure from shareholders, including institutional shareholders, on director compensation. Boards may consider putting aggregate director compensation to a shareholder vote in order to get protection from litigation and criticism.
The SEC is on the hunt for misuse of non-GAAP reporting measures, which in recent years have shown growing variance from GAAP; both the metrics going into the non-GAAP numbers and the prominence of presentation of the non-GAAP numbers should be looked at closely by the board itself.
New income recognition standards are effective for the 2018 calendar year, and SEC requirements include disclosing in this year’s 10K, if not the actual numerical impact, at least the anticipated general impact.
Finally, certain companies are inviting more constructive activist investors to make an investment, and perhaps join the Board, in an effort to head off a more adverse activist approach; the buzz word for this practice is “validation capital.” Since institutional investors also have moved, to some degree, away from supporting independent activists and have themselves become more direct in engaging their portfolio companies, it is clear that our standard governance model of board-centric corporate management is becoming a dual model, as shareholders are forcing themselves into the board room and will be heard more and more in the coming year.