The Harvard project has announced its plans for the 2014 proxy season:
- 31 shareholder proposals for board declassification have been submitted to S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies for a vote at their 2014 annual meetings (listed here);
- 7 companies—about one quarter of the 31 companies receiving proposals—have already entered into agreements to bring management declassification proposals to a shareholder vote;
- These 7 companies are in addition to 8 other S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies that have committed to bring agreed-upon management proposals to a vote in future annual meetings following 2012 and 2013 precatory proposals by SRP-represented investors;
- The 15 agreed-upon management proposals to declassify, coupled with board declassifications that have already taken place at 80 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies as a result of the work by the SRP and SRP-represented investors (listedhere), can be expected to contribute to the wide-scale move toward annual elections; and
- The agreements already obtained following the submission of 2014 proposals, and the ongoing engagements by the SRP and SRP-represented investors with companies receiving 2014 proposals that have not yet entered into such agreements, reinforce the SRP’s expectation that, as a result of the work by the SRP and SRP-represented investors, close to 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies will have moved toward board declassification by the end of 2014.
This despite evidence that a blanket condemnation of classified boards of directors is not merited:
This paper revisits the association between firm value (as proxied by Tobin’s Q) and whether the firm has a staggered board. As is well known, in the cross-section firms with a staggered board tend to have a lower value. Using a comprehensive sample for 1978-2011, we show an opposite result in the time series: firms that adopt a staggered board increase in firm value, while de-staggering is associated with a decrease in firm value. We further show that the decision to adopt a staggered board seems endogenous, and related to an ex ante lower firm value, which helps reconciling the existing cross-sectional results to our novel time series results. To explain our new results, we explore potential incentive problems in the shareholder-manager relationship. Short-term oriented shareholders may generate myopic incentives for the firm to underinvest in risky long-term projects. In this case, a staggered board may helpfully insulate the board from opportunistic shareholder pressure. Consistent with this, we find that the adoption of a staggered board has a stronger positive association with firm value for firms where such incentive problems are likely more severe: firms with more R&D, more intangible assets, more innovative and larger and thus likely more complex firms.
A case-by-case approach is thus much to be preferred.