Independence, Process and Courage

Published by
Prof. Charles Elson, Director, HealthSouth

Prof. Charles Elson

This month, I had the pleasure of working with longtime NACD member, Professor Charles Elson,* from the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. In addition to his academic work, Charles is also a member of the HealthSouth board of directors.

Charles was talking about duty of loyalty and duty of care (“Don’t be sleazy; don’t be sloppy.”) and advising boards about how to stay on the right side of the law. He emphasized the importance of independence; of thinking through and detailing the board’s decision-making process; and of courage—the guts to do the right thing.

Courage is a concept we have been thinking about a lot at NACD, and, indeed, we have arranged a plenary session at NACD’s annual conference to explore just what it means in the boardroom.

During their plenary session Courageous Board Leadership, Boeing lead director Ken Duberstein and former Lockheed Martin chair and CEO Norm Augustine will be interviewed by NACD’s CEO and president, Ken Daly.

They’ll speak about turning points in their own public service and board leadership and the times when they had to add courage to independence of thought and careful process. In addition to guts, both Ken and Norm have big hearts, sound judgment, and great senses of humor.

Don’t miss the chance to hear these two great storytellers reflect on their board experiences and share their passion for exemplary board and public service leadership at the NACD Corporate Governance Conference this October in Washington, DC.

Norm Augustine on Courageous Acts
Hear aerospace engineer Norm Augustine (also former chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin and former Undersecretary of the Army) talk about the courageous acts of 12 of his friends who walked on the moon – and the courage needed to face our energy crisis.

HBO History Makers Series featuring Kenneth M. Duberstein
Listen to the chairman and CEO of the Duberstein Group, Inc., who served as White House chief of staff during President Reagan’s administration, discuss his experiences.

*Coming soon: NACD’s multimedia, self-paced course, How to Be(come) a Director, will be available online later this year and is facilitated by Professor Charles Elson.

The M&A Litmus Test: Part 5

Published by

We have arrived at the last day of your M&A Litmus test—the most important test of this series. We’ll evaluate your…

…Good Business Sense.

Finally, do your directors really understand your business—and business in general, as in, “I am selling a bolt of cloth, let’s make a deal?”—or are they in compliance mode, focusing on this, that, or the other rule?

Doing a good job in M&A oversight really does come down to good business sense. The late, great J. Fred Weston, a mentor of mine, once boiled reasons for M&A down to ten.  One of them is to increase the size of a company and therefore increase the power and pay of managers—never a good reason for M&A. But the other nine reasons make good common sense. In closing, I’ll share Fred’s list with you now.

Ask yourselves if the merger will:

  • Achieve economies of scale by buying a customer, supplier, or competitor (“operating synergy”)
  • Accomplish strategic goals more quickly and more successfully (“strategic planning”)
  • Realize a return on investment by buying a company with less efficient managers and making them more efficient (“differential efficiency”)
  • Realize a return by buying a company with inefficient managers and replacing them (“inefficient management”)
  • Increase market share (“market power”)
  • Lower the cost of capital by smoothing cash flow and increasing debt capacity (“financial synergy”)
  • Take advantage of a price that is low in comparison to past stock prices and/or estimated future prices, or in relation to the cost the buyer would incur if it built the company from scratch (“undervaluation”)
  • Assert control in an underperforming company with dispersed ownership (“agency problems”)
  • Obtain a more favorable tax status (“tax efficiency”)

All these come down to this: Will this transaction work for our company?

So, with these five items in mind – M&A IQ, Fiduciary Duties, Strategy, Information Flow, and Good Business Sense – let me ask you: Will you pass the M&A Litmus Test?  It’s an important question.  Don’t cram at the eleventh hour. Start studying now!

Shout Out to Sources

The M&A Litmus Test: Part 4

Published by

Today is the penultimate day of your M&A Litmus Test, so we’ll continue by testing your board’s…

…Info Flow.

How good is your information flow? For the board, knowledge is not merely a source of power; it is the very key to effectiveness. The following wisdom is adapted almost verbatim from the Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Director Liability.

When it comes to M&A information, flow is critical.  The type, quantity, format, timing, and source of the information that fuels board knowledge will vary from board to board and will also change over time for a particular board. It will also vary among board members, who have different levels of experience and expertise with different topics.

Information flow is critical for directors with respect to capital allocation decisions—in particular, mergers and acquisitions. This area requires special attention to the long-term interests of the corporation and the ways in which management’s interests may affect transactions. As the report noted, the board and management need to regularly discuss the opportunities for and threats to the company, even in the absence of any planned or foreseen transactions, so that directors have an understanding of the business context in which these issues may arise.

Depending on the size and business context of the company, notes the report, directors should periodically receive information related to, and discuss with management, the following:

  • Comparative studies and analysis concerning whether the company would be more viable by merging with, or entering into alliances with, another candidate, or standing alone;
  • Possible acquisition candidates. When discussing the fulfillment of certain of the company’s business strategies, such as entering into new lines of business, directors should receive information on possible alternatives, such as an acquisition or strategic alliance, to achieve the same objectives; and
  • The merger activity of competitors, including the impact of recent activities on the company’s market share. Competitive analysis as to other suitors for the same potential acquisition candidates might also be warranted.

Maintaining an up-to-date understanding of these issues will help directors to remain prepared for the time when management actually proposes a transaction. This is particularly critical for directors of public companies, who should understand the company’s plans and legal options for responding to unsolicited takeover offers.

In evaluating a particular transaction, notes the Report, directors should seek specific information about the price, timing, and certainty of the transaction, and should be proactive in overseeing negotiations. Directors should understand how the transaction will be financed, and the projected financial impact on the company under reasonably likely scenarios. Where the sale of the transaction warrants it, directors should seek independent financial advice from outside experts to consider together with management’s financial assessment.

Directors should also obtain a high-level analysis of the merger documentation, including an understanding of the most important representations, covenants, and indemnities contained therein and their application to the company and the transaction. In addition, directors should receive input from market and investor relations experts about the best manner in which to position the transaction and the likely reception from investors and creditors. As with any other matter before them, directors should crucially evaluate all the information they have obtained and arrive at an independent assessment instead of relying exclusively on management’s views.

Directors should also be alert to differences between management and shareholder interests in negotiating a particular transaction. For example, shareholders will be far less interested than managers in knowing who will continue to work for the merged company and with what responsibilities. These employment issues are important but they should not override concerns about long-term returns to shareholders.

Shout Out to Sources