Grossman on Governance

wall-streetNadelle Grossman has two new corporate law papers on SSRN.  The first, entitled “Turning a Short-Term Fling into a Long-Term Commitment: Board Duties in a New Era,” deals with the timely topic of corporate leaders making strategic decisions based on short-term profits without regard to long-term risk.  As a solution, she proposes changes in the legal duties owed by corporate directors.  Here is the abstract:

Corporate boards face significant pressure to make decisions that maximize profits in the short run. That pressure comes in part from executives who are financially rewarded for short-term profits despite the long-term risks associated with those profit-making activities. The current financial crisis, where executives at AIG and numerous other institutions ignored the long-term risks associated with their mortgage-backed securities investments, arose largely because those executives were compensated for the short-term profits generated by those investments despite their longer-term risks. Pressure on boards for short-term profits also comes from activist investors who seek to make quick money off of trading in stocks whose prices overly reflect short-term firm values.

Yet this excessive focus on producing short-term profits runs counter to the interests of non-short-termist investors and other corporate constituents, as well as our economy and society as a whole, in creating corporate enterprises that are profitable on an enduring basis. Once again, the current financial crisis provides a lens through which we can see the distressing impact — both to individual businesses as well as to the entire U.S community — of an excessive focus on short-term profits.

I propose a solution to address this problem of short-termism. Under my proposal, directors would be required to make decisions that are in the long-term best interest of stockholders and the corporation under their fiduciary duties. I explain in the article why I propose fixing the short-termism problem through fiduciary duties as well as how, practically, my proposal would be implemented.

This paper is forthcoming in the Michigan Journal of Law Reform

The second paper, entitled “Director Compliance with Elusive Fiduciary Duties in a Climate of Corporate Governance Reform,” addresses other aspects of the fiduciary duties of board members.  Here is the abstract:

Corporate governance has become a hot topic following accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom and others, which led to colossal corporate collapses. In many of those cases, the boards were “asleep at the wheel,” failing to catch managers’ questionable accounting practices. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was the federal government’s attempt at fixing the holes in the corporate governance system exposed by the accounting scandals. Through a patchwork of disclosure requirements and conduct rules, Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission have attempted to bring about an increase in board oversight of, and independence from, management. The stock exchanges have also jumped into the corporate governance arena, implementing new rules with similar objectives. This collective corporate governance reform has imposed a significant new layer of responsibilities and qualifications on directors of public companies. Yet, shareholders’ only avenue to enforce the new duties under these reforms is through state law fiduciary duties. My article demonstrates how state courts have started to enforce the governance mandates under the reforms through fiduciary duties. Specifically, in my article I examine the watershed Disney case and the duty to act in good faith, and identify how Delaware courts are poised to use this duty to enforce directors’ oversight responsibilities under the corporate governance reforms. My article takes a uniquely holistic view of these shifts in Delaware jurisprudence, explaining how they allow Delaware courts to more closely align the standard of conduct expected from directors with the standard of review that courts apply in determining liability. My article ultimately submits that by more closely aligning these two standards through the duty to act in good faith, the Delaware courts are able to reflect evolving shareholder expectations in fiduciary duty law, thereby making directors more responsive to the shareholders who elected them.

This paper has already been published at 12 Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law 393 (2007).

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