Independent board chairs may no longer be absolutely de rigueur from a corporate governance perspective—even ISS has a somewhat nuanced view on the subject—but the percentage of independent board chairs has been increasing these days. So why is that? According to a recent report from The Conference Board, it’s not, as you might have expected, because of shareholder proposals requesting a separation of these roles to shore up board independence; rather, “it’s likely driven by CEO succession events, as well as the growing workloads of boards and management.”
Are corporate boards awash in faux gatekeepers? This article, Board Gatekeepers, from a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, begins with a catalogue of infamous board failures to act as effective monitors of company conduct—including, in one case, a nascent scandal that continued for 11 years and another the subject of a successful Caremark claim. As framed by the author, the board plays a critical role, serving on behalf of the shareholders—and now perhaps also other stakeholders—to “ensure that the executive team is acting in the company’s best long-term interests,” in particular, “to ‘set up guardrails for the CEO’—that is, protect shareholders (and stakeholders) from corporate malfeasance.” Given the “structural power” that CEOs typically hold in the boardroom—such as through control over information and renominations—courts, regulators and investors often look to independent directors to act as a check on that power. Investors and regulators have also sought to address this power imbalance within the boardroom by introducing two key independent leadership roles—an independent board chair and a lead independent director. One or both of these “board gatekeepers” are now regular fixtures on boards, intended to add a “second layer of protection to the independence of the board” and signal and ensure “the existence of proper monitoring of management by the board.” The proliferation of these board gatekeepers, the author contends, “should have cemented board independence in what one can term its functional form: the ability to serve the crucial gatekeeping role that has been demanded of it.” But the inventory of recent scandals calls that conclusion into question. Are board gatekeepers really just window dressing?
In this article from the Harvard Business Review, “How to Be a Good Board Chair,” the author, an academic and consultant, discusses good practices for the board chair’s role based on a survey of 200 board chairs from 31 countries, 80 interviews with chairs and 60 interviews with board members, shareholders and CEOs. According to the author, international differences notwithstanding, he “found a remarkable degree of agreement about what makes a good chair.”
From here on out, I guess you can count on seeing your directors described as “lap dogs” in some shareholder proposals or, more accurately, nascent or possible lap dogs. (That helps, doesn’t it?) That’s because, in three separate shareholder proposals submitted to The Boeing Company by three beneficial owners (all working through John Chevedden), the SEC refused to allow the company to exclude portions of the supporting statements that suggested that some of the company’s directors might be “lap dogs.”
Framework developed by the Investor Stewardship Group establishes common set of investor expectations for corporate governance
The Investor Stewardship Group—a group of the largest, most prominent institutional investors and global asset managers investing, in the aggregate, over $20 trillion in the U.S. equity markets—has developed the Framework for U.S. Stewardship and Governance, a “framework of basic standards of investment stewardship and corporate governance for U.S. institutional investor and boardroom conduct.” The stewardship framework identifies fundamental responsibilities for institutional investors, and the corporate governance framework identifies six fundamental principles that “are designed to establish a foundational set of investor expectations about corporate governance practices in U.S. public companies. Generally, the principles “reflect the common corporate governance beliefs embedded in each member’s proxy voting and engagement guidelines,” although each ISG member may differ somewhat on specifics. The ISG encourages company directors to apply these basic principles—while acknowledging that they are not designed to be “prescriptive or comprehensive” and can be applied in various ways—and indicates that it will “evaluate companies’ alignment with these principles, as well as any discussion of alternative approaches that directors maintain are in a company’s best interests.” The framework does not go “into effect” until January 1, 2018, so that companies will have “time to adjust to these standards in advance of the 2018 proxy season,” the implication being that failure to “comply or explain” by that point could ultimately lead to shareholder opposition during proxy season. Check out the countdown clock at the link above!
by Cydney Posner According to a new report from ISS, the structure of board leadership plays a significant role in relative levels of CEO compensation. Combining the CEO and board chair titles is still the most prevalent leadership structure among S&P 500 companies, with 51% of companies combined the roles […]
by Cydney Posner In “Seven Myths of Boards of Directors,” two academics from Stanford Business School set about debunking some of the most common and persistent expectations regard best practices in board structure, composition and procedure. The authors contend that these seven myths “are not substantiated by empirical evidence.”