In this seventh edition, we can see that corporate governance is becoming a more vital and all-encompassing topic with each year that passes. We all realise that the modern corporation is one of the most ingenious concepts ever devised. Our lives are dominated by corporations. We eat and breathe through them, we travel with them, we are entertained by them, most of us work for them. Most corporations aim to add value to society and they very often do. Some, however, are exploiting, polluting, poisoning and impoverishing us. A lot depends on the commitment, direction and aims of a corporation’s founders, shareholders, boards and management and employees. Do they show commitment to all stakeholders and to long-term shareholders, or mainly to short-term shareholders? There are many variations on the structure of corporations and boards within each country and between countries. All will agree that much depends on the personalities and commitment of the persons of influence in the corporation.
We see that everyone wants to be involved in ‘better corporate governance’: parliaments, governments, the European Commission, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UN’s Ruggie reports, the media, supervising national banks, more and more shareholder activists and other stakeholders. The business world is getting more complex and overregulated, and there are more black swans, while good strategies can quite quickly become outdated. Most directors are working diligently, many with even more diligence. Nevertheless, there have been failures in some sectors, so trust has to be regained. How can directors do all their increasingly complex work and communicate with all the parties mentioned above?
What should executive directors know? What should non-executive directors know? What systems should they set up for better enterprise risk management? How can chairs create a balance against imperial CEOs? Can lead or senior directors create sufficient balance? Should most non-executive directors understand the business? How much time should they spend on their function? How independent must they be? What about diversity? Should their pay be lower? What are the stewardship responsibilities of shareholders? What are the pros and cons of shareholder rights plans?