The years since the onset of the financial crisis have served to further increase the demands on and scrutiny of public company boards of directors. The assault on the director-centric model of corporate governance continues in the shareholder activist and political arenas, and the challenges of planning for and investing in the long-term health of the corporation have become more daunting. As the power and organization of both governance and hedge fund activists have increased, the pressure to produce short-term results has only grown stronger, regardless of whether the steps necessary to produce those results may be harmful to the corporation in the long run.
In this environment, the challenge for directors is to continue to focus on doing what they believe is right for their corporations while maintaining a sufficient understanding of shareholder sensitivities to avoid a targeted attack that could undermine their ability to act in their company’s best interest. The primary focus of a director, of course, should be on promoting and helping to develop the long-term and sustainable success of their company. This encompasses a wide range of activities, including working with management on the company’s business and strategies, planning for the succession of the CEO and other key executives, overseeing risk management, monitoring compliance, setting the appropriate tone at the top and being prepared to step in to address any corporate crises that arise. At the same time, the board needs to be aware of and address shareholder demands in a constructive manner, consider how a hedge fund or other activist may view the company and its strategic alternatives and try to ensure that the company maintains a shareholder relations program that clearly articulates the reasons for the company’s strategies and engenders support from the company’s major shareholders. In some cases, this may include direct communication between board members and institutional shareholders.