The board of directors is a collective body, whose members have diverse expertise in various aspects of the company’s business. Therefore, communication between directors is critical to successful board functioning. In recent years, regulators, shareholders, and directors themselves have been paying increased attention to decision-making policies that could increase the quality of board discussions. Executive sessions that exclude the management, separation of the CEO and chairman positions, board retreats, and separate committees on specific topics have been put in place to promote more effective communication. As governance experts Carter and Lorsch (2004) emphasize, “If we could offer only one piece of advice, it would be to strive for open communication among board members.”
Posts Tagged ‘Board meetings’
“Can we end the long tradition of the boardroom as a sealed chamber…? Can we move toward more transparency about the boardroom process…?”
—Leon Panetta 
Companies preparing for their annual shareholder meetings in 2014 should be aware of a new governance challenge: opposition to the election of individual directors is becoming a strategy of choice not only for activists but for “responsible” investors seeking change at portfolio companies. Withholding (or threatening to withhold) votes for incumbent directors, supporting short slate campaigns, or voting for dissident candidates in proxy contests are no longer considered hardball tactics for use only in extreme cases. Institutional investors who in the past would routinely support incumbent directors have learned an important lesson from the success of hedge funds and activists: targeting directors gets the immediate attention of companies, promotes dialogue, attracts media coverage and increases pressure on other investors to support shareholder initiatives.
There has been a rapid increase in shareholder requests for special meetings with the board. This report discusses the potential benefits and complexities of the board-shareholder engagement process, reviews global trends in engagement practices, provides insights into engagement activities at U.S. companies, and highlights developments in the use of technology to facilitate engagement. It also provides perspectives from institutional investors on the design of an effective engagement process.
The annual general meeting is the main channel of communication between a company’s board and its shareholders. Among other important meeting activities, shareholders have the opportunity to hear executives and directors discuss recent performance and outline the company’s long-term strategy.
Since 2007, there has been an increase in shareholder requests for special meetings with the board. A recent study of board-shareholder engagement activities shows that 87 percent of security issuers, 70 percent of asset managers, and 62 percent of asset owners reported at least one engagement in the previous year. Moreover, the level of engagement is increasing rapidly, with 50 percent of issuers, 64 percent of asset managers, and 53 percent of asset owners reporting that they were engaging more. Only 6 percent of issuers and almost no investors reported a decrease in engagement. Shareholders, particularly institutional investors, believe that annual meetings are too infrequent and do not provide sufficient content to address their concerns.
Board behavior and effectiveness are becoming increasingly visible to investors and other stakeholders. In the past few years, the European Commission has reinforced its focus on the corporate governance matters, issuing several rules and guidelines in this regard. Most of these raise, among other aspects, the issue of increased board responsibility in the corporate governance framework through better functioning and more appropriate structures.
In accordance with most best practice requirements laid out in corporate governance codes, the majority of European listed companies are now conducting board performance evaluations. Board evaluation is increasingly acknowledged as a vital process for improving board performance and dynamics, whatever the size, status or type of organization. If thoroughly conducted, a board evaluation (also called “board assessment”, “board review”) has the potential to significantly enhance board effectiveness, maximize strengths and tackle weaknesses.
Directors receive a continuous stream of information and try to be vigilant in order to discern from the mix of background and foreground company data those dissonant notes, those underappreciated inputs, those gaps in analysis. They listen to identify the things that don’t add up.
But it’s getting harder to detect those subtle yet critical notes buried in the morass of reading material now available to directors. Only a few years ago, the volume of pre-meeting materials was limited to the width of a three-ring binder and the size of a standard FedEx box, which typically arrived at the director’s office or home a few days before the meeting. As I’ve pointed out in this Handbook, the director most up-to-speed on these “pre-reading” materials was often the director who made the longest plane trip to attend the meeting. Those directors, poring through their binders stuffed with pre-reading materials, were a common sight in the first-class sections of commercial airliners. The binder was a bulky carry-on, but at least its size limited the volume of pre-reading. Not so anymore.
Today, services like BoardLink permit companies to transmit vast amounts of information to dedicated devices supplied by boards to their directors. There is a consequent proliferation of PowerPoints, appendices, memos, advisories, agendas, draft minutes, and so on. There is also a potential collapse in timing, because content can be added or revised and resent without FedEx deadlines. The result: significantly more pre-reading, less time.
Directors need the board to put reasonable limits and priorities on this phenomenon. It is true that so long as directors make well-informed decisions without conflict of interest, they should not be held liable for business judgments that do not lead to successful outcomes, and under Delaware law can be exonerated from personal liability by company charter so long as they meet that standard of conduct. However, having more data does not necessarily mean that directors are better informed.
A fog of uncertainty hangs over U.S. public companies as 2013 approaches. The looming fiscal cliff, increased regulatory burdens, the ongoing European debt crisis, growing Middle East unrest and slowing global growth are just a few of the uncertainties companies will have to navigate as they chart a course for the coming year. Here is our list of hot topics for the boardroom in 2013:
In our paper, What Do Boards Really Do? Evidence from Minutes of Board Meetings, which was recently made available on SSRN, we analyze a unique database from a sample of real-world boardrooms – minutes of board meetings and board-committee meetings of eleven business companies for which the Israeli government holds a substantial equity interest. We use these data to evaluate the underlying assumptions and predictions of models of boards of directors. In recent years, more than a dozen economic models have attempted to examine what boards actually do. However, because board meetings are generally a “black box” to which scholars have very limited access, these models proceed from wildly different underlying assumptions, and accordingly, make very different predictions. These models generally fall into two categories:
- (1) “Managerial models” – assume boards play a direct role in managing the firm, and that they make the actual decisions pertaining to the business of the firm.
- (2) “Supervisory models” – assume that the board only observes the CEO’s actions, but does not make any business decisions. Based on the boards’ observations, it evaluates/reevaluates the CEO, and decides whether to retain or fire the CEO.