In the years since the financial reporting scandals and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and in particular following the financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, boards of directors have faced greater burdens and more intense scrutiny of their activities and performance. One manifestation of this has been pressure to change the role of directors from one of partnership with and oversight of management to one of an almost quasi-governmental watchdog directly responsible for monitoring management’s performance, including its compliance with increasingly complex and burdensome regulation. In addition, activist investors continue to publicly push some boards to pursue strategies focused on short-term returns, even in instances where those strategies are inconsistent with the directors’ preferred, sustainable long-term strategies for the corporation.
In recent years, we have advised that directors regularly work with their advisors to monitor and adapt to the continually changing landscape. Among other things, we have suggested more frequent, well-structured engagement with shareholders, a focus on the ability to communicate the corporation’s and board’s policies in a way that is understandable and convincing to the corporation’s constituencies, and that directors prepare to respond to increasing external pressures in a manner that both thoughtfully takes those pressures into account and fully reflects the director’s carefully considered view of the long-term interests of the corporation.
In addition to these general points, we also have seen developing during 2012 a series of additional specific issues, discussed below, on which we believe boards of directors and corporations should focus in 2013.