Archive for the ‘corporate governance ideas’ Category
In September 2011, the Corporate Secretaries International Association (CSIA) hosted an international corporate governance conference in Shanghai, jointly with the Shanghai Stock Exchange. CSIA represents over 100,000 governance practitioners worldwide through its 14 company secretarial member organizations. Speakers and panellists from Africa, Australia, mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, India, the UK and the US plus delegates from the 14 CSIA member countries discussed the cultural dependence of corporate governance. For more information on CSIA see http://www.csiaorg.com
The conference considered whether corporate governance principles and practices around the world were converging. Would a set of world-wide, generally-accepted corporate governance principles eventually emerge? Or was differentiation between corporate governance practices inevitable because of fundamental differences in country cultures?
Speaking at the conference the writer of this blog suggested that:
“A decade or so ago, it was widely thought that corporate governance practices around the world would gradually converge on the United States model. After all, the US Securities and Exchange Commission had existed since 1934, sound corporate regulation and reporting practices had evolved, and American governance practices were being promulgated globally by institutional investors. But that was before the collapse of Enron, Arthur Andersen, the sub-prime financial catastrophe, and the ongoing global economic crisis. A decade ago it was also believed that the world would converge with US practices because the world needed access to American capital. That is no longer the case. So the convergence or differentiation question remains unanswered.
Forces for convergence
“Consider first some forces that are leading corporate governance practices around the world to convergence.
Corporate governance codes of good practice around the world have a striking similarity, which is not surprising given the way they influence each other. Though different in detail, all emphasise corporate transparency, accountability, reporting, and the independence of the governing body from management, and many now include strategic risk assessment and corporate social responsibility. The codes published by international bodies, such as the World Bank, the Commonwealth of Nations, and OECD, clearly encourage convergence. The corporate governance policies and practices of major corporations operating around the world also influence convergence.
Securities regulations for the world’s listed companies are certainly converging. The International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), which now has the bulk of the world’s securities regulatory bodies in membership, encourages convergence. For example, its members have agreed to exchange information on unusual trades, thus making the activities of global insider trading more hazardous.
International accounting standards are also leading towards convergence. The International Accounting Standards Committee (IASC) and the International Auditing Practices Committee (IPAC) have close links with IOSCO and are further forces working towards international harmonization and standardization of financial reporting and auditing standards. US General Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), though some way from harmonization, are clearly moving in that direction.
In 2007, The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that US companies could adopt international accounting standards in lieu of US GAAPs. However, American accountants and regulators are accustomed to a rule-based regime and international standards are principles-based requiring judgement rather than adherence to prescriptive regulations.
Global concentration of audit for major companies in just four firms, since the demise of Arthur Andersen, encourages convergence. Major corporations in most countries, wanting to have the name of one of the four principal firms on their audit reports, are then inevitably locked into that firm’s world-wide audit, risk analysis and other governance practices.
Globalisation of companies is also, obviously, a force for convergence. Firms that are truly global in strategic outlook, with world-wide production, service provision, added-value chain, markets and customers, which call on international sources of finance, whose investors are located around the world, are moving towards common governance practices.
Raising capital on overseas stock exchanges, also encourages convergence as listing companies are required to conform to the listing rules of that market. Although the governance requirements of stock exchanges around the world differ in detail, they are moving towards internationally accepted norms through IOSCO.
International institutional investors, such as CalPers, have explicitly demanded various corporate governance practices if they are to invest in a specific country or company. Institutional investors with an international portfolio have been an important force for convergence. Of course, as developing and transitional countries grow, generate and plough back their own funds, the call for inward investment will decline, along with the influence of the overseas institutions.
Private equity funding is changing the investment scene. Owners of significant private companies may decide not to list in the first place. Major investors in public companies may find an incentive to privatise. Overall the existence of private equity funds challenges boards of listed companies by sharpening the market for corporate control.
Cross-border mergers of stock markets could also have an impact on country-centric investment dealing and could influence corporate governance expectations; as could the development of electronic trading in stocks by promoting international securities trading.
Research publications, international conferences and professional journals can also be significant contributors to the convergence of corporate governance thinking and practice.
Forces for differentiation
“However, despite all these forces pushing towards convergence, consider others which, if not direct factors for divergence, at least cause differentiation between countries, jurisdictions and financial markets.
Legal differences in company law, contract law and bankruptcy law between jurisdictions affect corporate governance practices. Differences between the case law traditions of the US, UK and Commonwealth countries and the codified law of Continental Europe, Japan, Latin America and China distinguish corporate governance outcomes.
Standards in legal processes, too, can differ. Some countries have weak judicial systems. Their courts may have limited powers and be unreliable. Not all judiciaries are independent of the legislature. The state and political activities can be involved in jurisprudence. In some countries bringing a company law case can be difficult and, even with a favourable judgement, obtaining satisfaction may be well nigh impossible.
Stock market differences in market capitalisation, liquidity, and markets for corporate control affect governance practices. Obviously, financial markets vary significantly in their scale and sophistication, affecting their governance influence.
Ownership structures also vary between countries, with some countries having predominantly family-based firms, others have blocks of external investors who may act together, whilst some adopt complex networked, leveraged chains, or pyramid structures.
History, culture and ethnic groupings have produced different board structures and governance practices. Contrasts between corporate governance in Japan with her keiretsu, Continental European countries, with the two-tier board structures and worker co-determination, and the family domination of overseas Chinese, even in listed companies in countries throughout the Far East, emphasise such differences. Views differ on ownership rights and the basis of shareholder power.
The concept of the company was Western, rooted in the notion of shareholder democracy, the stewardship of directors, and trust – the belief that directors recognise a fiduciary duty to their company. But today’s corporate structures have outgrown that simple notion. The corporate concept is now rooted in law, and the legitimacy of the corporate entity rests on regulation and litigation. The Western world has created the most expensive and litigious corporate regulatory regime the world has yet seen. This is not the only approach; and certainly not necessarily the best. The Asian reliance on relationships and trust in governing the enterprise may be closer to the original concept. There is a need to rethink the underlying idea of the corporation, contingent with the reality of power that can (or could) be wielded. Such a concept would need to be built on a pluralistic, rather than an ethnocentric, foundation if it is to be applicable to the corporate groups and strategic alliance networks that are now emerging as the basis of the business world of the future.
Around the world, the Anglo-Saxon model is far from the norm. A truly global model of corporate governance would need to recognise alternative concepts including:
- the networks of influence in the Japanese keiretsu
- the governance of state-owned enterprises in China, where the China Securities and Regulatory Commission (CSRC) and the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) can override economic objectives, acting in the interests of the people, the party, and the state, to influence strategies, determine prices, and appoint chief executives
- the partnership between labour and capital in Germany’s co-determination rules
- the financially-leveraged chains of corporate ownership in Italy, Hong Kong and elsewhere
- the power of investment block-holders in some European countries
- the traditional powers of family-owned and state-owned companies in Brazil
- the domination of spheres of listed companies in Sweden, through successive generations of a family, preserved in power by dual-class shares
- the paternalistic familial leadership in companies created throughout Southeast Asia by successive Diaspora from mainland China
- the governance power of the dominant families in the South Korean chaebol, and
- the need to overcome the paralysis of corruption from shop floor, through boardroom, to government officials in the BRIC and other nations.
The forces for convergence in corporate governance are strong. At a high level of abstraction some fundamental concepts have already emerged, including the need to separate governance from management, the importance of accountability to legitimate stakeholders, and the responsibility to recognize strategic risk. These could be more widely promulgated and adopted. But a global convergence of corporate governance systems at any greater depth would need a convergence of cultures and that seems a long way away.
A great deal has been written about the cause and effect of the nuclear power station disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, which followed the Japanese tsunami and earthquake. No doubt more will be said in the future. But relatively little attention has been paid to the governance of the company behind the Fukushima plant. This case and commentary look at some aspects of the governance of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The material comes from the second edition of Corporate Governance – principles, policies and practices due in 2012.
The TEPCO case study
In an unlikely outburst, Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister, shouted “What the hell is going on?” to executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) following Japan’s worst nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, after the tsunami and earthquake on 11 March 2011. Were the directors or the corporate governance systems and procedures at fault?
The company appeared to have a commitment to sound corporate governance. As it stated on its web site:
“At TEPCO, we have developed corporate governance policies and practices as one of the primary management issues for ensuring sustainable growth in our business and long-term shareholder value. We believe in strengthening mutual trust through interactive communication with our valued stakeholders, including shareholders and investors, customers, local communities, suppliers, employees and the public, so we can move forward toward solid future growth and development. Therefore, TEPCO considers enhancing corporate governance a critical task for management and is working to develop organizational structures and policies for legal and ethical compliance, appropriate and prompt decision making, effective and efficient business practices, and auditing and supervisory functions.”
The TEPCO web site explains the company’s corporate governance processes:
“The Board of Directors currently comprises 20 directors, including 2 outside directors. Also, TEPCO has seven auditors, including four outside auditors. The Board of Directors generally meets once a month and holds additional special meetings as necessary. Based on interactive discussion with objective outside directors, the Board establishes and promotes TEPCO’s business and oversees its directors’ performance. TEPCO has also established the Board of Managing Directors, which meets once a week in principle, and other formal bodies to implement efficient corporate management through appropriate and rapid decision making on key management issues, including those deliberated by the Board of Directors. In particular, we have established internal committees to deliberate, adjust and plan the direction of the whole Company across a range of key management concerns, including internal control, CSR and system security, as well as stable electricity supply.”
“For more appropriate and quicker decision making, TEPCO also has the Managing Directors Meeting generally held once a week and other formal bodies to efficiently implement key corporate management issues, including those to be discussed by the Board of Directors. In particular, the Board has inter-organizational committees such as the Internal Control Committee, CSR Committee, System Security Measures Committee and Supply and Demand Measures Conference to intensively discuss directions of key management issues across the entire company.”
But behind the reassuring corporate governance explanations on the TEPCO web site lay a different reality. The company’s opaque handling of the situation at the stricken plant was widely criticized. The extent of the danger was minimized and the full extent of the damage only gradually became apparent, as the risk severity level was gradually increased to rank alongside Chernobyl as a most severe nuclear accident.
The effects in Japan included damaged to fishing and agriculture through radio-activity in sea and soil, disruption in manufacturing as power supplies were rationed, and longer-term strategic concerns about the future of nuclear power generation. Around the world, the effects included slow-downs in production as supplies of parts from Japan dried up, concerns about the safety of Japanese produce, and serious questioning about the safety and strategic future of nuclear power.
TEPCO’s handling of the incident exposed failings in its risk management systems. The company had a history of safety violations: in 2002, it falsified safety test records and in 2007, following an earthquake, its Niigata nuclear plant had a fire and a leak of radioactive water, which were concealed.
In fact the board was dominated by inside directors, qualified by their seniority within the company. Out of the 20 directors, 18 were insiders, whilst of the two nominally outside directors one of them, Tomijirou Morita, was chairman of Dai-Ichi Life Insurance, which was connected financially with TEPCO. In 2008, Tsunehisa Katsumata, the company president at the time of the 2007 problem, was elevated to chairman, being replaced by Masataka Shimizu, another career-long TEPCO employee. TEPCO had never appointed a head from outside the company.
At first glance, the web site seems to reflect a company strongly committed to sound corporate governance: ‘corporate governance policies and practices a primary issue’, ‘interactive communication with our valued stakeholders’, ‘corporate governance a critical task’. So how to account for the discrepancies between the company’s alleged concern for corporate governance and the catastrophic failure of its Fukushima reactors?
Some clues can be found in the web site explanation of the company’s corporate governance. Notice the emphasis on ‘management’: ‘corporate governance is a primary management issue,’ ‘corporate governance (is) a critical task for management.’ The directors seem to make no distinction between management and governance. Nor is that surprising, because they are the same people. 18 of the directors are executives at the top of the management hierarchy, and one of the two alleged outside directors is not independent.
The classical model of Japanese corporations and their keiretsu groups reflects the social cohesion within Japanese society, emphasising unity throughout the organization, non-adversarial relationships, lifetime employment, enterprise unions, personnel policies encouraging commitment, initiation into the corporate family, decision-making by consensus, cross-functional training, and with promotion based on loyalty and social compatibility as well as performance.
In the classical Japanese model, boards of directors tend to be large and are, in effect, the top layers of the management pyramid. People speak of being ‘promoted to the board’. The tendency for managers to progress through an organization on tenure rather than performance means that the mediocre can reach board level. A few of the directors might have served with associated companies, others might have been appointed to the company’s ranks on retirement, or even from amongst the industry’s government regulators (known as a amakaduri or “descent from heaven”).
But independent non-executive directors, in the Western sense, would be unusual, although the proportion is increasing. Many Japanese do not see the need for such intervention “from the outside.” Indeed, they have difficulty in understanding how outside directors operate. “How can outsiders possibly know enough about the company to make a contribution,” they question, “when the other directors have spent their lives working for the company? How can an outsider be sensitive to the corporate culture? They might even damage the harmony of the group.” A study by the Japanese Independent Directors Network, in November 2010, showed that of all the companies on the Nikkei 500 index, outside directors made up 13.5% of the board, women 0.9% and non- Japanese 0.17%.
TEPCO fits this model perfectly.
However, the classical model of Japanese corporate governance is coming under pressure. With the Japanese economy facing stagnation in the 1990s, traditional approaches to corporate governance were questioned. A corporate governance debate developed and the stakeholder, rather than shareholder, orientated corporate governance model came under scrutiny. Globalisation of markets and finance put further pressure on some companies. The paternalistic relationship between company and lifetime ‘salary-man’ slowly began to crumble.
Some companies came under pressure from institutional investors abroad. Company laws were redrafted to permit a more US style of corporate governance. But few firms have yet embraced them. Signs of movement included calls in 2008 by eight international investment funds for greater shareholder democracy, and a report from the Japanese Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy to the prime minister proposing that anti-take over defences be discouraged and the take-over of Japanese firms be made easier.
Perhaps the TEPCO experience will encourage further moves towards enhanced corporate governance.
Bob Tricker 20 April 2011
Corporate governance first appeared as a subject during 1980s. The first book to use the title ‘Corporate Governance’ was published in 1984 (1) . In 1988, Cochran and Wartick (2) published an annotated bibliography of corporate governance publications: it had just 74 pages. Yet within twenty years Bing had over 8 million references to corporate governance and Google over 10 million.
During the twentieth century the work of boards of directors was seldom mentioned, the focus was on management. But within a couple of decades the phrase ‘corporate governance’ has become commonplace. The challenges of corporate governance are discussed in the popular press as readily as in business journals and the academic literature. Moreover, interest in the subject is world-wide.
Research into corporate governance began during the 1980s. The research journal Corporate Governance – an International Review was founded in 1992, the year in which Sir Adrian Cadbury published his seminal UK corporate governance report. Much of the early research in corporate governance originated in the United States, but as Denis and McConnell (3) have reported “the first generation of international corporate governance research typically examined governance mechanisms such as board composition and equity ownership in individual countries, mirroring the U.S. research that had preceded it. The second generation of international corporate governance research, however, recognized the impact of differing legal systems on the structure and effectiveness of corporate governance and compared systems across countries.”
Why has the subject of corporate governance grown so fast and the concept become so widespread? Some suggest it has been a response to company collapses, fueled by board-level corruption and the abuse of power. Others see a growing societal dissatisfaction with corporate behaviour. Dawkins (1998) has another idea (4). He suggested that culturally-determined ideas are transmitted from person to person. The development of ideas is analogous to the natural selection, replication, and mutation of physical genes, he suggests, coining the word ‘memes’ to cover such transferrable ideas. In other words, successful ideas propagate and spread, poor ones become extinct. So it may be with corporate governance.
(1) Tricker, R I, 1984, Corporate Governance – practices, procedures and powers in British companies and their boards of directors, Gower Publishing Aldershot UK, and The Corporate Policy Group, Nuffield College, Oxford.
(2) Cochran, Philip L and Steven L. Wartick, 1988, Corporate Governance – a review of the literature, Morristown, Financial Executives Research Foundation
(3) Denis, Diane K. and John J. McConnell, 2001, International Corporate Governance, Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, 38: 1-36
(4) Dawkins, Richard, 1998 (2nd edition) The Selfish Gene, Oxford, The Oxford University Press, page 192