2019 Global & Regional Trends in Corporate Governance
Jack "Rusty" O'Kelley III, Melissa Martin
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation published a bylined article, “2019 Global & Regional Trends in Corporate Governance,” authored by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultants Jack “Rusty” O’Kelley and Anthony Goodman and CEO Advisory Group Specialist Melissa Martin. The article outlines what 40 experts from around the world predict to be the trends and challenges that public company boards may face in 2019. The article is excerpted below.
Institutional investors (both active managers and index fund giants) spent the last few years raising their expectations of public company boards—a trend we expect to see continue in 2019. The demand for board quality, effectiveness, and accountability to shareholders will continue to accelerate across all global markets. Toward the end of each year, Russell Reynolds Associates interviews a global mix of institutional and activist investors, pension fund managers, proxy advisors, and other corporate governance professionals regarding the trends and challenges that public company boards may face in the coming year. This year we interviewed over 40 experts to develop our insights and identify trends.
Overview of Global Trends
In 2019, we expect to see the emergence or continued development of the following key global governance trends:
1. Board quality and composition are at the heart of corporate governance.
Since investors cannot see behind the boardroom veil, they have little choice but to rely on various governance criteria as a stand-in for board quality: whether the board is truly independent, whether its composition is deliberate and under regular review, and whether board competencies align with and support the company’s forward-looking strategy. Directors face increased scrutiny around how equipped the board is with industry knowledge, capital allocation skills, and transformation experience. Institutional investors are pushing to further encourage robust, independent, and regular board evaluation processes that may result in board evolution. Boards will need to be vigilant as they consider individual tenure, director overboarding, and gender imbalance—all of which may provoke votes against the nominating committee or its chair. Gender diversity continues to be an area of focus across many countries and investors. Companies can expect increased pressure to disclose their prioritization of board competencies, board succession plans, and how they are building a diverse pipeline of director candidates. Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has set a new standard for at least two independent directors with relevant industry experience on each of their 9,000 investee boards.
2. Deeper focus on oversight of corporate culture.
Human capital and intangible assets, including organizational culture and reputation, are important aspects of enterprise value, as they directly impact the ability to attract and retain top talent. Culture risk exists when there is misalignment between the values a company seeks to embody and the behaviors it demonstrates. Investors are keen to learn how boards are engaging with management on this issue and how they go about understanding corporate culture. A few compensation committees are including culture and broader human capital issues as part of their remit.
3. Investors placing limits on shareholder primacy and emphasizing long-termism.
The role of corporations in many countries is evolving to include meeting the needs of a broader set of stakeholders. Global investors are increasingly discussing social value; long-termism; and environment, social, and governance (ESG) changes that are shifting corporations from a pure shareholder primacy model. While BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s 2018 letter to investee companies on the importance of social purpose and a strategy for achieving long-term growth generated discussion in the US, much of the rest of the world viewed this as further confirmation of the focus on broader stakeholder, as well as shareholder, concerns. Institutional investors are more actively focusing on long-termism and partnering with groups to increase the emphasis on long-term, sustainable results.
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