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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Introduction to Corporate governance

Corporate governance is the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way a corporation (or company) is directed, administered or controlled. Corporate governance also includes the relationships among the many stakeholders involved and the goals for which the corporation is governed. The principal stakeholders are the shareholders, management, and the board of directors. Other stakeholders include employees, customers, creditors, suppliers, regulators, and the community at large.
Corporate governance is a multi-faceted subject. An important theme of corporate governance is to ensure the accountability of certain individuals in an organization through mechanisms that try to reduce or eliminate the principal-agent problem. A related but separate thread of discussions focuses on the impact of a corporate governance system in economic efficiency, with a strong emphasis on shareholders' welfare. There are yet other aspects to the corporate governance subject, such as the stakeholder view and the corporate governance models around the world (see section 9 below).
There has been renewed interest in the corporate governance practices of modern corporations since 2001, particularly due to the high-profile collapses of a number of large U.S. firms such as Enron Corporation and MCI Inc. (formerly WorldCom). In 2002, the U.S. federal government passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, intending to restore public Definition
In A Board Culture of Corporate Governance, business author Gabrielle O'Donovan defines corporate governance as 'an internal system encompassing policies, processes and people, which serves the needs of shareholders and other stakeholders, by directing and controlling management activities with good business savvy, objectivity, accountability and integrity. Sound corporate governance is reliant on external marketplace commitment and legislation, plus a healthy board culture which safeguards policies and processes'.
O'Donovan goes on to say that 'the perceived quality of a company's corporate governance can influence its share price as well as the cost of raising capital. Quality is determined by the financial markets, legislation and other external market forces plus how policies and processes are implemented and how people are led. External forces are, to a large extent, outside the circle of control of any board. The internal environment is quite a different matter, and offers companies the opportunity to differentiate from competitors through their board culture. To date, too much of corporate governance debate has centered on legislative policy, to deter fraudulent activities and transparency policy which misleads executives to treat the symptoms and not the cause.'[
It is a system of structuring, operating and controlling a company with a view to achieve long term strategic goals to satisfy shareholders, creditors, employees, customers and suppliers, and complying with the legal and regulatory requirements, apart from meeting environmental and local community needs.
Report of SEBI committee (India) on Corporate Governance defines corporate governance as the acceptance by management of the inalienable rights of shareholders as the true owners of the corporation and of their own role as trustees on behalf of the shareholders. It is about commitment to values, about ethical business conduct and about making a distinction between personal & corporate funds in the management of a company.” The definition is drawn from the Gandhian principle of trusteeship and the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. Corporate Governance is viewed as ethics and a moral duty.
Impact of Corporate Governance
The positive effect of corporate governance on different stakeholders ultimately is a strengthened economy, and hence good corporate governance is a tool for socio-economic development.
Role of Institutional Investors
Many years ago, worldwide, buyers and sellers of corporation stocks were individual investors, such as wealthy businessmen or families, who often had a vested, personal and emotional interest in the corporations whose shares they owned. Over time, markets have become largely institutionalized: buyers and sellers are largely institutions (e.g., pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, exchange-traded funds, other investor groups; insurance companies, banks, brokers, and other financial institutions).
The rise of the institutional investor has brought with it some increase of professional diligence which has tended to improve regulation of the stock market (but not necessarily in the interest of the small investor or even of the naïve institutions, of which there are many). Note that this process occurred simultaneously with the direct growth of individuals investing indirectly in the market (for example individuals have twice as much money in mutual funds as they do in bank accounts). However this growth occurred primarily by way of individuals turning over their funds to 'professionals' to manage, such as in mutual funds. In this way, the majority of investment now is described as "institutional investment" even though the vast majority of the funds are for the benefit of individual investors.
Program trading, the hallmark of institutional trading, averaged over 80% of NYSE trades in some months of 2007. (Moreover, these statistics do not reveal the full extent of the practice, because of so-called 'iceberg' orders. See Quantity and display instructions under last reference.)
Unfortunately, there has been a concurrent lapse in the oversight of large corporations, which are now almost all owned by large institutions. The Board of Directors of large corporations used to be chosen by the principal shareholders, who usually had an emotional as well as monetary investment in the company (think Ford), and the Board diligently kept an eye on the company and its principal executives (they usually hired and fired the President, or Chief Executive Officer— CEO).1
A recent study by Credit Suisse found that companies in which "founding families retain a stake of more than 10% of the company's capital enjoyed a superior performance over their respective sectorial peers." Since 1996, this superior performance amounts to 8% per year. Forget the celebrity CEO. "Look beyond Six Sigma and the latest technology fad. One of the biggest strategic advantages a company can have, [Business Week has found], is blood lines." In that last study, "BW identified five key ingredients that contribute to superior performance. Not all are qualities unique to enterprises with retained family interests. But they do go far to explain why it helps to have someone at the helm— or active behind the scenes— who has more than a mere paycheck and the prospect of a cozy retirement at stake." See also, "Revolt in the Boardroom," by Alan Murray.
Nowadays, if the owning institutions don't like what the President/CEO is doing and they feel that firing them will likely be costly (think "golden handshake") and/or time consuming, they will simply sell out their interest. The Board is now mostly chosen by the President/CEO, and may be made up primarily of their friends and associates, such as officers of the corporation or business colleagues. Since the (institutional) shareholders rarely object, the President/CEO generally takes the Chair of the Board position for his/herself (which makes it much more difficult for the institutional owners to "fire" him/her). Occasionally, but rarely, institutional investors support shareholder resolutions on such matters as executive pay and anti-takeover, aka, "poison pill" measures.
Finally, the largest pools of invested money (such as the mutual fund 'Vanguard 500', or the largest investment management firm for corporations, State Street Corp.) are designed simply to invest in a very large number of different companies with sufficient liquidity, based on the idea that this strategy will largely eliminate individual company financial or other risk and, therefore, these investors have even less interest in a particular company's governance.
Since the marked rise in the use of Internet transactions from the 1990s, both individual and professional stock investors around the world have emerged as a potential new kind of major (short term) force in the direct or indirect ownership of corporations and in the markets: the casual participant. Even as the purchase of individual shares in any one corporation by individual investors diminishes, the sale of derivatives (e.g., exchange-traded funds (ETFs), Stock market index options, etc.) has soared. So, the interests of most investors are now increasingly rarely tied to the fortunes of individual corporations.
But, the ownership of stocks in markets around the world varies; for example, the majority of the shares in the Japanese market are held by financial companies and industrial corporations (there is a large and deliberate amount of cross-holding among Japanese keiretsu corporations and within S. Korean chaebol 'groups'), whereas stock in the USA or the UK and Europe are much more broadly owned, often still by large individual investors.


Parties to corporate governance
Parties involved in corporate governance include the regulatory body (e.g. the Chief Executive Officer, the board of directors, management, shareholders and Auditors). Other stakeholders who take part include suppliers, employees, creditors, customers and the community at large.
In corporations, the shareholder delegates decision rights to the manager to act in the principal's best interests. This separation of ownership from control implies a loss of effective control by shareholders over managerial decisions. Partly as a result of this separation between the two parties, a system of corporate governance controls is implemented to assist in aligning the incentives of managers with those of shareholders. With the significant increase in equity holdings of investors, there has been an opportunity for a reversal of the separation of ownership and control problems because ownership is not so diffuse.
A board of directors often plays a key role in corporate governance. It is their responsibility to endorse the organization’s strategy, develop directional policy, appoint, supervise and remunerate senior executives and to ensure accountability of the organization to its owners and authorities.
The Company Secretary, known as a Corporate Secretary in the US and often referred to as a Chartered Secretary if qualified by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), is a high ranking professional who is trained to uphold the highest standards of corporate governance, effective operations, compliance and administration.
All parties to corporate governance have an interest, whether direct or indirect, in the effective performance of the organization. Directors, workers and management receive salaries, benefits and reputation, while shareholders receive capital return. Customers receive goods and services; suppliers receive compensation for their goods or services. In return these individuals provide value in the form of natural, human, social and other forms of capital.
A key factor is an individual's decision to participate in an organization e.g. through providing financial capital and trust that they will receive a fair share of the organizational returns. If some parties are receiving more than their fair return then participants may choose to not continue participating leading to organizational collapse.


Principles
Key elements of good corporate governance principles include honesty, trust and integrity, openness, performance orientation, responsibility and accountability, mutual respect, and commitment to the organization.
Of importance is how directors and management develop a model of governance that aligns the values of the corporate participants and then evaluate this model periodically for its effectiveness. In particular, senior executives should conduct themselves honestly and ethically, especially concerning actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and disclosure in financial reports.
Commonly accepted principles of corporate governance include:
• Rights and equitable treatment of shareholders: Organizations should respect the rights of shareholders and help shareholders to exercise those rights. They can help shareholders exercise their rights by effectively communicating information that is understandable and accessible and encouraging shareholders to participate in general meetings.
• Interests of other stakeholders: Organizations should recognize that they have legal and other obligations to all legitimate stakeholders.
• Role and responsibilities of the board: The board needs a range of skills and understanding to be able to deal with various business issues and have the ability to review and challenge management performance. It needs to be of sufficient size and have an appropriate level of commitment to fulfill its responsibilities and duties. There are issues about the appropriate mix of executive and non-executive directors.
• Integrity and ethical behavior: Ethical and responsible decision making is not only important for public relations, but it is also a necessary element in risk management and avoiding lawsuits. Organizations should develop a code of conduct for their directors and executives that promotes ethical and responsible decision making. It is important to understand, though, that reliance by a company on the integrity and ethics of individuals is bound to eventual failure. Because of this, many organizations establish Compliance and Ethics Programs to minimize the risk that the firm steps outside of ethical and legal boundaries.
• Disclosure and transparency: Organizations should clarify and make publicly known the roles and responsibilities of board and management to provide shareholders with a level of accountability. They should also implement procedures to independently verify and safeguard the integrity of the company's financial reporting. Disclosure of material matters concerning the organization should be timely and balanced to ensure that all investors have access to clear, factual information.
Issues involving corporate governance principles include:
• internal controls and internal auditors
• the independence of the entity's external auditors and the quality of their audits
• oversight and management of risk
• oversight of the preparation of the entity's financial statements
• review of the compensation arrangements for the chief executive officer and other senior executives
• the resources made available to directors in carrying out their duties
• the way in which individuals are nominated for positions on the board
• dividend policy
Nevertheless "corporate governance," despite some feeble attempts from various quarters, remains an ambiguous and often misunderstood phrase. For quite some time it was confined only to corporate management. That is not so. It is something much broader, for it must include a fair, efficient and transparent administration and strive to meet certain well defined, written objectives. Corporate governance must go well beyond law. The quantity, quality and frequency of financial and managerial disclosure, the degree and extent to which the board of Director (BOD) exercise their trustee responsibilities (largely an ethical commitment), and the commitment to run a transparent organization- these should be constantly evolving due to interplay of many factors and the roles played by the more progressive/responsible elements within the corporate sector. John G. Smale, a former member of the General Motors board of directors, wrote: "The Board is responsible for the successful perpetuation of the corporation. That responsibility cannot be relegated to management."[5]

In India, a strident demand for evolving a code of good practices by the corporation, written by each corporation management, is emerging.
Mechanisms and controls
Corporate governance mechanisms and controls are designed to reduce the inefficiencies that arise from moral hazard and adverse selection. For example, to monitor managers' behavior, an independent third party (the external auditor) attests the accuracy of information provided by management to investors. An ideal control system should regulate both motivation and ability.
Internal corporate governance controls
Internal corporate governance controls monitor activities and then take corrective action to accomplish organizational goals. Examples include:
• Monitoring by the board of directors: The board of directors, with its legal authority to hire, fire and compensate top management, safeguards invested capital. Regular board meetings allow potential problems to be identified, discussed and avoided. Whilst non-executive directors are thought to be more independent, they may not always result in more effective corporate governance and may not increase performance.[6] Different board structures are optimal for different firms. Moreover, the ability of the board to monitor the firm's executives is a function of its access to information. Executive directors possess superior knowledge of the decision-making process and therefore evaluate top management on the basis of the quality of its decisions that lead to financial performance outcomes, ex ante. It could be argued, therefore, that executive directors look beyond the financial criteria.
• Internal control procedures and internal auditors: Internal control procedures are policies implemented by an entity's board of directors, audit committee, management, and other personnel to provide reasonable assurance of the entity achieving its objectives related to reliable financial reporting, operating efficiency, and compliance with laws and regulations. Internal auditors are personnel within an organization who test the design and implementation of the entity's internal control procedures and the reliability of its financial reporting.
• Balance of power: The simplest balance of power is very common; require that the President be a different person from the Treasurer. This application of separation of power is further developed in companies where separate divisions check and balance each other's actions. One group may propose company-wide administrative changes, another group review and can veto the changes, and a third group check that the interests of people (customers, shareholders, employees) outside the three groups are being met.
• Remuneration: Performance-based remuneration is designed to relate some proportion of salary to individual performance. It may be in the form of cash or non-cash payments such as shares and share options, superannuation or other benefits. Such incentive schemes, however, are reactive in the sense that they provide no mechanism for preventing mistakes or opportunistic behavior, and can elicit myopic behavior.
External corporate governance controls
External corporate governance controls encompass the controls external stakeholders exercise over the organization. Examples include:
• competition
• debt covenants
• demand for and assessment of performance information (especially financial statements)
• government regulations
• managerial labour market
• media pressure
• takeovers

Systemic problems of corporate governance
• Demand for information: A barrier to shareholders using good information is the cost of processing it, especially to a small shareholder. The traditional answer to this problem is the efficient market hypothesis (in finance, the efficient market hypothesis (EMH) asserts that financial markets are efficient), which suggests that the small shareholder will free ride on the judgments of larger professional investors.
• Monitoring costs: In order to influence the directors, the shareholders must combine with others to form a significant voting group which can pose a real threat of carrying resolutions or appointing directors at a general meeting.
• Supply of accounting information: Financial accounts form a crucial link in enabling providers of finance to monitor directors. Imperfections in the financial reporting process will cause imperfections in the effectiveness of corporate governance. This should, ideally, be corrected by the working of the external auditing process
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