Good Governance: Does Anyone Really Know What It Is?
Red state or blue state, Fox News or MSNBC, everybody can agree that when it comes to public companies, we’re all for good governance. But what exactly do we mean by that term? According to a recent Stanford article, nobody has the foggiest idea of what “good governance” really entails. Here’s the intro:
A reliable corporate governance system is considered to be an important requirement for the long-term success of a company. Unfortunately, after decades of research, we still do not have a clear understanding of the factors that make a governance system effective. Our understanding of governance suffers from two problems.
The first problem is the tendency to overgeneralize across companies—to advocate common solutions without regard to size, industry, or geography, and without understanding how situational differences influence correct choices. The second problem is the tendency to refer to central concepts or terminology without first defining them. That is, concepts are loosely referred to without a clear understanding of the premises, evidence, or implications of what is being discussed. We call this “loosey-goosey governance.”
The article identifies several governance practices that have become talismans of good governance – including independent chairs, elimination of staggered boards and the absence of dual class capital structures – and concludes that empirical support for their impact on the quality of governance is inconclusive at best. Other common good governance principles, like pay for performance and board oversight, are poorly understood and difficult to evaluate.
This article really resonated with me. I’m very dubious about a lot of corporate governance “best practices,” because I think many of them simply reflect the ideological position that shareholders and not directors should have control over the destiny of public companies. If after decades of research, we still can’t answer the question “what makes good governance?” then maybe cynics like me are onto something here.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net January 10, 2020
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