Finance Ministers from the twenty most powerful trading nations, the G20, have endorsed a new set of corporate governance principles published by the OECD. The principles provide recommendations on matters including shareholder rights, executive remuneration, financial disclosure, the behaviour of institutional investors and how stock markets should function.
The OECD principles have been promoted as contributing to more effective corporate governance. That sounds good—but what does 'effective corporate governance' mean and why might it be important? The OECD preamble offers this guidance:
Good corporate governance is not an end in itself. It is a means to create market confidence and business integrity, which in turn is essential for companies that need access to equity capital for long term investment.
Wow, this suggests that corporate governance is a mechanism to protect investors and markets. The responsibility of the board for business performance is not mentioned—thus implying that corporate governance is not a performance-based mechanism through which to pursue wealth creation. Rather it is positioned as a conformance tool to manage agency costs. What is the likelihood of boards spending time thinking about the purpose of the company, strategy or future performance if they are beholden to a set of conformance-oriented principles?
Sadly, it would be appear that these latest OECD principles represent an opportunity lost—for medium-sized and privately-held companies at least.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.