Christmas 2013 is now history, which means 2014—and all the rituals associated with New Year—is nigh. For many people, the act of hanging a new calendar on the office wall in the last few days of December carries far more significance than simply closing off one year and opening the next. It stirs thoughts of the future, of what lies ahead, of one's dreams, hopes and aspirations. I am amongst those that think about the future and what lies ahead when the new calendar is hung. However, this year, I'd like to briefly look back before looking forward, lest an important anniversary in the world of corporate governance is overlooked.
The Cadbury Report has just turned 21 years old. Do you remember the Cadbury Report and the recommendations it contained? The so-called Cadbury Report was actually the Report of the Committee on the Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance. An archive containing copies of Sir Adrian Cadbury's speeches, the report itself, and other related matters is now available online. The Report was commissioned following several scandals and company collapses, and the damage to investor confidence that ensued. It provided several recommendations to improve corporate governance. Amongst other items, these included:
The goal was to improve trust, transparency and performance. Subsequent to the Report, many companies have adopted the recommendations (motivated perhaps by the London Stock Exchanges "comply or explain" requirement), although not without resistance and reluctance in some quarters.
The question to be asked on the occasion of the Report's 21st birthday is whether the recommendations have improved corporate governance and, perhaps more importantly, company performance. Sadly, the evidence is mixed, very mixed. History shows that the structural provisions, including those contained in the Cadbury Report, were insufficient to prevent the high-profile failures of the early 2000s (Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, et al), the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, and some more recent failures in New Zealand and elsewhere as well. But that should not be a surprise to anyone, because the purpose of rules and structures is to provide boundaries. Rules and structures cannot ensure or predict any level of future performance. The human condition; ethics; and, the propensity to act in good faith (or otherwise) need to be factored in, if a performance orientation is to be pursued.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.