Board Organization

The Business Roundtable long has been a leader in Corporate Governance thought leadership.  They have written Principles of Corporate Governance going back to 2002.  This is the fourth in a series of articles that summarizes their principles.

Virtually all boards of directors of large, publicly owned corporations operate using committees to assist them. A committee structure permits the board to address key areas in more depth than may be possible in a full board meeting. Decisions about committee membership and chairs should be made by the full board based on recommendations from the corporate governance committee. Consideration should be given to whether periodic rotation of committee memberships and chairs would provide fresh perspectives and enhance directors’ understanding of different aspects of the corporation’s business, consistent with applicable listing standards.

In connection with joining a committee, directors should participate in orientation to familiarize themselves in greater depth with the subject matter areas that the committee is responsible for overseeing. In addition, all committee members should be encouraged to participate in continuing education relating to the committee’s areas of responsibility. For example, committees may benefit from periodic educational sessions, led by management or outside experts, which address recent developments and best practices relevant to the committees’ duties. In this regard, committee members should be cognizant of how recent developments impact the corporation’s own practices.

Committees should apprise the full board of their activities on a regular basis. Processes should be developed and monitored for keeping the board informed through oral or written reports. For example, some corporations provide minutes of committee meetings to all members of the board. Business Roundtable believes that the functions generally performed by the audit, compensation and corporate governance committees are central to effective corporate governance.

The listing standards of the major securities markets require corporations to have an audit committee that performs specific functions, and many corporations also are required to have committees that oversee executive compensation, director nominations and corporate governance matters. Business Roundtable does not believe that a particular committee structure is essential for all corporations. What is important is that the independent members of the board address key issues effectively. These issues include compliance, executive compensation, financial reporting, governance, risk oversight, director nominations and succession planning. Thus, the references below to the functions performed by particular committees are not intended to preclude corporations from allocating these functions differently, consistent with applicable listing standards.

Additional committees, such as finance, public responsibility or risk management, also may be used. Some corporations find it useful to establish committees to examine special problems or opportunities in greater depth than would otherwise be feasible. The responsibilities of each committee and the qualifications required for committee membership should be clearly defined and set out in a written charter that is approved by the board and publicly available. Each committee should review its charter annually and recommend changes to the board as appropriate.

— Steve Odland

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