Role of the Corporate Governance Committee

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 sixth in a series of articles that summarizes their principles.

Every publicly owned corporation should have a committee composed solely of independent directors that addresses director nominations and corporate governance matters. The corporate governance committee (often combined with or referred to as a nominating committee) should have at least three members and should be composed solely of independent directors. The corporate governance committee recommends director nominees to the full board and the corporation’s shareholders, oversees the composition, structure, operation and evaluation of the board and its committees, and plays a leadership role in shaping the corporate governance of the corporation.

Depending on how the board has allocated responsibilities among its committees, the corporate governance committee also may oversee the compensation of the board if the compensation committee does not do so, or the two committees may share oversight responsibility for this area. The committee should remain informed about legal and regulatory developments in the area of corporate governance. As part of its responsibility to oversee the composition of the board, the corporate governance committee should engage in succession planning for the board. This process should include looking at the skills and experience currently represented on the board, identifying qualifications and attributes that the board may find valuable in the near-term and the future based on the corporation’s strategic direction, and planning ahead for the departure of directors and the designation of new board members.

The corporate governance committee should regularly conduct an assessment of the mix of skills represented on the board to evaluate whether the board, as a whole, contains the right balance of professional and personal backgrounds, and includes individuals that bring industry and other relevant knowledge, financial expertise, diversity and other desired characteristics to the board.

In performing the core function of identifying and recommending director candidates to the board, the corporate governance committee should establish criteria for board membership and recommend these criteria to the board for approval. There are certain criteria that every director should have, such as sound judgment, integrity and an objective mind.

The committee should periodically review the board’s membership criteria and recommend changes to the board as appropriate. Based on the board’s membership criteria and the qualifications and attributes identified through the assessment of the board’s composition, the committee should identify director candidates, review their qualifications and any potential conflicts with the corporation’s interests, and recommend new director candidates to the board.

In identifying director candidates, the corporate governance committee should take a proactive approach by soliciting ideas for potential candidates from a variety of sources. The committee should have the authority to retain search firms as appropriate to assist it in identifying candidates and should provide search firms with the criteria articulated by the committee. The committee also should develop a process for considering shareholder recommendations for board nominees. Although it is appropriate for the CEO to meet with board candidates, the final responsibility for selecting director nominees should rest with the corporate governance committee and the board.

In connection with the renomination of current directors, the corporate governance committee should review their skills and experience, assess their contributions to the board, and consider their continued value to the corporation in light of current and future needs. Some boards may undertake these steps, in part, through individual director evaluations, which may occur through a more formalized process or in connection with renominating directors.

The corporate governance committee should monitor and safeguard the independence of the board. An important function of a corporate governance committee, related to its core function of recommending nominees to the board, is to see that a substantial majority of the directors on the board meet appropriate standards of independence that are consistent with securities market listing standards and to see that these directors are independent both in fact and in appearance. It is also important that directors have the ability to question management, exercise constructive skepticism and express their views even when those views may differ from those of management or other directors.

The corporate governance committee should consider all relevant facts and circumstances in assessing independence and make recommendations to the board regarding determinations of director independence. If the board has developed a set of standards for assessing independence, the committee should evaluate directors’ relationships in light of these standards. In addition, the committee should receive prompt notification from directors of any change in a director’s circumstances that may affect the director’s independence (such as a family member’s job change).

The corporate governance committee should conduct a periodic evaluation of the board’s leadership structure to assess whether the current leadership structure remains appropriate. In addition, the committee should oversee the process of planning for succession to the position of chairman of the board, which should involve consideration of whether to combine or separate the positions of CEO and chairman of the board when the current chairman’s tenure ends and consideration of whether a new CEO might necessitate a change to the board leadership structure.

The corporate governance committee also recommends directors for appointment to committees of the board. The committee should periodically review the board’s committee structure and annually recommend candidates for membership on the board’s committees. The committee should see that the key board committees, including the audit, compensation and corporate governance committees, are composed of directors who meet applicable independence and qualification standards. In addition, the committee should consider whether periodic rotation of committee memberships and chairs would provide fresh perspectives and enhance directors’ understanding of various aspects of the corporation’s business.

The corporate governance committee should oversee the effective functioning of the board. The committee should review the board’s policies relating to meeting agendas and schedules and the corporation’s processes for providing information to the board, with input from the lead director or independent chairman.

The corporate governance committee should assess the reporting channels through which the board receives information and see that the board obtains appropriately detailed information in a timely fashion. This includes receiving information from a variety of sources, from inside and outside of the corporation, including both positive and negative materials such as analyst reports, industry publications and press articles. It also includes seeing that relevant information that the corporation receives from key stakeholders, such as long-term shareholders, is appropriately shared with the board.

The corporate governance committee should develop and recommend to the board a set of corporate governance principles, review them annually and recommend changes to the board as appropriate. The corporation’s corporate governance principles should be available on the corporation’s website and should address, at a minimum, board leadership, qualifications for directors, director independence, director responsibilities, the structure and functioning of board committees, board access to management and advisers, director compensation, director orientation and continuing education, board evaluations and management succession.

The corporate governance committee should oversee the corporation’s efforts in the area of shareholder engagement and coordinate with management any appropriate board-level involvement in that process. The corporate governance committee should oversee the evaluation of the board and its committees. Specifics concerning the evaluation process are discussed under “Board and Committee Evaluation.”

— Steve Odland

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