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A Packed Agenda For #CorpGov

Posted on March 15, 2015 at 9:20 AM

ICSA's annual conference on corporate governance in London last week provided a very good indication of just how packed - and varied  - the agenda is today for concerns around corporate governance in the UK, Europe and all the way across the world.

At the start, Melanie McLaren, Executive Director of Codes and Standards at the UK watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), brought us straight to the concern du jour: succession planning. "The key things boardrooms are saying is that there needs to be better succession planning" she told #ICSAconf15.

Judging by the steady flow of regulatory announcements, there has certainly been a spate of hastily announced departures - followed by the announcement of an ensuing recruitment process. Not quite succession planning, more succession floundering.

Ms McLaren also spoke to the many Company Secretaries in the audience."We would like to see you more visible, more thanked - and more part of the leadership on boards" she said.

With women often making up the ranks of company secretaries, raising the standards and the profile of these individuals is also a way to offer diversity for the best reasons possible. Not everyone agrees that the standards of what is on offer are good enough. There are also huge discrepancies of ability between company secretaries of various levels, just as they are conflicting views on their ability to rise to the challenges required. But it is surely in the general interest of better business to work on both their professional status and their visibility.

It was good to see a panel session on the investors' perspective that was entirely made up of women.

Journalist Sarah Montague spoke to (L to R) Deborah Gilshan, Senior Investment Manager, RPMI Railpen, Jennifer Walmsley Director Hermes Equity Ownership Services (@hermesinvest) and Bridget Murphy, Director of Engagement at Glass Lewis Europe Ltd (@GlassLewis)

"High pay without a clear link to performance is a flag" said Ms Walmsley - this on the day it was revealed that Shell CEO van Beurden is getting a €24.2m package - but there was also concern expressed about other issues such as succession planning and risk management. "A dialogue with the fund managers who invest- the stewardship concept John Kay talked about - is critical" said Ms Gilshan.

Other highlights: Rob Bellhouse, former company secretary of Lonmin plc  and Deepa Raval, Project Director for Accounting and Reporting Policy at the FRC managed to bring their 'breakout session'  to life. A little honesty goes a long way - of the previous report (the one that did not win an ICSA 'excellence in reporting' award) Mr Bellhouse said: "We were very muddled about who the report was for...."

There was talk from the FRC of puttting company reports online (OMG) - for, as Mr Bellhouse pointed out, a former HSBC company secretary used to call annual reports 'cat killers' due to the potential danger of postal dleivery to languid felines. One could add 'cat killers who hate trees.'

Listening to Sir Stuart Hampson, Chair of the John Lewis Partnership for 14 years, was a privilege.

These were the 'six principles' on which John Lewis based its business, he said. In case you cant make them out from the iphone pic, they are: 'Be Honest' 'Give Respect'  'Recognise Others' 'Show Enterprise' 'Work Together' and 'Achieve More.'

"Does a business know what it stands for and what differentiates it from any other business? Because that is the driver for future shareholder value" said Sir Stuart.

It happened to be the morning of the John Lewis results - and more from me on Forbes about that.

But as Joel Hills @ITVJoel tweeted: "Worthing noting: John Lewis pays bonuses of £156m on a profit of £342m. RBS rewards staff with £421m after bank lost £3.5 billion."

There was more, much more to #ICSAConf15. But I don't want to lose your attention - so I shall come back again, with 'Governance Dilemmas' -including  thoughts from Nick Folland, Chief External Affairs Officer at The Co-operative Group - whose timing into the job was excruciating - and more.

Thank you for reading.

Categories: Governance, Accountability, Scrutiny