This post is also available in: Japanese
The UK business media has paid more attention than usual to Japanese business topics, thanks to the new corporate governance regulations that have been introduced in Japan on June 1st. Corporate governance is still a hot topic in the UK, 23 years on from the Cadbury Report which made similar recommendations to those being adopted in Japan, and has been influential on EU and US regulations since.
External directors are now a standard feature of British boards, but there is still concern that there is a lack of diversity in the membership of the boards of British companies. What we call in the UK an “Old Boys’ Network” still operates in the appointment of board members. It is a natural human instinct to prefer to hire people who are similar to you and many appointments are made through personal connections rather than publicly advertised.
The most recent update on another corporate governance review, the Davies Report of 2011, which recommended an increase representation of women on FTSE 100 (Financial Times Stock Exchange) boards to at least 25% by 2015, was issued in March of this year. Good progress has been made on having more women non-executive, external directors, but the percentage of executive directors who are women is still very low (4.6% for the FTSE 250).
In addition to the “Old Boys’ Network”, boards want to appoint people with a strong track record in a particular industry or who have financial expertise. Women tend to have more varied, generalist careers or are professionals in areas such as HR or marketing. There is still a lack of women rising up through the ranks in traditionally male industries such as IT, banking or engineering.
Of course the whole point of having more diverse boards, with different expertise and backgrounds, is to encourage debate in board meetings and more transparency of information, which is supposed to lead to better governance, innovation and management of risk. Having to explain issues to people who are not expert in your company or industry can help uncover unthinking assumptions and bring fresh perspectives.
Japanese companies in the UK banking and insurance sectors have come under heavy scrutiny from the UK Prudential Regulation Authority recently. The PRA has the right to interview and approve the appointment of directors to financial sector companies, and also to see the “board pack” (documents for the board meetings) and minutes of the meetings.
Newly appointed Japanese directors have found it very difficult to answer the standard PRA question “why did you choose to take up this role?” when in fact they were simply told to become a director by Japan headquarters. Most board meetings in the UK just rubber stamped decisions made through nemawashi outside the meeting, so the board pack and the minutes were minimal, and in Japanese.
As board diversity increases in Japan, hopefully Japanese companies will become more used to providing a greater quantity of information and more transparency about decision making, which will help the boards of their overseas subsidiaries function better too.
This article was originally published in Japanese on 8th July 2015 in the Teikoku Databank News and also appears in Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” – available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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