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The In's and Out's of Corporate Governance | Best Practices for Ensuring Accountability and Transparency

By: Jack Nicholaisen author image
Business Initiative

What is Corporate Governance?

Definition: Corporate governance refers to the system of rules, practices, and processes by which a company is directed and controlled. It involves balancing the interests of a company’s many stakeholders, such as shareholders, management, customers, suppliers, financiers, government, and the community.

Good corporate governance is essential for building trust with stakeholders, managing risk, and ensuring the long-term viability of a company.

This article will discuss the principles of corporate governance and provide insights into best practices for maintaining a well-functioning and accountable organization.

Intro to Corporate Governance

Corporate governance has evolved over time as a response to various corporate scandals and financial crises, such as the Enron scandal in 2001 and the global financial crisis in 2008. These events highlighted the need for improved oversight, transparency, and accountability in the business world.

Corporate governance best practices are built on the following key principles:

1. Accountability

Companies have a responsibility to be transparent about their activities and performance, and to take responsibility for any negative outcomes that result from their actions. Shareholders expect companies to act in their best interests and should be able to hold them accountable if they don’t.

Companies should also be accountable to other stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and the wider community. They should consider the impact of their actions on these groups and be willing to engage with them constructively.

2. Transparency

Companies need to be transparent about their activities and performance. This means they should share their financial results, business practices, and future plans with shareholders and other stakeholders.

Easy access to this information is important. Transparency builds trust with stakeholders and shows the company has nothing to hide.

3. Fairness

Companies should not show favoritism to any particular group, and should ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Shareholders should have equal voting rights, and should be able to participate in the company’s decision-making processes.

Employees should be treated fairly in terms of pay, working conditions, and opportunities for advancement. Customers should be treated fairly in terms of pricing, product quality, and customer service. And the wider community should be treated fairly in terms of the impact of the company’s activities on the environment and society.

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4. Independence

Boards of directors should be separate from management, and most of the directors should not be executives. This means that the board should be able to watch over the company’s activities without being influenced by management.

The non-executive directors should be independent of the company and its management, and they should be able to give an outside perspective on the company’s operations. This helps to make sure that the board can make decisions that are best for the company and its stakeholders.

5. Responsibility

Companies have a responsibility to consider the impact they have on the environment and society. They should try to minimize any negative effects and take action to address social and environmental issues. By doing so, they can build trust with stakeholders and achieve long-term business success.

Benefits of Corporate Governance

Companies that prioritize corporate governance enjoy numerous benefits, including:

1. Increased trust from stakeholders: Good corporate governance can help build trust and confidence among investors and other stakeholders. A survey by EY found that 96% of institutional investors consider good corporate governance to be an important factor when making investment decisions.

2. Reduced risk: Effective risk management is a key component of good corporate governance. By identifying and managing risks, companies can reduce the likelihood of financial losses and reputational damage.

For example, Wells Fargo’s failure to adequately manage risk led to a scandal involving the creation of millions of unauthorized accounts, resulting in billions of dollars in fines and lost business.

3. Improved decision-making: Independent boards of directors can provide valuable insights and perspectives on a company’s operations. This can help management make better decisions that are in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders.

4. Higher financial performance: Companies that prioritize good corporate governance have been shown to outperform their peers in terms of financial performance. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, companies with strong governance practices had a return on equity (ROE) that was 22 percentage points higher than those with weak governance practices.

5. Better compliance: Companies that follow good corporate governance practices are more likely to comply with laws and regulations. This reduces the risk of legal action or reputational damage.

6. Enhanced reputation: Companies that prioritize good corporate governance are often viewed more favorably by customers, employees, and other stakeholders. For example, Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability and ethical business practices has helped it build a loyal customer base and attract top talent.

Real World Applications

One example of a company that has benefited from strong corporate governance is Johnson & Johnson. The company’s commitment to ethical business practices helped it weather a crisis in 1982 when seven people died after taking Tylenol laced with cyanide.

By taking swift action to recall all Tylenol products from store shelves and improve product safety measures, Johnson & Johnson was able to maintain customer trust and recover from the crisis (Harvard Business Review).

Another example is Microsoft, which has consistently ranked highly in corporate governance rankings. In 2020, the company was ranked third on the Forbes list of World’s Best Employers and second on the Forbes list of America’s Best Employers for Diversity (Forbes).

The Role of the Board of Directors

The board of directors is the cornerstone of good corporate governance. They are responsible for overseeing a company’s strategic direction, financial performance, risk management, and compliance with laws and regulations. Key best practices related to the board of directors include:

  • Board composition: Boards should have a mix of skills, experience, and diversity that aligns with the company’s needs and strategic objectives. This includes having a majority of independent, non-executive directors, as well as representation from women and minorities.
  • Board leadership: The roles of the chairman and CEO should be separated to ensure a balance of power and prevent conflicts of interest.
  • Board committees: Establishing specialized committees, such as audit, compensation, and nomination committees, can help improve oversight and decision-making.
  • Board evaluation: Regular evaluations of the board’s performance and effectiveness should be conducted to identify areas for improvement and ensure continuous development.

When assessing your board, consider the following:

  1. Is the board composed of a mix of skills, experience, and diversity that aligns with the company’s needs and strategic objectives?

  2. Does the board have a majority of independent, non-executive directors who can provide objective oversight?

  3. Are there mechanisms in place to prevent conflicts of interest between management and the board?

Executive Compensation

Executive compensation is a crucial aspect of corporate governance. It refers to the package of salary, bonuses, stock options, and other benefits that top executives receive as part of their employment contract.

The purpose of executive compensation is to attract and retain talented leaders who can drive the company’s success while aligning their interests with those of shareholders.

However, executive compensation can also create conflicts of interest that undermine good corporate governance. Executives may be incentivized to prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability or take excessive risks that benefit themselves at the expense of other stakeholders.

To ensure that executive compensation aligns with good corporate governance principles, companies should adopt the following best practices:

  • Pay for Performance: The board should link executive pay to performance metrics that align with the company’s strategic objectives and long-term sustainability.
  • Transparency: Companies should disclose executive compensation practices in annual reports and proxy statements.
  • Independence: The compensation committee, composed of independent directors not employed by the company, should oversee all aspects of executive compensation, including policy setting, pay level determination, and performance evaluation.
  • Clawback Provisions: Companies should include clawback provisions in employment contracts that allow them to recover executive pay if it was based on inaccurate financial reporting or unethical behavior.

When evaluating your executive compensation practices, consider the following:

  1. Is executive pay aligned with performance?

  2. Are there appropriate incentives to encourage long-term value creation?

  3. Is executive pay transparent and easily understood by shareholders?

Shareholder Rights and Responsibilities

Shareholders play a crucial role in corporate governance by holding the board of directors accountable for their actions and decisions. Key best practices related to shareholder rights and responsibilities include:

  • Shareholder engagement: Companies should proactively engage with shareholders through regular communication, meetings, and consultations.
  • Shareholder voting: Shareholders should have the right to vote on key issues affecting the company, such as the appointment of directors, executive compensation, and major transactions.
  • Shareholder activism: Shareholders can play a valuable role in promoting good corporate governance through activism, which may involve raising concerns, proposing resolutions, or engaging in proxy battles.
  • Share buybacks and dividends: Companies should have a clear policy on share buybacks and dividends, taking into account the interests of shareholders and the company’s long-term strategy.

When evaluating your shareholder engagement practices, consider the following:

  1. Do you proactively engage with shareholders through regular communication, meetings, and consultations?

  2. Do you provide timely and transparent information about your activities and performance?

  3. Do you give shareholders meaningful opportunities to vote on key issues affecting the company?

Effective Risk Management

Managing risk is an essential component of good corporate governance. Companies need to identify, assess, and mitigate risks that could threaten their operations, reputation, and financial performance. Key best practices related to risk management include:

  • Risk identification: Companies should have a systematic process for identifying and assessing risks, both internal and external, that could impact their business.
  • Risk appetite: Boards should establish a clear risk appetite, defining the level of risk the company is willing to accept in pursuit of its objectives.
  • Risk mitigation: Companies should implement effective risk mitigation strategies, such as internal controls, policies, and procedures, to manage and reduce risks.
  • Risk reporting: Boards should receive regular reports on the company’s risk exposures and mitigation efforts, enabling them to monitor and oversee risk management effectively.

When assessing your risk management practices, consider the following:

  1. Is there a systematic process for identifying and assessing risks that could impact the business?

  2. Has the board established a clear risk appetite that aligns with the company’s objectives?

  3. Are there effective risk mitigation strategies in place to manage and reduce risks?

Ethical Business Practices and Compliance

Companies that operate ethically and comply with laws and regulations are more likely to succeed in the long term. Key best practices related to ethical business practices and compliance include:

  • Code of conduct: Companies should establish a code of conduct that sets out their values, ethical principles, and expectations for employee behavior.
  • Compliance program: Companies should have a comprehensive compliance program, including policies, procedures, training, and monitoring, to ensure adherence to laws and regulations.
  • Whistleblower protection: Companies should have a mechanism for employees to report misconduct confidentially, without fear of retaliation.
  • Anti-corruption efforts: Companies should take steps to prevent and detect corruption, including implementing due diligence processes for business partners and robust internal controls.

Corporate Governance Models

There are several corporate governance models, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Here are the most common models:

Unitary Board Model

The unitary board model is a single-board structure where all directors, both executive and non-executive, have equal power and responsibilities. This model is widely used in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.

In this model, there is no separation between the roles of chairman and CEO. The board is responsible for making strategic decisions, overseeing risk management, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.

The unitary board model is suitable for small to medium-sized companies that do not require a complex governance structure. Tesco PLC uses the unitary board model.


  • Simple structure
  • Efficient decision-making process
  • Clear lines of authority


  • Lack of independent oversight
  • Potential for conflicts of interest
  • Limited diversity on the board

Two-Tier Board Model

The two-tier board model consists of two separate boards: a supervisory board and a management board. This model is commonly used in Germany and other European countries.

The supervisory board oversees the management board and approves major strategic decisions, while the management board runs the day-to-day operations of the company.

This model works well for large companies with complex operations that require separate oversight from management. Volkswagen AG uses the two-tier board model.


  • Independent oversight from supervisory board
  • Clear separation between oversight and management functions
  • Strong shareholder representation on supervisory board


  • Potential for communication breakdown between boards
  • Lengthy decision-making process
  • High costs associated with maintaining two boards

Board of Trustees Model

The board of trustees model consists of a group of people who act as stewards for the company’s assets and resources. This model is commonly used by non-profit organizations and educational institutions.

In this model, the board of trustees is responsible for setting the organization’s strategic direction, overseeing its finances, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.

The board of trustees model is suitable for non-profit organizations that require a high level of accountability to their stakeholders. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation uses the board of trustees model.


  • Strong sense of mission-driven leadership
  • Clear focus on stakeholder interests
  • High degree of transparency


  • Limited flexibility in decision-making
  • Potential for conflicts between fiduciary duties and organizational mission
  • Difficulty attracting qualified trustees

The Importance of Good Corporate Governance

Good corporate governance practices are essential for building trust with stakeholders, managing risk, and ensuring the long-term viability of a company.

By focusing on board composition, shareholder engagement, risk management, and ethical business practices, companies can create a strong foundation for success and growth.

Don’t wait any longer to implement these best practices and watch your business thrive.

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Strengthen your corporate governance by evaluating your current practices and identifying areas for improvement.

Your stakeholders and your business will thank you.

Are you looking to enhance your company’s corporate governance practices?

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About the Author

jack nicholaisen
Jack Nicholaisen

Jack Nicholaisen is the founder of After acheiving the rank of Eagle Scout and studying Civil Engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), he has spent the last 4 years disecting the mess of informaiton online about LLCs in order to help aspiring entrepreneurs and established business owners better understand everything there is to know about starting, running, and growing Limited Liability Companies and other business entities.