3 Ways Boards Members Can Enhance Corporate Governance

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Recent investments by high-profile figures such as Warren Buffet in Japanese trading companies, alongside notable comparisons to Japan’s economic boom of the 1980s by BlackRock’s Larry Fink, underscore a burgeoning interest in Japan’s financial markets. Despite the impressive growth of the Tokyo Stock Price Index outpacing that of the S&P 500, challenges such as a weak yen and an aging demographic persist. For sustained growth, the focus must now shift towards refining corporate governance.

Progress and Potential

Japan’s commitment to enhancing corporate governance is evident, with ongoing governmental initiatives fostering a less insular market landscape, encouraging strategic corporate restructuring, and promoting optimal capital returns. Yet, historical comparisons indicate that there’s room for improvement: once home to 32 of the world’s top 50 companies by market capitalization in the late 1980s, today, Japan boasts only one. This highlights a gap in enterprise valuation and risk tolerance compared to Western counterparts, evident in lower earnings multiples and substantial cash reserves.

The Role of the Boardroom

As we approach proxy season, the role of the board in steering governance reforms becomes crucial. Our collaboration with Bain & Company Japan and Board Advisors Japan through interviews and research has identified key areas for boards to enhance their effectiveness:

  1. Internal Board Dynamics:

    • Challenge Hierarchical Norms: Japanese boards are often viewed as too formal and hierarchical. Encouraging open, constructive dialogue can catalyze quicker value generation.
    • Increase Diversity: Boards in Japan are generally less diverse than those in other global markets, often with a high overlap between CEO and board chair roles, minimal independent directors, and low international representation.
  2. Strategic Oversight:

    • Visionary Leadership: Boards should spend more time envisioning long-term goals rather than focusing on short-term operational details, which are better handled by management.
    • Value Creation Plans: It is crucial for boards to develop and monitor robust strategies for value creation, ensuring alignment with the company’s core competencies.
  3. Communication:

    • Enhance Transparency: A key board responsibility is to effectively communicate the company’s strategy, expected returns, and broader mission to stakeholders, enhancing investor confidence and stakeholder engagement.

Leveraging Cultural Strengths

Japan’s traditional “Sampo Yoshi” philosophy, which emphasizes the well-being of customers, employees, and society, aligns well with contemporary corporate responsibility trends. This philosophical foundation, coupled with a history of long-term strategic planning, positions Japanese companies to thrive in a volatile global environment.

IBG Insights

In an era marked by rapid disruptions, it is imperative for boards, particularly in Japan, to guide their companies with a forward-looking approach. By embracing these governance improvements, they can ensure resilience and continued success in the global market. Now is the time for decisive action to shape the future of corporate Japan.

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