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The Encarta Dictionary defines an epilogue as “a short Chapter or Section at the end of a literary work, sometimes detailing the fate of its characters.” While this book clearly does not merit the label “literary work,” this epilogue does try to provide at least a partial answer to the question, “What is next in corporate governance?”
Specifically, we look at three sets of forces that are likely to shape corporate governance systems, principles, and practices in the years to come. We begin with the forces of globalization. Societies and corporations are connected by two inter-related sets of laws. The first is the rule of law as defined by local and national legislatures, multilateral agreements, and an emerging body of international law. These legal structures vary greatly from one part of the world to another. Most have deep and ancient societal roots, were shaped through centuries of cultural, political, and economic change, and exhibit a high degree of inertia. Proactive convergence of these structures, therefore, is unlikely, but a new global regulatory framework may be needed.
The market defines the second set of laws. Here we see a very different picture. No matter where a company operates or what it produces, these laws affect, or even determine, its fate. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that this second set of laws is becoming—within the boundaries of applicable legal structures—the dominant force in the evolution of corporate governance practices around the world.
The second set of forces for change reflects new developments on the domestic corporate governance front. As companies continue their struggle to fully comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, new accounting rules and disclosure requirements, and new pressures by institutional investors for greater shareholder democracy—principally focused on access and accountability—virtually guarantee further rule changes. The number of shareholder resolutions filed in the most recent proxy season on issues such as majority voting and ballot access has reached an all-time high. Proactive intervention by lawmakers in areas, such as “Say on Pay,” is also not out of the question. At the same time, while the trend toward private equity–dominated transactions appears to have been dealt a setback by the subprime and leveraged loan financial crisis, the large, privately owned corporation that uses public and private debt rather than public equity as its principal source of capital is likely to be a permanent feature of the global corporate governance landscape.
For the final set of forces, we return to the opening paragraph of the book, which introduced corporate governance in the context of the historical tension between individual freedom and institutional power. As noted in Chapter 9 "Responding to External Pressures and Unforeseen Events", the forces behind the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement have changed the governance landscape; they effectively have widened the range of players deemed to have a legitimate role in shaping corporate decision making and controlling the exercise of corporate power. Faced with this challenge, the appropriate response by boards is to develop a fuller appreciation of the new governance environment that is emerging. We describe this new environment in terms of a new compact between business and society. A key feature of this environment is the increasing pressure on corporations to involve stakeholders in the corporate governance system and holding the corporation answerable to the social claims and demands for nonfinancial information made by stakeholders, just as it is answerable to the financial claims and demands for information made by shareholders.