London, June 12 2019 image via ING Media

I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.


Diageo Tops Ranks Of UK PLCs On #CorpGov

Diageo Tops Ranks Of UK PLCs On #CorpGov

Diageo, the owner of Guinness, Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, has emerged as the highest ranked UK-listed company for the quality of its corporate governance, according to the UK Institute of Directors’ (IOD) annual report on the health of large company boards.

The world's largest producer of alcohol in spirit form and a key producer of beer has hit the top of rankings that are also supported by the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI).

Now in its third year, the 2017 Good Governance Report was compiled for the IoD by London's Cass Business School. I was present at the early meetings in 2015 exploring the possibility of an index of corporate governance, but not since, so this is all news to me.

This ranking has evolved from examining a range of 47 factors relating to how companies are run, including board diversity, directors’ pay, how long the business has been with an auditor and whether or not it has a whistle-blowing policy.

The number of measures examined has been expanded this year to give "an even more comprehensive view of how well the company performs for its shareholders, employees and customers" says the IOD. 

Its report is unique, it suggests, in the way it combines publicly available data with over 2,000 rankings of companies given by individuals with knowledge of what good governance looks like. They include members of the IoD and the CQI, company secretaries and accountants.

The final ranking is weighted based on the perceptions of the different measures, with audit and risk being seen by governance experts as the most important.

It is interesting that the top 10 in these rankings, apart from Diageo, include companies as different as Unilever , British American Tobacco, Aviva and only one bank- Barclays. 

But, given where Barclays is at the moment on media coverage, whistle-blowers and reputation, having it in the Top 10 on corporate governance might, all by itself, raise a few eyebrows on methodology.

Then there's the comment by Ken Olisa, Deputy Chairman of the IOD and Chairman of the Good Governance Report advisory panel.

He starts out strong: “Corporate governance is about much more than compliance – it’s about achieving competitive advantage."

And then he says: “Business is a form of sport. As with any sport, championship requires a comprehensive understanding of the human, the equipment, the arena and of course the rules..."

While the sport/business analogy is great on one level, we need to be careful, given the amount of sport under investigation for unfair competitive advantage, or doping. I am not sure that likening business to a form of sport at the moment is going to make it better behaved in any way whatsoever.

Estelle Clark, Director of Policy at the Chartered Quality Institute, says : "The report clearly shows that there is no correlation between company size and effective corporate governance, which demonstrates that governance is not a matter of resource but of culture and will.”

She believes the report also challenges the assumption that corporate governance is solely a financial issue: “Corporate governance is much more than the narrow issue of executive pay and the misuse of zero hours contracts. Companies with potential governance issues will not find the remedy solely in the audit and remuneration committee.”

Her comments push me towards thoughts on rankings as useful - up to a point. In a Britain consumed by Brexit - and likely to remain that way for the forseeable future, is there anything but very random value in yet another ranking?

The IOD report comes across a teeny bit as a way of reinforcing the legitimacy of those involved in creating it - and we need far more innovation.

The biggest problem UK plc boardrooms face is that they appear to be in an echo chamber that is far distanced from 2017 reality. Think lack of employee skills, directors spread thin and possibly past their sell by date, digital needs, millennial choices and true diversity including ethnic representation mirroring the world at large.

We need a corporate governance index that measures UK plc's digital quotient - including on cyber-security - now I could get excited about that, as a ranking doing its job: inspiring business to do what it takes to head to a new digital level for its stakeholders.

But perhaps we also need to outgrow the very British public school mentality of rankings in the first place - in one way or another, their creation merely elevates those who are involved in the making.

Better business demands more: brainstorm, don't rank- collaborate- and all the while hang up any accoutrements and distinguishing job titles by the door. Innovation within the forum of a diverse workplace should be the new elitism, and the standard to which UK business aspires.

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