Smaller, More Diverse and Independent Boardrooms - New Eversheds Report Identifies the Criteria for Company Success

Mar 07, 2011, 10:59 ET from Eversheds LLP

LONDON, March 7, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --

- Major new international study into boardroom culture investigates relationship between board composition, share price performance and company success before, during and after financial crisis

- Key factors for success include smaller boards, increased diversity and greater board independence

- US boards meet success criteria with the highest proportion of female directors and the highest proportion of independent and non-executive directors

Smaller boards, more female directors and a higher proportion of independent directors are the key boardroom components for company success, with US boards closely matching the global success trends, according to a major new report released today (7 March) by international law firm Eversheds.

The Eversheds Board Report is a forward thinking study which analysed the performance of nearly 250 of the top companies in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific* between October 2007 and December 2009 to discover whether board composition had any direct relationship to the company's ability to weather the financial crisis.

While there were some regional differences - the best performing companies were found in Hong Kong where there was an average of a 15.6% rise in share price, compared to an average decrease of 29% in Europe, and just 7.6% decrease in the US - some global trends in boardroom success emerged.

Better performing companies had fewer directors in total on their boards, and this was particularly true for the US. The report shows that the optimum size for a successful US board was considered to be 12 directors, in line with the global optimum size of 11. Many of those surveyed believed that this number resulted in a greater focus on the issues, better management from the chair, quicker decision making and better overall dynamics between the board members.

The report also reveals that those companies who had more female directors performed better during the financial crisis. This is the case in the US, which has the highest proportion of female directors (17.6% in 2007, and 17.0% in 2009). However, when interviewed, only 55% of directors thought that diversity for its own sake was beneficial for board and company performance and only half that number were directly in favour of taking positive action to appoint more women onto boards.

There is also a strong correlation between share price performance and the number of independent directors on company boards. When interviewed, directors narrowly preferred independence to experience, however 67% believed both were equally important. The research revealed that the US had the highest proportion of independent and non-executive directors (85% in 2007, and 87% in 2009).

Substantial shareholdings - companies with higher percentages of share capital held by shareholders who hold 3% or more of the issued share capital - also proved a factor for success. In the US however, the ratio of shares held by substantial shareholders remained the lowest compared to Europe and Asia (8% in 2007 and 10% in 2009). Companies that performed better during the financial crisis were significantly more likely to have a higher number of shareholders with a substantial shareholding.

John Heaps, chairman at Eversheds, comments:

"Boardrooms across the world have faced extraordinary challenges over the past few years. As well as the economic climate - which perhaps unsurprisingly came top of a list of concerns keeping board directors awake at night - directors believe that too much regulation, ensuring they have the right management team in place and demonstrating that they are making a difference are all concerns.

"We undertook this major international study to understand and respond to the challenges our clients are facing. We also wanted to find out if trends could be indentified that directly related board composition to company performance during the financial crisis. The financial crisis has forced many companies to think hard about the structure of their boards."

Robin Johnson, partner at Eversheds, adds:

"The major trends that emerged from our research are interesting, particularly the relative success of the more independent, diverse boards and the extent to which US companies have benefited from this with a comparatively small decrease in financial performance during the financial crisis. Interestingly, many directors reported that there was a 'power shift', with executive directors relying on the experience of non-executive directors more than previously. However, the general consensus seems to be that this would not be a permanent change - many directors believe now is the time for non-executive directors to 'pull back' and allow the executive management team to manage.

"Lessons should be learned from the factors that contributed to company performance and it is clear that, where appropriate, more streamlined, independent boards with a higher ratio of female directors could be keys to future success."

*Research sample:

As part of this study, the performance of 241 companies was examined from October 2007 and December 2009. The sample included:

    - UK: 75 companies from the FTSE 350 including the top 50 companies in
    the FTSE 100 by market capitalisation and 25 companies from the FTSE 250

    - USA: Top 51 by market capitalisation from the S&P100 in the USA

    - Continental Europe: Top 50 companies by market capitalisation from the

    - Asia-Pacific: 50 companies - 25 from the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong
    and 25 companies from the S&P/ASX50 in Australia

    - The 241 companies included 50 banks

Between August 2010 and October 2010, 50 directors selected at random from the 241 companies were also interviewed thus allowing both a quantitative as well as a qualitative analysis of the results.

Notes to editors

About Eversheds LLP

Eversheds LLP and its world wide associate offices have over 4,500 legal and business advisers providing services to the private and public sector business and finance community. Access to all these services is provided through 46 international offices in 28 jurisdictions. Eversheds combines local market knowledge and access with the specialisms, resources and international capability of one of the world's largest law firms.

    Chantel Gohil
    For Eversheds LLP
    Tel: 0845 497 4629

SOURCE Eversheds LLP