“Japan’s Unfinished Corporate Governance Reforms”, by Nicholas Benes

My article on Japan’s unfinished reforms is online now. Lest the Abe administration and regulators “declare victory” when they are only half done, I describe seven specific measures that Japan needs to adopt in order to bring its market up to a global standard for a developed nation:

  1. Detailed rules for an independent committee
  2. A clear requirement for a majority of independent directors on the board
  3. Codifying the role and responsibilities of executive officers
  4. Consolidation of overlapping disclosure reports
  5. Protection of minority shareholder rights
  6. Enhancing transparency to reduce entrenchment and enhance inclusiveness
  7. Strengthening stewardship throughout the investment chain

I stress the reality that in all of these, strong political leadership from the Prime Minister and other senior parliamentarians will be needed. “Thus, is it essential that the Tokyo Stock Exchange (JPX/TSE) and the various regulatory agencies keep up reform momentum. However, one senses a desire from these groups to ‘declare victory’, and they have a tendency to not fully coordinate with each other. If Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet did more to make the key players coordinate their efforts in key areas, meaningful governance change (and protection of investors) would accelerate….

Some Simple Questions for Softbank

For companies with Softbank Group’s corporate governance structure (a company with Board of Statutory Auditors), Article 362 of Japan’s Company Law stipulates the following:

…..(4) [the] Board of directors may not delegate the decision on the execution of important operations such as the following matters to directors: [which means: “may not delegate these matters to directors or anyone else with executive responsibilities. In other words, the board must approve the following: ]
(i) The disposal of and acceptance of transfer of important assets;
(ii) Borrowing in a significant amount;
(iii) The appointment and dismissal of an important employee including managers;
etc. “”

Because of this language in the law, companies draft up “criteria for board decisions” (“fugi kijun”) , and have them approved by the board. These criteria define numerically (and in other ways if necessary) what will be considered “important” under each of the categories set forth above and therefore will require board approval, e.g. purchases of real estate larger than 1.0 Billion Yen (about $10 million), investments or acquisitions larger than 2 Billion Yen ($20 million), etc. – a “limit amount” referred to below as “X” .

What is the Difference Between Mr. Ghosn’s Deferred Compensation and Hiring Post-Retirement Directors as “Advisors?”

When you squint closely at the facts, not as much as you might think. Mostly, it is the difference between individual self-dealing and collective self-dealing.

As corporate policy, many Japanese companies re-hire their executive directors as “advisors (“sodanyaku” or “komon“) immediately after they retire from the board. The re-hiring occurs automatically, and the work expected from such “advisors” in their contracts (if any) is usually vague to the point of being non-existent.

Company Law Reform in Japan:  Losing its Mojo?

by Nicholas Benes

This year, Japan’s governance reform drive will either keep going, or run out of steam. Judging from the amendment of the Company Law that is now underway by an advisory council of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the latter is likely.

Strikingly absent is a clear over-arching vision of the most important themes that amendment of the Company Law should address now that the country has a corporate governance code. In other words, what is missing, that can only be addressed via the Company Law?

If the government were truly intent on bringing about behavioral change on the part of all Japanese boards and executives, it would focus on harmonizing key aspects of the confusing array of three different corporate governance models which listed companies can adopt, and moving towards a more consistent version of the “monitoring model” for governance that has become internationally accepted and is now embodied in its own corporate governance code.

To do this, it would change the law to enable boards to flexibly appoint capable (and legally accountable) senior executives from a much wider range of candidates than is currently possible. It would also establish rules that require boards to fulfill the independent supervisory and oversight roles envisioned for them under the corporate governance code, unaffected by managerial self-interest, if they wish to delegate wider authority to executives and pay them incentive compensation determined solely by the board.