Lord Hunt says firms must seize the opportunity to make corporate governance work for them
I have lost my reputation," cries Cassio, Othello's lieutenant in Shakespeare's play. "I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial." Similar cries might have gone up from some corners of our industry in years gone by, but the times they are a-changing.
Corporate governance is now recognised to be an issue of major concern for all organisations, regardless of their size, structure or intended purpose.
We live in an age of high expectations and constant critical scrutiny, on the part of customers, regulators and the media.
All aspects of commerce are subject to ongoing audit and investigation, and transparency is therefore expected. This situation is likely to intensify.
Organisations have responsibilities to a wide range of individuals and groups. The interests and preferences of shareholders, members, customers, employees and regulators must be taken into account and there is a clear need to establish how each organisation will conduct itself and ensure it adheres to its guiding tenets.
Effective corporate governance is a cornerstone of regulatory compliance, public esteem, workplace harmony and, ultimately, of commercial performance and viability.
At the CII we have embarked on our own review of corporate governance and are currently consulting members on our proposals. It is always essential to acknowledge that this is a complex matter. There are no quick-fix solutions: good corporate governance cannot be bought in an off-the-shelf package.
There are objective measures, such as the Langlands Commission's report, Good Governance Standards for Public Services, but ultimately each corporate entity must devise its own approach, processes and procedures.
Common to all successful efforts in this area are a willingness to embrace change and an acceptance of the need to take full account of external interests. No organisation concerned only with its own traditions and vested interests is going to acclimatise to this 'brave new world'. The watchwords must be openness - and open-mindedness.
Organisations must also beware of approaching corporate governance as a necessary evil that appears on the board agenda as a gesture only, and where senior managers ask what is the minimum that can be done and then, grudgingly, acquiesce in that and not one tittle more.
Such a tick-the-box attitude gets everyone precisely nowhere.
In this respect, corporate governance is akin to regulation and requires a similar response. Firms that see it only as a burden and imposition, tackling it from a wholly negative perspective, will obtain nugatory benefits at best.
Those who grasp the nettle with enthusiasm, harnessing the necessary disciplines and seizing the opportunity to enhance attitudes and approaches, will improve their processes and, just as importantly, will be seen to have done so.
So how to proceed? Although individual, every organisation needs a bespoke solution. There are, nonetheless, transferable principles of best practice: awareness of legislation and regulation; understanding the broader preoccupations and aspirations of consumers, and the specific needs and wishes of one's own customers; and genuine responsiveness to the interests of stakeholders.
The way forward is surely to develop the rules and routines that will steer the corporate ship through sometimes choppy and unpredictable waters, and in the desired direction. What is important is that embarkation takes place. Sound corporate governance is not a luxury, it is a pre-requisite for survival in today's commercial environment. IT
' Lord Hunt of Wirral is chairman of the financial services division at Beachcroft, and deputy president-elect of the CII