Sunday, December 19, 2004
TIAA-CREF's Board of Directors Directive
The primary responsibility of the board of directors is to foster the long-term success of the corporation, consistent with its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and its obligations to regulators. To carry out this responsibility, the board must ensure that it is independent and accountable to shareholders and must exert authority for the continuity of executive leadership with proper vision and values. The board is singularly responsible for the selection and evaluation of the corporation’s chief executive officer and included in that evaluation is assurance as to the quality of senior management. The board should also be responsible for the review and approval of the corporation’s long-term strategy, the assurance of the corporation’s financial integrity, and the development of equity and compensation policies that motivate management to achieve and sustain superior long-term performance.
The board should put in place structures and processes that enable it to carry out these responsibilities effectively. Certain issues may be delegated appropriately to committees, including the audit, compensation and corporate governance/nominating committees, to develop recommendations to bring to the full board. Nevertheless, the board maintains overall responsibility for the work of the committees and the long-term success of the corporation.
TIAA-CREF puts major focus on the quality of the board of directors. Accordingly, while we normally vote for the board’s nominees, we will vote for alternative candidates when our analysis indicates that those candidates will better represent shareholder interests. We will withhold our vote from unopposed candidates when their record indicates that their election to the board would not be in the interest of shareholders. We also will withhold our vote from unopposed directors when the board as a whole has acted contrary to legitimate shareholder concerns.
A. Board Membership
1. Director Independence. The Board should be comprised of a substantial majority of independent directors. This is a prime example of a principle long espoused by TIAA-CREF and now accepted by mainstream boards and senior managements. Going forward, TIAA-CREF will focus on how company boards interpret and implement the new exchange listing requirements as reflected by their actions and corporate governance positions and will encourage board practices that promote a spirit and culture of true independence and vitality.
More specifically, the definition of independence should extend beyond that incorporated in amended listing standards of the exchanges. We believe independence means that a director and his or her immediate family have no present or former employment with the company, nor any substantial connection of a personal or financial nature (other than equity in the company or equivalent stake) to the company or its management that could in fact or in appearance compromise the director’s objectivity and loyalty to shareholders. To be independent, the director must not provide, or be affiliated with any organization that provides goods or services for the company if a reasonable, disinterested observer could consider the relationship substantial.
True independence depends upon these and other factors that may not be readily discerned by shareholders. In view of the importance of independence, non-management directors should evaluate the independence of each of their fellow directors based on all information available to them and should disclose to shareholders how they determine that directors are capable of acting independently.
2. Director Qualifications. The board should be comprised of individuals who can contribute business judgment to board deliberations and decisions, based on their experience in relevant business, management disciplines or other professional life. Directors should reflect a diversity of background and experience, and at least one director should qualify as a financial expert for service on the audit committee. Each director should be prepared to devote substantial time and effort to board duties, taking into account other executive responsibilities and board memberships.
3. Board Alignment with Shareholders. Directors should have a direct, personal and material investment in the common shares of the company so as to align their attitudes and interests with those of public shareholders. The definition of a material investment will vary depending on directors’ individual circumstances. Director compensation programs should include shares of stock or restricted stock. TIAA-CREF discourages stock options as a form of director compensation; their use is less aligned with the interests of long-term equity owners than other forms of equity.
4. Director Education. Directors should continuously take steps through director education to improve their competence and understanding of their roles and responsibilities and to deepen their exposure to the company’s businesses, operations and management. The company should disclose whether directors are participating in such programs. New directors should receive comprehensive orientation, and all directors should receive periodic updates concerning their responsibilities or participate in periodic director education programs. Companies may develop and conduct such programs internally and may encourage directors to participate in independent programs available for director education through universities and organizations with a history of providing excellent education.
5. Disclosure of Any Monetary Arrangements. The Board should approve and disclose to shareholders any monetary arrangements with directors for services outside normal board activities.
B. Board Responsibilities
1. Fiduciary Oversight. The board must exercise its fiduciary responsibilities in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders. In addition to ensuring that corporate resources are used only for appropriate business purposes, the board should be a model of integrity and inspire a culture of high ethical standards. The board should mandate strong internal controls, avoid board member conflicts of interest, and promote fiscal accountability and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. The board should develop a clear and meaningful set of governance principles and disclose them to shareholders on the company’s website, as well as in the annual report or proxy statement. The board also should develop procedures that require that it be informed of violations of corporate standards. Finally, through the audit committee, the board should be directly engaged in the selection and oversight of the corporation’s external audit firm.
2. CEO Selection and Succession Planning. The development, selection and evaluation of executive leadership are among the most important decisions the board will make. Continuity of strong executive leadership with proper values is critical to corporate success. Under such leadership, companies have the best opportunity to succeed and benefit shareholders. Indifferent or weak leadership over time allows the best of business positions to erode and a company’s fortunes to decline. To ensure the long-term success of the company and its shareholders, it is imperative that the board develop, select and support strong corporate leadership.
This process depends upon a thorough and effective management development and succession plan, and a sound evaluation process. The succession plan should identify high-potential executives and provide them with career development opportunities to advance in increasingly responsible positions. A thoughtful 6 TIAA-CREF Policy Statement on Corporate Governance and deliberate succession plan will result in a pool of senior managers who have the experience and demonstrated capabilities to succeed as the Chief Executive Officer.
The evaluation process should be ongoing and should reflect a clear understanding between the board and the CEO regarding the corporation’s expected performance, including specific objectives and measures for CEO performance.
3. Strategic Planning. The board should review the company’s strategic plan at least annually. The strategic allocation of corporate resources to each of the company’s businesses is critical to its future success. Strategic plan reviews should include assessments of a) markets, products and customers for each major business segment; b) competitive strengths and weaknesses of the company; c) opportunities and threats confronting the company; d) key success factors and other elements necessary to maintain a competitive advantage; e) human resource management issues; and f) a projection of the firm’s financial resources, which ensures flexibility and includes sufficient availability of capital needed to achieve its strategic objectives.
4. Equity Policy. The board should develop an equity policy that reflects its broad philosophy regarding the proportion of stock that the company intends to be available for executive compensation and communicate that policy to shareholders. The board should establish limits on the number of shares to be available for option programs, as measured by potential dilution, and should disclose the terms of those programs. As equity-based compensation has become an increasingly important part of executive compensation, it has claimed an increasingly larger share of the equity base of the corporation—in many cases far more than shareholders would have approved or the board may have intended. A well-designed equity policy will help to prevent such results and ensure that compensation is appropriately linked to both corporate performance and corporate resources.
C. Board Structure and Processes
1. Role of the Chairman. The board should organize its functions and conduct its business in a manner that enables it to carry out its responsibilities consistent with good governance principles. Thus, it should ensure that it is the focal point for accountability of the CEO and management of the company. In the absence of special circumstances, we would leave to the discretion of the board whether to separate the positions of CEO and chairman. However, when the board chooses not to separate the positions, it should designate a lead or presiding director who would preside over executive sessions of independent directors and, if the board determines it to be appropriate, would participate actively in the preparation of board agendas.
The board should encourage full discussion of all issues before the board and provide appropriate resources for board members so that they may prepare for meetings.
2. Committee Structure. The board should delegate certain functions to committees. Under new regulations, three key committees must be comprised exclusively of independent directors: the audit committee, the compensation committee, and the corporate governance/nominating committee. The new requirements have also greatly expanded the responsibilities and necessary competencies of audit committee members. The credibility of the corporation will depend in part on the vigorous demonstration of independence by the committees and their chairs. Committees should have the right to retain and evaluate outside consultants and to communicate directly with staff below the senior level.
The committees should report back to the board on important issues they have considered and upon which they have taken action. The audit, compensation and corporate governance/ nominating committees should meet in executive session on a regular basis with inclusion of management personnel, if appropriate because of issues under discussion, and also without such personnel being present. If the company receives a shareholder proposal, the committee most appropriate to consider the matter should review the proposal and the management response to it. Each committee should create and disclose to shareholders a clear and meaningful charter specifying its role and responsibilities, including the following:
o Audit Committee
The audit committee plays a critical role in ensuring the corporation’s financial integrity and consideration of legal and compliance issues. It represents the intersection of the board, management, independent auditors, and internal auditors, and it has sole authority to hire and fire the corporation’s independent auditors. When selecting auditors, the committee should consider the outside firm’s independence. The committee should ensure that the firm’s independence is not compromised by the provision of non-audit services. The committee should establish limitations on the type and amount of such services that the audit firm can provide. The committee should also consider imposing limitations on the corporation’s ability to hire staff from the audit firm and requiring periodic rotation of the outside audit firm.
In addition to selecting the independent auditors and ensuring the quality and integrity of the company’s financial statements, the audit committee is responsible for the adequacy and effectiveness of the company’s internal controls and the effectiveness of management’s process to monitor and manage business risks facing the company. The committee should establish a means by which employees can communicate directly with committee members and should ensure that the company develops, and is in compliance with, ethics policies and legal and regulatory requirements.
o Compensation Committee
Executive compensation practices provide a window into the effectiveness of the board. Through the compensation committee, the board should implement rational compensation practices that respond to the company’s equity policy, including conditional forms of compensation that motivate managers to achieve performance that is better than that of a peer group. They should not be driven by accounting treatment or the pursuit of short-term share price results. Compensation should reward only the creation of genuine and sustainable value.
With shareholders’ interest and fairness in mind, the committee should develop policies and practices regarding cash pay, the role of equity-based compensation, fringe benefits and senior management employment contracts, severance and payments after change of control. All policies should be disclosed to shareholders upon adoption by the full board. As described later in this statement, TIAA-CREF has developed guidelines for the specific components of executive compensation.
o Corporate Governance/Nominating Committee
The corporate governance/nominating committee is responsible for ensuring that the corporation has an engaged and vital board of directors. The committee should be charged to make recommendations related to the preparation of corporate governance principles; director qualifications and compensation; board and committee size, structure, composition and leadership; board and committee effectiveness; and director independence evaluation and director retirement policy. It should also be responsible for succession planning. The committee should also consider how new regulatory requirements affecting corporate governance should change company practices.
3. Executive Sessions. The board should hold routinely scheduled executive sessions at which management, including the CEO, is not present. These meetings should help to facilitate a culture of independence, providing directors with an opportunity to engage in open discussion of issues that might otherwise be inhibited by the presence of the CEO or management. Executive sessions should also be used to evaluate CEO performance and discuss CEO compensation.
4. Board Evaluation. The board should conduct regular evaluations of its performance and that of its key committees. Such evaluations should be designed to improve the board’s effectiveness and enhance its engagement and vitality. They should be based on criteria defined in the board’s governance principles and its committee charters and should include a review of the skills, experience and contributions represented in the boardroom. In addition to director orientation and education, the board should consider other ways to improve director performance, including individual director performance evaluations.
5. Annual Elections. All directors should stand for annual election to the board. A classified board structure at a public company can be a significant impediment to a free market for corporate control, particularly in combination with other takeover defenses, such as a “poison pill” shareholder rights plan. Moreover, a classified board structure can restrict a board’s ability to remove expeditiously an ineffective director.
6. Board Schedule and Meeting Agendas. The board should establish schedules and agendas for the full board and its committees that anticipate business “rhythms” and normal recurring agenda items. They should specify the dates of meetings and subjects to be covered at each meeting and should ensure that all relevant materials are provided to members well before each meeting. This will enable directors to be prepared and vigorously engaged in meetings and the staff to be prepared to respond to the needs and concerns of the board and its committees. Meeting agendas should allow sufficient time to discuss important issues thoroughly.
7. Indemnification and Liability. Directors should be held accountable to the shareholders and the corporation for willful or gross negligence of their duty of loyalty and their duty of care and should not obtain insurance for these types of conduct. Exclusive of this, the corporation should be free to indemnify directors for legal expenses and judgments in connection with their service as directors.
8. Board Size. The board should be large enough to allow key committees to be staffed with independent directors but small enough to allow all views to be heard and to encourage the active participation of all members.
9. Director Retirement Policy. Although TIAA-CREF does not support arbitrary limitations on the length of director service, we believe the board should establish a director retirement policy.
A fixed director retirement policy will contribute to board vitality.