UPFRONT Setting governance standards

His organisation has just won global award for its outstanding contribution to corporate governance but Geoffrey Bowes is not expecting too many directors to beat path to the door of his head office.

That’s because the Commonwealth Association for Corporate Governance (CACG), of which he is founder and CEO, is based in his home and that happens to be in the middle of the Marlborough Sounds. It has no permanent staff apart from him but in the past few years the CACG has delivered directors’ courses in 35 countries around the world.

And last month it earned the International Corporate Governance Networks (ICGN) 2003 Award – which puts it up alongside global corporate governance leaders such as Sir Adrian Cadbury, who earned the ICGN’s inaugural award three years ago.

Fairly prestigious company – and it’s the first association to be so recognised, said Bowes, speaking from Kuala Lumpur after quick dash to Amsterdam to attend the awards dinner.

“The ICGN does represent the biggest investment group in the world. They’re body of independent companies that together control around $13 trillion worth of investments. “

So how come an association servicing wide range of Commonwealth countries is based in the Marlborough Sounds? Simply because it’s where he lives, says Bowes. Formerly head of New Zealand’s Institute of Directors, he was shoulder tapped by the Commonwealth Secretariat in the late 1990s to lead team into Sierra Leone.

“It was the first time ever that team was specifically put into country to help improve corporate governance standards. While there we determined there was no point in having just one foray – it really needed supportive group behind the initiative. I’d already announced my retirement from the IOD so ended up being CEO of that group.”

It’s not task for the travel averse. Bowes usually leads team, of at least three corporate governance experts, to deliver courses in countries from Africa and Asia to Fiji and the Caribbean.

The standards he’s encountered vary – he rates Sierra Leone as lowest so far (they had “absolutely no knowledge”) and Malaysia tops.

“The standards set by the Malaysian stock exchange are extremely good. But others like Mauritius and Jamaica are emerging fast.”

He says it’s matter of facilitating rather than dictating acceptable corporate governance standards.

“The first thing you have to recognise is that you can’t impose on any organisation or country.

“Our approach is to say what we think is good governance and what boards should be doing – but how does this apply to your country?

“Secondly, we have to take into account local nuances relating both to the country and its religions. And finally we have to accept that things are not going to change tomorrow. What we’re doing is sowing the seeds that future generations will hopefully reap the benefits of because incremental change is happening all the time.”

As to where New Zealand sits on the corporate governance stakes?

“Some of the best directors in the world – some of the worst infrastructure,” says Bowes.

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