‘Why am I here to talk about corporate reporting if no board chairs are present?’ complained Sir Christopher Hogg, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), at LSE’s main market conference yesterday. After talking the board advisers, finance directors, lawyers and company secretaries through a brief potted history of corporate governance and the Combined Code, Hogg seemed flummoxed as to further topics he could address for want of suitably distinguished delegates. So he opened the floor for questions.
Hogg’s faith in his audience seemed momentarily restored, when the company secretary of a recently listed UK company questioned his earlier remark that good corporate governance should merely be seen as a better alternative to bad corporate governance. ‘Surely it needs to be given more substance than that?’ he mused. ‘Although we’re in favor of corporate governance, we do experience a certain fatigue when confronted by administrative governance.’ To which Hogg admitted that he himself had missed out some of the cardinal aspects of corporate reporting in his time, yet stressed the huge benefits of balanced boards and good succession plans. ‘When I began this year’s review of the Combined Code I was feeling very anti-regulatory and I wanted to take out about 25 percent of it,’ he joked. ‘I ended up only changing 0.1 percent, since it had such a positive response.’
The mood darkened again, when the company secretary of another UK-listed business contested Hogg’s opening comment that the morning’s discussion was only relevant for board members. ‘Although I don’t serve a board, I still sit around the table,’ she pointed out. Hogg didn’t appear best pleased. ‘Handling people and handling assets are two different worlds,’ he retorted. ‘Unless you’re on a board and assume responsibility, you don’t feel in your gut what boards need to do. When you’re paid by the hour you’re more relaxed about time.’
Moments before beginning his session, a rather distracted Hogg had complained to me about the lack of appropriateness of the attendees. When I politely asked him the identity of the attendees, he responded by clapping a Blackberry to his ear and then excusing himself to take a coffee. Hogg also seemed disgruntled about the typo in the program indicating he had a mere 15 minutes to speak, rather than the advertised 40 minutes. Surprising really given we weren’t deemed fit to hear his words.