Independent Directors’ Dissent on Boards: Evidence from Listed Companies in China

Independent Directors’ Dissent on Boards: Evidence from Listed Companies in China

Juan Ma Harvard Business School

Tarun Khanna Harvard University – Strategy Unit

October 24, 2013
Harvard Business School Strategy Unit Working Paper No. 13-089

Abstract: 
In this paper, we examine the circumstances under which so-called “independent” directors voice their independent views on public boards in a sample of Chinese firms. First, we ask why independent directors dissent, i.e. how they justify such dissent to public investors. We find that when independent directors dissent, they tend to offer mild, subjective justifications. Overt criticism of the management is rare. Next, we ask when an independent director is more likely to dissent and who is more likely to dissent. Controlling for firm and board characteristics, we find that dissent is significantly correlated with breakdown of social ties between the independent director and the board chair who locates at the center of the board bureaucracy in China. Dissent is more likely to occur when the board chair who appointed the independent director has left the board. Dissent also tends to occur at the end of board “games”, defined as a 60-day window prior to departure of the board chair or departure of the independent director herself. The endgame effect is particularly strong, seeing 27% of the dissent issued at board “endgames” which represents only 4% of independent directors’ average tenure. While directors with foreign experience are more likely to dissent, we do not find that academics, accountants and lawyers are significantly more active in voicing dissent. Lastly, we show that dissent is consequential to both the director and the firm. For directors, dissent significantly increases one’s likelihood of exiting the director labor market, which translates to a more-than-10% estimated loss of annual income. For firms, we document an economically and statistically significant cumulative abnormal return of -0.97% around announcement of dissent. Although the literature has suggested that dissent might be reflective of diverse viewpoints, and perhaps beneficial in and of itself through reduction of firm variability, we do not find this offsetting beneficial effect to be strong.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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