A Brief Conceptual Background
The discourse on corporate governance has been garnering considerable attention in the public domain in India, mainly due to the introduction of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), the steps being taken by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) in promoting governance, and the escalating activism of shareholders and proxy advisory firms (“PAFs”) in the public markets.
The corporate governance regime in India has been implemented mostly reactively, thus far. One of the reasons could be the prevalence of the family-owned businesses in India which present a distinct and additional set of governance concerns such as safeguarding the interests of minority shareholders, the fiduciary duty (if any) of the promoter(s) to minority shareholders and the duties of the board of directors in conflict situations. As such, this feature may have effectively prevented Indian regulators from adopting the governance frameworks implemented in more evolved jurisdictions like the UK or the USA. Even Germany, where the corporate ecosystem is comprised of large family-owned businesses like India, could not have an appropriate reference point for Indian regulators, given the board structures there. To elaborate, German corporations have adopted a two-tier board structure whereby representation is mandatorily available to employees on the upper tier (supervisory) board. As such, this prevalence of family owned concerns could have been one of the reasons why the Indian corporate governance regime has largely remained prescriptive and reactive.