The debate around corporate governance has been particularly vigorous in this part of the 21st century. Theoretical frameworks have been tested by spectacular corporate failures that also raise questions as to the effectiveness of different approaches. Empirical, contextually-based research into how governance theory informs practice assists in understanding these questions. This paper explores findings from empirical research conducted into the make-up of boards of directors in New Zealand, an export focused economy dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises. These findings are revealing in demonstrating that despite the challenges faced by the New Zealand industry in a volatile global environment, the skill-sets and other characteristics present in, and sought from, directors appear to be both narrow and traditional. However, there is also evidence to suggest shifting expectations and requirements are to some extent and will continue to propel change in both boards and in contributions expected of individual directors.
Companies/corporates are facing pressure to expand their reporting beyond the financial to include environmental and social performance. Governments are generally reluctant to legislate for such expansion in reporting but many corporates have responded by seeking recognition for their progress in this regard by reporting on CSR/sustainability initiatives or otherwise publicising such activities. However, some corporates are slower to react. At the same time there has been a push for the election of independent directors to boards, sometimes as a majority of members. It is now pertinent to explore the matter of whether such directors are influencing corporates in their sustainability and CSR policies. Within a framework shaped by Institutional theory, and via an examination of the publicly available published reports and other documented information on the Top 50 companies on the New Zealand Exchange (the NZX), this paper explores this question. The initial findings from this examination suggest that the reporting and performance record for these New Zealand corporates is both disappointing and limited. The finding is all the more interesting in light of the country's global "100% pure" marketing mantra and the environmentally responsible image and reputation the country seeks to cultivate internationally.