Juan Ma is a doctoral student in Strategy at Harvard Business School. Her research focus is on emerging markets and global strategy. Juan holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Toronto. Prior to joining HBS, she produced research work on global competitiveness for the Department of International Trade and Foreign Affairs, Canada. Her research work has been covered in media outlets such as the Financial Times. Juan comes from Nanjing, China and she speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese.In 2011, Juan was awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Silver Medal.
Independent Directors' Dissent on Boards: Evidence from Listed Companies in China
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 team 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 independent directors' dissent is associated with breakdown of social ties between the independent director and the board chairperson, who is at the center of the board bureaucracy in China. Dissent is more likely to occur when the chairperson 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 chairperson 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 dissenting. Lastly, we show that dissent is consequential to the director and the firm. For directors, we show that dissent is significantly associated with the likelihood of exiting the director labor market. 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.
Keywords: corporate governance;