Yu Tengqun, Board Secretary, General Counsel and Press Spokesman of China Railway Group Ltd, shares his views on the role of the board secretary in corporate governance.

In November 2006, I was appointed Board Secretary of China Railway Engineering Corporation. In September 2007, I took up the position of Board Secretary of China Railway Group Ltd. These experiences have given me some insights into the role of the board secretary in corporate governance.

The evolution of the board secretary role

The concept of the board secretary originated in the West. The board secretary role gradually developed after the emergence of the board of directors. In common law countries like the UK and the US, this role is usually called the ‘company secretary’. I think the key distinction between the board secretary and the company secretary is that, as their names suggest, the former was originally positioned to be responsible to the board of directors, while the latter was positioned to be responsible to the company as well.

The essence of corporate governance is the diversification of control of the company. In the operation of the company, the intricate and complex relationships among shareholders, managers, the government and the company has to be balanced through the diversification of power and the refinement of the governance structure of the company. The company secretary is a position created to balance these relationships. After several centuries of development, the board secretary role has been introduced into countries adopting the continental legal system and the legal status, nature and duties of the board secretary have been continuously refined. The status of the board secretary as a member of senior management is now well recognised in law, and the board secretary has become an indispensable part of the corporate governance structure and the gatekeeper of corporate governance.

The Companies Ordinance in Hong Kong requires that ‘a company must have a company secretary’. Under the Commercial Code of Macau, the company secretary, shareholders, directors and administrators are the four key organs of a company, and the company secretary can be elected by shareholders at a meeting without having to be placed under the board of directors. The Companies Law of China, as amended in 2005, clarifies the duties of the board secretary and stipulates that the board secretary is a senior manager of a listed company. In 2015, the Shanghai Stock Exchange promulgated the revised Measures for the Regulation of Board Secretaries of Listed Companies which specifies that the board secretary is responsible not only to the board of directors but also to the company and relevant parties like the regulatory authorities.

Key duties of the board secretary

In building a practical, efficient and innovative board of directors, the board secretary takes on important governance duties and a gatekeeping role. Key duties are outlined below.

1. Establishing the official position of the Communist Party in the corporate governance structure. The significance of establishing the official position of the Communist Party in the corporate governance structure must be fully recognised. The areas of duty of the Party organisation, the board of directors and other organs of the company, as well as the effective interface between various procedures, must be clearly defined.

2. Setting up the governance structure. The governance structure is the basis of operation of the board of directors. As the promoter of corporate governance in listed companies and the facilitator of board operations, the board secretary plays an active role in proposing the composition of board committees such as audit committee, remuneration and assessment committee and nomination committee; facilitating communication between the board and the committees; assisting the committees in fulfilling their roles; and coordinating the work of the committees in support of the organisation.

3. Drawing up rules and regulations. A good system of rules and regulations safeguards the operation of the board of directors. Board secretaries should help the board put in place a sound governance framework and related rules and regulations. They should keep abreast of corporate governance developments, and actively raise suggestions to turn new requirements, such as those of the State Council State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission and domestic and overseas securities regulatory authorities, into internal requirements of the company in a timely manner.

4. Promoting proper operations. Ensuring proper operations is one of the core elements of building a properly functioning board of directors. The board secretary should actively raise proposals on compliance to the board of directors and facilitate lawful performance of the board’s functions. Propriety is the prime consideration, whether during the planning, execution or evaluation stages. The board secretary should learn about the business and mode of operation of the board and adhere to propriety in board operations. Efforts must be made to ensure proper operations by putting in place sound systems and stringent procedures with a view to facilitating sound decisions.

5. Promoting sound decisions. Reaching sound decisions is a key objective of building a properly functioning board of directors. Sound decisions must be made in respect of the four major functions of the board, namely setting strategies, managing the team, deliberating on major issues, and controlling risks. Key factors include the personal attributes of directors (experience, insight and judgment), decision making processes (such as procedures and preparation) and monitoring and incentive systems (such as evaluation and rewards).

6. Implementing and monitoring implementation of board decisions. The sound decisions of the board have to be realised through implementation. Further to facilitating sound decisions and proper functioning of the board, emphasis should be laid on the execution of decisions, strengthening the monitoring of implementation and ensuring the quality of implementation. This also amounts to an assessment of the decisions of the board and helps improve the quality of decisions.

7. Facilitating delegation by the board. A prudent and efficient system of delegation can improve the efficiency of the board’s decisions and encourage the delegatees to proactively manage the company, thereby further enhancing the effectiveness of the board. Efforts should be made towards identifying appropriate delegatees; determining an appropriate scope of delegation; ensuring the proper exercise of delegated powers; monitoring the exercise of delegated powers; and ensuring that properly exercised delegation is not nullified.

8. Promoting communication and coordination. Availability of information to the board is the basis of sound decisions. The board secretary should assist directors in building an effective communication system to ensure the proper flow of information. Proper communication among the board, committees, the management team and the board of supervisors, as well as between internal and external directors, is critical to help directors obtain comprehensive, objective and accurate information to facilitate decisions.

9. Aligning the governance practices of group companies. Group companies are often multi-layered companies co-existing in the market, each operating on its own. Aligning the practices of group companies is another important concern of the board of directors. The board secretary should actively facilitate the work of the representative of the dominant shareholder in aligning systems, strategies and governance standards of group companies.

10. Supporting and safeguarding external (independent) directors in fulfilling their duties. External (independent) directors are crucial to the proper functioning of the board of directors. Adequate support and safeguards must be provided to external (independent) directors in fulfilling their duties. The board secretary should determine the scope of support and safeguards in this respect and raise the efficiency and quality of the support and safeguards.

11. Ensuring proper information disclosure. The listing rules stipulate that the board secretary is directly responsible for the information disclosure and investor management of a company. The multiple layers of management and broad scope of business of a company pose challenges to the work on disclosure of information. The board secretary should strictly adhere to legal requirements and ensure the timeliness and quality of disclosure.

12. Properly managing investor relations. In terms of investor relations management, the board secretary should be proactive and innovative in building communication channels. With integrity, patience and understanding, the board secretary should properly organise results announcements, news releases, roadshows and visits by institutional investors to maintain an interactive relationship with investors. The views of the market should be fed back to the production and operational teams, and focused market reports should be compiled to report the concerns of and key information in the capital market to the management and relevant departments of the company.

13. Facilitating capital financing activities. Capital financing is an important duty of the board of directors of a listed company. The board secretary should take the management of market capitalisation as an important task, and facilitate re-financing, acquisitions, re-organisations and other capital financing matters.

14. Building the culture of the board of directors. Good culture of the board of directors is the cornerstone of good governance and further development of a company. Building a good corporate governance culture is of utmost importance. The essence of governance culture is to ensure checks and balances, democracy, scientific operations, propriety, effectiveness and innovation. The dominant shareholder representative should be loyal and diligent.

15. Establishing the daily business process of the board of directors. The board secretary should attach great importance to the establishment of the daily business process of the board of directors. This is to safeguard compliant and proper operations of the board. In forming the team, attention should be paid to age and skills mix in order to build a cohesive and dedicated work team that excels in capability, quality and style and emphasises rules and procedures.

This will build a foundation for the compliant and proper operations of the board of directors.

Yu Tengqun, Board Secretary, General Counsel and Press Spokesman
China Railway Group Ltd

SIDEBAR: About the author

Yu Tengqun is currently Board Secretary, General Counsel and spokesperson of China Railway Group Ltd (CREC). In December 2007, CREC became the first in China to join the A+H share capital markets through the ‘first A then H’ mode. It is a large construction corporation with businesses in infrastructure, prospecting and design, manufacture of equipment and parts, property development, resource mining and capital financing. It has received commendations from regulators and has been granted awards for its board of directors, investor relations, corporate governance and information disclosure. Mr Yu has been named among the top 10 counsels to state-owned enterprises; the top 10 general counsels to state-owned enterprises; best board secretary to listed companies in China; Golden Board Secretary by New Fortune magazine; and best board secretary in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

公司治理与董事会秘书实践

中国中铁股份有限公司董事会秘书、总法律顾问、新闻发言人于腾群阐述董事会秘书在公司治理中的作用。

2006年11月,我有幸被任命为中国铁路工程总公司董事会秘书。2007年9月,我又担任了中国中铁股份有限公司董事会秘书,对董事会秘书在公司治理中的作用有了一些粗浅的认识和体会。

董事会秘书角色的演变

董事会秘书不是中国制造,而是舶来品。从世界上诞生董事会后,就逐步产生了董事会秘书。英美海洋法系国家的法律普遍称之为“公司秘书”。我个人认为从字面上来说,董事会秘书与公司秘书的最大区别在于董事会秘书最初设计定位对董事会负责,而公司秘书除此之外还要对公司负责。

公司治理的核心在于公司控制权的细化,公司在营运过程中,股东、管理者、政府、公司等利益相关方之间错综复杂的关系需要不断的细分权力来加以平衡,致使公司的治理结构越来越完善,公司秘书就是为适应这种变化而产生的一种旨在平衡各方利益关系的职位。在董事会秘书数百年的发展历史中,从英美海洋法系国家推广到大陆法系国家,董事会秘书的法律地位、性质、职责等不断得到完善,不仅董事会秘书作为公司高管人员的地位得到法律的确认,而且成为公司治理结构中不可或缺的重要组成部分,被称为公司治理的守门人。

香港地区《公司条例》规定:“每间公司须有公司秘书一名才能准许设立”;澳门地区《商法典》规定,公司秘书与公司股东会、董事会、行政管理层并列为公司的四大机关之一,公司秘书可由股东大会选举产生从而不再隶属于公司董事会。2005年修订后的中国《公司法》明确了董事会秘书的职责,同时规定了董事会秘书为上市公司高级管理人员。2015年,上海证券交易所发布了新修订的《上海证券交易所上市公司董事会秘书管理办法》,明确了董事会秘书不仅要对董事会负责,还要对公司、监管机构等相关方负责。

董事会秘书的主要职责

在把董事会建设成为一个务实型、效率型、创新型董事会的过程中,董事会秘书承担着重要的治理责任和规管工作。主要包括:

1. 认真做好党组织在公司治理结构中法定地位的落实。董事会秘书必须充分认识明确党组织在公司治理结构中法定地位的重大意义。依法科学界定党组织与董事会及其他公司机关的职责边界和各程序间的有效衔接。

2. 认真服务于组织建设。组织建设是董事会运作的基础,董事会秘书作为上市公司公司治理和董事会运作的推动者,在董事会审计委员会、薪酬与考核委员会、提名委员会等专门委员会的人员组成方案上,在协调董事会与专门委员会的关系,促进专门委员会发挥作用,协调专门委员会的工作支持机构等方面上发挥着积极的作用。

3. 认真服务于制度建设。制度建设是董事会运作的保障。董事会秘书应该协助董事会积极推进制度建设,在建立健全公司治理基础性制度及相关配套制度上多下功夫。通过对公司治理和企业发展新需要的研究和学习,积极提出建议,将国务院国有资产监督管理委员会、境内外证券监管机构新出台的规定,及时转化为公司内部要求。

4. 认真服务于规范运作。规范运作是建设规范董事会的核心工作之一。董事会秘书应该注意把握好规范运作中的重点和难点,积极向董事会提出合规建议,促进董事会依法行使职权。始终把“规范”放在第一位,工作前按“规范”去谋划,工作中按“规范”去运作,工作后以是否“规范”进行检查衡量。认真学习和研究董事会运作的知识和规律,坚持以突出规范运作为主线,努力实现以健全制度达到严格程序,以严格程序实现规范运作,以规范运作促进科学决策。

5. 认真服务于科学决策。科学决策是建设规范董事会的重要目标。科学决策必须紧紧围绕着董事会的四大功能(定战略、管团队、议大事、控风险)来进行。一是董事个人的素质(经验、预见性、判断力);二是决策机制,比如程序,充分的准备工作;三是激励约束机制,如科学的考评,奖励。

6. 认真服务于董事会决议执行与跟踪评价。董事会决议的执行对于董事会科学决策功能的实现至关重要。公司董事会在科学决策、规范运作的前提下,还应在决议执行上下功夫,强化决议执行监督机制,确保执行效果。同时,对董事会的决策也是检验,有助于董事会不断提高科学决策水平。

7. 认真服务于董事会授权。建立审慎与效率兼顾的授权机制既能提高董事会的决策效率,又能激发被授权人发挥管理企业的主观能动性,从而进一步提高董事会运作有效性,切实做到授权对象要适当,授权范围要适度,授权使用要规范,授权监督要到位,授权责任不免除。

8. 认真服务于沟通协调。信息对称是董事会科学决策的前提,董事会秘书应当协助董事会完善沟通机制,保证决策信息对称。董事会、专门委员会、内外部董事之间及其与经理层、监事会等有关各方之间的沟通,对于董事会获取全面、客观、真实的决策信息至关重要。

9. 积极服务于母子公司治理协同。中央企业营运架构大多数都是多层级法人公司市场共存,各自运转。如何做好母子公司协同发展也是董事会关注的一项重要工作。为此,董事会秘书应当积极推动产权代表发挥作用,推动母子公司制度协同、战略协同、治理标准协同。

10. 认真做好外部(独立)董事履职的支持与保障。外部(独立)董事制度是规范董事会建设的关键性、支撑性制度安排,企业必须做好外部(独立)董事履职的支持与保障。董事会秘书应当在规范提供保障和服务的内容、提高保障和服务的效率和质量等方面不断努力。

11. 认真做好信息披露工作。《上市规则》规定,董事会秘书是上市公司信息披露和投资者管理工作的直接责任人。公司管理层级多、业务范围广都对信息披露工作提出了挑战。为了做好信息披露,董事会秘书应当严格执行法律监管“底线”,保证信息披露的时效和质量。

12. 认真做好投资者关系管理工作。在投资者关系管理方面,主动创新工作方法,建立沟通渠道,以“诚信、耐心、包容”的态度,认真组织好业绩推介、新闻发布、业绩路演、投资机构来访与交流等投资者关系管理工作,保持与投资者良好的互动关系。另外,为了把投资者关系管理工作与公司生产经营管理结合起来,注重及时反馈资本市场真实诉求,有针对性地撰写资本市场专报,及时地向公司管理层和相关部门反馈资本市场的重大要求和重要信息。

13. 认真做好资本运作。做好资本运作是上市公司董事会的重要职责。董事会秘书应该把市值管理工作作为一项重要工作来抓,重点做好再融资、并购、重组及其他资本运作事务。

14. 认真服务于董事会文化建设。优秀的董事会文化是公司规范治理和发展壮大的根基,营造良好的公司治理文化,至关重要。公司治理文化的精髓就是制衡、民主、科学、规范、有效、创新,作为出资人代表应当忠实、勤勉。

15. 认真抓好董事会日常工作机构的建设。董事会秘书要高度重视董事会日常工作机构的建设,这是保证董事会合规运转、正常运转的基础。在团队建设中,要注重年龄、专业构成,努力打造出一支能力、素质、作风一流,讲规矩、讲流程,团结协作、互助友爱、敢于拼搏、勇于奉献的工作团队,为董事会合规、正常运转奠定基础。

于腾群
中国中铁股份有限公司董事会秘书、总法律顾问、新闻发言人

关于作者

于腾群先生现任中国中铁股份有限公司 (以下简称“中国中铁”) 董事会秘书、总法律顾问、新闻发言人。中国中铁于2007年12月以国内首例“先A后H”模式成功登陆A股与H股资本市场,是一个集基建建设、勘察设计、工程设备和零部件制造、房地产开发、资源矿产开发、金融投资为一体的多功能特大型建设集团。2017年在世界企业500强中排名第55位,曾因其董事会、投资者关系、公司治理及信息披露而获得资本市场监管机构的表扬,获颁多个奖项。于先生先后获得中央企业十佳法律顾问、中央企业十佳总法律顾问、中国上市公司最佳董秘、《新财富》金牌董秘、亚太地区最佳董秘等多项荣誉。

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