ExxonMobil: Independent Chair
Resolved: The shareholders request the Board of Directors to adopt as policy, and amend the bylaws as necessary, to require the Chair of the Board of Directors, whenever possible, to be an independent member of the Board. This policy would be phased in for the next CEO transition.
If the Board determines that a Chair who was independent when selected is no longer independent, the Board shall selecta new Chair who satisfies the requirements of the policy within a reasonable amount of time. Compliance with this policy is waived if no independent director is available and willing to serve as Chair.
The role of the CEO and management is to run the company.
The role of the Board of Directors is to provide independent oversight of management and the CEO.
There is a potential conflict of interest for a CEO to be her/his own overseer as Chair while managing the business.
Exxon Mobil's CEO Darren Woods serves both as CEO and Chair of the Company's Board of Directors. We believe the combination of these two roles in a single person weakens a corporation's governance structure.
Chairing and overseeing the Board is a time intensive responsibility. A separate independent Chair also frees the CEO to manage the company and build effective business strategies.
As Andrew Grove, Intel's former chair, stated, "The separation of the two jobs goes to the heart of the conception of a corporation. Is a company a sandbox for the CEO, or is the CEO an employee? If he's an employee, he needs a boss and that boss is the Board. The Chairman runs the Board. How can the CEO be his own boss?"
In our view, shareholders are best served by a separate independent Board Chair who can provide a balance of power between the CEO and the Board. The primary duty of a Board of Directors is to oversee the management of a company on behalf of shareholders. A combined CEO/Chair create a potential conflict of interest, resulting in excessive management influence on the Board and weaker oversight of management.
Numerous institutional investors recommend separation of these two roles. For example, California's Public Employee Retirement System's Principles & Guidelines encourage separation, even with a lead director in place.
According to ISS "2017 Board Practices", (March 2017), 58% of S&P 1,500 firms separate these two positions and the number of companies separating these roles is growing.
With the unprecedented challenges facing global energy companies regarding climate change, as they make important transitions to a low carbon economy, it is an important time to ensure our company's governance is the best it can be.
This shareholder resolution to Exxon Mobil received 38.7% vote in 2018.
To simplify the transition, this new policy, if enacted, would be phased in when a next CEO is chosen.