The board's key purpose is to ensure the company's prosperity by collectively directing the company's affairs, whilst meeting the appropriate interests of its shareholders and stakeholders.
The objects of the company are defined in the Memorandum of Association and regulations are laid out in the Articles of Association.
The ultimate control as to the composition of the board of directors rests with the shareholders, who can always appoint, and – more importantly, sometimes – dismiss a director. The shareholders can also fix the minimum and maximum number of directors. However, the board can usually appoint (but not dismiss) a director to his office as well. A director may be dismissed from office by a majority vote of the shareholders, provided that a special procedure is followed. The procedure is complex, and legal advice will always be required.
Role of the board of directors
Directors look after the affairs of the company, and are in a position of trust. They might abuse their position in order to profit at the expense of their company, and, therefore, at the expense of the shareholders of the company.
Consequently, the law imposes a number of duties, burdens and responsibilities upon directors, to prevent abuse. Much of company law can be seen as a balance between allowing directors to manage the company's business so as to make a profit, and preventing them from abusing this freedom.
Directors are responsible for ensuring that proper books of account are kept.
In some circumstances, a director can be required to help pay the debts of his company, even though it is a separate legal person. For example, directors of a company who try to 'trade out of difficulty' and fail may be found guilty of 'wrongful trading' and can be made personally liable. Directors are particularly vulnerable if they have acted in a way which benefits themselves.
A director, or the secretary at the request of a director, may call a directors' meeting. A secretary may not call a meeting unless requested to do so by a director or the directors. Each director must be given reasonable notice of the meeting, stating its date, time and place. Commonly, seven days is given but what is 'reasonable' depends in the last resort on the circumstances
Legally speaking, there is no distinction between an executive and non-executive director. Yet there is inescapably a sense that the non-executive's role can be seen as balancing that of the executive director, so as to ensure the board as a whole functions effectively. Where the executive director has an intimate knowledge of the company, the non-executive director may be expected to have a wider perspective of the world at large.
The articles usually provide for the election of a chairman of the board. They empower the directors to appoint one of their own number as chairman and to determine the period for which he is to hold office. If no chairman is elected, or the elected chairman is not present within five minutes of the time fixed for the meeting or is unwilling to preside, those directors in attendance may usually elect one of their number as chairman of the meeting.
The chairman will usually have a second of casting vote in the case of equality of votes. Unless the articles confer such a vote upon him, however, a chairman has no casting vote merely by virtue of his office.
Since the chairman's position is of great importance, it is vital that his election is clearly in accordance with any special procedure laid down by the articles and that it is unambiguously minuted; this is especially important to avoid disputes as to his period in office. Usually there is no special procedure for resignation. As for removal, articles usually empower the board to remove the chairman from office at any time. Proper and clear minutes are important in order to avoid disputes.
The chairman's role includes managing the board's business and acting as its facilitator and guide. This can include:
In many circumstances, the law applies not only to a director, but to a 'shadow director'. A shadow director is a person in accordance with whose directions or instructions the directors of a company are accustomed to act. Under this definition, it is possible that a director, or the whole board, of a holding company, and the holding company itself, could be treated as a shadow director of a subsidiary.
Professional advisers giving advice in their professional capacity are specifically excluded from the definition of a shadow director in the companies legislation.