07/30/2012 | by
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REIT executives and board members have started placing more emphasis on independent leadership and diversity for their boards of directors, according to a survey of REIT CEOs and board members.

The survey on REITs' corporate governance, conducted by Ferguson Partners Ltd., a global executive recruiting consultant, revealed that more than 50 percent of respondents surveyed advocated for independent lead directors. That was up from 35 percent in 2010, the last time that the survey was conducted.

William Ferguson, chairman and CEO of Ferguson Partners, said the responses coincide with REITs' focus on strategy and risk management in the aftermath of the recent financial downturn. Many of the findings represent a shift towards an emphasis on the long-term health of companies, he said.

The survey revealed that boards are also embracing diversity and placing more importance on appointing female and minority board members. Ferguson called the finding "surprising," noting that diversity hasn't been a prominent issue for REIT boards in the past.

The survey also pointed to a significant change in priorities for REIT boards. They are de-emphasizing the amount of time spent on compensation and audit and compliance issues in favor of a renewed focus on strategy and risk management.

The evidence that a growing number of companies are turning their focus away from executive compensation illustrates that boards are re-emphasizing the long-term health of their companies, according to Ferguson.

"Right now the whole issue of risk management is at the forefront of everyone's mind," he said. "Leaders don't want people serving on their boards strictly for compensation."