This article come from Thegazette, write by Peter Hadekel
MONTREAL — Better corporate governance has become a top objective of just about every publicly traded company. Boards of directors are more scrutinized than ever before by analysts, shareholders and regulators.
Amid an outbreak of corporate fraud over the last decade, legislative changes have placed a lot more responsibility and accountability on the shoulders of directors.
Now, a small Montreal startup has identified a way to help boards work more efficiently and with greater transparency
The business, known as Leading Boards, started four years ago under entrepreneur Jean-Marc Félio after he had served as director of a non-profit organization.
At the time, the organization needed to distribute a number of documents to directors and Félio realized that a digital system for sharing and archiving documents would make sense.
He spent a couple of years developing a software program with an information-technology specialist and then took eight months testing the product with a range of small, medium and large enterprises.
At the end of 2010, Leading Boards began to commercialize the system and has signed 60 clients so far — many of them either publicly traded firms or non-profit institutions.
The system is a secure “board portal” that reduces or eliminates printouts and multiple copies of documents. It can eliminate courier service costs and reduce meeting preparation time, Félio says.
“Just look at the amount of paper that is sent to the board of a large company — it’s the equivalent of about two telephone books every month.”
Directors often find they need to consult a corporate document of some kind only to find that it’s not at hand and they need to have it sent. They get another set of the same binders when they come to a board meeting.
That wastes even more money. Document costs can run to more than $15,000 a year for a single committee of seven directors.
Leading Boards puts together a complete archive of documents ranging from agendas and minutes of meetings to financial statements, directors’ committee reports and corporate policy statements.
The system has been developed with the practical needs of directors in mind. “You get powerful search engines, information sharing, quick, easy access,” Félio says. Agendas are interactive and directors can write personal or shared notes in a “Post-it” style.
Perhaps the biggest gain is increased transparency. The system can be set up to allow different levels of access, whether by shareholders, regulators or fellow directors.
It’s best suited for iPads and tablets, he says.
Félio worked in film and television and taught communications at the university level before taking the entrepreneurial plunge. He financed the startup out of his own pocket but recently got an additional investment from an angel investor to help him develop the market.
Leading Boards is not the only player in this game. Two other software providers — BoardBook and BoardVantage — service the market for Fortune 500 companies in the U.S.
But Félio hopes to capitalize on the market in Canada for smaller, listed companies that need to save time and money on governance and compliance.
Among clients that have recently signed up are two publicly traded mining companies in Quebec: Argex Titane Inc. and St-Georges Platinum & Base Metal Ltd. Both companies said they expect the software package will wind up improving board governance.
The trilingual nature of the software package, offering English, French and Spanish capabilities, will open up new avenues of growth in Europe and Latin America, as well the Middle East and North Africa, Félio believes. He is already in discussions with a firm about a joint venture to sell the product in France.
The company hosts the web-based system for clients who pay an annual service fee. It has about half a million dollars in annual revenue so far and six employees, expecting to double in size every year.
Among the non-profit or public organizations using the system is Montreal’s Palais des congrès, he said. Expressions of interest have come from a number of other provincial agencies.