Here's what we look for in evaluating boards:
No more than two directors should be current or former company executives, and none should do business with the company or accept consulting or legal fees from it. The audit, compensation, and nominating committees should be made up solely of independent directors.
Each director should own an equity stake in the company worth at least $150,000, excluding stock options. The only exception: new board members who haven't had time to build a large stake.
Boards should include at least one independent director with experience in the company's core business and one who is the CEO of an equivalent-size company. Fully employed directors should sit on no more than four boards, retirees no more than seven. Each director should attend at least 75% of all meetings.
Boards should meet regularly without management present and should evaluate their own performance every year. Audit committees should meet at least four times a year. Board should be frugal on executive pay, decisive when planning a CEO succession, diligent in oversight responsibilities, and quick to act when trouble strikes.
HOW WE RATED THEM: The BusinessWeek ratings were based on a survey of 51 governance experts conducted for BusinessWeek by Harris Interactive, a proxy analysis by BusinessWeek of companies identified by survey respondents as having the "most effective" and "least effective" boards, and an analysis of overall board performance by BusinessWeek editors. The proxy analysis grades each company on the extent to which it meets 16 governance standards in the areas of independence, accountability, and quality. Performance measures include the board's handling of strategy, oversight, and executive pay. Data were provided by the Investor Responsibility Research Center, the Corporate Library, and Institutional Shareholder Services.