Bush Brothers' Governance Success

By April Hall

Private companies with boards that have authority to guide change have found bottom-line success, and that's certainly the case for Bush Brothers and Company. Private Company Director magazine presented Bush Brothers with a Private Company Board of the Year award in 2017.

While private company boards don’t face the same regulations as public company boards, there are company owners who realize how critical good governance is and try to emulate their public counterparts.

Bush Brothers and Company has been family-owned since 1908. Currently, the company is likely best known for the Bush’s Best beans line, followed closely by the TV commercials that feature Jay Bush (a board director and family member) and “his talking dog.”

In the 1990s, the company began to build a board structure and aimed to professionalize it. They modeled the board after the rigorous standards public boards are held to, including regular, formal evaluations, even tapping a corporate psychologist to conduct individual interviews of board members in a qualitative feedback process to flush out opportunities for improvement.

“Each time we look for a new board member we assess the needs of the board but we have not needed to retain outside search firms,” says current board chair and fourth-generation family member Drew Everett. “What we have tried to do is find a good cultural fit for our board and we have been intentional in developing a culture that supports our core objectives.”

Bush Brothers governance highlights include:

  • The fiduciary board includes five independent directors, three family directors and a non-family CEO. There are also two non-voting family members. All five branches of the family are represented in the boardroom.
  • There are no term limits for independent directors; family members can serve two four-year terms.
  • There are three committees with formal charters — audit, nominating and governance, and compensation. The committees hold quarterly meetings before the full board meets and independent directors hold the majority in two of the committees, while the compensation committee is completely independent.
  • The chairman and CEO roles are separate and there is a separate lead director.
  • The board conducts formal self-evaluations.
  • The board has been deeply involved in two leadership transitions.