Business leaders, including directors of companies and managers, are often confronted with the request to complete a questionnaire or survey. These may vary from being part of very relevant research to being a mere gathering of useless information. Given that we live in an era of electronic communication and e-mail, this has increased dramatically over the past number of years, resulting in some companies adopting a policy of non-response to questionnaires and surveys. Such a policy is not only ill-founded, but also indicates a lack of wisdom and professionalism. If all companies were to adopt such a policy, new research results from business would not be forthcoming, and a country’s economy could stagnate. Only if new information is constantly developed, or existing practices evaluated and refined, will a country’s economy grow. In this regard, all companies and their respective directors and managers have a key role to play as responsible corporate citizens.

Given the tendency for questionnaire responses to be relatively low in regard to research by scholars (over the years overseas research response to questionnaires yield response rates of between 5% and a maximum of 61%, and in South Africa between 25% to 38%), the recent positive response received by Marx, the author, in relation to questionnaires on audit committees for a doctoral thesis is encouraging.

Marx sent out questionnaires to the audit committee chairpersons and CFOs of the top 40 FTSE/JSE-listed companies, representing 87,6% of the market capitalisation at the time. A response of 85% (34 out of 40 completed questionnaires) was received back for both groups. Such a positive response, as well as the seriousness with which the respondents approached the questionnaires, was encouraging. Very valuable information, comments and recommendations were received, all which will contribute significantly to improving corporate governance and audit committee practices in South Africa. Given this positive attitude by the champions of industry of South African business, it is fair to assume that the South African economy and shareholders’ funds are in good hands, and well protected.

Of the six non-respondent companies, two remarked that they have a policy of non-completion of questionnaires, while four did not even bother to reply. Of interest is that some of these companies are very prominent in promoting themselves as good corporate citizens that adhere to the highest levels of governance and business ethic standards.

Aspects that will play a role, and that respondents should normally consider in deciding on whether or not to complete a questionnaire, are aspects such as the length of the questionnaire and the time that it will take to complete this, the relevance of the area researched, the professionalism of the questionnaire and the credibility of the researcher and the institution he or she represents. These are aspects researchers should carefully consider and pay due attention to, as this may elicit a higher response rate.

Given the high response rate, and the quality of the responses received by Marx, South African business leaders have once again proven themselves as champions of not only industry, but governance at large. This is good news for shareholders specifically and all stakeholders at large.

Ben Marx CA(SA), BCompt (Hons), MCompt, is Professor of Auditing at the University of Johannesburg.