The number of U.S. companies that have divided the responsibilities of chairman and chief executive officer rose in 2006, according to a new report from Institutional Shareholder Services.

ISS found that 41 percent of companies had split those positions as of last year, compared with 37 percent in 2005. The shareholder advisory firm looked at 1,433 companies in the Standard & Poor’s indices, including the S&P 500.

Despite the increase, the firm also found that just 13 percent of companies considered their chairman to be independent, compared with 12 percent a year earlier. Carol Bowie, director of the governance-research arm of ISS, told the Associated Press that most non-executive chairman were retired CEOs or otherwise affiliated with the companies they served.

The study also reportedly noted that companies seeking greater board independence are increasingly opting for a “lead” or “presiding” director to oversee board matters and meetings, guiding a board made up of a majority of independent directors.

In 2006, the ISS reportedly found, 57 percent of companies had a lead or presiding director, compared with 52 percent a year earlier.

As for the verdict on the payoff, that, too, is split. Some studies have maintained that the benefits of splitting the positions of chairman and chief executive officer are overrated; others have asserted that companies making such a move outperform their peers.

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