Past is Prelude in the Boardroom

Past is Prelude in the BoardroomZoom inDownload PDF

If you’re a director, you can be excused for seeing the last 40 years of board history as a relentless chronology of regulatory growth. A key result has been more work and more personal risk — along with more worry about how outsiders view every move.

But what if we take a contrary view? What if we look at the historical glass as half-full instead of half-empty? The changes that have swept over the board then appear, ironically, to have also swept it forward. Directors have put shareholders at the center; introduced more structure and process; injected extra rigor into every task; and embraced shareholder and stakeholder dialogue.

More Shareholder Centrality. As the doldrums of the 1970s passed, the stock market took off, and companies in the 1980s embraced Milton Friedman’s notion that the job of CEOs was to make money for shareholders. Investors cheered as directors refocused on shareholder value.

Rising Board Transparency, Accountability, and Independence. In the 1990s, junk-bond financing fueled leveraged buyouts and takeovers. Share prices rose in the wake of restructuring, but as companies laid off workers and manufacturing-based cities hollowed out, total CEO compensation rose. Congress, irritated, capped the deduction for executive pay at $1 million (excepting “performance-based” pay) and required new proxy disclosures on pay in 1992. More transparency failed to damp pay growth, but boards became more accountable for performance defined as shareholder gains.

To read the full article, download the PDF.