Friday, May 04, 2007
Have Boards of Directors Really Changed?
In the April 2007 issue of the Academy of Management Journal, Jim Westphal and Ithai Stern published a thought-provoking study of the labor market for directors of U.S. corporations. They found that directors are more likely to be appointed to other boards if they provide advice to the CEO frequently. That is the good news. The bad news is that directors are more likely to gain new appointments to other boards if they engage in a low level of monitoring and control activity with regard to strategic decision-making by the CEO and his/her management team. After the corporate scandals of Enron, Worldcom, and others, we saw the implementation of many corporate governance reforms intended to strengthen the monitoring and control activities of boards of directors. Yet, Westphal and Stern discovered that their findings hold even in the post-Enron era. The bad news does not end there. The scholars also find that women and minorities "are punished more for engaging in monitoring and control behavior." Those findings also hold in the post-Enron era. What do I conclude from this finding? We have focused far too much effort on structural reforms at the board level, rather than focusing on board process. Board chairmen and lead directors need to develop processes that stimulate open dialogue and induce constructive debate in the boardroom. We cannot simply expect a vigorous exchange of views because we have appointed a certain percentage of outside directors. Pressures for conformity will arise, even among a highly capable group of directors who are properly nominated and selected.