Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Facebook and Instagram: Where was the Board?

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Facebook Board of Directors was not involved until very late in the process with regard to the Instagram acquisition.  According to the article, "By the time Facebook's board was brought in, the deal was all but done. The board, according to one person familiar with the matter, 'Was told, not consulted.'"  Later in the article, it describes an amazing meeting that took place at Zuckerberg's home:

At around 6 p.m. that evening, Facebook board member Marc Andreessen showed up at Mr. Zuckerberg's house for a regular meeting. What he didn't know was that Mr. Systrom was in another room, getting his own board to sign off, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Andreessen, whose venture-capital firm was the second to invest in Instagram, cutting a $250,000 check before the service launched, was surprised when Mr. Systrom walked into the room about an hour into his meeting with Mr. Zuckerberg, the people said.

You can imagine the reaction of corporate governance experts!    Most people have pointed to the fact that the Board and Mr. Zuckerberg will have to interact much differently when Facebook becomes public.  If not, minority shareholders will be quite concerned.  It's interesting, of course, because agency theory says that we ought to like it when CEOs own lots of shares of a company. In those cases, according to theory, there's less divergence of interests between shareholders and executives as opposed to publicly traded companies in which top executives own a tiny ownership stake.  The theory says that we like it when CEOs are playing with their own money, not other people's money.   While I generally agree with that theory, there are limits to the applicability in the real world.   In particular, the interests of minority shareholders need to be considered, particularly when a founder is CEO.   Good governance processes matter, even if we assume that the CEO generally is trying to do right by all shareholders.  Moreover, founder/CEOs rightfully should get held to a different standard when a company goes public.  

1 comment:

Regret said...

In particular, the interests of minority shareholders need to be considered, particularly when a founder is CEO.

If control of a public company is in the hands of a single shareholder, and this is known prior to a minority investor taking an interest, isn't the right attitude caveat emptor? I personally worry less about protecting supposed rights of the minority shareholder when they know the situation going in.