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the board did a remarkable job of accepting and quickly reacting to the many threats that the company faced Without such urgency and aggressive action, the company might not have survived and the remaining jobs would have been lost as well In contrast to the managing board, is the passive board Passive boards are staffed with sycophants and function at the discretion of the CEO, generally an imperial CEO The activities of board members are restricted and directors exist primarily to ratify management s decisions The board can also consist of a number of inside managers or relatives of a founder as was the case with Adelphia Communications The founder and his three sons sat on the board, and continued to run the public company as if it were private The company collapsed once the public learned of Adelphia s debt obligations resulting from the family s activities John Rigas, who is 79, was found guilty and faces decades in jail, as does his son Timothy A passive board can be destructive, not only to the company that they are tasked to oversee, but to the market as a whole As companies collapse, the loss of confidence can cause capital to dry up overnight This can and has occurred as the market ascertained there were plenty of red flags, but the system of oversight failed calling into question the safety of investments The failure itself radically shifts the paradigm of risk, and the aftershocks make it difficult for investors to regain their balance and confidence Paranoia sets in that all boards might by lax and no investment is safe enough for our money Engaged boards are somewhere in the middle of these extremes The board is in control of their agenda, exercises oversight in the areas of importance, but also lets management do what they were hired to do Engaged boards prod, poke, advise, challenge, corroborate but avoid managing If the board begins making operational decisions without a crisis at hand, it has moved beyond engaged to interfering
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As we learned earlier, informed decision making is one of the key criteria used by the courts in evaluating a director s commitment to their duties Uniformed boards cannot be effective, and a director
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who does not actively seek feedback from various independent sources can not expect to be informed There are many sources of information, the most obvious being the CEO and other levels of management There are, however, other important sources such as consultants, customers, regulators, industry publications, and the allimportant whistle-blower
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Management: The Impeachable Source Many frauds in 2001 and 2002 had the common characteristic of involving deceitful management that kept important material information from their board of directors or, when such information was disclosed, the potential impact to the company was understated The fact remains that if a board does not trust their management, they should replace them But every director, even if he or she trusts management, needs to have a bit of healthy skepticism when evaluating information sourced from them In the famous words of Ronald Regan, trust but verify In other words, directors need to corroborate key representations While not completely independent, a good source of information can be managers below the C-level who are closer to the pulse of the company Often these managers have not been included in preparatory meetings and are not coached in the party line, that is, what to say and not say for board ears Building relationships with managers in key business lines or functions can lead to a source of unvarnished information that may reveal unknown problems, corroborate management s representations, or even call into question the veracity of management s statements
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Consultants: Let Me Tell You What Time It Is Consultants are an obvious source of information The old adage that consultants only take your watch to tell you what time it is may be true However, even if they corroborate what you already think you know, consultants bring an objective view to important decisions and provide credibility to those processes that are ripe for conflicts of interest Consultants may be independent legal counsel,
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