Corporate Governance Idol

We’re all critics now with TV shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance?, Project Runway, Top Chef, etc. Stephen Marche calls out an important trend in Is "American Idol" Holding America Together? (Esquire, 01/10) Here are a few snippets:

The sense of entitlement to judge everyone and everything, all day and every day, feeds and fuels our pop-culture appetite, and it finds its broadest, most democratic expression in the "Idol" format… a mass of contestants, a group of gatekeepers, and a victor chosen by popular vote.

We watch for the judges, not the judged, and to listen to their instruction for the next generation of talent… Who would have thought that Simon Cowell rather than some Nobel prize winner would be the one bringing Americans together?

Last March I heard Nell Minow on Intelligence Squared… a good show that could be even better with more focus. Here’s an idea for Gary Lutin’s Shareholder Forum, the Investor Suffrage Movement, MoxyVote or Broadridge Communications — prior to the annual meeting hold a debate between resolution proponents and corporate representatives. Or, pit the Chamber of Commerce against The Corporate Library, the Business Roundtable against the Council of Institutional Investors . Have a panel of academics, knowledgeable on the subject critic presentations, provide their votes and their reasons — then give verified shareowners and the general public an opportunity to vote on the resolutions.

At first, such a show is unlikely to take top billing on YouTube or some other media but over time it has the potential to become popular. After all, Exxon Mobil’s policies impact us all a lot more than the next great vocal performer. Shouldn’t viewers be more excited about the opportunity to influence an outcome that can actually impact them? Change corporations, save the habitable Earth.

Corporate Governance Idol or whatever it is called could provide investors with an education they are unlikely to find at American Association of Individual Investors or other sites that focus on stock picking, rather than share owning. While the SEC’s educational efforts aim at consumer protection, CorpGov Idol would aim at empowering investors to take ownership of their corporations, educating them on issues that are likely to apply to other companies as well… issues like splitting the chair/CEO positions, annual elections, majority vote, threshold for a special meeting, more disclosure of potential environmental liabilities and how they will be addressed.

It will be interesting to see if shareowners vote differently than the general public. It would also be interesting to identify trends over time as issues are more fully explored and participants are educated. Could Andrew Shapiro, Richard Breeden, or John Chevedden be the next American Idol. Tune in next week to find out and don’t forget to vote.

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