Governance Fundamentals: Understanding Your Company’s Mechanics and Benchmarking. That was the title of the final spring 2019 SVDX/Rock Center program at Stanford Law on April 18. My cryptic notes below. Continue Reading →
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Judicial Independence: Conflicts of Interest was the primary focus of last week’s first Rock Center / SVDX program of the academic year. It was titled Condos on Lanai, Private Planes, and Electric Cars: Judicial Views of Purported Conflicts Among Silicon Valley Director. Continue Reading →
Cultural Risks: As Advertised
The spotlight often shines on cultural risks only after an organizational crisis or incident. But forward-looking leaders are shifting to a proactive approach to cultural risk management. Macro business issues—cost and regulatory pressures, digital disruption, cyber threats, talent shortages, and others—have clear cultural implications. Corrosive cultures can pose significant challenges, making the organization more vulnerable to a wide range of potential risks. So is assessing an organization’s culture the responsibility of the board? If so, how can they be a change agent? Where does the board’s role end and management’s begin? And finally, how can a board objectively examine its own culture?
Robotics and AI: How will Boards Embrace Tomorrow’s Technologies?
As advertized: AI and Robotics are coming. There is no question that disruptive technologies are going to dominate not only what is introduced into the marketplace but also how our businesses are operated internally. Two evolving, and already disruptive forces, are robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). From the Board’s viewpoint, how do you get smart on these topics and understand their value to you? What are the implications of enabling a digital workforce within organizations? Are their opportunities for the governance process itself to leverage these technologies? Could you soon be joined in the Boardroom by an AI Bot? The future is already here at some boards. Continue Reading →
Today’s lead director and non-executive chair face a seemingly never-ending set of risks, governance decisions and strategic initiatives as a result of investors’ growing emphasis on board transparency, accountability, and independence. This insightful panel focused on the evolving roles of board leaders, specifically, the independent chair and lead director. Drive higher-performing boards through improved processes, strengthened director evaluation, recruitment efforts, and more effective shareholder engagement.
This was yet another great event sponsored by SVDX and Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance. I am so glad I only live 120 miles away, so can easily participate in these events. These are my notes, with no guarantee of accuracy. This one was more packed than usual with lots of on-point participation from the audience. Like a good lead director, Ms. Gomez-Russum did an excellent job moderating. Her job was made a little easier, since none of the panelists seemed compelled to dominate. Each had interesting insights.
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Governance, Liquidity, and Employee Retention in an Era of Capital Abundance was the full title of last Thursday’s morning event sponsored by the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange and Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance. As billed, we were to hear
a panel of experts discuss the role of the board of directors in addressing challenges of governance, liquidity, and employee retention in an era of capital abundance. The discussion will cover trends in venture capital investments in private companies, including increased funding levels and the rising number of unicorns, the length of time companies are staying private (which is generally longer now than in the past), and exit strategy and valuation trends in acquisitions versus IPOs.
In addition, the panelists will debate the governance implications and the consequences for employees of companies staying private with relatively unlimited access to capital, including:
Companies, and in particular boards, can no longer rely on ad hoc interaction with proxy advisory firms to “check the box” on stockholder engagement on governance issues. This SVDX/Rock Center panel addressed the evolving landscape of stockholder communications in light of increased profiles of institutional governance departments. What are best practices for board and company engagement with stockholders? How can the company proactively think about topics of particular attention, such as proxy access, board diversity and tenure, exclusive forum bylaws, director nominations/elections and executive compensation?
Tone at the Bottom: Governance Lessons from Wells Fargo
That was the advertised title for the program co-sponsored by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance and the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange. (Sign up to be on the SVDX mailing list.) After the program, I am still not convinced the real governance lesson from Wells Fargo (ticker: WFC) is not more about lack of oversight from the top, rather than the tone at the bottom.
It was another great panel of corporate governance, legal, and public relations experts for the deep dive into what went wrong. As usual, it was Chatham House Rule, so I’m mostly providing a little more background and some commentary on the presentations. I am sure others drew different conclusions than I did. The panel focused on issues ranging from public disclosure requirements, whistleblower policies and mechanics, compensation policies (including the board’s use of claw-back provisions), company policies regulating employee conduct, and the negative publicity suffered by the bank. Here were some of the advertised questions:
What happens when you have a well-meaning and talented board and a CEO who was regarded within the industry as one of the best managers with a stellar reputation? Was it inevitable that the CEO would be forced to step down by an outraged Congress and populist sentiment? What governance lessons from Wells Fargo are applicable to the non-banking industry, with special attention to Silicon Valley-based tech companies?
How should directors prepare for shareholder activism? That was the underlying question addressed by last week’s SVDX / Rock Center for Corporate Governance joint event – Shareholder Activism: The Good, the Bad or Just Ugly. Shareholder activism is in the news almost every day. How does it play out in Silicon Valley? Is activism beneficial to (some) shareholders in the short-term but harmful to the company (especially Silicon Valley companies) in the long-term?
As I reported in Replacing Board Members: The Elephant in the Room, SVDX and Stanford University’s Rock Center put on another great event last week that just about packed the house! These events are always top notch. A few nibbles and coffee or tea for breakfast, excellent company and a great program — what more could you want on third Thursdays.
If the video does not come up after several seconds, try reloading the page.
As noted in the promo for the event:
Board membership is difficult enough these days, even when the relationship between board and management functions well. But when faced with runaway management teams, the situation can quickly devolve, increasing business and legal risks for the company and its board members. What key principles should guide directors and their advisors when a management team ignores the board’s advice or refuses to keep the board fully informed on important business developments and strategic issues? What practical steps should board members consider when facing management teams who will not heed strategic advice? That elevate their own interests above those of the company? Or that engage in questionable and self-serving practices? Should a board member take control of the situation? Call a litigator? Fire the CEO? Resign?
Cyber-Risk Forum as Advertised by SVDX
Directors aren’t chief technology officers (CTOs): What is the “right” level of inquiry and diligence when it comes to cyber-threats? Where will boards be held responsible for cyber-failures, and what can they do to protect their shareholders and themselves from frivolous suits? What did the Target board fail to do that the Wyndham board did so well? The panel includes active public company board members, a corporate governance expert steeped in the ethos of Silicon Valley and a renowned cyber-liability insurance expert. The program will be both practical and interactive. Continue Reading →
How will 2025 be different from today? What should you innovate, invent, create or build? What steps should you take today to position yourself and your company to flourish in tomorrow’s world? Those were some of the questions that were asked and at least somewhat answered on Tursday, October 16, 2014, as the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange (SVDX) and the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance (Rock Center) sponsored a morning conversation with your directors, senior executives, academics and others in the corporate governance industrial complex. Continue Reading →
All directors are keenly aware of their responsibility in setting executive and CEO compensation. Increased external pressure on — and opinions about — CEO pay and more crowded meeting agendas limit the available time for meaningful discussion and make this role more challenging than ever. The stakes in getting executive compensation right are high, with real opportunities to engage leadership and drive business results, but also with real risks of poor outcomes. Continue Reading →
I thought the title of the program referred to heads I win, tails you lose. Now, I’m thinking ‘art’ is one side of the compensation committee coin, ‘science’ the other. Titles that keep us on our toes – just like the programs held by the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford Law. The stakes in getting executive compensation right are high, with real opportunities to engage leadership and drive business results, but also with real risks of poor outcomes. As advertized: Continue Reading →
A passionate, visionary founder has the start-up organized and funded and captured first customers, but does not have the experience (or skill set) to scale the company to a liquidity event. The need to move the founder from CEO to an executive technical position or “just” a member of the board and an investor is more the rule than the exception in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, this transition is often badly handled, turning the founder from a major asset to a bruised critic at best, and a passive aggressive saboteur of the CEO at worst. This program will focus on the planning and execution that can make this transition a positive one for all stakeholders. Continue Reading →
Should boards reexamine stock buybacks? That was the subject addressed by a distinguished panel during a recent SVDX program hosted at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance. What follows is the SVDX meeting pitch, with issues and brief bios, followed by a few of my observations at the event. Watch the video wrap-up (below) from WMS media Inc.
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Have you heard of “Big Data,” but aren’t sure what it really means (or how much it has to do with your industry)? Do you keep seeing articles about cyber-security, but couldn’t describe the difference between SQL-injection and a brute-force (hacking) attack, if your life depended on it? Have you seen the Google self-driving car, but wonder how that could possibly matter to your company (especially in the next five years)? Are you, as they say, somewhat “technically challenged,” but good at what you do and feel content to rely on one of your fellow directors to be the digital media and/or technology guru for the board? Continue Reading →