You’ve read by now about the soap opera at HP’s board. My colleague David Kirkpatrick thinks chairwoman Pattie Dunn should resign, and I agree. But there’s a larger point to be made here about corporate boards’ obsession with secrecy. And their lack of accountability.
I dealt a lot with this problem while covering Disney during the Michael Eisner era. Shareholders, I thought, were entitled to know what Disney directors thought of the CEO, his performance and his pay. I tried many times to call, write and email board members. Almost always, no one responded. Eventually, one board member agreed to talk with me privately, for which I will be forever grateful. But why wouldn’t anyone else even return my calls?
Mind you, I wasn’t looking for leaks or seeking inside information. (Though getting some would have been great!) I was merely asking for directors to speak with me, preferably on the record, about how well they were doing the job for which they are well paid by the owners of the company. I knpw directors, as a rule, don’t talk to the press. But they should.
And you know what? If we had true shareholder democracy — where owners can nominate directors, who would run in contested elections – boards would all of a sudden be more transparent and more accountable.