Predictions for the Future Boardroom
BY Ralph Ward
Corporate governance is one of the fastest-changing fields in business, stirring almost as much recent turmoil as the exploding balloon of the dotcom and tech industries. As the summer of 2001 passes and we head back to the office and boardroom, what are some of the hottest boardroom trends, great and small, and where are they taking us?
1. A shift away from equity for board pay. That the U.S. explosion in stock option pay for directors coincided with the booming stock market of the 1990s is one of the worst-kept secrets in business. Now, market stagnation, combined with the spreading economic chill, means that board members gain ever less by being as one with shareholders. Repricing options is a nonstarter with legal strictures in the United States and new concerns about stock dilution. Thus boards, as with the top executives, are left holding the bag while expected to deliver more governance oversight. Look for boards to invent new ways to reward themselves with stuff that spends.
2. Greater demands for experience in CEO searches. Scary economic times prompt boards to value a proven success in the top slot. Look for more efforts to poach successful CEOs and divisional leaders away for chief executive openings (this also fits in with the new iron rule in American business -- endless CEO pay inflation). Another sign of this search for " comfort" CEOs -- the mini-trend toward boards rehiring retired chiefs when the company is in trouble. Lucent, Honeywell, and Enron are just a few recent examples.
3. Tech in the boardroom. I know I' ve been sounding this call for a few years, but look for new, secure tech infrastructure to make virtual board meetings and remote access to board materials a practical reality. Several firms have popped up recently to offer these services, which will soon be a must for effective governance.