There's little more annoying than the biggest kid on the court threatening to take his ball and go home because he doesn't like the rules of the game. But that's what some chief executive officers are contemplating doing because of the added time and expenses related to the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, according to a recent poll .
These gripes are coming at a time when the economy is adding back jobs and the Dow is above 10,000, having yielded a better than 17% return over the last 52-weeks. Why are people still bothering these poor corporate executives with these petty regulations? Wasn't all this corporate governance garbage supposed to fade from the collective public conscience by now?
Too bad New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is looking for a new job and keeps showing the general public how uneven the playing field really is. If the scandals had been isolated to Enron and WorldCom, corporate lobbyists could possibly have negotiated something of a reprieve by now. Instead, the hits just keep on coming. The last bastion for the small investor, mutual funds, has proven that it too likes to have its palms greased.
Fact is, investors and would be investors like to see people punished or at least to have some assurance that they might be. Seventy percent of investors wanted a penalty with both jail time and a fine for violating Sarbanes-Oxley, according to a January 2004 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for compliance software provider Movaris.
The numbers suggest that the CEOs polled by Foley & Lardner were probably just blowing off steam. There has been little surge in companies going private and there's no source explaining what motivated those that did. If your company is already losing money, has a small market cap and then someone hits you with a bill for a couple hundred grand, sure, it might be time to rethink things. But remember, you didn't have a lot to offer in the first place. That said, Sarbanes-Oxley isn't going to drive Wal-Mart into going private.
In general, the public doesn't want to hear it anyway. At least humor us and sign off on your financial statements, assuring us that you are 100% confident that it's all true. I have no doubt that Jeffrey Immelt is capable of learning everything each of General Electric's divisions is doing.
Finally, if you are thinking of going private, try not to blame it on the rules. Acknowledge the game is hard and also that you may not have been very good at it to begin with.