Go with the flow
The CBC has suffered through numerous budget cuts, but it still takes a lot of people to get something on air. My appearance early this morning on The Current, Radio One’s national public affairs show, began yesterday afternoon with a call from the “chaser” who tracks down possible participants, checks their availability and picks their brains a bit. We spoke three times over a one-hour period. Today I talked to three more people before finally chatting with host Jane Hawton, sitting in for Anna Maria Tremonti.
The topic was boards of directors, how the world of corporate governance has changed, and what about those Hollinger directors who testified that they had “missed” certain items in their reading material. The other two guests were Patrice Pratt, chair of Vancity, and former finance minister John Manley who is now a director at Nortel and CIBC.
I told a few war stories about the bad old days not so long ago when CIBC had sixty directors, some of whom were so far down the table that they couldn’t even hear what was being discussed, let alone participate. Compare that unwieldy bunch to today’s fifteen-member CIBC board, only one of whom is a member of management, the rest being independent.
We all agreed that progress had been made. Directors sit on fewer boards, work harder, run the risk of being sued, and trust management to tell the truth. In return, directors are well paid. Last year, for example, Manley’s compensation to attend about thirty meetings was $145,000.
Why do people want to be on boards? Well, beyond the money, the prestige is a powerful aphrodisiac, as is being in the thick of things and just hearing what’s happening. Directors who sit on numerous boards of public companies gather information as easily as a boy walking through a field collects burrs on his corduroy pants.
Of course, everybody wants something in return for anything they do. That’s human nature, isn’t it? After all, I was not just on The Current to hold forth about corporate governance; I was aboard so they’d mention my new book, Fantasy in Florence, which they kindly did. As hidden agendas go, that’s not too explosive, but it does come freighted with a certain irony.