New directions

The two most recent appointments to the Manulife board of directors show interesting new directions for corporate governance. In the past, most directors were picked almost solely for their management experience. Current and former CEOs, for example, were always favored for boards because they knew how to run organizations.

Under Gail Cook-Bennett as chair, the Manulife board wants new members to have similar experience but to bring some other helpful knowledge as well.

Not only is new board member Linda Bammann a woman, bringing the number of females on the board to three of seventeen, she has U.S. experience where Manulife has 60 per cent of its business. More importantly, she has held risk management roles at two banks, JPMorgan Chase and Bank One. The unstated hope: no more faux pas such as those nasty unhedged variable annuities.

The other appointee, John Palmer, has an equally targeted resume. His most recent jobs have been in Singapore, so his Asian knowledge is useful. But he was also Canada’s Superintendent of Financial Institutions from 1994-2001, so can offer advice and counsel on what plans the regulator might have in mind for capital requirements, among other issues.

I have my own history with Palmer. When I was researching my book “Who Killed Confederation Life?” that was published in 1996, I applied under the Freedom of Information legislation for documents that might explain the thinking of the government and the regulator in seizing Confed. When the thick pile of documents eventually arrived, I eagerly leafed through looking for insights. Line upon line, page after page was blacked out. The amount of useful information could have fit in a thimble.

I raised this lacuna during an interview with Palmer. “I can’t tell you how many hours I spent going through that material,” he said. He didn’t need to tell me, I already knew.

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