GE, a company with a strong history of success including a reputation of being the world's best-run firm, has hit turbulent times. Profit forecasts have dropped by half in the past two years, with the inevitable knock-on effect on the share price. It seems that the size and complexity of the business, and probably some poor decisions in the past, is proving to be a challenge for the board and its ability to fulfil its duties.
Consider the following indicators, reported in an article published in The Economist:
How the GE board can make meaningful decisions given these indicators, much less lead the firm intentionally into the future, is hard to imagine. Sadly, this is not a unique case. Wells Fargo, Wynyard Group and, most recently, Carillion are examples of companies that have suffered through poor reporting, weak engagement and the seeming inability of the board to make courageous decisions.
Fortunately, boards finding themselves in a similar situation are not without options. If they are prepared to retake control of the firm they govern (which will probably require some decisive actions; brevity and clarity of reporting being necessary but insufficient) and take an active interest in its strategic future, then the likelihood of actually making a difference is greatly enhanced.
From hardly rating a mention a few decades ago, boards are now newsworthy. Questionable practices and failures of various kinds have seen boards become highly topical; targets of both curiosity and criticism in the business media, regulators and, increasingly, the wider public. A plethora of corporate governance codes and 'best practice' recommendations have been produced, but most are yet to have their intended effect. What's more, many well-intentioned directors say they have become confused about the appropriate role of the board, what corporate governance is and how it should be practiced.
Clearly, corporate governance is in troubled waters.
I have joined a group to do something about it. The "Future of the Board" is a new research-based initiative dedicated to getting to the root of some of the problems that beset boards, and to producing rigorous guidance to help boards achieve better outcomes.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.