News that Volkswagen AG has been systematically pulling the wool over the eyes of its customers, regulators and the stock market has resulted in a predictable and rightful backlash this week. The stock price has plummeted, the brand reputation is in tatters and the chief executive is gone (albeit with a stellar severance package and not before attempting to deflect blame towards others).
The crisis raises all manner of issues, and many different levels. That the board apparently knew nothing of the problem is a bitter pill to swallow. Why not? Was the board asleep at the wheel, or was something else amiss? That it then made all manner of comments heightened the concern.
Once the emission cloud settles and people gather to understand the root cause, the folk at Volkswagen could do far worse than to look in the mirror—and specifically at how corporate governance is practised. That the two-layer board structure lacked knowledge suggests either ignorance (the board was asleep) or collusion. Neither option covers the boards in glory.
Might this sad case take us closer to a tipping point, of finally admitting the extant conception of corporate governance (a compliance framework of processes and controls, predominantly) is conducive to neither long-term business performance nor value creation? And, if so, will action be taken to embrace new conceptions of corporate governance, board practice and value creation? For the good of all stakeholders and society more generally, I hope the answer is yes.
Are you troubled by the Volkswagen experience? If you want to explore new conceptions of corporate governance that are informed by robust research and real-world experience, and test their applicability in your boardroom, please get in touch. I stand ready to help.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.