Decisions about major transactions, or matters that might be material to the future prospects of a company, are usually reserved for the board of directors. This is appropriate, because directors have a duty of care—to the company they govern and to the shareholders that own the company. In fulfiling their duties, directors must ensure they are adequately informed regarding the affairs of the company, so that decisions can be made in the best interests of the company and, ultimately, the shareholders.
This all seems straightforward and tidy, but is it always so? Unfortunately not—well not at Hyundai anyway. Recently, the Hyundai board of directors approved a bid to buy a large and valuable parcel of land—without actually knowing the price! Claims by management that the bid price was "top secret" and therefore could not declared seem to have been accepted by the board:
While boards of the three firms discussed and approved bidding for the plot in the capital's high-end Gangnam district to house a headquarters complex, hotel and automotive theme park, the bid price was not shared with directors as it was deemed to be confidential, three of the directors said. The Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors boards unanimously approved making a bid for the Korea Electric Power (KEPCO) land, two directors said.
The making of strategically important decisions without vital information borders on reckless trading. That such a large transaction would be approved without knowledge of the price defies normal logic. That $8B of market value has been wiped off Hyundai should come as no surprise.
Why did the Hyundai board make the decision without knowing the bid price? If the board carries the ultimate responsibility for company performance and business value, it should know everything that is material to a decision. If information is missing, the board should insist on it being provided, and to defer any decision until the information is provided. That management thought that the board could not be trusted with knowledge of the bid price, and the board let management get away with it, is an indicator that there are some fundamental problems with the corporate governance systems at Hyundai. The directors need to take a good long look at themselves and the way they operate, and seriously consider whether they are fit to carry on.
As a former CFO boss of mine used to say to me (and others): "If you want a quick answer, the answer is no!"
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.