Thursday, 3 May 2012

Dinosaur attitudes to governance in private equity

I have a report from a recent round-table discussion on making non-executive directors effective which was led by a director of one of the UK's major private equity firms. It was fascinating and horrifying for its old fashioned attitudes that are surely, to borrow a cliche, not fit for purpose.

Asked about where directors nominated by private equity firms owe their allegiance he seemed to imagine there was no issue to worry about here. Well.....Later asked about board diversity he merely trotted out the old mantra that if women have other priorities and don't get to board positions then that automatically means there is an inadequate pool of qualified women to serve as non-executive directors. And of course he opposes quotas for female participation at board level. No idea of making changes to make it easier for women's careers to advance to board level. No concept that aspects of approved career progression paths in the UK are too conservative. Needless to say this chap's executive team colleagues comprise just 12% women and not a single coloured face. He accepts that diversity improves corporate performance but, of course, that applies to others and cannot conceive how he could sensibly change the status quo. I too worry that quotas avoid the difficult questions but I think they are inevitable when such young fogeys are so common in this country.

A wonderful remark remark reported by my informants was to the effect that there was, however, a big demand for female non-execs in specific industries, such as cosmetics. What a ******!

Talking about finding senior people for companies he spoke about installing CEO's and Finance Directors: very revealing - no concept that HR is a key discipline that should improve the bottom line, as are engineering skills in many cases.

Where are the open and enquiring minds? Such attitudes as reported here are all too common, to the detriment of our nation's corporate performance; and they are most damaging when they are found in finance businesses such as banks and private equity because there they infect the companies these guys finance, so the virus is spread and reinforced.

Aviva shareholders revolt on board pay

It must be worth noting that there has been a 54% vote against the remuneration committee report at Aviva's annual meeting. This follows votes at other major companies indicating shareholder dissatisfaction over executive pay - not least rising pay in the face of falling performance. This groundswell of opinion seems to be an international phenomenon, with shareholders complaining in the USA and elsewhere. About time too! Next I'd like to see such votes having the power to compel management to withdraw their proposals. If that does not happen then I think we will see the rise of votes to remove directors from office. See Guardian article.