Monday, November 10, 2008

A Leadership Idea for Lead Directors

I don't know how the banks are going to do it — scoop financial rescue money in the front door and shovel big bonuses out the back door. No matter what the rationale offered, I just don't see how this passes any kind of smell test. The stink of it will bowl you over even if you've got wads of tissue stuck up both nostrils.

$15 trillion.
That's how much investors have lost so far this year in the stock market collapse, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. And that's not even factoring in a couple of deep downdrafts the market has taken since that number was reported on Nov. 6.

Yet, Wall Street is still talking about bonuses earned. How incredulous is that?

My longtime colleague in governance watching, Nell Minow, put forward all the right reasons why there should be "No Bonuses for You" in her New York Post commentary.

So, here is a leadership idea for boards. The lead directors of all the financial institutions taking government bailout funding should publicly propose to their fellow board members and management that there be a bonus moratorium for 2008.

Some adult in the room has got to take the smell test and say, "This just doesn't pass."

The lead directors not only would be in harmony with the national interest but they'd be doing their fellow board members a favor. The bonus dispersal is going to be a reputational risk nightmare for the boards involved.

Lead directors, stand up and be counted — and that means don't be counting out millions in bonus bucks.