Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Madam Chairman

Speaking of former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Barbara Franklin, which I did in my post of Thursday, Dec. 4, I couldn't be more pleased to see that the National Association of Corporate Directors has elected her to be the organization's vice chairman, and that she will assume the chairmanship on March 31, 2009.

She has been a prominent member of the NACD for nearly 15 years, often speaking at its annual conferences — and always being a voice of reason and sound thinking on governance at these confabs, as well as in the pages of Directors & Boards. She was presented the NACD Director of the Year Award in 2000.

You can't get more well-credentialed for this chairmanship. She has been a director of 14 public companies over her career, including current directorships at Aetna Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. She joined her first corporate board in 1979, fresh from six years as a commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That was early days for women on boards. 

I can't resist sharing this story she told me when I interviewed her for the "Oral History of Corporate Governance" special 25th anniversary edition of Directors & Boards in 2001. Remembering those early days, she recalled going on the Westinghouse board, and promptly running into this buzz saw (or maybe I should say buzzard):

"I raised a question about something at the very end of a [board] meeting. One guy looked at me and said, 'Barbara, why don't you leave these things to more experienced directors.' I was real unhappy about that! I collared him afterwards and told him I didn't think that was an appropriate comment for him to make. He apologized."

The chairmanship of the NACD is going to be a hot seat in 2009, what with a change in Administration and a Congress on the warpath looking for culprits — some to be found sitting in director seats, for sure — who drove the economy into a deep and dank ditch. The new powers that be may tee up legislation that will take board service into a distinctly unfamiliar and unwelcome territory. 

"In such uncertain economic times," she says, "more is expected of us as corporate directors. We must work to restore trust in the governance of our companies." The world of corporate governance will be fortunate to have Barbara Franklin in this leadership position. Talk about leaving things to an experienced director.