There is no substitute for a culture of integrity in organizations. Compliance alone with the law is not enough. History shows that those who make a practice of skating close to the edge always wind up going over the line. A higher bar of ethics performance is necessary. That bar needs to be set and monitored in the boardroom.  ~J. Richard Finlay writing in The Globe and Mail.

Sound governance is not some abstract ideal or utopian pipe dream. Nor does it occur by accident or through sudden outbreaks of altruism. It happens when leaders lead with integrity, when directors actually direct and when stakeholders demand the highest level of ethics and accountability.  ~ J. Richard Finlay in testimony before the Standing Committee on Banking, Commerce and the Economy, Senate of Canada.

The Finlay Centre for Corporate & Public Governance is the longest continuously cited voice on modern governance standards. Our work over the course of four decades helped to build the new paradigm of ethics and accountability by which many corporations and public institutions are judged today.

The Finlay Centre was founded by J. Richard Finlay, one of the world’s most prescient voices for sound boardroom practices, sanity in CEO pay and the ethical responsibilities of trusted leaders. He coined the term stakeholder capitalism in the 1980s.

We pioneered the attributes of environmental responsibility, social purposefulness and successful governance decades before the arrival of ESG. Today we are trying to rebuild the trust that many dubious ESG practices have shattered. 


We were the first to predict seismic boardroom flashpoints and downfalls and played key roles in regulatory milestones and reforms.

We’re working to advance the agenda of the new boardroom and public institution of today: diversity at the table; ethics that shine through a culture of integrity; the next chapter in stakeholder capitalism; and leadership that stands as an unrelenting champion for all stakeholders.

Our landmark work in creating what we called a culture of integrity and the ethical practices of trusted organizations has been praised, recognized and replicated around the world.


Our rich institutional memory, combined with a record of innovative thinking for tomorrow’s challenges, provide umatached resources to corporate and public sector players.

Trust is the asset that is unseen until it is shattered.  When crisis hits, we know a thing or two about how to rebuild trust— especially in turbulent times.

We’re still one of the world’s most recognized voices on CEO pay and the role of boards as compensation credibility gatekeepers. Somebody has to be.

Outrage of the Week: Leadership Abdicated

It was a week that illustrated how not to be a leader.

The CEOs of the big three auto makers appeared before the United States Congress, and showed a level of ill preparedness on even rudimentary questions about their bailout pleas that would have incurred the ire of a fifth grade teacher.  Their separate arrivals in three luxury private jets reminded us of when Robert Nardelli, then head of Home Depot, cut off shareholder questions at the company’s annual meeting after 60 seconds. (more…)

Nardelli, Not Marconi

Robert Nardelli, who managed to shrink the value of Home Depot shares when he headed that company (while managing a masterfully opposite result when it came to his own compensation of two hundred-plus million) is embarking on a somewhat similar mission at Chrysler. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Chrysler LLC is laying out plans to nearly halve the number of models in its product line and significantly reduce the number of dealers selling its cars, company officials told dealers in meetings recently”.

Guglielmo Marconi, on the other hand, widely regarded as the developer of the radiotelegraph, was the creator of dozens of inventions, the holder of countless patents and a (co)winner of the Nobel Prize. In December 1902, he oversaw the first reported transatlantic transmission from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia to Cornwall, England. The story only gets bigger from there.

But if Marconi had been a follower of the Nardelli school of shrinking assets, what started out spanning  the Atlantic would probably have ended with a wireless invention whose signals traveled no further than a driveway.

Outrage of the Week: Home Depot’s Oblivious Board

outrage 12.jpgFew companies have become so emblematic of the continuing affliction of self-aggrandizing CEOs and slumbering boards. Bob Nardelli, who by several accounts has already been compensated to the tune of $245 million during his five year tenure as CEO, will now receive a further $210 million. Just for leaving. All that was missing from Mr. Nardelli’s departure was the accompaniment of the June Taylor dancers and Jackie Gleason shouting and away we go!

Anyone viewing Mr. Nardelli’s despotic performance at the last annual meeting –an annual meeting at which not a single director other than Nardelli showed up– could have little doubt that this was a board, and a CEO, who had forgotten to whom and for what they are accountable. Mr. Nardelli’s exit addresses only part of the problem with this company. The directors who awarded these princely sums in the first place for a strategy that did not work, who lost the confidence of the investing public, and who then had to pay out more than $200 million dollars again to get out of the mess, need to bear ultimate responsibility.

This is a board that seems to reflect little of the real world around it and appears more content indulging in its own cozy emoluments. Each director is paid a handsome retainer of $130,000 annually. Then there are the additional payments for members and chairs of committees. But that’s not enough. On top of the retainer, directors at this company need another incentive just to show up. Accordingly, and with the generosity that is only evident when dispensing other people’s money, these directors award themselves a further $2,000 for each meeting they attend. Perhaps this helps to explain a boardroom culture that is prepared to pay a CEO millions to take on the job but feels it has to offer tens of millions more annually for him to actually show up and do something.

Board members also participate in a stock option plan, the kind of plan IBM recently eliminated for directors because the company finally recognized that they are incompatible with modern governance principles. Stock options have become something of a curse for this board. First, there is the way they were used to boost Mr. Nardelli’s compensation package. Second, there is the astonishing fact, brought to light last December, that stock option dates had been manipulated routinely over the past 19 years in order to obtain greater advantage for those exercising them. Two years’ backdating might be chalked up to bad judgment –not an inconsequential vice, by any means, but one that nevertheless occurs in corporate America and elsewhere. And there may well be consequences for those involved. But two decades of backdating can only be viewed as the product of a corporate culture of willful deception and lack of accountability. In that, the entire governance structure of a company must be viewed as suspect. One heretofore overlooked fact is that, of the company’s 10 independent directors, five were on the board during the period of options backdating, which apparently lasted until 2001. Two sat on the board even before the backdating of options began in 1981.

There are those, of course, who wonder why such a big deal is made about any CEO pay package. They can’t be spending much time in or near the organizations whose employees see such a growing disconnect between the standards set for a privileged few by the board and those imposed upon workers on the floor. They don’t think about factors like morale, or fairness or leadership that eludes respect and the extent to which these affect the performance, growth and, ultimately, the earnings of a company. And I don’t suppose the defenders of Nardelli’s pay even give a second thought to the significance of the fact that the company he led continues to be at the bottom in terms of customer service, and far below its nearest competitor, Lowes, or that it seems to have developed a unique capacity to alienate customers as any quick sampling of opinions on the Internet will reveal. Others still are not particularly bothered by options backdating, viewing it as an innocent mistake. Funny that they always inure to the benefit of some other party, usually the party making these so-called mistakes.

All these things diminish respect for capitalism, which, from my perspective of some thirty years of first-hand involvement in it,  is an economic system that needs its guardians of principle and champions of responsibility as much as it needs its hedge fund managers and free enterprise tycoons. The surest way to bring about the overreach and inefficiencies of government intervention is for the laissez-faire advocates of business to continue to cling to the increasingly discredited notion that no amount is too much to pay a CEO.  The consequences of the erosion of confidence in capitalism and esteem for its leaders are too important to be left to such short-sighted thinking or to dysfunctional boards –which brings us back to Mr. Nardelli and the board of directors, for it is this board that is the fundamental cause of the company’s difficulties.

Composed mainly of past and current CEOs, boards have had a vested interest in perpetuating a flawed compensation system that has been very good to them. This is a board that boasts of its independence from management –so independent it acceded to Mr. Nardelli’s instructions that no director appear at the last annual meeting. But the most obvious qualification for these directors seems to be that they be connected to each other by way of friendship and past company experiences. I will be exploring this further in a future piece.

For its Annual 2006 year end awards, Finlay ON Governance inaugurated what it called the Home Despot Award for the board and CEO who displayed uncommon obliviousness to the growing discontent of shareholders and customers. The winner of that award demonstrated its blindness to reality by overly compensating an autocratic CEO who had lost the confidence of many stakeholders and alienated other key constituencies, and continued to do so again when it rewarded an exiting Bob Nardelli with more than $210 million for that privilege. These are just a few of the many reasons why the actions of Home Depot’s board are the Outrage of the Week.

Nardelli’s Exit Only Part of Solution at Home Depot

The departure of Bob Nardelli, who, along with his board, was the winner of the Finlay ON Governance 2006 Home Despot award for obliviousness to the growing discontent of shareholders and customers, is only a partial solution to the crisis at Home Depot.

The question now is what about the board that caused the situation to drag on for so long and permitted the company to become the object of widespread ridicule and animosity. A good beginning would be the resignation of the Home Depot directors who couldn’t be bothered to show up at the last annual meeting. Oh, you say that was the entire board?

What a pity.