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.

Much as we have long faulted James Cayne for his role in Bear’s implosion, responsibility for its ultimate failure is born by many actors, including the long-time head of its executive committee, Alan Greenberg. It proves once again that boards must actually direct. In Bear’s case, there is scant evidence that its independent directors were even in the room, much less grasped the pivitol role the firm played in the health of the entire financial system.

So now the titans of Bear Stearns itself are weighing in on who is to blame for the blunders that led to the firm’s collapse. The New York Times reports on Wednesday that Alan C. Greenberg, chairman of Bear’s executive committee, had some harsh words about former CEO and board chairman James E. Cayne. And the issue of corporate governance has been raised for the first time by the newspaper as a contributing factor in Bear’s downfall. It might be the first for The Times, but as loyal readers will know -and they actually include a number of Bear’s own employees- Finlay ON Governance was the first to bring to public attention the role of that firm’s dysfunctional and over- extended board of directors.

The Times notes:

The demise of the firm they loved was not so much the fault of either man. Instead, it was a collective failure of the governing five-man executive committee that over the years became so fixated on increasing the firm’s book value – and expecting the stock price to follow – that it lost sight of the concentrated, underhedged exposure to the home mortgage market that left Bear vulnerable.

Actually, The Times is not quite on top of the story. There were problems with the executive committee and the fact that it did so much of the heavy lifting in the firm -to the exclusion of any independent director. But the ultimate responsibility for permitting that situation rests with the full board of directors, which Mr. Cayne chaired and on which Mr. Greenberg served for decades. As we have observed before, there is little to suggest that any of the directors in the all male, management-dominated Bear boardroom were bothered by its governance structure or the bizarre antics of its chairman.

As The Times reveals:

One member of the executive committee said that Mr. Greenberg, as a longtime director, had ample opportunity to voice concerns about Bear’s vast exposure to subprime mortgages and its hedging strategies, which he did not do.
“He never said a word,” said this person, who declined to be identified because of the legal sensitivities in the matter.

The company’s independent directors were not exactly breaking sound barriers in voicing their concerns, either. In fact, one has to wonder if they were even in the room.

The company had independent directors on paper, to be sure, but they displayed a curious sense of their roles and what passed in their eyes for acceptable corporate governance in a firm that apparently was so consequential to the capital markets that its collapse could have precipitated an upheaval of the entire global financial system, as we have been told. Many Bear directors served on multiple boards involving other publicly traded companies. They did not establish a risk committee of the board until March of 2007 and it met only twice that year. There is the issue of the over-extension of its audit committee members (which we first revealed here). And like every major player that ran into serious trouble over the subprime meltdown, from Countrywide and Merrill Lynch to Citigroup and UBS, at Bear Stearns the post of board chair was not filled by an independent director but rather a member of top management. For at least two decades, we, and other corporate governance experts, have been urging that the top board position be held by an independent director. By almost every measure, Bear’s directors failed in their most important duty: to ensure the viability and sound reputation of the enterprise entrusted to them. They took many steps along the road in failing that trust.

As much as we have long faulted Mr. Cayne for his role in Bear’s implosion, responsibility for its ultimate failure as a stand alone institution is born by many actors. Mr. Greenberg’s pointing the finger at his former colleague is a little like Conrad Black blaming his Hollinger successors for that company’s dismal plight. As history teaches with predictable repetition, what boards do, or do not do, in supervising the affairs of a company, and whether directors actually direct, makes a difference in the ultimate outcome.

As the story unfolds, we suspect there will be more indications that poor corporate governance was at the heart of this once mighty Wall Street icon’s demise. Offered in further evidence of that proposition is the fact that even though he is at the center of such criticism and cashed out all his Bear Stearns stock, Mr. Cayne remains chairman of the board of directors.

Would The Times or anyone else like to explain that?