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公司治理专家谈波音:董事会出了问题

Ellen Florian 2019年05月30日

波音的董事会从未提高审查力度,也没有尝试最佳实践。

波音公司正在采取各种措施,帮助困境中的737 MAX系列飞机重新飞起。在去年10月狮航610航班和今年3月埃航302航班坠毁共造成346人丧生之后,引发的调查和诉讼仍在积攒。危机过后,气恼的利益相关者和公司治理专家开始质疑波音董事会的组成和反应方式,也将一群过去总躲在密室里的人拉出来严厉拷问并施加压力。

主要问题是:董事会是否应该承担至少部分责任?

“公司能走到这种地步,说明董事会出现了一些问题。”公司治理咨询公司ValueEdge Advisors的副主席内尔·米诺表示。“到最后,责任还得落到他们头上。”

董事会的存在是为了确保妥善管理公司。在安然公司垮台和2008年金融危机之前,公司董事会一直是轻松且自我延续的机构,其职能更像是一个俱乐部而不是监督者。在经历各种事件之后,情况发生了巨大变化,随着股东权利提高,董事会的独立性提升,福利减少,监督力度也有所提高。

波音的董事会显然难称公司治理的典范。为公司治理质量排名的绩效分析研究公司摩根士丹利资本国际(MSCI)的数据显示,如果按1-10分打分,波音公司只能得5.4分。根据该评估结果,波音董事会在标准普尔500强公司中排名倒数第三位。然而,波音董事会成员的报酬丰厚。上个月薪酬调查公司Equilar调查《财富》美国100强发现,波音董事会成员薪酬中位数为34.6万美元,排第23位。《财富》美国100强董事会薪酬中位数为318675美元。(波音公司并未回复置评请求。)

“我们发现波音的公司治理水平相当一般。”MSCI的执行董事里克·马歇尔表示: “即使公司状况非常好,业绩上佳利润率高增速快,一旦公司陷入危机,如果董事会很弱也会难以应付。现在就是这种情况。”

MSCI的数据显示,波音董事会目前有13人,在标准普尔500公司里算人数较多的。标普500公司的董事人数平均为10.75人,其中约80家公司的董事成员达到13人或更多。董事会规模越大,思考程序越复杂,决策也越困难,不够灵活。

在更仔细观察后会发现,波音董事会构成有些让人担心。“看起来像是个1999年的公司董事会,不像2019年的。”持有波音股票的米诺说。“就好像过去20年里毫无改革,从未提高审查力度,也没有尝试最佳实践。”

董事会任职交叉

波音公司董事会中有三位董事同时担任卡特彼勒的董事,波音公司的董事召集人戴维·卡尔霍恩也在是卡特彼勒公司的首席董事,另外两位是波音公司的首席执行官兼总裁丹尼斯·米伦伯格,还有马里兰大学的公共政策学院教授,也是布什政府第二任期的美国贸易谈判代表苏珊·施瓦布。波音的两位董事也是万豪国际的董事会成员,分别是大陆航空公司的前首席执行官兼总裁劳伦斯·凯尔纳和苏珊·施瓦布(顺便提一下,她也在联邦快递的董事会任职)。

为什么这一点很重要?公司治理专家认为董事会任职重叠存在“软性”客观问题。“各种任职交叉都是问题,因为会干扰客观性。”特拉华大学约翰·L·温伯格公司治理研究中心的主任查尔斯·埃尔森表示。

波音公司在委托书中声明,13名董事中有12名是独立董事,符合纽约证券交易所独立性标准以及其他补充标准。只有波音的首席执行官兼总裁米伦伯格可以当成内部人士。埃尔森表示,严格来说波音的说法没有问题。但在技术定义和客观评估之间存在差别。“舒适与客观性相关。走得越近,就越难不顾关系做出艰难的决定。”

与华盛顿联系紧密

目前,在波音董事会的13位成员中,有四位之前担任过政府官员:

· 2007年退休前,埃德蒙·吉安巴斯蒂亚尼二世曾经担任美国参谋长联席会议前副主席,在军方是排名第二的级别。2009年他加入了波音董事会。

· 苏珊·施瓦布于2010年加入董事会,2006年至2009年她曾经担任乔治·W·布什政府的主要贸易顾问和谈判代表。

· 卡罗琳·肯尼迪于2017年加入董事会,曾经在奥巴马政府担任驻日本大使。

· 上个月波音公司最新选出的董事是卡罗来纳州的前州长,也是特朗普驻联合国大使尼基·海利,去年她突然辞职。在担任州长期间,2013年她曾经鼓励波音公司扩建工厂和压制工会的行动。(里根政府时期的白宫办公室主任肯尼斯·杜伯斯坦今年在年会上退休。)

“此时此刻,尼基·海利出现在波音董事会成员里让我感觉很奇怪。” MSCI的马歇尔表示。“想象一下,现在他们应该非常关心全球贸易的能力才对。”

埃尔森提出的另一个警告信号是,董事会中有政治名门肯尼迪家族的后代,海利又是政治名人。公司治理专家认为,聘请知名度高的董事会成员令人怀疑。值得关注的是,两位董事都是由其他独立董事,并非经第三方猎头公司推荐给治理、组织和提名委员会,人们普遍认为由第三方推荐人选更有助于董事会持客观态度,不用依赖其他董事说好话推荐。

埃尔森说:“董事会的职责就是监督管理层,纯粹简单。要做到需要一系列技能。在航空航天公司任职,肯尼迪或海利是否具备必要技能?”他们为公司带来了哪些外交和政府经验?“可以请他们当顾问。”他说。“他们要确保管理层做正确决策。不是来提供服务的。”

正确的专业知识

MCSI的马歇尔说,如果从事的行业格外注重安全问题,比如采矿、化工、汽车等,聘请有安全背景的董事会成员比较合适。

波音公司的董事会里谁具备安全领域的技能还不清楚。尽管波音公开宣称安全是头等大事,但在最新提交的委托书中,唯一提及“安全”之处还是登记股东参与年度会议的政策方面。

董事会的成员里哪些人最可能有安全方面的专业知识?罗伯特·布莱德韦是制药公司安进的总裁兼首席执行官。阿特·柯林斯是医疗设备制造商美敦力的前总裁兼首席执行官。戴维·卡尔霍恩曾经在通用飞机发动机公司担任首席执行官(请注意,在设计737 MAX系列时,领导波音的是前总裁兼首席执行官吉姆·麦克纳尼,他也曾经担任过通用飞机发动机公司的老板)。

波音现任总裁兼首席执行官丹尼斯·米伦伯格从工程师一路晋升。劳伦斯·凯尔纳是大陆航空公司的前总裁兼首席执行官。作为审计委员会负责人,严格来说凯尔纳应该对安全风险负责。事实上,最近投票时股东咨询公司Glass Lewis就建议投票反对凯尔纳,指出“审计委员会在发现737 Max 8飞机相关风险方面原本应该发挥更积极的作用。”ISS的委托分析建议投票支持包括凯尔纳在内的审计委员会成员,但应采取“谨慎”态度。凯尔纳再次当选。

“启动类似项目时,人们希望董事会提出很多尖锐的问题。”埃尔森表示。“其实涉及很多工程问题,这也是为什么在董事会里最好有懂专业知识的人负责监督。”

最近波音总裁兼首席执行官米伦伯格表示,上个月他要求董事会成立专门委员会“确保737-Max项目达到最高安全水平的政策和流程有效”,顺便透露了董事会的成员里谁具备安全专业知识。专门委员会成员包括好事达保险的前首席执行官爱德华·利迪、美国参谋长联席会议前副主席吉安巴斯蒂亚尼、安进的布莱德韦以及杜克能源公司的总裁兼首席执行官林恩·古德。

波音在这群人的监督下陷入危机。如今他们能否救波音于水火,尚待观察。(财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

As Boeing takes steps to get its embattled 737 MAX aircraft up and flying again, investigations and lawsuits continue to pile up in the aftermath of October’s Lion Air Flight 610 crash and March’s Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident, taking a total of 346 lives. The crisis has caused frustrated stakeholders and corporate governance experts to question both the makeup of the board, and how they’re responding— placing a collection of people who are used to operating in inner sanctums under intense scrutiny and pressure.

The main question: Is the board at least partially to blame?

“By virtue of the fact that this company has ended up where it is, there is something wrong with the board, says corporate governance expert Nell Minow, Vice Chair of ValueEdge Advisors. “At the end of the day, the buck literally stops with them.”

A board of directors exists to make sure a corporation is being managed properly. Before the Enron meltdown era and the financial crisis of 2008, corporate boards were known to be cushy, self-perpetuating bodies that functioned like a club rather than an overseer. Much has changed since then as shareholder rights advances have brought more independence, fewer perks, and more oversight.

Boeing’s board is hardly a paragon of corporate governance. According to performance analytics research firm MSCI, which ranks the quality of governance, Boeing scored 5.4 on a scale of 1-10. Based on that assessment, Boeing’s board falls in the bottom third of S&P 500 companies. Yet Boeing board members get plum pay. An Equilar study conducted last month on the Fortune 100, found median pay for Boeing directors was $346,000, which ranked as the 23rd highest. Median for all directors in the Fortune 100 was $318,675. (Boeing did not respond to a request for comment.)

“We’re looking at an average governance structure, says Ric Marshall, executive director at MSCI. “Even with the best companies, performing really well with great profit margins and great growth, a weak board is going to struggle when that company runs into a crisis situation. And that’s what we’re looking at here.”

Boeing’s Board currently stands at 13 directors—on the larger side of S&P 500 companies, according to MSCI. The average is 10.75 directors, but approximately 80 companies in the S&P 500 have 13 or more. The larger the board, so the thinking goes, decision-making becomes more difficult and less nimble.

A more detailed look reveals some concerning details around Boeing’s board composition. “This looks like a board that is right out of 1999 instead of 2019,” says Minow, who owns shares of Boeing stock. “It’s as though the reforms and the additional scrutiny and the best practices of the last 20 years kind of passed them by.”

Board Interconnections

Three Boeing directors sit on the board of Caterpillar: Boeing’s lead director, David Calhoun, who is also the lead director of Caterpillar, Boeing’s CEO and Chairman Dennis Muilenburg, and Susan Schwab, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and former U.S. Trade Representative in the second Bush Administration. Two of Boeing’s directors sit on the board of Marriott International: Lawrence Kellner, former CEO and Chairman of Continental Airlines and Susan Schwab (who, by the way, also serves on the FedEx board).

Why does this matter? These overlaps are what corporate governance experts consider “soft” objectivity issues. “Any cross relationship is a problem because it interferes with objectivity,” says Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.

Boeing states in its proxy that 12 of 13 directors are independent, in line with New York Stock Exchange independence criteria along with other supplemental standards. Only Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO and Chairman, is deemed an insider. And technically, they’re correct, says Elson. But there’s a difference between a technical definition and an objective assessment. “Coziness and objectivity are related. The closer you are, the harder it is to step back and make the hard decisions because of those relationships.”

Strong Ties to Washington

Four of the 13 Boeing directorships are currently occupied by former government officials:

· Edmund Giambastiani Jr., former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest ranking officer in the military before he retired in 2007 joined Boeing’s board in 2009.

· Susan Schwab, who joined the board in 2010, was George W. Bush’s main trade adviser and negotiator from 2006 to 2009.

· Caroline Kennedy, a director since 2017, was the former ambassador to Japan during the Obama Administration.

· And Boeing’s newest director elected last month is Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations until she abruptly resigned last year. While governor, she provided incentives in 2013 for Boeing to expand its factory and opposed union organization. (Kenneth Duberstein, a former Chief of Staff in the Reagan White House, retired at the annual meeting this year.)

“Nikki Haley strikes me as an odd choice to add to the Boeing board at this point of time., says MSCI’s Marshall. “You have to imagine that they are very concerned about their ability to trade globally.”

Another warning sign for Elson is that Kennedy, scion of a famous political family, and Haley are political celebrities. Hiring board members with strong name recognition is viewed with suspicion by corporate governance experts. Notably, both of these directors were referred to the Governance, Organization and Nominating Committee by other independent directors, rather than by a third-party search firm, which is considered a better practice for achieving board objectivity than a good word from another director.

Says Elson: “The board is there to monitor management, pure and simple. You need skill sets to do so. In an aerospace company, do either [Kennedy or Haley] have those necessary skills?” What about the diplomatic and government experience they bring to the company? “Hire them as a consultant,” he says. “They’re there to make sure management does the right thing. They’re not there to provide services.”

The Right Expertise

Companies that operate in an industry where safety is a major issue—mining, chemicals, autos—benefit from having board members with a background in safety says MCSI’s Marshall.

Determining who on Boeing’s board has those skills isn’t spelled out. Despite the company’s references in public to safety being a priority, the only reference to “safety” in the company’s most recent proxy are the admission policies for shareholders of record to attend the annual meeting.

Best guess for the slate of directors who might have relevant safety expertise? Robert Bradway is the Chairman and CEO of drugmaker Amgen. Art Collins was the former Chairman and CEO of medical device maker Medtronic. David Calhoun used to be the chief executive of GE Aircraft Engines (as a side note, former Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney who was in charge when the 737 MAX was conceived also used to be the boss at GE Aircraft Engines).

Current Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg came up through the ranks of Boeing as an engineer. And Lawrence Kellner is the former Chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. As head of the audit committee, Kellner was technically responsible for the safety risks. In fact, shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis recommended voting against Kellner in the most recent ballot, citing that “the audit committee should have taken a more proactive role in identifying the risks associated with the 737 Max 8 aircraft.” ISS’s proxy analysis recommended voting for all audit committee members including Kellner, but “with caution.” Kellner was re-elected.

“When you engage in a project like that, you would expect a lot of tough questions from the board,” says Elson. “There are a lot of engineering questions, and that’s why you would want people on the board who have some specialized knowledge to monitor it.”

Boeing Chairman and CEO Muilenburg recently gave some indication of who on the board has safety expertise when he asked the board last month to form a committee to “confirm the effectiveness of our policies and processes for assuring the highest level of safety on the 737-MAX program.” The committee is comprised of former Allstate chief exec Edward Liddy, former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Giambastiani, Amgen’s Bradway, and Duke Energy Chairman and CEO Lynn Good.

They were looking after the company when it fell into crisis. It remains to be seen if they’re the people who can pull Boeing out of this mess.

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