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新闻集团偏离航道,重回正轨谁可掌舵

Eleanor Bloxham 2011年07月20日

新闻集团四面楚歌,有人认为,董事会成员汤姆•珀金斯是翻开这个传媒帝国新篇章的最佳人选,但考虑他的履历,这一点很值得怀疑。

    通常人们都认为“高层决策英明”和“公司治理有序”这类口号没有实际意义;但在危机当中,这些话听起来既顺耳又有力。

    重大危机袭来时,仅仅对公司的管理或决策进行修修补补无济于事,而需要对公司的治理和决策进行彻底的改革。新闻集团(News Corp)目前的处境就是如此。

    因此,新闻集团将在目前的董事会成员中委派来治愈公司管理上存在的弊病?人们对此颇为好奇。

    有人建议,深陷泥潭的新闻集团要解决公司的治理问题,董事会成员汤姆•珀金斯应该是股东的“救命稻草”。

    他果真是最佳人选吗?从1996年起,汤姆•珀金斯便成为新闻集团董事会成员。在过去15年中,他对公司的治理一直发挥着巨大的影响。他也是新闻集团三个董事委员会的成员,是唯一一位拥有这一资格的董事。显然,他对公司高层的决策制定也要负一定的责任。

此君在惠普的业绩不尽如人意

    珀金斯曾在惠普公司(HP)担任董事,并于2006年5月辞职。他认为公司能招募到马克•赫德并出任CEO,自己功不可没。而且珀金斯也为赫德在新闻集团谋得了一个董事会席位。(赫德从惠普公司辞职后,也退出了新闻集团董事会,当时惠普公司董事会正就他的作风问题对他进行调查。)

    在赫德因为丑闻而失宠之前,珀金斯曾一度是惠普公司电话窃听丑闻的主角。公司针对董事向媒体泄露机密信息展开调查后,这一丑闻才得以曝光。

    《纽约时报》(New York Times )于5月24日公布的一份文件中记载了惠普公司的泄密调查,文件显示,珀金斯对于调查提出了自己的处理建议,他提议使用测谎仪,并对泄密者的身份多有猜测,但目标摇摆不定。他还对董事会处理调查结果的方式提出来自己的观点。

    尽管珀金斯对调查表现出浓厚的兴趣,但作为惠普公司的董事会成员和治理委员会主席,事关调查过程和程序的监督他又做了哪些努力?《新闻周刊》(Newsweek )曾引用他在一封信中的说法,称这次丑闻是公司“董事会程序违规,公司治理的崩溃”。那么,他在其中又发挥了什么作用?

    2008年,在接受《首席执行官》杂志(Chief Executive)采访时,他谈到了惠普的丑闻:“我坚决反对董事会泄密,而且我本人从来没有泄露过公司的任何机密。”他还认为“泄密通常是指‘泄露’负面的‘机密’信息。”

    但据2007年《纽约客》(New Yorker)的一篇文章描述,2005年,他对时任惠普CEO的卡莉•菲奥莉娜坦白,自己曾经把董事会关于菲奥莉娜绩效的审议意见细节透露给一名《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)的记者。文章称,尽管珀金斯表示,当时那名记者已经掌握了许多详细信息,但他还是向菲奥莉娜“表达了歉意”。

    2006年5月底,从惠普公司辞职后,在给猎头安德里亚•雷蒙德和当时新闻集团董事会所有成员发送的邮件中,珀金斯披露了关于惠普公司董事会审议的保密信息。安德里亚•雷蒙德被认为是赫德加入惠普的牵线人。

惠普的辐射效应

    《纽约客》的文章称,珀金斯在2006年5月18日的董事会会议上提出辞职后,便与一位外部法律顾问谈论了自己离开董事会的原因。当时,他表示辞职是因为私人原因(仅限于他本人与董事会主席之间),并不是与公司存在争议,因此外部法律顾问只需宣布他辞职,但无需公布原因。【美国证券交易委员会(SEC)后来曾指责惠普公司未能在开始阶段详细披露珀金斯离职的具体原因。】

    珀金斯在7月18日的一封邮件中称,他曾要求,仅由他和董事会主席两个人来负责处理惠普泄密调查的结果,而不是整个董事会。

    但时任惠普公司董事会主席的帕特丽夏•邓恩没有同意他的要求。在接受《纽约客》采访时,邓恩表示:“汤姆对公司治理的观点是:应该由少数人……制定决策……这是硅谷牛仔的做事方式。”另外值得注意的一点是:邓恩在接任惠普公司董事会主席一职时,曾询问时任公司治理委员会负责人的珀金斯,“公司章程与董事手册是否一致”,但“据珀金斯回忆,他当时的回复是:‘我没读过,我也没打算去读。’”

    2007年,珀金斯曾在《华尔街日报》一个专栏中发表过关于公司治理的文章,他在文中表示,自己支持的模式,与专注于法律问题的合规董事会有非常大的不同。他写道:“我曾经在关键时刻辞退了一家公司的审计师,靠的就是我的‘嗅觉’。”

    尽管他信赖自己的嗅觉,但他却未能及时发现并扼杀惠普的窃听丑闻,或者新闻集团的冒险文化和行为。

    所以,或许珀金斯并不是拯救新闻集团于危难的最佳人选。要帮助新闻集团摆脱困境,不仅需要具备应对危机的专业知识,还要足够老练,但很明显,这并不是他的特长。

珀金斯的替补

    既然珀金斯难当大任,还有谁能拯救困境中的新闻集团?跳出来看,鉴于大部分董事一直以来与新闻集团的关系或他们漫长的任期,他们普遍缺乏独立性。

    韦亚特•丁恩是美国乔治城大学的法学教授,截止目前,他在新闻集团董事会的任职时间已长达7年。珀金斯从惠普公司离职后,丁恩曾为他提供过建议。他在2006年9月《华尔街日报》发表的一篇评论文章中称:“从此以后,没有人,尤其是美国公司,敢于声称自己不知道未经许可获得他人的电话记录是错误和违法的。”

    但是早在2005年,公众就首次对新闻集团的电话窃听表达了忧虑,当时独立董事的监督何在?而针对之后警方的调查,董事会又提供了哪些监督?

    他们使用了丁恩在评论文章中吹嘘的“董事行为的指路明灯:商业判断”?还是仅仅依赖管理层?

    上周五之前,面对危机,新闻集团的反应是保持沉默。当然,他们关闭了《世界新闻报》(News of the World),并放弃了本来就胜算不大的英国天空电视台(BSkyB)的收购计划,但是丑闻当头,首要任务到底是什么?难道是回购股票吗?

    上周五,新闻国际公司(News International)首席执行官兼《世界新闻报》总编丽贝卡•布鲁克斯辞职,之后新闻集团旗下道琼斯集团(Dow Jones)的CEO莱斯•辛顿也宣布辞职。莱斯•辛顿曾担任新闻国际公司CEO。

    目前,新闻集团正在开展公关攻势。但公司董事会的变化体现在哪里?公司内部是否又进行了有意义的审查?

    现在,新闻集团董事会完全可以彻底换血。

    首要任务之一是重新设定CEO、董事会和审计委员会的目标与职责。

    目前,“新闻集团的审计委员会负责审查公司关于风险评估与风险管理的政策和执行,[但]确定公司风险承受能力的适当级别却是首席执行官和高级管理层的职责。”

    新闻集团是时候成立独立董事会了;同时,要让独立董事会参与到令人满意的风险管理以及其他事务中去。

    如果不对董事会做出改革,那么对于默多克家族和他们的雇员来说,不论他们是否身处董事会,都将无法摆脱目前的困境。

    这个庞大的媒体帝国应该开启新的篇章了。

    本文作者爱丽诺•布洛斯罕是董事会咨询机构价值联盟和公司治理联盟(The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance,http://thevaluealliance.com/)的首席执行官。

    The "right tone at the top" and "good governance." Although these phrases are often brushed off as meaningless, in the midst of crisis, these phrases sound both sweet and powerful.

    When a major crisis hits, as is currently the case with News Corp (NWS), it is no longer possible to simply perform touch-up repairs to a company's governance practices or tone. These things often need to be remade whole cloth.

    And that is why it is curious that any current board member would be considered apt to fix News Corp's governance woes.

    It has been suggested that, to fix governance at the beleaguered company, News Corp. board member Tom Perkins is shareholders' "best hope."

    But would he make the best choice? He's been on the News Corp board since 1996 and he has already had 15 years to influence governance there. He sits on all three of News Corp's board committees, the only director with that distinction. Certainly, he has had some level of responsibility for the tone at the top.

A less-than-stellar record at Hewlett-Packard

    Perkins, who was a director at HP (HPQ) before his resignation in May 2006, has said that he helped recruit Mark Hurd to the CEO spot at that company. Perkins also helped Hurd get a News Corp board seat. (Hurd left the News Corp board after his resignation from HP amid an HP board investigation into his ethical conduct.)

    Prior to Hurd's scandal and fall from grace, Perkins was at the center of the earlier HP pretexting, or spying, scandal, which began as an investigation into leaks of confidential information to reporters.

    A May 24 document describing HP's secret leak investigations that was published by the New York Times indicates that Perkins made suggestions about how to handle the secret investigations, recommending the use of lie detectors, and sharing his views, which changed over time, on the potential source of the leaks and how the board should handle the outcome of its investigation.

    Given Perkins' active interest, what efforts, as a board member and as chair of HP's governance committee, did he make to oversee the investigation's processes and procedures? What was his role in what he has characterized in a letter cited by Newsweek as "improper board procedures and breakdowns in corporate governance" at the company?

    "I am categorically against leaking from boards, and I was not involved in any of the leaks," he told Chief Executive magazine in a 2008 interview, referring to the HP scandal, saying "a leak usually [refers to revealing] negative stuff that is [confidential]."

    But, according to a 2007 New Yorker article, he confessed to then-CEO Carly Fiorina that he had spoken to a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2005 about details of board deliberations concerning Fiorina's performance. Although Perkins said the reporter already had many of the details, "Perkins apologized" to Fiorina, the article said.

    After resigning from HP's board, Perkins sent emails in late May 2006 that revealed information from confidential HP board discussions to a headhunter named Andrea Redmond, who was credited with bringing Hurd to HP, and to all of the then-members of the News Corp board.

The HP fallout

    Immediately following his resignation at HP's May 18, 2006 board meeting, Perkins had a conversation with outside counsel about the reason he left the board, according to the New Yorker article. At that time, he said it was personal (between him and the chair), not a dispute with the company, and outside counsel should just say he resigned. (The SEC later rebuked HP for failing to fully disclose the reasons for Perkins' resignation early on.)

    Perkins said in an email on July 18 that he requested that just he and the board chair, rather than the full board, handle the outcome of the leak investigation at HP.

    Patricia Dunn, HP's chair at the time, did not comply. "Tom's view of corporate governance is that a few people … should make the decision…. That's the Silicon Valley cowboy way," Dunn told the The New Yorker. Another concerning sign: When Dunn became chair of HP, she had asked Perkins, who headed the governance committee at the time, about "inconsistencies between the company by-laws and the director's handbook." "Perkins recalls replying, 'I've never read either one, nor do I intend to.'"

    Perkins wrote about his views on governance in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2007, expressing his belief in a model that is very different from a "Compliance Board, with its focus on legal issues." "As a director who once fired a firm's auditors just in the nick of time, I relied upon the 'smell-factor'," he wrote.

    Despite his reliance on it, his smell factor didn't work quickly enough, however, to sniff out and snuff out the pretexting at HP or the risky culture and behavior at News Corp.

    Perkins may not be the best fit to solve News Corp's woes. Moving forward will require not only expertise in handling a crisis but also tact, and that is not necessarily his strongest suit.

Alternatives to Perkins

    If not Perkins, then who might be able to dig News Corp. out of its mess? Looking farther afield, the majority of directors currently lack independence, measured by current or past relationships to News Corp, or through their long tenure on the board.

    Viet Dinh -- a Georgetown Law Professor who advised Perkins following his departure from HP -- is a seven-year veteran of the News Corp board. He wrote in a September 2006 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: "Henceforth, no one, least of all corporate America, should be able to claim that they didn't know that obtaining telephone records without consent is improper and illegal."

    But where was independent board oversight of the culture at News Corp when public concerns of telephone hacking first arose in 2005? And what oversight did the board provide related to the police inquiries that followed?

    Did they use the "the guiding light of director conduct: business judgment," which Dinh touts in his opinion piece – or did they simply rely on management?

    Before last Friday, the response by News Corp to the crisis was muted. Sure, they closed down News of the World and pulled out of a deal to buy BSkyB that would have likely failed anyway, but what are their priorities -- a stock repurchase in the midst of an ethical scandal?

    On Friday, chief executive of News International and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks resigned, as did Dow Jones CEO and former News International chief Les Hinton.

    The PR machine is now up and running. But where are the changes in the boardroom or a meaningful internal review?

    Right now, the News Corp board could use a whole new set of independent members.

    One of their first tasks should be to reset the goals and jobs of the CEO, the board, and the

    Currently at News Corp, "the Audit Committee is responsible for reviewing the Company's policies and practices with respect to risk assessment and management, [but] it is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer and senior management to determine the appropriate level of the Company's exposure to risk."

    It's time for an independent board to weigh in on acceptable risk management and other practices at this company.

    Until the board changes hands, the Murdochs and those who work for them, both on and off the board, shouldn't be let off the hook.

    It's time for this media empire to turn a new page.

    Eleanor Bloxham is CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance (http://thevaluealliance.com/), a board advisory firm.

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