Legendary investor and good-governance advocate Robert A.G. Monks sat down with RiskMetrics Group's Governance Institute to discuss his campaign to install a separate chair at Exxon, and to detail his views on key issues now shaping the corporate governance landscape.
While the focus of the interview centered on his campaign at Exxon, Monks spoke about a potential shortcoming in Sen. Charles Schumer's proposed "Shareholder Bill of Rights," changes at the Department of Labor that may bode well for investors, and calls to reincorporate in North Dakota, among other issues. An excerpt from the interview is below.
RiskMetrics: You've noted on a number of occasions that the board members of Exxon have failed to meet with you. What would you say, were they here now?
Monks: I would want to say to the directors of Exxon that I understand the social pressures they are under to simply get along and to go along, but that it is critical for them to take a wider look at what's happened to, say, British Petroleum. What we had there was arguably the most applauded executive, certainly in England and maybe in Europe, in Lord Browne, and then all of sudden we had the Texas City disaster, we had Alaska, we had commodity trading problems, and it turned out that BP had done an appalling job of integrating their American acquisitions. But they had an independent chairman, Lord Sutherland, a tough Irishman, who came in there and kicked out Browne. Four years earlier, Royal Dutch Shell, the other of the big three; somebody there made a mistake and got their thumbs wrong, and said they had 30 percent more reserves than they really had. What happened? An independent chairman came in and pushed heads together and it really worked. I think we've also seen in these finance company problems here in America that the problem of having a level of accountability cannot be removed from one of the causes of the difficulty. So we need to get that culture of having a monitoring capability that's real in companies.
Exxon officials declined to participate in a similar Q&A, opting instead to point those interested in learning more about the energy giant's views to the company's 2009 proxy statement and public Web site.
The full interview is available on Governance Exchange – an online community exclusively for board directors, corporate executives, and institutional investors. Governance Exchange provides an innovative, secure and high-quality online environment to facilitate constructive dialogue on corporate governance. For more information on Governance Exchange, please click here.