Jennifer Mailander is director of CSCPublishing at Corporation Service Company. This post is an excerpt from the 2013 Edition of The Directors’ Handbook
, by Thomas J. Dougherty
, partner and head of the Litigation Group of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Directors receive a continuous stream of information and try to be vigilant in order to discern from the mix of background and foreground company data those dissonant notes, those underappreciated inputs, those gaps in analysis. They listen to identify the things that don’t add up.
But it’s getting harder to detect those subtle yet critical notes buried in the morass of reading material now available to directors. Only a few years ago, the volume of pre-meeting materials was limited to the width of a three-ring binder and the size of a standard FedEx box, which typically arrived at the director’s office or home a few days before the meeting. As I’ve pointed out in this Handbook, the director most up-to-speed on these “pre-reading” materials was often the director who made the longest plane trip to attend the meeting. Those directors, poring through their binders stuffed with pre-reading materials, were a common sight in the first-class sections of commercial airliners. The binder was a bulky carry-on, but at least its size limited the volume of pre-reading. Not so anymore.
Today, services like BoardLink permit companies to transmit vast amounts of information to dedicated devices supplied by boards to their directors. There is a consequent proliferation of PowerPoints, appendices, memos, advisories, agendas, draft minutes, and so on. There is also a potential collapse in timing, because content can be added or revised and resent without FedEx deadlines. The result: significantly more pre-reading, less time.
Directors need the board to put reasonable limits and priorities on this phenomenon. It is true that so long as directors make well-informed decisions without conflict of interest, they should not be held liable for business judgments that do not lead to successful outcomes, and under Delaware law can be exonerated from personal liability by company charter so long as they meet that standard of conduct. However, having more data does not necessarily mean that directors are better informed.
…continue reading: From Vigilance to Vision