May 8 2006

Counter Cliché: And Founders, Too

Counter Cliché:  And Founders, Too

This week, Fred’s chiche is that "the success of a company is in inverse proportion to the number of venture capitalists on the board".

I’d argue that the same statement is true of founders or management.

Boards help govern the company and watch out for shareholder interests.  Boards give outside perspectives and strategic advice to the company’s leadership.  Boards hire and fire the CEO.  And — more and more every day with large public companies — boards keep management honest.  How can these critical functions occur when a Board has too many members of the management team on it?  They can’t.  We’ve had outside directors at Return Path from Day 1.

I’m not advocating that Boards meet 100% apart from senior management.  On the contrary, our most productive Board meetings at Return Path are the ones where we have lots of management participation.  But execs present and discuss — and don’t vote — and they generally leave the last 30-60 minutes of every meeting for just the Board to discuss issues in private.  I’m also not advocating that CEOs don’t sit on boards or that the CEO never hold the Chairman role.  I think both of those items are critical to unify the watchdog function of looking out for all company stakeholders — shareholders, employees, and customers — at the highest level.

But while the success of a company may well be in inverse proportion to the number of venture capitalists on the board, that same success is jeopardized by too many execs, too.