Stories of boards and leadership are the Aesop’s fables of the business world. Tales of power, money, ethics, hubris and the consumers and stakeholders in the businesses that surround us serve as cautionary tales and markers for our future.
This year, we saw stories about active annual general meetings, executive compensation, the governance of newly public companies, diversity in the boardroom and much more. From Japan to Silicon Valley with Olympus, Facebook, Yahoo and HP, geography was no boundary and the themes were universal.
The volume and speed at which board-related stories are hitting the headlines are unprecedented, and the pace looks like it will increase in the coming years.
What has changed? First is transparency: The world is watching and talking. Information moves freely and quickly, so what happens in formerly dark corners of remote areas can no longer be brushed under the carpet or easily smoothed over by slick PR. The democratization of information is such that anyone has access to it and also has a means of spreading it.
Second is connectedness: From the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement and then the “Shareholder Spring,” there has been a distinct sense of interconnectedness among people and consumers. There is a greater understanding that no matter where people live, they have the same fundamental needs, wants and desires, and they deserve safe work environments and fair compensation. People care about where their goods are made, how they are made, and who makes them. Cases like the factory fire in Bangladesh serve to raise people’s awareness. Consumers are acting on the knowledge that they have a role to play, speaking out and voting with their pocketbooks.