The values of the corporate executive candidate
PS4RS is out with their top-six picks. Anthony Lubrano has endorsed his favorite three. The 2013 trustee race is getting some clarity.
After last year’s election, my wife, who’s a statistics wizard, plugged some number into her computer and came up with the following observations: the alumni preferred candidates who were older than me (I’m almost 34 years old) who live in areas with large alumni populations (State College, for example). Ballot position was also helpful.
I don’t think there’s a direct preference for older candidates however. Instead, I think there’s a general tendency to support candidates with “substantial life experience,” to borrow a phrase from PS4RS. That translates into people who have fancy titles on their resumes like “president” or “CEO.” Positions like that are impressive. They’re hard to come by, they illustrate one’s corporate leadership experience and they demonstrate the drive to achieve one’s goals. Many sit on company boards, and therefore have “board experience.” Based on title alone, a corporate executive seems like the perfect candidate.
But there’s one glaring problem with such a shallow candidate analysis: the board was filled with corporate executives in November 2011. They failed us miserably then, and have continued to fail us ever since. How is it that somebody so qualified to lead Penn State turned out to be so wrong?
The corporate executive candidate is certain kind of leader. He works in the private sector. He’s good at making management decisions that fuel higher profits. Meetings are held, and management decisions are made, behind closed doors. He only has to build concensus with a few high-ranking corporate officers, and only answers to his board of directors. He is not scrutinized by those outside the company, and can usually ignore criticism from pretty much anybody.
Contrast that position with the role of somebody who serves on a public board. Major decisions are made during public meetings, during which the public has the right to lob a never-ending barrage of criticism. Building consensus among board members is key, but you’re ultimately accountable to the voters who elected you. Your job isn’t to make more money – it’s to further and enhance the mission of the institution, a goal whose path to achievement is far less clear.
In truth, the corporate executive candidate is really the antithesis of who the public candidate should be. Every day, he thumbs his nose at transparency. He doesn’t have to worry about fostering a culture of collaboration and openness. Those qualities just isn’t natively in his blood.
That’s why I’m starting to cringe at the emerging support for the corporate executive candidiate again.
Take this post from somebody in the PS4RS forum:
In order for a BoT member to be effective, they need a demonstrated leadership capability and an ability to effect change as part of a minority group on the board (I particularly liked that question). These people need to be able to go toe to toe with heavy hitters some of whom are CEO’s (Ken Frazier e.g.) of large companies … in order to do so, leadership positions/experience in industry is essential. After reviewing the 6 candidates, I feel confident that 3 will emerge to help Anthony on his/our quest. Can[‘t] wait to get 3 more next year.
This person believes the best person to fight Ken Frazier is another Ken Frazier. He wants somebody who can schmooze the other size, and will be charming, conniving and cunning behind the scenes. He wants someone with a much power as Frazier, because he assumes Frazier will only bow to somebody with as much, if not more, power than himself.
The problem with that people like Ken Frazier don’t understand the difference between the Board of Trustees and Merck’s Board of Directors. They don’t understand the benefits of transparency. They don’t understand the ethical differences between public and private board members. It’s just not part of their daily lives. A Ken Frazier will not convince Ken Frazier he needs to change.
People who aren’t corporate executives don’t bring with them entrenched values of secrecy. Their daily mission isn’t to make as much money as possible, and their routine decisions aren’t made with that in mind. They bring a completely different set of skills to the table that this board is lacking.
As you’re making your final choice for Penn State trustee, be sure to cast your vote for somebody who shares your values. Don’t be fooled by fancy titles. Do your homework.