Now that millions of shareholders have awoken from the bubble to realize they have been mugged by the stewards of the companies in which they had invested, corporate governance issues are suddenly hot topics at cocktail parties. It's also getting to be more of a concern when clients are kicking the tires on a new stock. Here are a few Web sites where you can learn which companies have corporate governance issues that your clients should know about:
Robert Monks' home page
Robert A. G. Monks is one of the best-known corporate governance watchdogs in the U.S., having launched his assault on CEOs who destroy shareholder value more than 20 years ago. A Boston Brahmin (the subject of a book entitled, A Traitor to His Class), Monks has been a businessman and a venture capitalist and a full-time tilter at windmills. He helped put shareholder rights issues on the map in his attempt to win a seat on the Sears board. He also ran for the U.S. Senate. Monks' site is somewhat self-promotional, but the wealth of information and analysis on corporate governance issues makes it worth a visit. Three of Monks' books are available for free, as are links to a variety of recent articles. One section that may be of special interest to computer-modeling addicts is an online simulation of oil company performance relative to their environmental stance. Monks' conclusion wouldn't surprise the captain of the Exxon Valdez: Environmentally friendly, well-regulated oil companies make more money in the long run.
The Corporate Library
Another effort of Robert Monks (but this time with his longtime collaborator Nell Minow), the Corporate Library is a good source of material on governance issues in general. In addition to a free weekly news report, the site features a subscription board analyst database, which contains tear sheets on the boards of most public companies. While the database may be somewhat useful in helping investors size up whether a company is really being managed with their interests in mind, the sheets are so focused on the CEO's contract and the company governance structure that it can be hard to gain any idea about the firm's actual condition. For instance, the page on Tyco mentions in passing that CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski resigned earlier this year, without discussing the circumstances. For pure entertainment, check out the article on corporate aircraft. Did you know that (for security reasons) Saks “requires” CEO R. Brad Martin to use the corporate jet for personal and family use whenever possible? Or that Jack Welch can take a GE plane out for a spin anytime he likes, as part of his retirement package?
Global Proxy Watch
Despite what you may read in the papers, globalization is alive and well when it comes to corporate sleaze. A consulting firm on international corporate governance, Davis Global Advisors of Newton, Mass., publishes an annual ranking of the leading economies by their friendliness to shareholders. A free executive summary is available on the site of the 2001 ratings, which named the U.K. the most shareholder-friendly nation, followed by the U.S. The firm also publishes a concise and expensive newsletter that follows governance goings-on in a number of leading global markets. A month's free trial is available.
One unusual aspect of the current scandals is the limited role that politicians seem to have played in fleecing investors. If (or maybe just when) that story changes, this database of political campaign contributions maintained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington offers an easy way to follow the money. Even without a scandal, information about where a company is making its donations can provide a window on how seriously it is viewing a regulatory challenge or a new government contract. One of the site's most interesting features is its breakdown of campaign donations by industry sector. Curious about where your company or your boss's contributions go? That's a quick search as well.