Independent Board

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I don’t really talk about the big issues during my little four minutes on the radio, for two reasons. One, I like talking mostly about me, my favorite subject, my only subject, and adding anything else into the mix will just cut into the Me time.

And two, I want everyone to like me. And when you talk about issues, I’ve discovered, you can make people angry — even people who agree with you, maybe especially people who agree with you — if you talk about them in the wrong way. Or even slightly the wrong way. Or even if you, you know, pause like I did just there, you can get into trouble.

But here goes.

The current person who runs CBS, someone I have known for years and someone who has been generous with me in the past, is in trouble for allegations that are being investigated, I assume fully, and will I hope be dealt with fairly and with justice for everyone involved.

You still like me, right?

Okay, so setting aside the big thing going on here — which I know is the real issue, sexual harassment, sexual politics, abuse of power, all of these things are in play here, and I know that’s the big stuff.

But there’s also this: part of the drama going on right now at CBS is the product of pretty shabby corporate governance behavior. One of the reasons the stock took a dive when the allegations against the current head of the company came to light was because there’s no obvious second in command. There’s not even a third or fourth in command. In a company that size, that public, and that valuable, you’d think the first or second order of every board meeting would be to discuss what happens if the person in charge is, for some reason, maybe hit by a bus, maybe some unexpected health issues, maybe an article in the New Yorker, whatever — what if that person is unable to do the job. Who’s next?

And so what should be a personal crisis, and maybe even a personal legal crisis, becomes instead a corporate crisis.

Why wouldn’t the board insist on a succession plan? In between celebrating hitting earnings targets and stock price milestones and paying the current person in charge almost eighty million dollars, why not insist on this piece of elemental corporate hygiene?

And here’s why: because it’s impossible to be a powerful — or even mildly important — person in the entertainment business and not revert, over time, to acting like an old time movie star. It’s impossible to make that much money — not just rich person money, but family office money, legacy money — and not gradually assume that the company you lead is actually yours, that you own it, that you answer to no one. Except you do, of course, because there are shareholders and board seats but by the time your total multi-year pay package has reached a quarter or even half a billion dollars — not for building Facebook or figuring out the driverless car, but for managing — even managing brilliantly — a publicly held company, you have to look around the table at a board meeting and think, who are these little people? They work for me. That’s what movie stars think. That’s why they tend to go haywire and nuts and often get fired from projects — by executives, by the way, who themselves are on the path to the same kind of crazy zone, and when they fire the demanding star or the erratic director or the overpaid writer — and that’s what all executives say, those guys are all overpaid! even the executives making dozens of millions of dollars with future production deal in place — but when they do fire some previously irreplaceable personnel, they say the same thing: no one is irreplaceable, we can find another director or writer or actor. And honestly, they can. No one, especially in show business, which is a giant carrousel of chaos, is irreplaceable. Writers have known that for years. So have actors. So have directors.

Now it’s working its way up the chain.



Rob Long