Corporate governance practices at Viacom have been so bad for so long that I was tempted yesterday to just laugh off the announcement — made right after the annual shareholder meeting — that it has appointed Inside Edition anchor Deborah Norville to its 15-member board. Sumner Redstone owns about 79% of the voting shares. What he says goes. So what difference does it make if the board includes someone who has never demonstrated an interest in corporate finance or affairs? Norville has ”more than 30 years of media and television experience and brings a unique perspective to our board that enhances the diversity,” a Viacom spokesman says.
Sorry, but that’s not good enough. Viacom is a $30.8B global company that employs nearly 10,000 people. And Redstone controls 79% — not 100%. He gladly takes other people’s money to run the enterprise. That means he has both a legal and moral responsibility to protect them as well as himself. It should lead him to bend over backwards to ensure that the board represents shareholders, and does so effectively. It needs people who know what’s on investors’ minds, who are well versed in the issues being discussed, and feel independent and fearless enough to stand up to Redstone when they think he’s wrong.