The Globe published an interesting article today about a Harvard Business School professor that resigned just before the scandal at Satyam broke. This was no ordinary professor. Krishna Palepu is an expert in corporate governance, control and accounting, and corporate management in emerging markets. In short, the perfect resume for a Satyam board member. So what went wrong?
This is not an isolated incident. In this financial crisis, many good people on boards of struggling companies have been surprised. And we’ll likely see more of that in the months to come. I think it’s overly simplistic to blame the board, and certainly in this case in which Palepu is so obviously qualified. What we see frequently is that internal control systems and risk assessment processes are not mature enough to catch wrong doing or, and this may be more important, change behavior. Companies that are growing quickly, like Satyam, have the most difficulty putting in place the risk management process to catch the kind of fraud perpetrated at the company. My guess is that in the future business process will be designed from the bottom up with risk management in mind. As we’re learning, it’s too hard to do it after the fact, especially for the complicated businesses we’re trying to govern today.