The Director Barbara Franklin: 'It seems like there was a sharp uptick all of a sudden.'.

Author:Kristie, James
Position:A Life in Governance
 
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"I WAS VICE CHAIR of the Consumer Product Safety Commission at the time when Harold Williams was chairing the Securities and Exchange Commission. I remember having lunch with him one day, and he was telling me about his interest in independent directors on boards. There wasn't anything regulatory on this at the time, so it was all bully pulpit on his part. That was probably my first real awareness of the role of corporate boards.

I certainly don't recall corporate governance included in any studies at Harvard, although I still find it amusing today to remember that a course taught by one of the most esteemed members of the faculty, General Georges Doriot, was closed to women. We were warned not to try to sign up for that course because he didn't take women. When I ran into him many years later, I told him I had wanted to take his course and what did he think about not allowing women in his class. He looked right at me and said, "I'm damn proud of that!" [Laughter]

When I got into the business world with the Singer Co. and then with Citibank, I was doing financial analysis work so I would be aware of the board meetings coming up. But it was a much different world in the 1960s. It was much simpler. We did not have the pressures of a global economy. There wasn't much board governance in evidence. The CEO was perceived as running everything.

When I stepped down from the Product Safety Commission in 1979, there was a provision at the time that limited the commissioners from being involved for one year in the industries we regulated. Because of this conflict provision, I could not accept the first board offer I received, which was from Westinghouse. I went onto the Aetna board first since insurance and finance was not in my proscribed area. Both from my work on the Commission and from my earlier work in the government, I knew some of the people on the Aetna board. One individual in particular was the late Hobart Taylor. He was quite an accomplished African-American gentleman who had been active in the civil rights area with the Johnson administration. He was very helpful because he would "decode" for me how the white male culture worked -- something women needed to know as well.

He was also on the Westinghouse board, but with Westinghouse I think it was my visibility as a regulator that was the factor there. Bob Kirby, the chairman and CEO, was the guy who quite masterfully saved the company from the uranium debacle it got itself into. We were...

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