Ed. Note: For my final set of Director Roster sidebars (before I retire), I have chosen several articles that are personal favorites that I published during my 35-year tenure as editor of Directors & Boards. Space does not allow reprinting of the entire article, so what you will find below and on the following Roster pages are select passages from seven of these articles. First up is a piece that Lodwrick Cook wrote for our 20th anniversary issue in 1996. At the time he was chairman emeritus of Arco, having just recently retired as chairman and CEO of the energy giant formerly called Atlantic Richfield Co.--James Kristie
I've served on many boards in many industries and on many charity boards. Each shares some of the same challenges and the same dangers. A director has to provide some kind of oversight--but not try to run the company. On the other hand, you can't abdicate your authority. You must stay involved and have a reasonably intimate understanding of the company--not just the financial status but the environmental and litigation situation, too.
I took away lessons from [my] first board experience that I've relied on ever since. I learned to listen to others. I've teamed also how to move forward as part of a group, while making sure that everyone in the group feels that they have contributed.
Some boards are more fun than others, of course. I was on the Lockheed board during one of the most exciting periods in the company's history--the mergers with Martin Marietta and Loral that made it the largest defense company in the world. I've also served on the boards of small charities because I believed in the work they did. No matter the board or the mission of the enterprise, some things remain constant: Good people can have different points of view. Good decisions can't be made until the facts are on the table.
The nature of directorship has changed over the years, of course. Boards are more aggressive--made so, I suppose, by the heat they get now from the media and from shareholders. But the charge is the same: Try to do the right thing for the stakeholders. Some directors read that narrowly to mean just the shareholders. I have always tried to include in my thinking the interests of the employees and the communities where the corporation...