Troubled Boards Face Director Brain Drain

Just when they may be needed most, talented directors are heading for the exits. The resulting Brain Drain is another unexpected and negative consequence of the current business chaos.

The Wall Street Journal has the story, reporting that as big name firms falter, directors who often are CEOs or other top executives of big, complex firms just don't have the time to sort out bankruptcies or recovery strategies.

One example is Ellen J. Kullman, who has just been named CEO of DuPont Co., which has long been a well-managed and successful firm. But she's leaving her director's chair at troubled General Motors because she simply hasn't got the time to help Rick Wagoner figure out how to get federal bailouts while shoring up DuPont, her main priority.

The Journal says that directors have exited Ford Motor Co., American International Group and Sprint Nextel Corp. for similar reasons. The Corporate Library says that 46 outside directors have left the boards of 42 companies in struggling sectors such as financial services, retail and residential construction.

Not that long ago (sigh) when all we had to worry about was Sarbanes-Oxley, directors were already heading for the doors because implementing SOX requirements was too time-consuming. It used to be that some talented managers served on five or six boards but SOX made that more like one or two.

Now, one or none?