Practicing What He Preaches

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Chairman Emeritus and CEO Emeritus of AT Kearney Fred G. Steingraber became president of his village of Kenilworth last spring.  Little did he know that problems with transformers exacerbated by turbulent summer thunderstorms would wipe out electricity for extended periods in this elite North Shore village. Not only did Steingraber return every irate citizen’s phone call but he used the web in addition to newsletters to communicate what he, the town staff and ComEd were doing about the problem. In setting up a town meeting with ComEd, he scheduled it for October , not only to give ComEd time to resolve some of the issues but to enable all interested citizens to attend without having to readjust their August vacation schedules.

Furthermore, he has also communicated about how trustees will fulfill their management roles going forward—he has published names of committee members and assignments,  declared that all meeting materials will be delivered to board members ten days before the meeting to improve preparation and meeting effectiveness and  efficiency.

Stephen Davis of the Millstein Center believes that “the single biggest motive for all the reforms of the past 25 years has been the sense of voicelessness and helplessness felt by major institutional investors.”  If directors are supposed to represent shareowners (at least in part), but never communicate with shareowners, then owners become concerned when things aren’t going well.

As Kenilworth village president, Steingraber’s stakeholders are his friends and neighbors in a small 3,000 person community. He honors them by lifting the veil from the management of the town’s business. As a director of boards in the UK, Germany, India, Australia and the U.S., Fred has expressed concern over the government’s increased involvement in board’s activities.

Communication is one way that boards can retain and regain control rather than ceding to government through their silence.