Board 3.0: What the Private-Equity Governance Model Can Offer Public Companies

The authors view board structures as an adaptive institution that responds to the key challenges faced by public companies: helping management solve the problems of production and organization of large-scale enterprise; limiting managerial agency costs; serving as a delegated monitor of the firm’s compliance obligations; and responding to the governance environment of changing shareholder ownership patterns. U.S. company board structures are shown to have evolved over time, often through discontinuous lurches, as particular functions have waxed and waned in importance.

This article is part of a larger project that traces two iterations of the public company board, what the authors call Board 1.0 (the “advisory board”) and Board 2.0 (the “monitoring board”). The authors argue in particular that Board 2.0, as embedded in both current practice and regulation, now fails the functional fit test for many companies. First, it does not scale to match the dramatic increase in the size and complexity of many modern public corporations. Second, at a time of reconcentrated ownership achieved through institutional investors and increased activism, it does not have the expertise and commitment needed to resolve the tension between managerial or market myopia, or “short-termism,” and managerial “hyperopia.”

This article holds out an optional alternative, Board 3.0, which would bring to the public company board some strategies used by private equity firms for their portfolio company boards. Such “Portco” boards consist of directors who are “thickly informed,” “heavily resourced,” and “intensely interested.” Bringing such “empowered directors” to public company boards could facilitate evolution of the public company board model in response to dramatic changes in the corporate business environment. The authors also suggest possible routes for implementing Board 3.0, including the enlisting of PE firms as “relational investors” that would have both capacity and incentives to engineer changes in board structure.