Wednesday, September 23, 2015

More Process Doesn't Mean Better Governance

I've been a presenter at governance classes at the University of St. Thomas Law School and at various professional association fora.  Every once in a while, there is a somewhat smug comment from a presenter about the 'superior' European corporate governance model, which consists of a management board and a supervisory board.

Well, here come the recent revelations about Volkswagen.  I know a lot about Volkswagens, having been an owner of a Beetle and several Rabbits, including a German built Diesel that got 50+ mpg during the era of high U.S. gas prices.  When they weren't in the shop with inexplicable model year problems, e.g. electrical system problems, fuel line problems, and ignition system problems, they were a joy to drive, real German fun for less than a BMW or Porsche.

Well, here is a link to the governance process at Volkswagen Group. Layering on more internal auditors, creating more process, and complicating financial reporting and notes to the financial statements cannot lower the risk of this kind of corporate value-destroying behavior which may have been implemented deep in the bowels of an engineering organization, but which must have had management consent at various levels.

Now, the Wall Street Journal speculates that the potential losses due to regulatory and judicial exposures in America and the EU could wipe out the firm's equity.  But, the truth of the matter is that strategic and executive mismanagement are also culprits, as they have been for years at America's own hapless General Motors.

The Jetta, is a car I often coveted.  I didn't see the value in its higher prices over the basic equivalent Rabbit/Golf platforms. However, the Jetta was just beginning to get traction over the far more bland Accords and Camrys.  Management made a decision to make the cars feel more like these cars by---wait for it--taking away the driveability of the car.  These seial changes, described in WSJ articles, are just as much to blame as this recent fiasco about engine management software designed to cheat EPA tests in the destruction of value.

Political forces, particularly in the sunsetting Obama administration will fillet out the coffers of Volkswagen for the benefit of client constituencies and for the benefit of the U.S. Treasury.

A CEO resignation isn't enough to fix this problem, and meanwhile VW can kiss its ambitions in the U.S. market auf wiedersehen for years.

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