Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) board of directors has taken some heat lately. Did board members handle Steve Jobs' health issues correctly? Should they push Apple into doing something with its gobs of spare cash, like paying dividends or buying something big? Avon Products (NYSE: AVP ) is under SEC scrutiny for possible bribery offenses overseas -- is CEO Andrea Jung a good choice as co-lead director and chair of Apple's compensation committee under these circumstances?
In any event, Apple is taking some action in the boardroom. Earlier this week, the company appointed longtime director Arthur Levinson as chairman of the board, taking the last position Steve Jobs held. The Genentech chairman and former CEO is already deeply enmeshed in Apple's affairs, having been co-lead director since 2005.
Moreover, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) CEO Bob Iger stepped into the boardroom as a member of the audit committee. This move keeps the strong ties between Disney and Apple that were created when Disney bought Pixar, making Pixar CEO Steve Jobs a Mouse House director and also its largest shareholder. Iger engineered that deal, and now he gets a whole new perspective on the Apple story.
In all, the moves serve to replace Jobs' job function and also fill his vacant board seat with an already-familiar face. It's hardly a huge shakeup -- more like reaffirming and cementing the structure that was already in place.
Nell Minow, the "CEO killer" of The Corporate Library, is not a big fan of Apple's signing bonuses and would probably like to see Jung's compensation committee getting a makeover. In her book Corporate Governance, Minow also sneers at the composition of your average board today: "the CEO, ten of his white, male, corporate friends, and one member who is some combination of female/minority/academic/former government official."
Apple's board is a bit smaller than that, with only eight members -- much like technology peers Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , and very unlike the more old-fashioned 12 members of IBM's (NYSE: IBM ) board -- but otherwise it fits that description to a T. And Iger's appointment doesn't change things at all.
So don't expect these moves to alter Apple's strategic direction or corporate governance dramatically. If you liked how Apple's board performed before, you'll probably still like it today -- and if you didn't, you still won't. Any actual changes such as the reinstated charity gift-matching policy will reflect more on Jobs' absence than on any new additions in the boardroom.
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