High Drama in Dell’s Boardroom

Michael Dell stepped back into the CEO chair of his namesake company to save it from impending doom. But his efforts have failed, and it looks like Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) investors are ready for new leadership.

In this week's annual shareholder meeting, more than 25% of the voting shares withheld Dell's eponymous founder from re-election. While a 75% majority would be a crushing triumph in an election for public office, these board-seat votes don't work like that. Remember when Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) chairman and CEO Michael Eisner was forced out of those jobs? He "won" that vote with a 55% approval rating. Within days, Eisner was demoted from chairman to a plain old director; a year later he was gone.

Dell's vote of no-confidence isn't quite as strong as Eisner's, but it's in the next ballpark over. Not only that, but four other board members also racked up some bad numbers. To wit:

Candidate

% for

% Withheld

James Breyer, Accel Management partner

99.2%

0.8%

Judy Lewent, former CFO of Merck

99.1%

0.9%

Klaus Luft, advisor of Goldman Sachs

98.7%

1.3%

Alex Mandl, non-executive chairman of Gemalto

97.0%

3.0%

Shantanu Narayen, president of Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE  )

96.6%

3.4%

Ross Perot, needs no introduction

89.0%

11.0%

William Gray, head of public policy at a law firm

82.6%

17.4%

Sam Nunn, former Democratic Senator

82.4%

17.6%

Donald Carty, former CEO of AMR

81.7%

18.3%

Thomas Luce, career lawyer

76.3%

23.7%

Michael Dell

74.9%

25.1%

I don't know exactly why Luce, Carty, Nunn, and Gray scored so many "nay" votes. These names pop up often in CEO-picking roles like leading the nominating committee (Gray), serving on the management development committee (though chairman Breyer got much love), and leading the corporate governance committee (Gray again). Feel free to find a pattern here.

Does Michael Dell deserve a public tar-and-feathers routine? Since he became CEO again in 2007, Dell's sales have dwindled as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) continued to grow its leads as the largest computer builder in the world. Meanwhile, after an initial jump in 2008, margins have been shrinking across the board -- a sign of lax or inefficient operational management. Whatever special sauce Dell brings to the mix, the results are rancid. This is not a rerun of the second coming of Steve Jobs to Apple, for sure.

But hey, I've heard that there are a few open CEO positions in the electronics industry these days, and a corresponding bunch of former (or soon-to-be-former) CEOs looking for work. It's time for some executive musical chairs!

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Apple, Adobe Systems, and Walt Disney are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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