Sunday, October 13, 2013

Taught by Ira Millstein, a Colossus in Corporate Governance

Prof. Ira Millstein
I knew my time at Columbia University would be memorable, but even before the end of A Term of the First Semester, I am having incredible encounters that would stick with me for a very long time, and one of them is meeting the Colossus of American corporate governance, Prof. Ira Millstein.

Prof. Millstein taught me Corporate Governance together with Holly Gregory. These Americans are in my view the epitome and repository of knowledge and competence on matters relating to corporate governance.

The two taught the subject with such depth and passion that left me wondering about the little I knew about the subject before the class began. I have heard about corporate governance and attended a couple of workshops on the subject, but I had until meeting Millstein and Gregory never thought it was far more important than it had been made to appear from all the other times I have heard about the subject.

Prof. Millstein's personality is literally conjoined to the subject. There is a Millstein Centre dedicated to him at Columbia and an annual Millstein Corporate Governance Forum instituted since 2006 at the Columbia Law School where he has been teaching for a long time now.

Prof. Millstein, is a man of character, with intent for greater good and an asset not only to the American people but to the world. Despite his advanced age, I suspect he must be in his 70s, is still alert and consistent and very logical in his line of argument.

During class discussions with other experts, (he invited various people with expertize in different aspects of corporate governance to lecture the class) and he knows when to interject with a comment or question. Never have I seen him for once drift off from the main issue on discussion.

Great people like Prof. Millstein gives hope to the world and humanity, especially in these trying times when the US government has been shut down, and in my own country, Ghana, the news coming out points to a gloomy economy, with the government being accused of not setting its priorities right. The Ghana government has also raised the cost of utilities and other taxes, because it says it needs to pay for the cost of producing the services, and it has a widening budget deficit - in 2012 the government run a deficit of almost 12 percent and as at the end of August 2013 the budget deficit stood at 7.3 percent.

Meanwhile, this same government has been reported to be literally throwing money at its cronies in very suspicious and almost phony national enterprises and projects. And while some of these transactions have been found to be phony, no one has been arrested yet or punished - a very bad example of corporate governance, and it appears we haven't seen the last questionable deal yet, many more are yet to be exposed by the few yet to be compromised journalists who are already coming under great pressure to accept huge gifts like some others have and keep mute.

In such difficult moments, Prof. Millstein gives hope to some of us, who have found ourselves on the side of the people. The majority who are voiceless, and depend on the established order, that is governments to ensure the atmosphere for their existence through the proper administration of public funds and individual investments.

The few in public office and in big business, who control so much of the world's wealth and resources, who swear to the laws of their countries to perform their duties with due diligence and in upholding the law, but fail to do so, not only hurt the people but are more likely to end up in ignominy.

Corporate governance is so important that its pursuance and enforcement should be done with all the passion and dedication necessary for attaining very high levels of efficiency, to protect lives and investments and ensure economic growth.

The ripples of the financial crisis that hit America and Europe in 2008 are still being felt, and the conducts that lead to that incident were clearly in violation of good corporate governance principles among which includes accountability.

Prof. Millstein has made an indelible impact on me, after I have taken his class. On the last day of the class, he organised a party for us and told us he will miss us. I know the class will miss him too. And I will from now on, never write or talk about corporate governance without making reference to Prof. Millstein. He is indeed a Colossus of corporate governance and America and the world owes him gratitude not only for his intellectual contributions to corporate governance, but also for his ethical stand on the issues. He is a good man and the world has been impacted to a large extent by his immeasurable contributions to corporate governance and now I have had the glorious benefit of learning at his feet.

According to his biography, Prof. Millstein who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1949 is the director of the Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School Program on Global, Economic & Regulatory Interdependence.

He is a senior partner at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and he has counseled numerous boards on issues of corporate governance.

His biography notes that he has counselled among others, the boards of General Motors, Westinghouse, Bethlehem Steel, WellChoice (fka, Empire Blue Cross), the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), Tyco International, the Walt Disney Co., the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Ford Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

He is a member of the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center and serves as pro bono counsel to the board of directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.

He was appointed by former Governor George Pataki as chairman of a New York State Commission on Public Authority Reform, which led to the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act, and he currently serves as chairman of the governor's task force overseeing implementation of the Act.

In addition to his active legal practice, Millstein is the senior associate dean for corporate governance and the Theodore Nierenberg Adjunct Professor of Corporate Governance at the Yale School of Management.

In November 2006, the School of Management renamed its corporate governance center the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance in honor of Millstein. He is the chairman emeritus, having served as chairman from 1999 to 2005, of the Private Sector Advisory Group to the Global Corporate Governance Forum founded by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He served as chairman of the OECD Business Sector Advisory Group on Corporate Governance from 1997 to 1998 and as co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Improving the Effectiveness of Corporate Audit Committees (sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers) in 1998–1999.

In 1997, he was appointed by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to the U.S.-Russia Capital Markets Forum Working Group on Investor Protection. In 1996, Millstein chaired the National Association of Corporate Directors' blue ribbon commission on director professionalism.

Prof. Millstein is a gift to humanity and I am grateful for the opportunity to be taught by him.

If you ever get to read this blog, Prof. Ira Millstein, remember that I will miss you too, and I will forever remain grateful that you have taught me.

Thank you.

PS: When I wrote this blog I only assumed Prof. Millstein would be above 70 years. I have later been told that he is 87 years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He's 87