| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Jan 10 Robert Monks has been on a
25-year mission to make an obdurate corporate America mend its
He has hounded Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) to split the role of
chairman and chief executive into two jobs -- to no avail. And
Sears (SHLD.O) sued him for trying to get a list of the
retailer's shareholders in the early 1990s, when he was
campaigning for a seat on its board.
Now, Monks lays out how to address the power of
corporations in his book "Corpocracy" (Wiley, $29.95), his
ninth on the subject of corporate governance, which was
published on his 74th birthday last month.
"It's to start the pendulum swinging," he said in an
interview. "But I can't tell whether it will swing far
To be clear, Monks does not oppose capitalism. He wants
companies to succeed, just not by abusing their power. His
fight is for efficiency and corporate behavior that the general
population can live with.
In a recurring fantasy, he dreams the next U.S. president
will sit down with cabinet members, spell out the duties of
companies and demand that government spending be used to enforce
And he would like to repeal a 1978 decision by the U.S.
Supreme Court allowing corporations to make contributions to
influence the political process.
New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston takes a similar
tack in his new book, "Free Lunch" (Portfolio, $24.95), which says
the wealthy, including big corporations and their CEOs, use the
U.S. government to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone
Johnston argues that, under the guise of deregulation, a
whole new set of regulations has quietly thwarted competition,
depressed wages, and rewarded misconduct for the benefit of a
FEW PHILOSOPHER KINGS
According to Monks, CEOs should be more like Frank Blake of
Home Depot (HD.N), whose compensation is based on creating
shareholder value. Blake's predecessor, Robert Nardelli, stepped
down in January with a $210 million exit package despite poor
stock performance during his six-year tenure.
Monks also praises Jeff Immelt at General Electric (GE.N),
but laments that too few other CEOs say anything that is
"almost worthy of philosopher-king status."
Monks is an unlikely shareholder activist. Born into a
privileged Boston family that traces its line to before the
Revolutionary War, he counts Ned Johnson, the billionaire owner of
Fidelity Investments, as a friend.
He took up corporate governance after stints as chairman of
money manager Boston Co and CEO of energy company C.H. Sprague
Over the years, he has had some victories and some memorable
At Exxon Mobil's shareholder meeting in 2003, Monks told Lee
Raymond that, as head of Exxon Mobil at the time, he enjoyed fewer
constraints on the exercise of power than the leader of any G7
And, in "A Traitor to His Class," a book about Monks, author
Hilary Rosenberg recounted the effect of an advert Monks ran,
which showed a silhouette of the Sears board under the words
A few years later, according to Rosenberg, Campbell Soup Co
(CPB.N) CEO David Johnson displayed a copy of the ad during a
presentation and said: "This is what keeps me honest. I would
hate for this to happen to me."
(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Eddie