After two particularly rough months of scandal at News Corp., two of its independent directors are stepping down. On Friday, News Corp. announced that Thomas Perkins and Kenneth Cowley are both resigning from the company's board. The media conglomerate has nominated James Breyer of Accel Partners as a replacement.
Perkins, thought to be the most truly “independent” member of the company’s board, which is stacked with old Murdoch flunkies, has served as a director for News Corp. since 1996. An early Silicon Valley investor, he founded the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and bought 20 percent of Google in 1999 for $25 million. He was said to be one of two board members considering a rebellion of sorts against Murdoch.
Unlike Perkins, Cowley has a long professional history with Murdoch. He served as News Corp.’s director of Australian operations for 16 years and has been sitting on its board for over three decades.
These resignations could signal a different attitude from the independent directors than the one expressed on July 20 in a statement in which they collectively stated they were “shocked and outraged” by the events surrounding the News of the World phone hacking scandal. In that statement, the independent board members stated: “We are united in support of the senior management team to address these issues. In no uncertain terms, the Board and management team are singularly aligned and committed to doing the right thing.”
News Corp. is hoping Breyer can now fill these vacancies. He is a partner in Accel Partners, a global venture capital firm. He is known for his internet, technology, and media investments, including Facebook, and his experience in that area would make up for the void left by Perkins' departure. And he's not a stranger to corporate boards: He currently serves as a director of Wal-Mart, Dell Inc., and Facebook.
Yet anyone hoping that Breyer might be an arbiter of change on the News Corp. board will be sorely disappointed. In 2011, he only attended 64 percent of Dell board meetings and had 41 percent of Dell shareholder votes withheld from his reelection to the board due to his poor attendance record – not exactly a picture of good corporate governance.
On Breyer's nomination to the News Corp. board, Greg Ruel, a research associate with corporate governance research provider GovernanceMetrics International, said, "It doesn’t seem like a significant change to the [News Corp.] board. There’s not really any indicator that its not another Murdoch handpicked director." Regarding Breyer's board track record, Ruel said, "He’s already on the outs with Dell shareholders, so its difficult to see what sort of positive impact he would have on News Corp.’s board…I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s window dressing, but its not an impactful board addition. It seems more like another go-with-the-flow sort of director who isn’t going to shake anything up or help to uncover what’s going on at News Corp."
Breyer will stand for election to the board at the News Corp. annual meeting in October.