SKS Microfinance is the latest blow to India Inc’s corporate governance norms

by Sucheta Dalal for Moneylife-India, Ocotber 12, 2010.

This high-profile microfinance company has sacked its CEO, under a shroud of secrecy. The bigger question is whether these aggressive, for-profit organisations should be allowed to play havoc with the finances of the rural poor

A week after SKS Microfinance shocked the corporate world by sacking its CEO, the company’s image as the messiah of India’s rural poor is suffering from a steady erosion. One of the main reasons for SKS’s damaged public image is that the company’s board of directors and the glittering list of SKS shareholders have chosen to maintain a stunning silence over the way the CEO was sacked and also the swirling rumours regarding how the company was run.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has done well this time to react quickly and publicly in asking the company to explain its action. It has also done well to let it be known (through media leaks) that it is not satisfied with the answer. We learn that one reason for SEBI’s quick response could be the fact that before the IPO (Initial Public Offering), some of its shareholders had complained about a preferential offer to a select group, which was later dropped.
The silence of SKS Microfinance presents an interesting case study about perceptions of governance and accountability at the board level. While there is no indication of a financial scam like Satyam, here is another case, where neither a glittering list of internationally renowned corporate achievers (Vinod Khosla, NR Narayana Murthy) and top funds such as Sequoia as shareholders nor a board packed by representatives of private-equity funds, has been able to prevent controversial and confrontationist action without explanation.

Surely the board realises that unceremoniously sacking a CEO without explanation, is a different cup of tea from maintaining a dignified distance from Vikram Akula’s messy divorce and prolonged custody battle, details of which are splashed all over the Web. And if they were convinced that the CEO needed to be sacked within months of an IPO, they need to explain to the retail shareholders who are not as privileged. When asked, Mr NR Narayana Murthy sent me this text reply, “since the issue is in court, I would not like to comment on this. I am also not aware of what exactly happened for this result” (continue reading).



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