One of the memorable moments during the excellent Fortune Brainstorm 2006 conference (probably the best organized such gathering I’ve ever attended) came this morning during a panel about corporate America’s deservedly troubled image. And one reason that this was such a good session was that a journalist rose to the occasion.
The panel had four members, including Bob Nardelli, CEO of Home Depot, a man who has been hauling in beyond-extravagant pay and demonstrating almost pure arrogance with his employees and shareholders. His board, which overpaid him so absurdly, didn’t show up a the annual meeting, and Nardelli refused to answer direct questions, adjourning the “meeting” after a half hour.
I listened in amazement as he bemoaned our polarized society and called for good corporate governance. And like several others in the audience, I cheered when Norm Perlstine, a former top editor with the Wall Street Journal and the Time magazine empire, challenged Nardelli to justify himself given his record (including a Home Depot stock swoon while he’s been CEO, despite some actual accomplishments).
The CEO’s response was par for his course. He even went so far as to claim that he and his board thought the annual “to hell with shareholders” meeting was a brave experiment that, boo hoo, just didn’t quite work out.
Good for Fortune and company, not letting someone like this off the hook.