Directors’ College: 20 Years of Executive Ed

The 1994 brochure for the first Directors’ College at Stanford Law School articulated the challenges facing U.S. directors and senior managers pointedly“Executive compensation is under microscopic scrutiny. The risk and expense of litigation keep mounting, and health care reform threatens to impose new costs on employers. Meanwhile, you face unrelenting pressure to keep your stock price high, and analysts nip at your heels for information that could make you liable for claims of fraud or insider trading. Welcome to the executive suite!” Today’s challenges are much the same as they were when Joe Grundfest,  JD ’78, W.A. Franke Professor of Law and Business, launched the program, building it into the nation’s leading venue for the continuing professional education of senior executives and directors of publicly traded corporations.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice at Directors’ College 2014 (Photo by Josh Edelson)

“Being a director of a publicly traded corporation isn’t as easy as many people think,” says Grundfest. “You are bound to be second-guessed, called upon to make difficult judgment calls, and criticized almost without regard to what you do. Navigating a responsible course in this sort of environment requires a significant amount of knowledge, judgment, and skill, and that’s what the program is all about.”

Grundfest continues to co-direct Directors’ College, an intensive two-day program that delivers “tools for executive survival,” with senior executives and directors from large, medium, and small companies attending. It is a serious enterprise, co-taught by leading academics, business leaders, practitioners, and regulators, with the emphasis on practical lessons and corporate governance.

And the keynotes have been as impressive as the attendees: Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state; Marc Andreessen, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and director of Facebook and HP; Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo! and director at WalMart; Mary Jo White, chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Leo E. Strine, Jr., chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court; Meg Whitman, CEO of HP and former CEO of eBay; Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle Corp.; Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck & Co and director of Exxon Mobil Corporation; and Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix and director of Facebook. The list goes on.

Now part of the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford, Directors’ College is also international. Since 2011, it has expanded to include one-day programs in destinations such as Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, and Mexico. The 21st annual Directors’ College will be held June 21-23, 2015, at Stanford.