Distracted directors: Why won’t Walmart’s leaders focus on Walmart?

Last May, in the days leading up to Walmart’s annual meeting/extravaganza, the New York Times observed that Walmart lead independent director Jim Breyer, a partner at venture capital firm Accel Partners, was severely overextended, raising concerns about his commitment and ability to meet his directorship responsibilities. On top of his work at Accel, he was a director at five public companies, four of which were experiencing major scandals or troubles. Last spring, proxy advisory firm Pension & Investment Research Consultants even recommended that Walmart shareholders vote against re-electing him, dryly stating: “There are concerns over his aggregate time commitments.”

Breyer will be leaving the Walmart board in June, but other Walmart directors seem to be taking a cue from him:

  • Marissa Mayer: Since she became a Walmart director, she was named CEO of Yahoo! and handed the monumental task of making the company relevant again. She also has joined the board of wireless product maker Jawbone and the Executive Council of TechNet. Outside the corporate world, she is continuing her roles on the boards of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Ballet, and the New York City Ballet.
  • Tim Flynn, who led accounting firm KPMG through its recovery from a tax-fraud scandal, joined the audit committee of the Walmart board last summer as the company attempted to shore up its corporate ethics bona fides in the wake of bribery allegations. Flynn is also a director of JPMorgan and a member of that board’s Risk Policy Committee, and as such, is likely rather busy with the ongoing fallout from the London Whale scandal.  On top of that, Flynn is a trustee of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

It’s understandable that Walmart directors are in-demand leaders, and it’s unrealistic to expect directors to have no other outside commitments. But given the multitude and depth of Walmart’s problems—federal investigations, executives leaving, labor troubles in stores and in the company’s supply chain, even failing at retail basics like having enough workers to put merchandise on the shelves and help customers—shareholders, Walmart associates, and shoppers should expect fixing Walmart’s problems to be a priority for its directors, not just another entry on a LinkedIn profile or biography.

What do you think?