We celebrate two seasonal rites with the July/August issue. As the season is summer, we wanted to provide directors with provocative reading as recommended by the best and brightest in the boardroom. In this era of headline aggregators, blogs and the 24-hour news cycle, the idea of gaining insight and perspective into boardroom issues from books seems almost quaint. And yet at the heart of the unusual and wide-ranging suggestions featured in “Summer Reading” lie infinite opportunities for learning, enrichment and sometimes sheer entertainment.
The other seasonal rite is that of the annual shareholder letter, recently composed by as many as 15,000 public companies to accompany their 2011 annual reports, and read assiduously by shareholders looking for insight into company performance and prospects. For our cover story, “Dear Shareholders,” our editorial team analyzed all available letters in the Fortune 200. Letters were screened for candor, clarity and conviction. We were also looking for some clue as to how the CEO’s or chairman’s personality drives the company’s fortunes.
Founders’ letters were in a class by themselves. Case in point: Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett. Each year, his annual letter is one of the most widely read—if it were a business publication, it would outrank magazines for readership and impact. It became the standard by which we judged all others. Buffett’s letter conveys a sense of ownership, deep knowledge and personality, which could be profitably appropriated by his C-suite brethren.
Moving down from his Olympiad heights, we were not quite prepared for the abundance of missed opportunities reflected in so many letters, even among the Fortune 200, but we were able to find 10 that outweighed all the others. Then there were those that were exemplary in unusual ways, and so we also chose a handful to exemplify special situations.
Finally, we did not ignore the nonprofit world, which also falls under NACD’s auspices. This led us to a real gem: Bill Gates’ letter for the foundation that bears his and wife Melinda’s names. As Buffett’s letter is to public companies, Gates’ letter is to nonprofits: in a class by itself and deserving of broad readership. Coupled with the other fine features in this issue, we encourage you to pull up a chair and enjoy.
Judy Warner is editor-in-chief of Directorship.com and NACD Directorship.