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Business – Satyam board hailed from heights of business and academia

James Fontanella-Khan

Satyam’s independent directors were among the most respected and renowned in India, as they covered key political, academic and corporate roles on the subcontinent and internationally.

Mangalam Srinivasan was appointed as an independent director of Satyam in July 1991. An acclaimed academic and management consultant, she was one of the first women to be invited as a fellow to Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs and is an adviser to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Apart from her academic and business career, she has played key roles in several governmental organisations. Ms Srinivasan worked as an adviser to Indira Gandhi, India’s former prime minister, in the 1980s and was a consultant to the United Nations on corporate social responsibility. Ms Srinivasan was the first director to resign in December after the World Bank barred the Satyam from doing business with them and after the group’s botched attempt to buy two companies controlled by the family of B. Ramalinga Raju, the chairman.

M. Rammohan Rao, who chaired the controversial board meeting on the acquisition of the two companies, which was scrapped after investors revolted, was appointed as an independent director of Satyam in July 2005. He is the dean of the prestigious Indian School of Business at Gachibowli on the outskirts of Hyderabad, the city where Satyam is based. Before becoming dean of IBS, he headed the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, where many of the subcontinent’s most successful business people have been trained.

As an internationally recognised academic, Mr Rao also taught at the Stern School of Business, which is part of New York University.

He sits on several boards in India, including APIDC Venture Capital and Bharat Electronics. Mr Rao was also a member of the Reserve Bank of India panel formed to recruit a deputy governor. However, he was forced to resign from the panel as the Satyam scandal developed.

He resigned from Satyam’s board on December 29.

T.R. Prasad, who was appointed to Satyam’s board in April 2007, is one of two out of six independent directors who has not resigned from his post since the scandal broke in mid-December.

Before joining Satyam, Mr Prasad held a number of key roles in government. He was formerly cabinet secretary and member of the Finance Commission of India. He was also secretary of Industrial Policy and Promotion and chairman of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

The Satyam scandal is drawing comparisons with other mega-frauds in the past decade, writes Brooke Masters.

Enron, the energy company that had 22,000 employees and claimed revenue of nearly $100bn the year before its 2001 collapse, has become a byword for company fraud. The group had a complex accounts structure, under which huge debts were hidden behind fraudulent off-balance sheet partnerships. Its top executives were found guilty of insider trading and lying to investors. Ken Lay, chairman, died before sentencing. The conviction of Jeff Skilling, chief executive, was affirmed this week by a federal appeals court.

The 2002 bankruptcy of WorldCom, then the largest corporate insolvency, saw a simpler accounting trick: executives at the telecoms group reclassified operating expenses as capital expenditure, boosting the bottom line. Both Bernie Ebbers and Scott Sullivan, chief executive and finance chief, were jailed.

Parmalat, the Italy-based dairy company, imploded in 2003 after the discovery of a €14bn black hole in its books. It was the victim of a fraud involving deals all over the world that misled the market and investors about the value of the company.

Calisto Tanzi, Parmalat’s former chief executive, was last month jailed for 10 years.

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January 8, 2009 Posted by | FT | 1 Comment