That’s what independent directors need to learn to say according to two people I met this week—one, an independent director in several companies, the other a consultant at a multinational firm.
I didn’t say “No” to either of them because I agreed with them.
Given that at least some of the troubles at Satyam Computer Services Ltd were because those independent directors who were truly independent (yes, there was at least one who wasn’t, but that’s history now) didn’t have the courage to say “No” to promoter and chairman B. Ramalinga Raju, the ability to disagree is, obviously, a required one for independent directors.
Yet, it isn’t just at the board level that the ability to say “No” comes in useful.
It is something that has its uses in all walks of life.
I believe that journalists, editors in particular, can do worse than simply start from a “No” position.
This simply means assuming that no story idea is new or relevant, and that no one is speaking the truth. The onus is then on the other person/party involved to prove otherwise. To be sure, this may seem like an extremely cynical way of working, but it does ensure that writers stay on their toes and no one manages to get something untrue or one-sided into the paper (or television channel or website as the case may be).
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
I have had the chief executive officer of at least one company that has been at the receiving end of Mint’s brand of journalism tell me that this approach seems to assume that a person is guilty until proven innocent. The CEO, as one would expect from a man trying to spin something that couldn’t be spun to a paper that wouldn’t allow itself to be spun, was clearly exaggerating, but not by much.
Saying “No”, however, isn’t easy as the Tharoor-Modi-Kochi IPL controversy shows. I will resist the temptation to go into details, but if various people involved in the events that have been chronicled in great detail by newspapers and TV channels had said “No” at various times, I doubt things would have come to such a pass.
In the Indian context, it’s considered downright rude to say “No”. No one expects you to say it, and while almost no one does, some people have actually started doing so on email or phone.
The interesting thing, however, is that no one expects a “Yes” to be followed up with appropriate action.
Which means a “Yes” could mean either yes, or no.