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'Lakshmi Mittal joining Goldman Sachs could raise questions'

July 07, 2008 18:50 IST

The appointment of billionaire steel tycoon Lakhshmi Mittal to investment banking giant Goldman Sachs' board as an independent director could raise some questions, given his non-financial background, a media report said on Monday.

Goldman Sachs had late last month announced appointment of Mittal, estimated to have a net worth of over $50 billion and CEO of the world's largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal, as an independent director effective June 28.

British daily Financial Times said in a report on Monday that 'multi-billion dollar losses have left investment banks under pressure to refresh their boards and hire more directors with a financial background. But the debate has been complicated by Goldman Sachs' decision to appoint Lakshmi Mittal, the mining magnate, as an independent director last week."

Mittal will serve on the Audit, Compensation and Corporate Governance and Nominating Committees of the Board and would take the Goldman Sachs' board strength to 13 directors, including 10 independent directors.

While noting that Goldman might be the Wall Street bank under the least pressure to change its governance or management model, given the relatively small writedowns suffered in comparison to its rivals during the credit crunch, the report said: "At a time when Goldman's  rivals are trying to copy the formula of its success, its decision to put an industrialist rather than a banker on to its board could be influential."

Announcing Mittal's appointment, Goldman Sachs Group Chairman and CEO Lloyd C Blankfein had said: "Lakshmi Mittal has reshaped a global industry and, in the process, has engineered new modes of production, identified unrealized value and sparked remarkable growth."

"He has a keen understanding of the global economy, having operated in virtually every corner of the world. Lakshmi's experience, judgment and independent thinking represent an important addition to our board of directors, and will be of tremendous value to our people, our shareholders and our clients," Blankfein noted.

The FT report said Mittal would be expected to attend five or six Goldman board meetings a year, each of which can span up to three days.

The report added that Citigroup has recently said it was looking to strengthen its board with directors with financial acumen, while Royal Bank of Scotland has come under pressure to hire independent directors from the banking community and Swiss banking giant UBS also said last week that four of its directors were leaving.

"However, there are practical limits to a bank's ability to recruit board members with recent banking experience, as  conflicts of interest make it impossible to hire a serving chief executive from another bank," it said.

The report quoted one unnamed Wall Street executive as saying: "It's simply very difficult to get good people to sit on boards of public companies - especially financial services companies."

It further quoted a person familiar with the circumstances surrounding Mittal's appointment as saying that "one of the steel tycoon's main attractions was that he is the type to challenge other board members."

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