Facebook appoints ex-US Treasury official as lead director

Via Financial Times

Facebook has named Robert Kimmitt, a former deputy secretary of the Treasury under President George W Bush, as its lead independent director, the key board role tasked with holding founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to account. 

The world’s largest social network said on Thursday that it had appointed Mr Kimmitt, a business and public policy heavyweight who is currently serving as the senior international counsel at law firm WilmerHale, effective immediately. 

The long-awaited decision, announced nearly five months after previous lead independent director Susan Desmond-Hellmann stepped down, comes after Facebook’s board has lost a number of directors over the past year and the company has faced growing concerns over harmful content on its platform and the privacy of users. 

In addition to Ms Desmond-Hellmann; Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive; Erskine Bowles, Democratic political figure; and Kenneth Chenault, former American Express chief executive, have all stood down recently. 

Mr Chenault, currently the chairman of venture capital group General Catalyst, had clashed with Mr Zuckerberg over the company’s governance as well as his decision to allow political adverts to remain on the platform without being fact checked, according to a media report

On Thursday, Facebook announced that another board member — Jeffrey Zients — would not stand for re-election at the next annual meeting. Mr Zients said in a statement that he planned to devote more time to his private equity business.

Mr Kimmitt’s career includes multiple stints in government, including as the US ambassador to Germany. He has also been a managing director at Lehman Brothers and a member of six public company boards globally.

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As lead independent director, he will play a big role on the board as the key check on Mr Zuckerberg’s power and a conduit for the concerns of minority shareholders. Mr Zuckerberg controls the company through a special class of supervoting shares.

At Facebook’s last annual meeting, nearly 70 per cent of external shareholders backed a proposal for the introduction of an independent board chair, which would have even more clout than the lead independent director, though this change did not take effect due to Mr Zuckerberg’s majority voting power.

“I’m confident Bob is going to make our board and our company better,” Mr Zuckerberg said in a statement. 

Other appointees to the board this year include Tracey Travis, the chief financial officer of Estée Lauder; Nancy Killefer, longstanding McKinsey executive; and Drew Houston, the chief executive of Dropbox and a friend of Mr Zuckerberg.