Corporate crisis: Drama on the big screen

Directors get to see a glimpse of a possible future

At the November National Association of Corporate Directors meeting, Colorado directors were treated not only to a presentation specific to their trade, but got a glimpse as well of a new trend in motion pictures — produced not by Hollywood, but by an international law firm headquartered in Chicago.

A Price Worth Paying?” was created by global corporate specialist Dechert LLP (, and though only 35 minutes, has all the bells and whistles of a professionally made movie you’d see in the theater, with all-star cast, award-winning director, piercing drama and high production values.

Touted as a “crisis drama,” the story follows a series of meetings and interactions between managers, directors and counselors of a fictitious company, Maartel International, focusing on the many mistakes that pile up when a crisis strikes. Dechert’s brilliant stroke of marketing lays out the risks and pitfalls of executive oversight amidst an international acquisition and existential legal threats – and just might get you thinking of hiring their firm before things start hitting the fan at your non-fictional company.

Dechert partner Joni Jacobsen flew in to Denver to take the NACD-Colorado chapter through the film, showing one segment at a time, then pausing after each part for a bit of audience reaction and interaction.

  • Part 1 lead to a discussion on the risks created by the structure of executive compensation packages, the quality of due diligence on acquisitions, the conduct of a board meeting, the responsibilities of independent directors and the role of the Chairman.
  • Part 2 provoked debate on whether Maartel’s directors and officers had responded appropriately to a serious whistleblower allegation and whether the scope, length and depth of the internal investigation was adequate; and whether the Audit Committee had sufficiently probed the surprisingly healthy results at year’s end.
  • With swirling revelations of corporate wrongdoing, Part 3 begged very interesting questions of what action, if any, should be taken against members of senior management, and who shared the most blame for what had gone wrong at Maartel.
  • Part 4 posed the inevitable and sobering questions relating to the consequences for companies, directors and officers where significant wrongdoing has been discovered and prosecuted.

The audience added to the education and entertainment, engaging with some lively personal experiences relating to the movie’s storyline. Most were impressed in general, and appreciated the reinforcement of the underlying theme and one of the most critical issues of corporate leadership: setting the tone from the top, and making sure that directors not only ask questions, but know what questions to ask and when. It was also a reminder of Colorado’s impressive director community, many of whom serve on boards across the country and around the world, and familiar with many of the problems and situations highlighted in the movie.

Chapter members left with the impression that it’s each director’s personal responsibility to learn their business, understand all situations and to build the knowledge base necessary to be able to ask the right questions. In addition, directors must have the courage to confront challenging issues and the wherewithal to withstand controversy in helping build success for their companies.

“A ‘Price Worth Paying?’ is a superb quality film which raises awareness of important issues facing a board in the most dramatic fashion,” said Alan Thompson, chairman of Hays PLC and former HSBC director. “It has been cleverly designed to provoke uncomfortable, but much needed, debate.”

Though written several years ago by Dechert partner Duncan Wiggetts, the short feature is gaining momentum and more attention. With recent front-page exposure in The Wall Street Journal, perhaps more companies will get the idea of making their own dramatic, entertaining and instructive movies. Why not? Theaters are still popular but lost their monopoly on distribution a long time ago. And, maybe there’s a greater market out there for perhaps a more serious business audience, a segment of the population more inclined to patronize this new form of entertainment instead of the next slate of zombie movies.

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