'Trapper John,' corporate director: in memoriam: Wayne Rogers played an important role in the boardroom as he did on the TV screen.
Rogers, in addition to his acclaimed theater, television, and film roles, is a successful entrepreneur, businessman, and corporate director. He is chairman of Wayne M. Rogers & Co., an investment management firm. Among numerous real estate and business ventures, he serves as chairman of Kleinfeld, the wedding dress emporium in New York, and chairman of Stop-N-Save LLC, which owns and operates convenience stores.
You could say the "M*A*S*H" alum is something of a renaissance man; his interests and talents are that varied. He recently returned from a conference of academics discussing the biology of virtue, much of which focused on neuroeconomics and experiments in trust. Rogers likes what he learned--that out of trust comes virtue, and that man is genetically inclined to trust.
It's that very sentiment that most engages him about board service. "That interaction of being trusted gives me a sense of purpose, a sense of worth," he says.
There was a time that confidence was tested. A few years ago Directors & Boards spoke with Rogers about his decision to remove himself from all but one of his board appointments.
"The reason is the liability," said Rogers at the time. "Directors are increasingly held responsible for the decisions of management. If you don't have the time to actively serve and devote that kind of time to actually what's going on in the company you can be held liable. Every now and then something happens in the company, and management isn't forthright and doesn't tell you. Shareholder suits are sufficiently scary to me."
In 2006 he put aside his fears and skepticism to join the board of Vishay Intertechnology Inc., a global manufacturer of semiconductors and components headquartered in Malvern, Pa. Why now? In meeting Dr. Felix Zandman, Vishay's founder and chairman, Rogers found someone who he judged to be morally and ethically sound. He did his due diligence by researching the company, liking what he saw in its management and board. He was appreciative of the way the business was being run. What's more, executives were not overpaid; they were measured, and rewarded, for performance. Bottom line, there was a foundation of trustworthiness.
That's not always the case these days, as seen in some of the abuses in executive pay that came to light in 2006. It's an issue Rogers has strong opinions on.
"If you said to a CEO, 'We are going to pay you this egregiously large salary if you're successful, but we're going to penalize you if you're not,' that would be fine," he says. "But all of this backdating of options so they are guaranteed to make money--it's outrageous."
As he sees it, the question comes down to whether the directors of a company are independent, true representatives of the shareholders, or handpicked to further the CEO's interests. Rogers believes the majority of businesses probably don't have abusive practices. He compares those companies that do to today's workings in the movie business, where studios are run to make money not for the shareholders but for themselves, which Rogers says is a far cry from the golden era.
"In the old days in Hollywood when Jack Warner ran Warner Brothers and Harry Cohn ran Columbia Pictures and those moguls owned their own companies, it was different," he says. "They cared about building the company because they were the company."
Ed. Note: Well known for his prominent role as Trapper John in the 1970s TV series "M*A*S*H," Wayne Rogers also distinguished himself in the business world as a savvy entrepreneur and corporate director. He appeared in the pages of Directors & Boards twice: In 2007 in a profile written by Kelly McCarthy, and in 2011 with an excerpt from his book, Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success [AMACOM Books], Following are passages from both articles, starting with our 2007 interview. Rogers died on Dec. 31, 2015, at the age of 82.
My board chairman's harrowing story
One of the most amazing human beings I have ever met is also one of the most unusual businessmen I know. His name is Felix Zandman, and he is the chairman of Vishay Intertechnology. I serve on the company's board of directors as chairman of the strategic affairs committee and chairman of the compensation committee, not because it heightens my profile but because Felix asked me to serve, an invitation I consider a responsibility and an honor.
Felix's story is one of the most harrowing I have ever heard. He grew up in Poland. He was 15 years old when the Nazis destroyed the Jewish ghetto where he and his family lived and worked. Felix's family became separated, and he and his uncle, along with three others, sought refuge at the house of a Polish farmer who was Catholic and who had worked for Felix's family. Felix's family had once saved the life of the farmer's wife.
The farmer dug a pit beneath the floorboards of his house and hid Felix and the four others there. For a year and a half, they lived in the cramped, insect-infested hole. On two occasions, the Nazis came with dogs, but the farmer's wife had sprinkled pepper all over the floor so that the dogs could not pick up the scent. In that dark, cramped space, Felix's uncle taught him advanced mathematics to keep them from going insane.
By the grace of God, Felix and his uncle survived. But they soon discovered that his parents and sister had been found in a different hiding place and taken to the death camps.
I met Felix through my wife, Amy, who grew up in Philadelphia. I had known Felix for several years before he asked me to join the board of directors of Vishay. I knew nothing about the business--the manufacturing and distribution of analog switches, capacitors, diodes, inductors, resistors, thermistors. In fact, I did not even know what all of those were. I also did not have the time to commit. In the litigious world of today, a board commitment to a public company is a serious involvement. But I said yes. Why? Because of who he is. Because of his integrity, his amazing courage, and his intelligence.
You want to be associated with people of honor and integrity. It makes you a better person and a better businessman.
From Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success, copyright 2011 by Wayne Rogers and Josh Young, published by AMACOM Books (www.amacombooks.org). Reprinted with permission.
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|Publication:||Directors & Boards|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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