On mutual fund directors and multitasking…

July 14, 2009

We don’t spend a lot of time looking at mutual fund filings here at footnoted, mostly because there’s really only so many hours in the day. But yesterday was a big day for mutual fund proxies and one of our regular searches — we have about 150 of them running now — turned up an interesting tidbit that raises some serious questions about just how many boards any one individual can sit on.

The answer, at least when it comes to Lee A. Ault, 73, the chairman of the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, is 30. Actually, it’s more than 30. That was just yesterday’s filings. Ault’s name actually turns up in a whopping 371 filings — almost all of them mutual funds — just in the past year as an independent director.

We don’t mean to take anything away from Ault, who was the former Chairman of Telecredit. Nor do we mean to imply that serving on a mutual fund board is as hands-on as serving on a public company board. Indeed, Ault also serves on the boards of Office Depot (ODX) and Anworth Mortgage Asset (ANH). Still, even in an age of massive multitasking where some people follow thousands of people on Twitter, it’s hard to imagine any one individual being talented enough to adequately keep track of the doings at 350-plus funds and two public companies.

Ault is hardly the only one serving on dozens (or more) mutual fund boards here. One time last year, we did a similar search for Michelle Obama and turned up a bunch of results. But it seems as if someone at the SEC, which announced a series of new rules on proxy disclosure, needs to pay a bit more attention to the number of boards that some of these folks sit on. Especially if investors are really supposed to believe that these board members are independent.

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