One aspect of boardroom reform that has not been fully explored is what should be an acceptable motivation for someone who seeks to serve as a director. Historically, directors have agreed to serve principally for the prestige and clublike atmosphere. Some have done it for the money - although this is unlikely the case for those directors that earn big dollars as officers at other companies.
At the recent BRT Roundtable on Corporate Governance, Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines explained that he joined Pfizer's board to enhance his ability to be an innovator - which in turn would benefit his employer. This is an honest and understandable answer - but does it serve the needs of Pfizer's shareholders to whom he now owes fiduciary duties?
Personally, I think you want directors motivated by precisely what motivated Raines -- i.e., healthy self-interest. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith famously remarked:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. [Book I, Chap.2.]
[In the course of conducting business, a business person generally] neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. [Instead, the business person] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. [Book IV, Chap. 2.]
Independent directors are not a panacea for the ills of corporate governance, as I have argued elsewhere, but independent directors motivated by a healthy concern for the self-interest do have considerable incentives to actively monitor management and to discipline poor managers. If the company fails on their watch, for example, the independent directors’ reputation and thus their future employability is likely to suffer. Those incentives are not perfect, of course, as demonstrated by the failures of independent directors at Enron and its ilk. But no motivation besides self-interest is more likely to elicit whatever benefits director independence can provide.