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Kleiner Perkins cofounder Tom Perkins describes his time on Hewlett-Packard's board as "an example of how a board of directors can really help management." But with that exception, he notes, corporate boards serve little purpose.

What does the board do? You meet at 8:30 a.m. and planes have to be caught around 1 p.m. An audit committee meeting can take an hour and you've got all the other committees. And then it's almost time for lunch and you have a few minutes to talk about competition, strategy, growth rate, succession, the future, fundamentally important stuff. And it tends to get scrunched into a very limited amount of time.

Then you board your 289-foot postindustrial three-mast sailing ship (a triumph of science, vision and money, according to 60 Minutes) and float away until the next grueling 4.5-hour session.