An O.J. Backlash In The Boardroom?

THE O.J. SIMPSON verdict is making companies less inclined to name black directors. So says Richard Ferry, chairman of Korn/Ferry International, the world's largest executive-search firm. That would reverse an increasing African American presence in boardrooms. In May, a Korn/Ferry survey showed 31% of big U.S. companies had at least one black director--and 35% of the chairmen planned to add more.

Since Simpson's acquittal, though, Ferry says he detects a new attitude in the corner office. Ferry, whose firm handles about 60 director searches a year, now predicts "times when blacks under consideration for [a board] position will be passed over, based on what I'm hearing."

Why would chairmen snub African Americans having nothing to do with the Simpson matter? "I think [there's] a sense there has been an injustice here," says Ferry. "If [chairmen] are going to make a statement, this is the way. It's subtle, but meaningful of their views of the trial and the verdict. People are very angry."

One specialist in minority searches says she had noticed, before the verdict, a top-level mood change against affirmative action that the acquittal may have worsened. Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire of Diversity Search Partners says: "Corporations are not as intent on looking for senior executives who are minorities." But management consultant Freada Klein says the harsh reaction to the O.J. verdict is unfair: "I don't know what on earth that has to do with an individual who would be qualified to serve."