Several years ago, my once-reliable station car suddenly became harder to start than a fire with damp kindling.

Since my mechanical knowledge barely extends beyond an on-off switch or the correct direction for hot and cold water, I did the sensible thing and took it to the service center.

There, a portly service manager named Angelo told me “It looks like da sola-noid.”

I subsequently queried him no less than three times if his mechanics were positive the problem wasn’t the starter itself. He patted my shoulder with a pudgy hand and assured me of his crew’s diagnosis.

Angelo and I would meet up again less than 24 hours later when the car’s ignition let out a prolonged moan and I was left stranded at the train station on a freezing February night.

Imagine my surprise when Angelo amended his previous statement and told me that I now needed a new starter to complement the $300 I had just tendered for the solenoid.

Then imagine his surprise when I wrote a scathing letter to the higher-ups at Ford Motor Co., accusing the dealership of incompetence, which was later investigated.

My point was that if the car was having trouble starting, wouldn’t the first item of business be to, well, to check the starter?

My recall of that maddening experience was, curiously, triggered by the results of a recent survey on audit committees conducted by Big Four firm Ernst & Young.

In a poll of 176 audit committees over 11 industry sectors, the survey found that audit committees are actually spending less time on risk oversight, an odd finding considering the currently regulatory climate.
According to the E&Y survey, audit committees have spent 20 percent or less of their time on risk oversight.

The survey also found that more than 90 percent of committee members were over the age of 50 and that just 8 percent of the audit committees have more than one female member.

The latter are not exactly surprising findings, but those points are fodder for future columns.

The E&Y poll also found that only 18 percent of the participating companies had established a formal risk committee and only 20 percent were meeting with regulators to hash out any regulatory risk issues or establish best practices.

Now I’m certain that being a member of an audit committee entails a great deal of responsibility, and that risk oversight is just one component -- albeit a very large one considering the current compliance landscape and the pitfalls of shortchanging that responsibility.

It would be troubling if the E&Y study represents a microcosm of some larger sample of audit committee make-up and assignation of duties. If so, then maybe it’s time for top-down evaluations of audit committees to see just what they spend their time meeting about, and if the groups need to be revamped or require some stern reminders on exactly what they’re supposed to do and when.

There’s an upside to that reminder.

You can bet wherever he is, Angelo now knows the drill if a customer’s car has trouble starting.

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