You can talk about expensing stock options, financial SWAT teams and setting draconian jail sentences for executive malfeasance all you want. But these measures alone can't guarantee corporate accountability. What might is shareholder activism. We need to see major shareholders — institutions — demonstrate that they view themselves as owners, not pals of management. They could, for instance, mount an attack on poison pill provisions.

Because poison pills discourage hostile takeovers, they can insulate executives from unhappy shareholders or would-be buyers who believe they could use the assets more effectively. As one short seller I know says, “If your company is run by bad guys and you, the owners, want them out, it's virtually impossible to fire them.”

Shareholder rights guru Robert Monks argues in his book, The New Global Investors, that shareholders have become too complacent and have, in effect, abdicated their responsibilities and given CEOs too much power. It's time for investors, particularly funds that own huge blocks of stock, to step up and start paying better attention to the stewards of their companies. It's also time to let shareholders vote on poison pill provisions.

* * *

It's time again to conduct our annual sales assistant survey. This month readers who identified themselves as sales assistants when they filled out the Registered Rep. subscription card will receive a short survey. The survey is a critical component of our October cover story, in which we take a close look at sales assistants' responsibilities, career aspirations, salaries, bonuses and even job satisfaction.

Why? Because the role of a sales assistant is critical to your clients' financial health, your firms' health and, indeed, the health of the financial services industry in general. In our story, we will highlight their contributions. Since it is our mission to provide indispensable information to brokers so they can operate their businesses more effectively, what could be more important than telling brokers what their sales assistants want and need?

The more responses we receive, the better the final analysis will be. Naturally, your responses will remain confidential — and will be used for statistical purposes only. Please return the survey in the postage-paid envelope provided or fax both sides, toll-free, to 877-691-1401.

We'd like to hear from sales assistants' bosses, too. Tell us why your assistant is indispensable. We will review all the submissions and profile a few outstanding people in the October issue.

We thank you for your support. Drop us a line with your comments at: 249 W. 17th St., New York, N.Y. 10011-5300. Or email us, dgeracioti@primediabusiness.com. Publisher Rich Santos can be found at rsantos@primediabusiness.com.