If the board is – arguably – the most important structure in an organization, shouldn’t we give it more attention?
Bite Size Management thoughts by Dr. Constantine “Dino” Kiritsis, Founder StudySmart & ICDE, PwC Academy
Many Finance, Audit and Accounting professionals support and participate in Boards of Directors and/or committees, mainly because of their know – how and experience in the sensitive area of dealing and understanding finance and accounting. Many former CFO’s, Audit partners and experienced Finance Professionals from banks actually are among those highly recommended by headhunters and nominations committees. However, in a fast moving “compliance oriented” world it is imperative to understand one’s role in a board and my experience suggests we need to ensure those participating in boards have what it takes to get the job done. This area is untapped in terms of training. In – arguably – the most important institutional framework of a company (the board, especially if listed) the composition, skills, relationships, diversity are – in most cases – not based on the benchmarks required.
The recent scandals around the world (VW, Theranos, Boeing, Airbus, Follie Follie and many others) highlighted this issue. Board members need to be educated as to what is expected of them to understand the peculiarities of the company and their role. It takes a different skillset to be an effective board member, an effective committee member and especially an effective non - executive director. From my experience, I am not sure if we have realized that in many listed companies around the world, 70% of board composition and committees is comprised of non - executive directors (on average), meaning people that do not work for the company on a day – to - day basis. Independence, integrity, accountability, transparency, honesty, responsibility and professional competence are a ‘must’ at this level.
Board and committee participants need to understand what’s at stake. Being a board member is one thing but being effective is another. Furthermore, being a board member requires continuous training and upskilling. It also needs to be diverse in a ‘real’ sense. Goldman Sachs announced in 2020 that they won’t take companies public if they have all male boards. But diversity is not only about that. It means expertise, background, age and a number of other things. A board is a team and a team needs teamwork. It is one thing to follow the law about board composition and tenure and another to really assess a truly effective board.
If purpose, vision and strategy start at the top, why don’t we give it more attention? How positive are board members to training and development? How positive are they to being certified as board members? Maybe we should think about this. Let’s all remind ourselves of the Lehman Brothers story: It consisted of ten people, of whom nine were retired, four were over 75 years of age, and only two had experience in the financial industry (Williams, 2010). It would be interesting to analyse our boards in Greece. As more non - executive board members will be required within the next 5 – 10 years in Greece (and globally), it is imperative that we all understand their importance. Investments and investor confidence will eventually count more on board effectiveness, its non - executives, its composition and - who knows - maybe on ‘how many board members are certified”.