This muse is the second in an occasional series being written over the holiday period entitled Tough questions about boards. The first muse considered the question of board size. This one looks at board commitment, by asking the question:
The number of concurrent board appointments is a touchy topic for some directors, especially those who think in terms of turning and contributing 'on-the-fly'. How any director can expect to make meaningful a contribution without reading reports and thinking critically about the matters at hand well in advance of the actual board meeting is beyond me. I've written about this before. Then, I suggested that four concurrent directorships (of mid-cap publicly-listed or privately-held companies) was a reasonable upper limit for any director that hoped to make a meaningful contribution to board discussions, decision-making and, ultimately, company performance.
The feedback at the time suggested the commentary struck a nerve, and that change was coming. Now, two years on, I'm not so sure. A conversation with a colleague earlier this week leads me to believe not much has changed. The colleague recounted a conversation he had with a director who off-handedly said that ten boards was her working maximum. "Beyond that, things get a bit hectic", she apparently said. Imagine that: ten boards! She must have a big brain to hold the details of ten companies, and know something about time management that most of us don't. However, that director is not alone, if the stories in this article are any indication.
Why do boards and shareholders continue to ask busy people, including so-called celebrity directors, to join their boards when there are literally hundreds of highly competent director candidates (with sufficient space in their diary to learn the business well and make a meaningful contribution) available to choose from? Have they/we lost sight of why boards exist and of their role in value creation? On the evidence above, perhaps we have.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.