What's the difference between the average corporate board and a retirement home? If age is the measuring stick, then not a lot apparently. This article suggests that both are populated by people of advancing years. While it's easy to jump on any number of bandwagons (employment, ageism, relevance, promotion of younger people), there is probably more value to be gained by digging a little deeper to try to understand what impact 'advanced average age' might have on business performance.
Older directors can be beneficial in a boardroom environment, because age brings experience and wisdom, both of which are thought to be necessary for the making of good decisions. However, this view assumes that directors are actively engaged in the work of the board—an assumption that is far from universal in practice. In contrast, boards comprised primarily of older directors can be a hinderance to decision-making and business performance if the directors lack energy and focus; if their cognitive skills are weak; or, if they are not appropriately engaged in the work of the board.
The relationship between diversity and financial performance has not been convincingly established. However, I suspect that if shareholders actively seek to appoint a mix of younger and older directors to their boards they will experience better returns in the long run—but only if directors are competent and engaged. A diverse set of competent directors who are actively engaged in the work of the board is more likely to identify a broader range of strategic options and debate issues more vigorously than a passive, homogenous board. While decisions may occur more slowly (while options are considered and the debate occurs), they should be of a higher quality. And if high quality decisions are implemented well, then improved business performance is a likely and realistic outcome.
Age is probably just an indicator, another one of those blunt sticks that I mentioned recently. A better question for shareholders to consider is whether their directors are engaged, competent and committed to the cause.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.