Is the diversity discourse that has pervaded board and shareholder discussions in recent years showing signs of maturing? It seems to be. Thankfully, most correspondents have moved past blunt claims—including that the presence of <diversity variable> leads directly (i.e., causative) to increased firm performance. While researchers have demonstrated that the presence of women on boards, for example, has been associated with more civil language and higher levels of engagement and critical thought, direct links to firm performance remain elusive. The reality is far more subtle: many underlying factors affect performance—some occurring inside the boardroom and some outside.
While progress is being made, concerns over the motivations of 'diversity' proponents remain. Is the goal to achieve increased board effectiveness (however that might be measured), or is a political or social agenda being played out? The challenge of selecting the 'best' company directors is far too important to be left in the hands of those with political or social agendas. I know several white male directors (all of known are highly qualified and eminently suitable as company directors) who have been told they do not meet notional diversity criteria.
How should directors be selected? One option might be to base your decision on guidance provided by Warren Buffett (see Berkshire Hathaway's 2006 Annual Report):
In selecting a new director, we were guided by our long-standing criteria, which are that board members be owner-oriented, business-savvy, interested and truly independent. I say “truly” because many directors who are now deemed independent by various authorities and observers are far from that, relying heavily as they do on directors’ fees to maintain their standard of living.
Charlie and I believe our four criteria are essential if directors are to do their job – which, by law, is to faithfully represent owners. Yet these criteria are usually ignored. Instead, consultants and CEOs seeking board candidates will often say, “We’re looking for a woman,” or “a Hispanic,” or “someone from abroad,” or what have you. It sometimes sounds as if the mission is to stock Noah’s ark. Over the years I’ve been queried many times about potential directors and have yet to hear anyone ask, “Does he think like an intelligent owner?”
Enough said, don't you think?
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.