Prof. Andrew Chambers has always had a foot firmly in the business school world and the business world – both in leadership capacities. He was Dean (CEO) of the leading Cass Business School, London. At Cass he taught a highly acclaimed double module on organisational behaviour (including leadership) to 200 executives.
In the business world he has been a board member of a FTSE250 financial institution and advised the House of Lords in the UK, and a number of charities and private companies. He also chaired the board of a fast-growing software company and had served under good and bad chairs of boards, observing what has made them successful or not. In this interview, he speaks on how leaders can stimulate effective board governance in prosperity and in turbulent times. Excerpts:
Tell us about TEXEM
These Executive Minds (TEXEM) pride themselves on their ability to customise programmes for their clients and TEXEM have a deep understanding of Africa. Also, TEXEM and its world class faculty partners have a very good grasp of contextual realities of operating in developing countries. Those developing countries which may be ahead of Africa (in some cases) have similar features vis-à-vis fragile institutions, limited infrastructure and the huge size of government. TEXEM’s forthcoming programme Stimulating Effective Board Governance in Volatile Times and in Prosperity would be delivered by me and Prof. Rodria Laline, Visiting Professor of Harvard at Intercontinental Hotel, Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, on the 15th– 16th November, 2017. (For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://texem.co.uk/programmes/stimulating-effective-board-governance-in-volatile-times.html )
What role does the board play in today’s business?
If you asked a chief executive ‘What is the most important team in the business?’ it is likely that the answer would be ‘the top management team’. Indeed, many board members might agree. Yet the board itself can make all the difference to whether the organisation succeeds, succeeds spectacularly, or fails – not least in turbulent times. Of course, some of the top management team are likely to be members of the board, along with some non-executive directors. But their role on the board is different from their management role.
The board sets the long-term direction of the organisation and oversees that the executive is implementing the direction set. It is the board’s responsibility to give the executive the resources and encouragement needed to implement the direction set. ‘The direction set’ includes the strategic plan, the policies of the board, and not least the values and culture of the business. Sometimes it will be necessary for the board to engineer changes within the top management team. There are too many boards that fail to make a difference and in those cases the top management teams will be left top their own devices.
What necessary skill sets should a director possess?
There is no room for passengers on a board. Directors should be selected because they bring to the board essential skills the company needs at that level. Before accepting a board appointment, you should ascertain why you are being invited, and be satisfied that you will be able to bring those skills to play. It may be a technical skill set that the board needs – such as finance, HR, law, marketing and so on. The board needs to have amongst its members the ability to understand the principal technical skills that the business depends upon at the executive level, and so it is likely that the non-executive board members will mirror these skill sets. Some boards pair off each of their non-executive directors with a senior executive whom the NED ‘shadows’ – as a shoulder to cry on (as it were). The board expects the NED shadow to pay particularly close attention to any matters that come to the board from the executive being shadowed.
However, it is certainly not just a matter of technical skills that the board needs. Each director should have a robust personality capable when necessary of taking an independent line around the boardroom table when necessary. Board that function well work cohesively as a close-knit team, so directors need to be good team players. Every director needs to be well-organised, so as to be thoroughly prepared for board and board committee meetings, and to have a good attendance record. Board diversity is coming through strongly as not just a social good but ion the best interests of companies as well.
What would be the benefit of this programme to a director?
In general terms, the programme will give a director an unparalleled opportunity to take stock of leading board practice. Participants will acquire many ‘key takeaways’ to apply within their own organisations in order that their boards, their individual directors and their top management teams can be more effective. Not often do directors have the opportunity to stand back, reflect and recharge their batteries in a very congenial setting. The emphasis, though not exclusively so, is on directing and managing in turbulent times of crisis. Even the most experienced of directors will welcome the brainstorming opportunities that this conference will provide. It is hard to overstate the value of networking with the conference’s leaders and participants: being a director can be a lonely challenge, and an event such as this will be a thoroughly inspiring experience.
Do you think the intellectual advantage of Texem’s forthcoming programme is meant for just board members?
Definitely not just for board members and chairs of boards – for aspiring board members too and for those who serve boards. New directors need to ‘hit the ground running’ as they are appointed for limited periods of time and can’t afford to take time to get up speed. You are unlikely to be invited to join your first board unless you can demonstrate that you understand what it is all about!
Boards depend on those who provide services to boards – such as company secretaries, external and internal auditors, chief risk officers, legal counsels, finance heads – and so on. There’s no doubt that those parties will benefit from the conference, by developing their appreciation of how to serve boards effectively and by debating with the conference leaders and other participants about meeting today’s challenges.
Then we should not overlook the growing army of corporate governance specialists working for legislators, standards setters, regulators, investment institutions, academic institutions, professional bodies and so on. Everyone present will benefit from their insights and inputs – and vice versa.
What benefits are attached to attending the programme on effective board governance?
Apart from what I have already said, let’s take a closer look at what we plan to cover over the two days of the conference. We will examine board structure and board processes – with a view to understanding what works well in good and bad times. We drill down in depth about leadership – leadership of the board and the board’s leadership of the organisation. Leadership is always so important – whether during a downturn or a recovery and upturn – but requires different approaches at different times.
We will explore how boards can get the assurance they need, and ensure they are getting the information they need, on time and transparently. In practical terms, we need to understand the dynamics of board decision making – and so we will cover that as well.
I have already said that we will be spending time debating what makes a director effective and what makes a board effective.
In all of this, we will be slanting our coverage to the context of a recession, to other particularly challenging times and to leading in a crisis.
How would you advise board members to progress in this present economic situation?
Attend this forthcoming programme with TEXEM, scheduled to come up on the 15th – 16th of November in Lagos! Laughs. There is a lot to be unravelled, but let me say this, those who have been around long enough, have seen it all before – though we should be cautious about jumping to the conclusion that history repeats itself! What experience teaches us is that the future is uncertain: indeed, perhaps the only certainty about the future is that present trends will not continue uninterrupted. So, business people and company directors should keep calm and take a long view. In the short term, be especially vigilant to look for opportunities to prosper. Weed out waste and inefficiency to safeguard the business now and to position the business to exploit the upturn which will surely come. Ask yourself where the future opportunities are most likely to be, and decide what you need to do to be well-positioned to exploit those future opportunities when they materialise. Then do it!
What are the challenges you think you can address in the forthcoming programme.
I’ll tell you what I think are the biggest challenges that boards face. We will be addressing these and others too. I pose them here as a series of questions. They include:
How can a board be really effective at making a positive difference?
How can the board’s chair lead the board well?
How can boards be sure they know what is really happening within their business?
How should boards engage in deciding future direction and strategy?
How can the board lead the chief executive?
What determines whether the board receives high quality information?
What does effective leadership amount to in times of crisis?
How can directors be developed to become more effective?
Why is risk management important, and how should we do it?
How can we make sure we have a long-term perspective, when the short-term is so important too?
Whose business is it?
Is innovation the key to future success?
and so on …
Does Nigeria have potential of a better economic situation with the board member’s attendance at the programme?
Nigeria is all about potential. Knowing how to manage this potential for superlative results is the main focus of this programme. Nigeria has huge potential. Potential so far hardly tapped. There are macro societal issues to be addressed. Other than that, realising Nigeria’s potential depends on the competencies, energies, commitment and leadership of myriad individuals.
Chief among these are Nigeria’s executives and Nigeria’s directors. The more professional Nigeria’s board members become, the closer we will get to achieving Nigeria’s potential. This conference is designed to make Nigeria’s directors more professional. Of course, it is a journey without end. No nation’s potential is ever arrived at; there is always a new horizon in the distance.