What makes an Effective Chair?

by Mary Francia, INSEAD IDN’s ambassador for the Americas and host of the referenced Chairmen event. 

I was thrilled to join fellow alumni last month in San Francisco for the opening of the INSEAD San Francisco Hub for Business Innovation. We had the privilege to inaugurate the Hub with the first Masterclass, featuring Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, co-director of the program ‘Leading from the Chair’ and author of  Leading the Board, followed by the panel ‘How to Be a Good Board Chair’, presented to an audience of directors, shareholders, CEOs, chairs and executives.

The discussion examined a variety of board practices, comparing European and American boards in the public and private sectors, in family firms, technology companies and startups, and looking at how types of board structures and duties can vary due to cultural differences. Below you’ll find highlights of our fantastic exchange between Stanislav Shekshnia, Dominique Trempont and Tommaso Trionfi – each of them experienced chairpeople of public and private companies – on what board chairs do, how they do it and what makes an effective chair.

What is the No. 1 challenge of board chairs?

Managing a “difficult” board member, where a problematic board member is seen as domineering, makes too much noise, too much room or does not listen. The interesting finding, however, was that a silent board member is actually the hardest challenge: how do you get a silent board member to contribute?

Who does the chair work for?

A chair leads the board and represents it in its relationship with shareholders and the CEO. But who does the chair work for? The company? Shareholders? Interestingly, we heard that – with few differences – the overwhelming response in Europe today is that the company is the principal – much as we’ve seen in the trend for stakeholders vs. shareholders.

What defines culture in a board?

Interestingly enough, it is not nationality or the country! Instead, in Europe it’s the ownership structure, the company lifecycle and the size of the board that defines cultural differences in boards.

The concept of ‘Empty Head’.

“Not knowing much about the industry of the board you chair” is a theme we carried from the class to the panel with Dominic Trempont and Tomasso Trionfi, and even beyond it via a e-mail discussion. If we agreed on the role of the chair, would it be better not to have an opinion?  Should we pursue a chair position in an industry that we do not belong to? Would it free us to focus more on our role?

So, what is the role of the chair?

It’s about enablement, and the board is not a team! Enable leadership. A chair must enable a board to work effectively as a team and make the collective decisions required – but that doesn’t mean a chair is there to make a team out of the board.

Who owns the materials and the concept of the ‘0 – 30 – 50 – 20 Rule’.

Listening to presentations in a board meeting takes up a lot of time – sometimes as much as 70% of a meeting. How does this encourage directors to prepare on a subject that they will listen to repeatedly or often in a meeting? In a useful board meeting the chair owns the materials and drives the 0-30-50-20 Rule – in which there are zero presentations! Guess what the other percentages are that drive aproductive conversation?  This is a critical insight as usually, material presented to a board is structured to get it to approve a proposal. This approach should incorporate the most valuable information for decision making.

What is the right way of working with the chair on a board?

The type of relationship with a CEO – and what defines it – is important. Should it be collaborative? One based on mentoring? An advisory capacity? We discussed how the chair role in a private board might differ from other institutions, and the outcome identified the role being driven by two scenarios:

1) The chair is the major shareholder and decision reside with that person.

2) The mix of shareholder ownership is dispersed and decisions are made by the board. The chair, in this case, enables conversations and effectiveness is vital, regardless of their percentage of ownership representation in the board.

The value of the chair in a technology company

The role of the chair is often fundamental to the core of the company DNA.  The Chair is the institutional memory of the company,safeguardingits mission and its culture. He or she can not be an “empty head.”

The challenges of the board chair at a startup

Very common or systematic, the role of the chair and CEO is often combined in startups. The recommendation is that when a board is created, the roles are split. The duties and legal exposure of a CEO and chair are different in the early stages of the company, and impact the thresholds from growth to failures – who the company serves, who it needs to protect and what it is liable for?

What makes a board effective?

Having a clear understanding of the board’s needs and a plan towards achieving them. For example:

  • What critical competencies the board should have and a process to measure against them.
  • The right diversity in the boardroom to enable fruitful discussions and capture a 360-degree view when evaluating opportunities and risk.

 

Diversity is not the only gender: an effective chair provides a nomination committee with a clear understanding of what kind of diversity they want to bring to a board.

In our conversation about the challenges of rebuilding a board towards gender diversity, a key challenge is the recruitment of female candidates, especially in California, where regulations exist that drive quotas for female participation. Our panel delivered a key message to nomination committees: change their view that a female CEO needs to be a qualified candidate, and be open to candidates in other C-level roles as well as partners in consulting firms. They see the business and have larger exposure. And to the corporations: build a larger pool of qualified female leaders with succession planning.

The critical attribute of an effective chair

What makes an effective CEO does not help as a chair. It was interesting that on American corporate boards with ‘one-tier’ structures in which the CEO/chair role is combined, there is often a lead director with a strong preference towards independent directors.

To conclude, this was such a vibrant discussion and everyone taking part learned so much from the lessons shared by the panel. Clearly, there are many more insights on this subject to unearth! Our next piece of research, capturing the practices of chairs across the Americas, commenced last month, and I’m excited to be involved in the program, looking forward to sharing and capturing its insights on this crucial topic with our clients.

by Mary Francia

Mary Francia she is INSEAD IDN’s ambassador for the Americas, and she engages the alumni on subjects of governance.  Mary was the host for the above referenced Chairman event.  She is a Partner in the Board Practice of Odgers Berndtson based in their Atlanta office helping boards with composition strategy and succession planning.

25 additional Board appointments at INSEAD Directors’ Network

March 12, 2020

Members Board & Corporate Governance Positions Announcement 1Q – 2020 

25 additional International Board appointments of INSEAD Directors’ Network members, totalling 238 with previously announced.

INSEADs International Director Network, IDN, is proudly sharing the recent appointments of board and corporate governance positions of our members, truly recognizing our members and the strength of our IDN network.

IDN members has been appointed to 25 new board positions in 15 countries, summing up to 238 position announcements since 2017.

IDN is a network of International Board Directors, where full membership is open to all INSEAD Alumni with appropriate directorship experienceand is automatic for Certified Directors (IDP-C) from INSEADs International Directors Program (IDP).

The aim of the IDN network is to facilitate contacts, share insights and experiences on international board topics and promote excellence in corporate governance.  

To date, IDP has been completed by 1302 participants, with 981 certified IDP-C/ IDBP-C directors, and our International Board Network IDN of INSEAD Alumni includes more than 1600 members.

IDN works closely with INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre, which undertakes cutting-edge research and teaching tailored to the needs of boards and international directors. It fosters a global dialogue on the challenges of corporate governance and leadership in an international context.

INSEAD Directors’ Network – Members New Board & Corporate Governance Positions 

IDN members – Certified IDP-C Board Directors

Stefan Buser – November 2019 & January 2020 – Non-Executive Chairman nexcellent AG & Board Member BE Electric AG (both Private, HQ Switzerland)

Margaret Clandillon – May & August 2019 and June 2019 – Non-Executive Director at Dara Aviation Finance Limited and Navigator Aviation DAC (Private, HQ Ireland) and at AASET 2019-1 International Ltd (Private, HQ Cayman)

Mary Francia – February 2020 – Board Member at OnBoard Inc (Private, HQ USA)

Allison Gaines – January 2020 – Board Director of AESC (the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants) (Professional Association, HQ USA)

Fennemiek Gommer – January 2020 – Non-Executive Director at Ridder Group (Private, HQ The Netherlands)

Louise Nicolin – January 2020 – Non-Executive Director at Optinova Group (Private, HQ Finland)

Gbenga Oyebode – March 2019- February 2020 – Board Member at Cleveland Museum of Art International Council f Collectors & Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (Private, HQ USA)

Helen Pitcher OBE – October 2019 – Independent Director at One Health Group Limited (Private, HQ UK)

Monica Porfilio – September 2019 – Observer at Grape Hospitatliy Holding S.A. (Private, HQ Luxembourg)

Mary Sue Rogers – January 2019 – Non-Executive Director at East-West Seed (Private, HQ Thailand) 

Steen Stavnsbo Jan 2020 – Non-Executive Director at ARoS Art Museum (Private, HQ Denmark)

David Surdeau – January 2020 – Chief Financial Officer at Marks and Spencer PLC (Listed, HQ UK)   

Marcia de Wachter – November 2019 – Non-Executive Director at MeDirectBank (Private, HQ Malta)  

IDN Members – Board Directors

Roy Ling – Dec 2019 – Lead Independent Director Sino Grandness Food Industry Group Ltd (Listed, HQ Singapore)

Martin McCourt – November 2019 – Non-Executive Director at Veridium ID Ltd (Private, HQ UK ) and at IDnow GmbH (Private HQ Germany)

Bruno Mercier – November 2019 – Board Member at Driscoll China (Private, China)

Etienne Haumont – May 2019 – Member Supervisory Board at Momentum Single Family Office (Private, HQ Luxembourg)

Nicolas Naudin – October 2019 – Non-Executive Director at CELL-EASY (Private, HQ France)

Garo Sarkissian – January 2020 – Non-Executive Director at SmartWitness (Private, HQ US) 

IDN Board – New Board Directors

Helen Wiseman, IDP-C – Board Member at INSEAD Directors Network (Non-Profit, HQ France)

 

Previous announcements and more information

Previous board position announcements by shared by IDN;

October 2019 July 2019  February 2019  November 2018 July 2018 April 2018  January 2018   October 2017

For more information about: 

INSEAD International Directors’ Network: https://blogs.insead.edu/idpn-globalclub

INSEADs Corporate Governance Programmes: https://www.insead.edu/executive-education/corporate-governance

For members of IDN, please ensure that you share your new appointments via the collection link shared via mail to the IDN Network

For head hunters interested in finding international board members focused on staying up to date with latest board and governance insights, please contact IDN President, Helen Pitcher OBE, at helen.pitcher@insead.edu

For organisations interested in partnering with IDN, please contact IDN President, Helen Pitcher OBE, at helen.pitcher@insead.edu

 

On behalf of the INSEAD International Directors’ Network Board,

Liselotte Engstam,
IDN Board Member, Chair Communication Committee
l.enstam@insead.edu