Helen Pitcher OBE, IDP-C, President of IDN and Chairwoman of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, was the keynote speaker at an event organised in November 2019 by the KPMG Cyprus Audit Committee Institute (ACI), in collaboration with INSEAD Directors Network and the Cyprus IDN Ambassador, NED, Cleopatra Kitti, IDP-C.
The event held welcoming speeches by Michael Antoniades, Chairman of KPMG in Cyprus and Petros Mavrommatis, Principal and Vice Chairman of KPMG Cyprus ACI, and a presentation by British High Commissioner Stephen Lillie CMG, pointing to the importance of balance between directors rights and shareholders rights. The event was summerised in an article in the Cyprus GOLD Magazine.
Helen Pitcher was also interviewed for an article in the paper version of the Cyprus Gold Magazine, as seen here
During her speech Helen shared insights from her experience leading numerous board evaluations and serving on various boards at FTSE level.
Helen Pitcher pointed out that boards will only be as good as the individual knowledge each member brings to the table and the roles they play. Unfortunately, most people stop their training as soon as they get an executive role. She analysed the varied roles of a modern Non Executive Director (NED) and stressed the importance for organisations to reward NEDs based on measurable criteria
One example she shared related to one of UKs largest construction companies Carillion plc, which 2018 entered into compulsory liquidation. “I honestly believe they thought that either the banks or the Government would bail them out. There wasn’t simply not enough financial knowledge on the Board to avoid this problem.” “Add to this a fundamental lack of communication between the Board members and the Chairman and you have a company in crisis.” shared Helen Pitcher.
In a board evaluation conducted by Pitcher everybody pointed their finger at a particular member, seeing him as someone who did not add value, by virtue of his silent demeanour. When she gave this information to the Chairman, he was flabbergasted. The Board member in question happened to be his most valuable asset, who was constantly giving him vital information about how the company operated. The board needs to ensure they have a continuous and high awareness of the company’s strategic risk. As Ms. Pitcher explained, NEDs are those that provide business, strategic, functional and cultural oversight to their organisations, thus generating added value.
Ms. Pitcher outlined what skills should Board of Directors and shareholders seek when recruiting, in order to increase their Board’s capabilities and effectiveness.She pointed out that besides making the hiring pool more inclusive, recruiters should also start expanding the list of characteristics they look for in a Board member. Diversity is not limited to characteristics of race or gender but deals with diversity of thought. “In Board evaluations, we often see that people who are considered as nuisances or troublemakers are those with different set of opinions who are asking good questions that the others don’t want to answer,” says Pitcher. Her presentation concluded with an analysis on the importance of maintaining NED independence.
Looking to the future, companies will be faced with an almost unrecognizable corporate landscape, says Pitcher. “If they don’t keep up with technological advancements, they will be swept away by the changing tides,” she notes, explaining how the fall of the high street market in the UK is a cautionary tale of how behemoths like Debenhams can turn into dinosaurs. “Artificial intelligence algorithms will become sophisticated enough to automate most of the decisions a Board member takes nowadays,” she says, acknowledging that, on the upside, this will give Boards the freedom to envision a long-term plan and place their worries about short-term results behind them.
Future boardrooms will hold chairs for both young people and company employees. Some final advice was shared by Pitcher “Companies need to arm themselves with people who are mature enough to understand how to pull out the best out of their Boards and effectively manage themselves to the next level.”
Summerized by Liselotte Engstam, IDP-C, NED and Chair Communincation, IDN Board