Interview with Gbenga Oyebode, IDP6 2014, Trustee Ford Foundation

To be effective, new directors will require deep curiosity and an aptitude for analyzing a variety of information” – Gbenga Oyebode

In October 2020, INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) announced the four winners of the Inaugural IDN Awards 2020 for prestigious board positions.

The winners, which were selected from the 230 mandates, shared via the quarterly IDN Board Position Announcements, were selected based on the size and importance of the organisations they represented, their global relationships and the position at the board, in combination with pursuit of INSEAD’s mission ‘Force for Good’.

Four winners were selected, all of whom have an outstanding track record and have demonstrated the highest levels of integrity.

Gbenga Oyebode was one of the winners of the not-for-profit category.  We recently had the opportunity to ask Gbenga about his illustrious board career and his advice for aspiring directors.

Could you share with us how you obtained your first board role?  How have you built your board portfolio, both in your home country and overseas?  How have you decided on the types of organisations, industries and geographies where you would like to take up board roles?

My first board role presented itself in course of my legal practice. I served as legal adviser to a company in ownership transition and was eventually invited to join the board of the newly privatised company. I have never set out to build a particular type of board portfolio; instead the boards I have been involved with reflect my career as a lawyer, proclivity for investing, and are usually relevant to my passions and the change which I wish to see in the world (e.g. social justice, art, music).

I want to believe that organisations that invite me to serve on their boards recognise that I bring not only leadership and sound business judgment after 40 years of building my legal practice, but also investment expertise, a unique perspective and a global view given the multidimensional nature of my interests and relationships. In determining whether to accept a board role I lookout for alignment with the values of the organisation in terms of ethics, corporate governance and social responsibility and also consider my capacity to make the required commitment.

I have been lucky to include in my board portfolio a variety of companies including Access Bank Plc (one of the largest banks in Sub Saharan Africa), MTN Nigeria (the largest telecoms company in Africa), Nestle Nigeria PLC and many other global organisations.

Your board portfolio includes a number of not-for-profit boards.  What have been some of the focus areas which your not-for-profit boards have been focusing on in the past year?

The not-for-profit boards where I serve reflect the causes I am passionate about, such as social justice, education, philanthropy, music and the arts. For example, Ford Foundation aims to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.   Teach for Nigeria, (were as I serve as Chairman) in partnership with Teach for All, is dedicated to ending educational inequity in Nigeria by building a movement of outstanding teachers and young professionals who are committed to expanding educational opportunity for all children in Nigeria. African Philanthropy Forum creates a platform for emerging African philanthropists to channel giving to strategic causes in Africa. Carnegie Hall, Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Jazz at Lincoln Center reflect my passion for the arts and music.

In the last year, most not for profit boards, like other profit making organisations have been focused on navigating the impact of COVID 19 on their sustainability and ability to execute their objectives. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the poor, vulnerable and marginalised has brought into sharper prominence the mission and objectives of many not for profit organisations, which seek to reduce poverty, provide equal opportunity and support vulnerable groups.

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, what are the skillsets and qualities of potential board members that you look out for?

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, I look out for the leadership experience, integrity, commitment, global view, business judgment, collegiality, and discretion. I believe that these are critical attributes required to succeed on any board.  In today’s world, gender and geographical diversity are also sine qua non for effective boards.

What is your advice to new directors on how they can best stay up to speed on governance and business trends?

The world is constantly changing and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will be with us for a long a time. To be effective, new directors should never stop learning, embrace change and leverage the power of technology. Staying up to speed with constantly evolving trends in this ‘new normal’ requires deep curiosity and an aptitude for analysing a variety of information. This new era of virtual meetings, work from home, greater work-life integration and efficiency are here to stay and will be reflected in our board practices as we adopt more environmental, sustainable and transparent governance models going forward.


By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director.


INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors

Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1,500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.


INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (“ICGC”)

Established in 2010, the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (ICGC) has been actively engaged in making a distinctive contribution to the knowledge and practice of corporate governance. The ICGC harnesses faculty expertise across multiple disciplines to teach and research on the challenges of boards of directors in an international context and to foster a global dialogue on governance issues with the ultimate goal to develop boards for high-performance governance. Visit ICGC website:

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