Fantasy boards to die for

One of the many insightful speakers we’ve seen at MD2MD in the last few years is Jo Haigh. Not only does Jo make the potentially boring subject of director responsibilities entertaining, she has great depth of knowledge and anecdotes to share too.  In this guest blog she illustrates in her typically entertaining way the importance of a diverse board.

If only it were possible to create a board of such dynamos so that nothing would be insurmountable, the impossible becomes completely possible… if only! Now it has been said that if two people on a board agree, one of them is unnecessary, that is not to say, of course, that one would want complete anarchy but neither is a “nodding dog” board of any use. You may have, at some point, played with creating a fantasy football team or even a fantasy dinner party list. All such groupings will have their merits and downsides, and this is my personal choice, so, subject to criticism and claims of clichés, here goes.

The difference between a board meeting and a “bored” meeting is reliant, to a large extent, on the chairman. This person does not need to be the brightest button in the box but needs to be cohesive and, when required, challenging. They need vision and foresight so who better than Winston Churchill who embraced all these characteristics and more.

The Chief Executive, or the MD, is the person who must make sure teams are rallied, actions agreed and decisions taken. They must manage resources, both human and financial, but be big enough not to get too bogged down in operations. My all time hero, Richard Branson, must fit this role and wow, what a foil to Winston.

And now to finance and the ‘poison chalice’ of roles on many boards, particularly now in these challenging times. The FD needs all their wits about them, they need to have respect from the rest of the board and be able to push for firm measures and no ‘U turns’. Margaret Thatcher, though never holding the role of Chancellor, managed Britain’s financials in time of trouble and prosperity using simple house keeping principles.

An Operations Director is a wide reaching role, closest to the shop floor in many cases. Such a person needs to understand people, and systems, and be able to get the best from both. Anita Roddick changed the way we felt about green businesses in the 1970’s and 80’s, she found new ways to achieve business objectives never tried on a large scale before and she did this very profitably without losing her sense of purpose.

The Sales and Marketing Director must be innovative, creative and, when finances are tight, perform under the pressure of using only the minimum of resources. Martin Sorrell the chairman of WPP whose empire includes some of the world’s most influential marketing companies, including JWT, took a wire basket manufacturer and turned it into a multimillion pound business conglomerate.

For the HR director; these unfortunate people have had a tough time of late as thousands have been made redundant, added to employment legislation spiralling out of control, Lord Mountbatten must be a number one choice. Hugely liked and respected by a massive cross section of people along with an exemplary military record.

A well performing board needs a Non-Executive, someone not afraid to speak their mind, who can challenge even the most difficult of boards and without fear but who knows when to encourage and engage in the right proportions. Simon Cowell goes from nice to nasty in a millisecond but is widely accepted as, ultimately, being not only correct in his judgement but fair.

So there you go, can you imagine what a board like that would be… if only.

Written by Jo Haigh:

CEO fds Director Services Limited
Telephone: 01924 376784/01484 860501

The winner of the Sunday Times NED of the year award, Claridge’s 14th March 2013.