Effective Board Governance

August 2022

In July of this year, I had the privilege of studying at the Harvard Business School where I received my Corporate Director’s Certificate. It was an experience I believe is worth sharing. 

To begin with, I had the opportunity to debate contemporary issues with executives from 26 different countries across the world; all of whom are impressive business leaders within their own organisations. Peers included heads of banks, CEO and Board members of companies such as Sony, Microsoft and the big 4 consulting firms, as well as numerous entrepreneurs of well-known successful companies each disrupting markets. More specifically, robust discussions on strategy, changing capital markets, digitisation, risk and ESG drove the debate.

Lecturers were impressive, of course, but it was more so the diversity of thought from participants that deepened insights, improved decision-making on solving issues and strengthened understanding of how best to serve effectively on a board.  Why go back and study? It’s these opportunities for learning that enables us to remain agile and responsive to change in a constantly evolving world. As we’ve seen, the businesses that manage not only to survive but prosper during COVID-19 are the ones who innovatively adapted. 

Instead of attempting to include all the invaluable insights from the course, I’ll share The Commonsense Principles which provides a framework for sound, long-term oriented governance (https://www.governanceprinciples.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CommonsensePrinciples2.0.pdf). Written by representatives of some of America’s largest corporations and institutional investors such as Warren Buffet, Larry Fink and Marilyn Hewson, it encourages greater dialogue between companies, their boards and investors. Why is this important? Because at the intersection of these stakeholder groups is an aligned objective of success encompassing a broader range of perspectives that can sharpen the acuity with which to critically examine the internal and external environment and make better choices appropriate to the circumstances faced. It should be used as fertile ground from which to reduce market noise and galvanise strategy in order to identify and then overcome obstacles and ultimately succeed.  The Commonsense Principles espouse fundamental governance practices, notable not only because of the prominence and diversity of the sponsor group members, but also because of their merit. Particularly, those stating that corporations should be run with a long-term perspective, and that good governance evolves as opposed to being absolute. 

As Peter Georgescu, Chairman Emeritus, Young & Rubicam said, “it’s a quiet, sober and carefully worded proclamation calling for the private sector to wean itself from pressures to achieve short-term shareholder value in favour of long-term growth.”

If you’re on a great board or know of one that is exceptional, I’d like to hear about what makes it great. If you’re on a terrible board, I’d also be interested to hear about why it may not be operating successfully. 

And if you can, get yourself to Harvard for a course!

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