One different quality in making a good NED

Written by Joseph F.X. Zahra, 9 June 2014

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Bang on my desk landed a magazine I had not seen before – CORE, with a sub-title Contemporary business with a twist. Flipping through the first two pages I read that this is the second issue of the Warwick Business School magazine intended to communicate to the world the innovative and cutting edge work being done by the School. It covers a wide range of topics including healthcare, football club management, information systems and Jesuits! I will not cover the piece by Ashley Potter meeting Jose Bento da Silva in this blog contribution, but it is a must read for anyone interested on how the Jesuits have successfully managed a global organisation for five hundred years.

What is relevant to this blog is another contribution made by John Lyon, Professor of Practice at the business school. In a downright practical manner, John Lyon gives ten qualities that make a good non-executive director. Some of these have been covered by other contributors to this MISCO NED blog – the importance of bringing complementarity of expertise, business knowledge and wealth of experience while being a watchdog on corporate governance. Furthermore, directors trailing with care the boundaries between the roles of directorship and management, while having a say in the design of strategy. John Lyon also points at the softer qualities of team work, empathy and negotiation.

What struck me most in his ten- qualities one pager, is his frankness on the casual manner with the end-result of selecting the wrong directors. Bluntly, John Lyon writes:  “It is all too easy to sit on Boards, make a few comments and take a fee”. He challenges directors in one of his listed ten- qualities to “want to make a difference”.

Each director has to make a difference to the board – an impact, an imprint in what she or he says, observes or proposes… his or her project to the discussion on the agenda item which reflects the person’s competences, experience and all- round commercial knowledge. John goes on further than this. Directors need to be appraised on an annual basis as to what value they have added to the board and the company. (This is a point that this Blog has made on various occasions!) Ask the question – do they merit to have an extension of their term

I conclude with John Lyon’s introductory statement… “A good director is worth their weight in gold, a bad one can destroy a company with one single handed blow”. 

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