Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are Boards Too Old?

I often get asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" It's a fair question, considering the decades that I have been editor of Directors & Boards.

Some ideas have a very long germination. Let me share the seedling of the idea for the cover story of the Q2 2011 edition of Directors & Boards — "Are Boards Too Old?"

It goes back to the early 1990s. These were tough years for American corporations. One great company that hit a particularly rough patch was IBM Corp. In fact, things got so dicey for Big Blue and investors got so restive that the board did the unthinkable — it eased out the CEO, John Akers, in 1993.

At the 1993 annual meeting, one especially vociferous shareholder got on his feet to charge the board with being "too old." This gent, no spring chicken himself (!), further denounced the directors: "Most of them come from an era of manual typewriters and carbon paper." Ouch!

That made a big impression on me at the time. I wondered: Does this fellow have a point? Could the computer giant have missed a crucial beat or two by not having some younger talent on the board? A study of the average age of the IBM board at that time showed it to be slightly over 61.

The seed was thus embedded.

Over the years I would come across other data, anecdotes, and text references re boards and age, and they all would be like watering this original seedling of an idea.

As the business world hurtles into a new global order, one driven in so many important ways by social media and advanced digital capabilities, the opportune moment has arrived for this seed of a story idea — "Are Boards Too Old?" — to burst forth.

Pictured is W. Clement Stone, business chieftain famous for his "Positive Mental Attitude" success philosophy, who served on a corporate board while in his 90s with Directors & Boards Publisher Robert Rock.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Women Directors: Survey vs. Survey

It has happened again. When I release the results of our quarterly Directors Roster report on new women joining corporate boards — which I did in my blog post of March 8th — I inevitably hear from one or more of the other trackers of board composition. They are puzzled — and, it appears, alarmed.

Their beef is that there is a big disconnect between the Roster numbers and their numbers. The Roster has been documenting for two years now elevated levels of women joining boards — in the fourth quarter of 2010, 38% of new directors were women; for 2010 as a whole, 34% of board appointees we tracked were women. Most if not all other major surveys point to board representation of women still stuck in the mid-teens range, where it has been for years.

"So what's up with your numbers?" I get asked. There is an underlying fear that prompts this question, which is this: the optimistic picture that we present could lull people into thinking that recruiting developments are going along just swimmingly, when in fact all the major surveys of board composition do not seem to bear that out.

I am moved to share my response to the challenge I received after this week's release of the Directors Roster report on women board recruiting:

Dear Colleague,

I do not see the disconnect or discrepancy that you see. Let me explain how I mesh the numbers.

Your data is a snapshot of board composition at a fixed point in time — an annual look at who is sitting on a defined universe of boards.

The Directors Roster data is a snapshot of a quarterly flow of activity at a random universe of boards — companies that happen to have added a new board member.

This is apples and oranges. There is no way to sync these two sets of data to make any sensible matchup.

What we are looking at is velocity — a moving target — and you are measuring an end point.

In looking at the Directors Roster that just hit the street this week, you can see for yourself the flow of activity that we tracked in the fourth quarter of 2010 and the new women directors that came to our attention.

It seems to me that we need both sets of measurements — yours and the Directors Roster — to properly gauge marketplace activity, and I don't really see any conflict in what these two sets of numbers report.

It is understandable that my counterpart is concerned about overly optimistic conclusions that might be drawn from the Roster data. That’s why I feel the urgency to bring other surveys to the attention of the Directors & Boards audience that show how sluggish the progress is of board diversity. Our Roster numbers are useful for adding an important dimension to the discussion of board diversity, but I agree that many questions are left unresolved about the enduring impact of this measure of velocity.

Perhaps it is a matter of time — and it will be a lot of time — before we see the cumulative impact of these elevated velocity levels. But something is going on, and that is where the Roster data plays an important tracking role.

Pictured is Ellen Kullman, chair of the board and CEO of DuPont Co., who has joined the board of United Technologies Corp.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Directors: The 2010 Class

The numbers are crunched, and here is how year 2010 shaped up for director recruiting.

According to the Directors & Boards Directors Roster, the journal's quarterly and annual reporting of executives named to public company boards, we tracked a total of 420 new director appointments named to 359 company boards.

Here is where the new directors came from, ranked by predominance of backgrounds:

2010's New Directors

1. Retired Executives: 148 (35%)
2. Chairman/CEOs: 84 (21%)
3. Senior Officers: 67 (16%)
4. Finance: 43 (10%)
5. Academia: 30 (7%)
6. Consultants: 28 (7%)
7. Not for Profit: 10 (2%)
8. Legal: 5 (1%)
9. Miscellaneous: 5 (1%)

Total: 420 (100%)

Women: 142 (34%)

Source: Directors & Boards Directors Roster

The number of new women directors gets further comment in my blog post of March 8.

Further detail on the 2010 director class — including names and affiliations of the new board members displayed with the companies who added these individuals — will be provided in the "Governance Year in Review" special issue of Directors & Boards to be published in July. The Directors Roster is sponsored by our close colleagues at Heidrick & Struggles International. Kelly McCarthy is editor of the Directors Roster.

This is the first look at this data.

There are a number of interesting observations to be made about the 2010 director class, which will be the topic of follow-on "Boards At Their Best" postings.

Pictured is Stanley McChrystal, retired U.S. Army general who commanded the U.S. and NATO's security mission in Afghanistan and who is now a senior fellow and teaches a leadership seminar at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University; Gen. McChrystal joined the JetBlue Airways Corp. board in November 2010.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women Directors: Big 2010 Finish

Here is a key piece of data to announce on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day:

After dipping back into the mid-20% range in the third quarter of 2010, the recruitment of women to corporate boards rebounded strongly in the fourth quarter. During the October to December period, 38% of the newly elected directors tracked by the Directors Roster were women.

Here is how year 2010 added up for the board recruitment of women:

Q1: 34% (31 women out of 90 new directors)
Q2: 36% (41 women out of 115 new directors)
Q3: 26% (27 women out of 102 new directors)
Q4: 38% (43 women out of 113 new directors)

Total: 34% (142 women out of 420 new directors)

The Directors Roster is the quarterly and annual record of newly elected directors to corporate boards tracked by Directors & Boards and published as a special feature in each edition of the journal. The data is gathered and written up by Directors Roster Editor Kelly McCarthy.

Year 2010's total for women of 34% is down slightly from 2009's total of 39%, representing 165 newly elected women directors out of an overall 424 board appointments. But 2009 marked a surprising leap from 2008 — when women represented 25% of the total tally of new directors, closer to trend throughout the earlier years of this decade. (For stark perspective, in the mid-1990s when we first started the Directors Roster data tracking, the percentage of newly elected women directors on a quarterly and annual basis was typically in the high single digits or low teens.)

So with one-third of new directors in 2010 being women, it does show that 2009 was not an utter fluke. We will continue to track the numbers closely in the Directors Roster to see how 2011 plays out. But two back-to-back strong years might well indicate that we have entered an era that will be characterized by elevated levels of board recruitment activity for women.

And on that upbeat note I will happily join in celebrating International Women's Day.

Pictured is Margaret Foran, who joined the board of Occidental Petroleum Corp. in 2010's fourth quarter. Peggy Foran is chief governance officer, vice president, and corporate secretary of Prudential Financial Inc.