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.