In Could, nearly all of Twitter shareholders determined Silver Lake’s chief govt Egon Durban, who made bets on corporations akin to Alibaba and Airbnb, was juggling too many directorships on prime of the day job and voted towards his reappointment.
It was an indication of how “overboarding”, as it’s put in company governance converse, is a rising subject for corporations. However what number of board seats are too many? The reply will depend on who you ask.
Even the point out of overboarding causes unease. One UK enterprise chief I spoke to quivered at the usage of the phrase, questioning if I used to be going to call and disgrace him as a serial director. Others are pre-emptively declining provides of board seats for concern of investor wrath, even when they consider they’ve the capability. Chairs are additionally turning away high-calibre candidates to keep away from investor battles.
The UK Company Governance Code says in case you are a prime govt at an organization, you need to solely tackle one FTSE 100 non-executive directorship. For chairs or different non-executive administrators, there isn’t any restrict however the person should “allocate adequate time to the corporate to discharge their obligations”.
Traders and proxy voting advisers have taken a tougher line, adopting a points-based system to evaluate whether or not a person is overcommitted. Within the US, Institutional Shareholder Providers says it largely recommends voting towards or withholding votes from administrators who sit on greater than 5 public firm boards; or are CEOs of public corporations who sit on the boards of greater than two public corporations apart from their very own. Within the UK, it has a five-mandate restrict the place a non-executive directorship counts as one mandate, a non-executive chair counts as two, and a place as govt director is counted as three.
Most administrators say numerical limits are arbitrary. They don’t account for a person’s personal means to handle their time, the totally different necessities of every board and the calls for on particular person administrators — for instance, whether or not that particular person is on a committee or not. Those that serve on a number of boards say ceaselessly neglected is their means to share experiences and experience.
“There are one million shades of gray right here that aren’t being recognised,” stated Equipment Bingham, head of the UK board follow at Heidrick & Struggles. “The necessity to have adequate time to carry out all of your duties is smart. However once you put guidelines round this, that’s the place it will get difficult. It requires a extra detailed debate. However proxy advisers can’t have a significant dialog with each director in order that they go for a formulaic method.”
Even critics of those that accumulate board seats consider the present mechanism is simply too slender. Calculations are likely to assess board positions at publicly listed corporations and never these at personal companies, charities or public establishments.
However the enterprise world must become familiar with overboarding. Not least as a result of the workload is rising and board conferences are extra frequent. The pandemic, the battle in Ukraine and a worldwide vitality disaster are only a few components destabilising firms. A heightened regulatory setting has additionally meant the oversight position of a board has grown and corporations want larger assist from their administrators in navigating points, akin to shaping a company response to political issues.
“When the corporate has a disaster, then it may be day by day calls and conferences,” stated Patricia Lenkov, an knowledgeable on board recruitment.
Whereas board positions will be profitable, the reputational danger has additionally risen. A string of scandals lately — from Boeing to Theranos — has delivered to mild how a poorly functioning board can result in company disasters. “The expectations and calls for of the position have elevated even because the social credit score might be much less,” stated Patrick Dunne, who advises boards globally.
So what subsequent? There isn’t any simple maths on overboarding. Ideally, there ought to be a extra nuanced dialog on roles reasonably than strict limits. Conserving tabs on attendance and the acceptance of recent board seats — which requires extra work for a director — can be key.
As for Twitter, Durban supplied to resign however was retained regardless of the shareholder vote. Simply months later, Elon Musk dissolved all the board after he took over the corporate. Durban won’t discover himself at a free finish, nevertheless. His Silver Lake profile web page nonetheless lists 10 board roles outdoors the corporate.