For both public and private companies, it’s important to determine the skills and other attributes needed to form a good or, hopefully, great board. Of course, there are basics that always apply, such as integrity, intelligence, and a good mix of collegiality and candor. However, once you get past those basics, it’s desirable to figure out what the organization really needs. If the company has a consumer-facing business, you probably want to have a director or two with experience in that and related fields, such as marketing. If it’s a defense contractor, you likely need someone with expertise in government relations. And so on. However, in searching for and, hopefully, finding those board members, it’s also desirable to find individuals whose abilities extend beyond a single area of experience or expertise.
The notion of avoiding such “one-trick ponies” came to me while reading an article in a recent article in the Financial Times. Since a subscription may be needed to access the article, the headline reads “US companies urged to appoint Covid-19 experts to boards.” In fairness, the headline was a bit misleading; the article itself said that “the dean of Harvard’s school of public health has called on companies to put public health professionals [i.e., not Covid-19 experts] on their boards… to manage a pandemic threat that could hang over businesses for years.”
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