Gender Pay Equity and Board Gender Diversity – Is Your Board Prepared?

governance-8-1-18.pngGender pay equity and board gender diversity are two areas of focus for both the media and investors. Lately, many large institutional investors have turned their attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, where board diversity has taken center stage and questions around gender pay equity are increasing. Boards and management should proactively gain an understanding of their current position and any concerns on these fronts to avoid adverse reactions from employees and/or shareholders.

Slow progress on gender diversity in the boardroom has led many large investors to push for an increase in the number of women on boards. Several influential institutional investors such as Blackrock, State Street Global Advisors and Vanguard have added diversity stipulations to their engagement and voting policies, citing studies that link increased female representation on boards with improved shareholder returns. More specifically, these institutions may vote against, and proxy advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis may recommend voting against, the nominating and governance committee members if there are not a least one or two women on the board. These voting policies have been very impactful, and we have seen a dramatic increase in women serving in board roles at the largest organizations.

Compensation Advisory Partners (CAP) researched the 15 largest public diversified financial services companies in the Fortune 100 and found that approximately 50 of companies had at least three women on their board and an additional 20 percent had at least two. As a comparison, CAP researched the board composition of 90 smaller financial services companies with assets between $5 billion and $20 billion and found approximately 15 have at least three females on their board and an additional 15 have at least two. Similar to other compensation and governance trends, we expect smaller financial organizations to catch up with the increased external pressure.

In addition, initiatives such as the NYC Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0, focus on enhancing disclosure of board composition through a skills matrix. California is now the first state considering a bill to require a minimum number of women on all boards of the state’s more than 400 companies. These initiatives are driving heightened attention to the diversity and competencies of the board as a whole.

While information on director composition and profiles is public, this is not the case with gender pay equity across an organization. In the U.K. there is a requirement to disclose gender pay statistics for organizations with at least 250 employees, but that does not currently exist in the U.S. Even so, we have observed some institutional investors use shareholder proposals to pressure large organizations to provide public reports on gender pay.

Several financial institutions have been under scrutiny for a lack of female representation in senior roles despite a majority of their employees being female. Unlike the U.K., where all employees must be included in the sample, shareholder proposals in the U.S. focus on a comparison of “like-for-like jobs.” Over the last three years, companies recommended shareholders vote against the proposal, and support averaged around 15 percent. Only 5 proposals (compared to 14 in 2017) have gone to a vote in 2018, none at financial services companies (compared to 7 in 2017), since several large financial organizations such as Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. were able to have these requests withdrawn from their annual proxy statement and in exchange agreed to publish their gender pay. In all cases, the reports have shown almost no gap, but the approach by company can vary.

These two movements have put a spotlight on the underlying issue of equal representation in the boardroom and pay equality across organizations. The push for board equality has already resulted in progress especially at larger organizations. Boards are reviewing nominating and governance committee charters and adopting policies to promote diversity in the board recruitment process. On the gender pay equity front, even though disclosure is not required in the U.S., momentum and pressure are building from institutional investors for companies to disclose gender pay gaps.

We expect boards of all companies to start asking management if a gender pay gap exists, and what they should be doing to address any gaps that do exist. Conversations on both these topics should be an agenda item in all boardrooms today.

How to Recruit Younger Directors

recruirment-6-22-18.pngA stagnant board is an ineffective one. While some directors can serve long tenures and continue to be actively engaged in the affairs of the bank, some directors grow less effective. What’s more, a board composed of directors who have served together for a number of years, or even decades, can grow complacent in their approach to bank strategy and oversight. This isn’t in the best interest of shareholders, employees or customers.

So how can boards fight complacency? Bring on some new blood. “That’s the attraction of bringing a young person in,” says Ben Wynd, a 40-year-old director at Franklin Financial Network, a $4.1 billion asset bank holding company headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee. He joined the board in 2015 and is an accountant with public company reporting expertise. “I have a desire to grow my practice. I have a desire to grow and become successful individually. I have energy, and I ask a lot of questions.”

It is rare for a bank to bring on a director aged 40 or younger as Franklin Financial has done. The 2018 Compensation Survey, conducted in March and April, finds that a whopping 84 percent report their board lacks any directors in this age group.

But boards like that of Franklin Financial, as well as $1.8 billion asset ESSA Bancorp in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and $2.4 billion asset Sierra Bancorp in Porterville, California, are finding a way to attract young professionals to their board. Here’s how.

Actively seek prospective younger directors.
Your board can’t count on a skilled, young professional just falling out of the sky, so at least one director on the board should be advocating for the addition of younger perspectives and identifying potential board members. The more directors serving as advocates, the better.

Wynd says Paul Pratt Jr., a director who served on the Franklin Financial board since its 2007 founding, was just that sort of advocate. (Pratt’s term expired in 2018, but he continues to serve on the bank board.) “Any time I see a great talented young person, I try to engage them” and understand their goals, Pratt says. “There’s a lot of supreme young talent out there that needs to be on bank boards helping make critical decisions on how the bank grows.”

Board members can also leverage friends and family to identify prospective board members.

“A member of the board lived in my community and is friendly with my parents,” says Christine Gordon, 42, a director at ESSA since 2016, who has a background as a lawyer and experience as the deputy chief compliance officer at Olympus Corp. of the Americas, as well as deep connections in the community. “He approached me and asked whether I’d be interested in joining the board and talked to me a bit about what it would entail.”

Similarly, Vonn Christenson, a 38-year-old attorney who was appointed to Sierra Bancorp’s board in 2016, says he was approached by a Sierra director who was his parents’ friend and neighbor. “The bank had been expanding, had been acquiring other banks and was looking to expand more. Their board members were aging, so they were looking to add some members.”

Communicate the benefits of serving on a bank board.
Prospective younger directors with the skill sets that bank boards need are in demand, and not just within the banking industry. “In all honesty, I probably have more opportunities [to serve on boards] than I have time and than my wife is willing to allow me to, so I’ve had to be selective in what I am involved in,” says Christenson. Make sure that the busy young professionals you seek as board members understand the benefits of serving on the board, as well as the bank’s growth trajectory.

And as much as long-term bank directors say that serving on a board is not about the money—just 14 percent of survey respondents indicate that offering a competitive director compensation package is a top challenge relative to their board’s composition—it could be the factor that leads an in-demand professional to pick your board over another.

Christenson says he had the opportunity to serve on the board of a local hospital but turned it down in favor of the bank. The bank “is a local success story in many ways, so there’s some more prestige that goes with it,” he says. Christenson also knew more members of the bank’s board, and “there’s compensation on the bank board, whereas it was voluntary on the hospital board.”

Ease the time burden.
Juggling the professional demands of younger directors may necessitate rethinking how the board approaches meetings. Gordon has found web conferencing to be effective in allowing her to participate in ESSA’s board meetings when she’s traveling for work. And using technology like a board portal can help streamline board materials, making them easier to digest. “They’ve got a real nice platform to produce materials and keep them organized for future reference,” says Gordon. The board provided tablets to directors, so they can easily access the board portal.

Invest in creating a successful board.
New directors, particularly younger ones, won’t be up to speed about the issues facing the banking industry, or even the fundamentals. “Educating new board members is very important. You join a bank board where folks have been there for years and years,” says Gordon. “I’ve been a board director for a couple of years, and I’m still learning.”

New directors should also meet with key members of the executive team, as well as one-on-one with board members. At ESSA, the management team teaches new directors about the bank and its primary areas of focus, says Gordon. The board also brings in speakers about specific topics, which can be vital to director education for old and new board members.

Investing in external training can be beneficial as well. But also expect to field a lot of questions from engaged new directors. And remember, those questions can benefit the board as a whole by leading if they lead to an examination of the bank’s practices and strategy. That’s the benefit of a fresh perspective, after all.

Ensure there’s a process to make room for new board members.
Age diversity goes both ways—the board benefits from the views of young professionals as well as older, established directors who better understand the banking industry and have a historic perspective of their markets.

Establishing a mandatory retirement age can help cycle ineffective directors off the board, but some banks are uncomfortable with the possibility of losing engaged older directors. Providing exceptions for particularly skilled and effective board members, coupled with a mandatory retirement age, can be effective, as can term limits for banks uncomfortable with designating an age cap.

Conducting a board evaluation with individual director assessments and using a board matrix to identify knowledge gaps can be useful tools to create space on the board regardless of age. To be effective, a strong governance chair or similar director should be empowered to have conversations with board members who aren’t pulling their weight.

In the survey, 44 percent of respondents reveal concern about recruiting tech-savvy directors. While youth is no substitute for technology expertise, and technology expertise isn’t limited to the young, it’s important to remember that younger directors are more likely to have an intuitive handle on technology trends, particularly as relates to the bank’s retail and commercial customers.

But youth isn’t synonymous with engagement. New directors should “bring a vision and new ideas to help bring the bank into the future,” says Christenson.

Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey was sponsored by Compensation Advisors, a member of Meyer-Chatfield Group. Click here to view the full results to the survey.

2018 Compensation Survey: Board Composition a Key Issue

compensation-6-4-18.pngAn effective board starts with having the right members, making board composition a key issue for today’s banking industry. Forty-five percent of the directors and executives responding to Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, sponsored by Compensation Advisors, a member of Meyer-Chatfield Group, say that developing a board succession plan is a top challenge related to board composition, followed by the recruitment of tech-savvy directors, at 44 percent.

More than 200 chief executive officers, human resources officers, senior executives and board members participated in the survey, conducted in March and April 2018, which examines the talent challenges faced by the banking industry. The survey also includes data collected from proxy statements to reveal how—and how much—CEOs, directors and chairmen were compensated in fiscal year 2017.

Thirty-five percent of respondents cite the recruitment of female directors as a top board challenge, an area where the industry appears to have made some improvement. Seventy-seven percent of respondents indicate that their board has at least one female member, up from two-thirds last year. However, boards still have progress to make, with just 14 percent indicating that their board has three or more female members. And boards still struggle to represent diverse ethnic backgrounds—77 percent report that their board doesn’t have a single ethnically diverse director. They also need to gain more age-diverse views, with just 16 percent reporting they have a director who is aged 40 years old or younger.

Conducting an effective board evaluation—which rates the effectiveness of individual directors, as well as the board—is cited by 42 percent as a top governance challenge. Board evaluations are often touted as effective tools to fuel board diversity efforts, because they identify ineffective directors and help push them out of the boardroom, leaving empty seats to be filled with the skill sets, expertise and backgrounds needed by today’s board.

Other key findings:

  • Commercial lenders remain in high demand, cited by 68 percent of respondents as an area where they expect to actively recruit employees in 2018, followed by technology, at 38 percent.
  • Forty-seven percent indicate their bank has increased salaries over the past three years to attract younger talent. Twenty-seven percent offer more equity compensation or profit-sharing incentives.
  • Forty-four percent indicate their bank has dedicated more resources to train young employees. Overall, 80 percent offer external training as a benefit to employees, and 74 percent say their bank has an in-house training program.
  • The median age of a bank CEO is 58 years old. The median CEO salary in FY 2017 was $370,232, with total compensation at $621,000.
  • Paying board members appears to be a low-level concern: Just 14 percent indicate that offering a competitive director compensation package is a top challenge faced by the board.
  • Seventy percent of non-executive chairmen and outside directors receive a meeting fee, at a median of $1,000 per board meeting in FY 2017. More than three-quarters of non-executive chairmen, and 71 percent of outside directors, receive an annual retainer, at a median of $35,000 and $24,000, respectively.
  • Fifty-one percent most recently increased director compensation in 2017 or 2018, and one-quarter raised director pay in 2016.

To view the full results to the survey, click here.

Part I: Best Practices of Bank Boards

good-board.jpgToday’s banking industry is constantly being buffeted by waves of financial, regulatory and operational challenges. The increased regulatory burden and related costs impact every financial institution in both the approach to doing business and the expense of doing business. The industry is in transition, with no clear path forward. As a result, there has never been a greater need for well functioning, informed and courageous boards of directors of banks and bank holding companies. There has also never been a more important time for board members to keep in mind that their responsibilities can be boiled down into one simple goal: the creation of sustainable long-term value for shareholders.

Achieving long-term value for shareholders may seem an elusive goal in the current environment. On more than one occasion, bank board members have commented to me that they feel they are now working for the benefit of the regulators. However, as with any time of turmoil and change, the challenges we now face will pass. As bank boards look for ways to strengthen their institutions, they should not overlook the opportunity to strengthen themselves as a group. One way of doing that is to adopt the practices of the most effective boards of directors.

Over the past several decades my partners and I have attended hundreds of bank board meetings, for institutions ranging in size from under $100 million in assets to well over $10 billion. Regardless of the size of the entity, we have noticed a number of common characteristics and practices of the most effective boards of directors. This is the first in a series of articles which will describe the 10 best practices we have observed among highly effective boards of directors. In this article I focus on two fundamental best practices – selecting good board members and adopting a meaningful agenda for the board meetings.

Best Practice No. 1 – Select Good Board Members

Some of the most challenging and distracting issues a board can face are those related to its own members. These issues typically arise in connection with conflicts of interest between board members and the banks they serve, or when board members experience financial stress. They can also arise when there are personality clashes in the boardroom or when one or more board members seek to dominate the conversation. The best time to avoid such issues is during the selection process for new directors. Compromise and wishful thinking in the selection of directors will almost always dilute the effectiveness of the board as a whole. Key characteristics of good directors include:

  • Independence – being free of conflicts.
  • Time to devote to the job – including time to gain knowledge of the industry, to prepare for board meetings and to participate in committees.
  • Attention – being fully engaged and proactive as a board member.
  • Courage – having a willingness to deal with tough issues.
  • Curiosity -possessing an intellectual curiosity about the bank, the financial services industry and the trends impacting both.

A group of good, solid and dependable board members is, in my experience, preferable to a big-hitter, all-star line-up of directors. A board is most effective when it acts as a group, with a culture in which all members can voice their opinions, and in which probing, and sometimes difficult questions can be asked. Dominant personalities and board cultures in which constructive debate never occurs have contributed to the demise of many banks in the current downturn. Careful selection of new board members, keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the other members of the board, is well worth the time and effort involved.

Best Practice No. 2 – Adopt a Meaningful Agenda

Take the time to review, revise and update your board agenda. I’m aware of several banks that are using the same approach to board meetings and the same agenda as 30 years ago. The absence of any objection from board members may only mean that they are drifting off to sleep during the half-hour-long financial presentation. Board members greatly appreciate a shift to a more efficient and effective agenda, with a focus on committee reports and presentation of only meaningful information about the condition and operations of the bank .This can free up substantial time for the board to focus on the overall direction and progress of the bank. 

Most directors only visit the bank once or twice a month, which makes a full understanding of the bank’s plans and status very difficult. There needs to be an educational element in board meetings. Most directors have an ongoing need, and desire, for growth and development in their understanding of the banking industry. With such education, directors can become more effective in their recognition and understanding of the risks to be monitored, as well as the factors that most influence a bank’s strength and performance.

Board packages should be delivered well in advance of each meeting in order to provide the directors with adequate time to prepare. Committee chairs should be prepared to give concise but informative reports at the meeting. Financial and operational presentations by management should focus on telling the board members what time it is, not how the watch was built. This approach can result in more interesting and informative board meetings and will likely result in greater interaction and contribution by the board members.

Links to the other 3 parts in this series

Originally published on October 25, 2011.

Bank directors work more hours for less pay

Bank directors at smaller banks are working longer hours than last year, and some are being paid less with fewer benefits, according to the results of Bank Director’s annual Compensation Survey co-sponsored with Blanchard Consulting Group.

The survey, conducted in July and August, comes following a multi-year recession and economic slump that bank balance sheets are only now recovering from. But with a host of new regulations on the drawing board and diminished profitability, bank boards in some cases have responded by getting less and doing more.

The median number of hours spent on the job for all asset sizes is the same as last year, 15 hours per month.

However, for smaller banks, those under $100 million in assets, the median number of hours spent on the job went from 10 hours per month last year to 15 hours. Banks between $251 million and $500 million in assets had directors who spent about 13 hours per month on the job last year. This year, they are spending three more hours per month on bank business, suggesting the economic environment is disproportionately impacting smaller banks and the workload of their directors.

The most common form of compensation for outside directors is board meeting fees, with 51 percent of all banks paying them. That was down from 62 percent of respondents who said their bank paid meeting fees last year.  Twenty-eight (28) percent also get a cash retainer, down from 32 percent last year. 

However, for the banks that continue to pay fees and retainers, the median amounts stayed the same as last year, $600 for a full board meeting and $10,000 for an annual retainer.

Fifteen (15) percent of respondents to the survey say they get some sort of equity compensation, compared to 16 percent last year.

Benefits appear to have eroded.

Thirty-nine (39) percent of banks offer no benefits to board members, up from 28 percent last year, with the percentage of private banks offering no benefits higher than public, 44 percent to 35 percent. 

Satisfaction with the board’s job handling compensation issues also has gone down. This year, 63 percent of respondents give their board high marks for managing the executive compensation program. That compares to 74 percent last year who said their bank was managing executive compensation well or very well. This year, 56 percent think the board is managing director compensation well or very well, compared to 68 percent last year.

Pay-for-performance metrics and gathering and understanding peer/comparison data continue to be the most challenging issues for the bank’s compensation committee this year. The same percentage named those two topics as the most challenging issues this year, 26 percent.

New federal regulations requiring banks to analyze risk in incentive compensation plans has led slightly more than one-third, or 34 percent, of banks in the survey to make changes. Only 29 percent say they have implemented a claw back provision for executive pay. Of those who do have a claw back provision, 65 percent have one for the management team, and 60 percent have one for the CEO. Twenty-eight percent (28) have claw backs on pay for loan officers.

In a new question this year, half of all respondents say they link CEO pay to the strategic plan. Another sixty-eight (68) percent say they link CEO pay to performance metrics. Of those who link CEO pay to performance, 66 percent use asset quality, 59 percent use return on assets and 62 percent use return on equity. Only 35 percent tie CEO pay to total shareholder return and 37 percent tie it to earnings per share growth.

The Compensation Survey was sent to 8,675 U.S. bank CEOs and directors via e-mail on July 21, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18. Surveys were returned by 617 people, for a response rate of 7.1 percent.

For more details on the survey and bank director pay, review our analysis in the fourth quarter issue of Bank Director magazine.

Do the Europeans have it right?

global.jpgEuropean bank boards, it turns out, are a lot different than in the U.S.  A study earlier this year by the English bank consultancy Nestor Advisors compared nine of the largest European banks with their nine counterparts in the U.S. (e.g. Banco Santander versus U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Company). Here is what the firm found:

  • U.S bank boards tend to have older members. The median age is 63 compared to 59 on the European boards.
  • U.S. bank boards have fewer designated financial experts than European boards. The difference is 30 percent of board members on European banks versus 15 percent in the U.S.
  • Six out the largest nine U.S. banks have chairmen who also serve as the bank’s CEO, compared to only two of their European counterparts (BBVA and Société Générale).
  • U.S. non-executive directors are more often senior executives at other institutions than in Europe. The median number of non-executive directors with outside senior-level jobs is five in the U.S. versus three in Europe.
  • U.S. bank boards pay their directors with more stock options and less cash than European boards.

By reading the report, you could almost conclude that European banks do a better job following best practices in corporate governance than U.S. bank boards.

Paying stock options could encourage more risk taking, the firm notes. Financial experts might be better qualified to challenge management on matters than impact the bank. Directors who are busy with outside jobs have less time for the bank’s business, presumably.

However, the report notes that large U.S. bank boards tend to be smaller than European bank boards. (The median is 13 directors in the U.S. versus 16 in Europe.) That can encourage more cohesiveness and ability to get work done. U.S. banks tend to have fewer executives and more non-executive directors on the board than European banks. (The median U.S. big bank has 85 percent non-executive directors versus 69 percent for big European banks).

Whether or not these significant differences in board structure translated into any meaningful value for shareholders, or meant European banks avoided the financial crisis better than American banks is another question. (Interestingly, one of the U.S. banks in the study, Goldman Sachs, previously was an investment bank and wasn’t even regulated as a bank before the financial crisis).

Europe is still embroiled in its own problems with an overheated housing market, just like the United States. The Spanish bank bailout fund alone has committed the equivalent of $14 billion in today’s U.S. dollars to recapitalize banks there.

Europe hasn’t recovered yet from its financial hangover, and neither has the United States.

Who Should Be On Your Board


The principals in our firm have completed over five hundred board projects, in our experience the answer to who should sit on your board is, in every case… it depends. Every search is unique.

Who Should Be On Your Board – Determine Your Needs

There are a myriad of factors that determine who should serve on your board. The composition and culture of your current board are important factors. Similarly, the nature of your company is a variable in determining who should serve on your board:

  • Size
  • Sector
  • Industry
  • Customer Base
  • Financial Strength
  • Corporate Evolution
  • Geographic Footprint

Your current board of directors, in some of its composition, is reflective of what the company was, or aspired to be, in years past. Your company’s profile is just a snapshot of what the company is today. Therefore, importantly, where is the company headed? What are the most important objectives to be achieved? In other words, what is your corporate strategy? The answers to these questions need to be understood in determining who will be the most valuable director(s) for your board. The person or people who should serve on your board are born from your strategy.

When you overlay your corporate strategy with an assessment of the toolkits of each director on your board and consider your company’s profile, you can create a matrix. The matrix illustrates the competencies you need to acquire to enable your board to guide your company toward its strategic goals. Add to this sensitivity to the board’s culture and you will see who should be on your board.


Who Should Be On Your Board – Universal Elements

Every company’s board competency matrix will be different, but there are a few common components that are found on most well-built boards:

  • Diversity: This is stating the obvious, but a variety of perspectives is an important component for all boards.
  • Operators: Among the members of every board should be one or two current CEOs or COOs, who will provide the board with an operator’s perspective and often act as a sounding board to the company’s CEO.
  • Financial Acumen: This is a broad skill set, ranging from accounting and audit skills to treasury, financing, and M&A experience. We have not worked with a client yet who has said, “We have too many board members with financial savvy.”
  • Industry Knowledge: An independent director with deep experience in the company’s industry will augment management’s expertise, can serve to educate other directors on the industry, and can provide an informed board level evaluation of industry specific items.
  • Customer Knowledge: Board members with significant knowledge of major customer categories provide valuable insight in board discussions.
  • Regulatory / Compliance: Knowledge of regulatory issues facing a company may be critical. The same holds true for risk.
  • Technology: Every business relies on technology. Having a director who can evaluate the impact of technology on the company, make strategic recommendations and communicate effectively with other members is always valuable.
  • International: This may not apply to all companies, but to those it does, it is a major concern. Boards are clamoring for directors who not only have a global perspective, but boots-on-the-ground international experience running a business, particularly in the BRIC countries.
  • Committee Composition: Members should have relevant domain knowledge. (e.g. People on the compensation or audit committee have to understand the material).

Who Should Be On Your Board – Personality Traits of Great Directors

The depth of experience, level of success, and amount of talent a director has is irrelevant if it cannot be effectively utilized. Individuals should be intellectually and emotionally strong enough to actively participate and offer positive critical review, yet modest and mature enough to recognize their appropriate role as a board member and the need for partnership with their fellow board members and company management. They should be analytical and able to constructively evaluate a strategy, acquisition, and business plan. The candidate should be forward thinking and strategic, yet pragmatic and operationally savvy, with a passion for building true shareholder value. The personality/chemistry must be a fit. Honesty, openness, and high ethical standards are mandatory. It is important that a potential board member be prepared to be an active and engaged director, and willing to make a long-term commitment to the company.

Who Should Be On Your Board – Get The Leadership Right

Roles on the board are not created equal. There are four leadership roles that every board must have: non-executive chair / lead director, audit committee chair, compensation committee chair, and nominating & governance committee chair. Get these roles right and it will translate directly into shareholder value.

1) Non-Executive Chairman / Lead Director

Shareholders have always entrusted the board to carry out its fiduciary responsibilities, but in our contemporary business environment, regardless of the title given to the role (non-executive chair, lead director, presiding director…), it is essential for effective corporate governance that the board of directors have a non-management director as the recognized leader of the board, not the CEO. Dividing the duties of the leader of the company (the CEO) and the leader of the board acknowledges the new and increased responsibilities of both positions. It also creates checks and balances between management and the board, and is meant to be a deliberate expression of independence to shareholders and the market.

The clearest distinction between the two roles is, simply, the non-executive chairman / lead director runs the board, not the company (that is the domain of the CEO). In running the board, the non-executive chairman / lead director has a wide range of responsibilities, which can vary from company to company, but in almost all cases he/she:

  • presides at all meetings of the board and the shareholders, ensuring that all issues on the agenda are efficiently attended to and that each director contributes to their full potential.
  • establishes, in consultation with the CEO, an agenda for each meeting of the board.
  • leads a critical evaluation of the board as well as of management, its practices and its adherence to the board-approved strategic plan and its objectives.
  • facilitates an open flow of information between management and the Board.

The non-executive chairman / lead director role is a delicate role requiring a respected executive with broad business acumen, who is a strong communicator with evident interpersonal skills, and someone who has refined leadership ability (capable of focusing the board and building consensus). This role is not for someone who has an ambition to run the company. Non-executive chairman / lead directors should be complementary and compatible with the CEO (not seen as a rival); if their chemistry is poor, the function of the board suffers and ultimately, so does the company. Optimal candidates are capable of facilitating positive dialog on diverse subjects, and act as a buffer on behalf of the CEO and senior management, so that the board is not intrusive. The non-executive chairman / lead directors must have ethical standards beyond reproach, a passion for the role, and must take personal pride in the level of quality in the boardroom.

2) Audit Committee Chairman

Given the heavy responsibility and continued intense spotlight on the audit committee, this is a key role to fill for the success of the board and the company. An outstanding audit committee chair instills a greater sense of confidence in the company at the board, management, and investor levels, and likely individually impacts shareholder value. This role requires an extremely well qualified financial expert, preferably with independent director experience and the time to commit to this role. Optimal candidates would typically be retired executives who have been CEOs (with strong financial skills), public company CFOs, or broadly experienced audit partners.

3) Compensation Committee Chairman

The intense examination of executive compensation has also thrust compensation committees into the spotlight and has made its chairmanship a very important responsibility. This role requires a background with executive compensation matters and current knowledge of compensation issues and trends. Preferably, this person would also have prior public company board experience. Optimal candidates for this role would typically be a long-tenured CEO, an experienced compensation committee member, or another executive with significant executive compensation experience (e.g.: chief human resources officer).

4) Nominating / Governance Committee Chairman

Charged with leading the committee responsible for shaping the company’s corporate governance, evaluating the performance of the board and its directors, and recommending new directors for the board, the nominating/governance committee chairman is a critical role in today’s climate. Directors in this role need to have a deep knowledge of corporate governance and be committed to keeping up with its trends and best practices.

Who Should Be On Your Board

There are common components of all well-built boards, beginning with getting the leadership roles filled correctly. But who should be on your board is truly unique to each company. Through an assessment of the competencies on your current board, along with your company’s profile, viewed in comparison to the vision of your company going forward, and an appreciation of your board’s culture, a clear picture should emerge.