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Show a little love outside the boardroom plus a sporting smell test
A sharp exchange of views in the letters section of the Yorkshire Post arrows to the heart of the role of non-executive directors. A disgruntled member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, mired in a racism crisis and with its men’s team bottom of the early season table, asks why none of its independent directors have been seen at a match this year. “Spectators could be offered a cash prize if they spot an NED… It won’t cost much.”
Rebutting the non-attendance claim, Yorkshire’s CEO Stephen Vaughan declares that, in order to deal with “everything that has happened around YCCC over the past few years… a number of the Board are not here for their views on first class cricket.” Understandable.
“I remember in the 1950s when ‘you are Lobby Ludds and I claim my £5’ was a popular competition, used by newspapers as a circulation booster at seaside resorts. My suggestion is that YCCC should reinvent this concept, in order to locate its missing on match days non-executive directors.” Martin Butterworth in the Yorkshire Post
You’d want to go to a game though, wouldn’t you? Enjoy a perk to balance the doubtless heavy load of finance and governance issues, even if the first team is propping up the other seventeen counties right now. It’s a privilege, after all. You’d surely need to have some love of cricket to take up an unpaid board seat, especially in the current toxic environment.
Yorkshire CCC has seven independent directors. Their collective biographies on the county’s website contain just a single mention of cricket, but a welter of impressive achievements across law, accountancy, PR, sport and commerce.
You can read about interim chair Tanni Grey-Thompson’s YCCC board here
Not all businesses are anywhere near as alluring as sport – at least to this sports lover’s eyes – but my varied experience in executive and non-executive roles across sectors suggests it is vital that NEDs have some affinity for an organisation’s outputs if they are to really deliver around the board table. You don’t have to have a deep operational understanding of its industry, just so long as some directors do. But you must demonstrably care about what it does, and why it does it.
You might be surprised at just how often NEDs lack the necessary empathy.
Super fans can be dangerous non-executives, not only in sport but across industries. They can crowd discussion with their desire for operational minutiae, dragging debate away from the strategic agenda and into matters best left to the full-time executives. Which athletes are injured, what are the tweaks in the latest software facelift, how is the new product launch being played into the media? As a chair, though, I’d rather have to temper enthusiasm, encouraging such questions to be asked outside formal meetings, than have to rev up colleagues whose appetite to be on the board might appear a mystery.
I found myself in hi viz and a hard hat on a site visit a couple of weeks back, conscious of the risk of appearing like a politician in pristine protective gear on a vote-gathering campaign trail. I left the highly technical questions to those colleagues with specialist knowledge, and hoped that my back-to-basics inquiries didn’t leave local management with the impression I was undeserving of my role. I wouldn’t have missed the trip for anything, though, as it brought all of the black and white work of board oversight into technicolored focus.
The corporate and public sector worlds have both become tangled in a cat’s cradle of bureaucratic requirements masquerading as best practice governance. However well-intentioned these stipulations might be – and very many are – their collective effect has been to deflect board recruitment away from its primary object, namely to assist an organisation in being the best it can be.
Instead, too often non-execs today are appointed because they are deemed to be able to deliver control, when success should be measured across far more dimensions than that. Instead of super fans we get women and men with ice blocking their veins, the ‘market’ having over-reacted to the challenges, scandals and crises that have affected organisations across the economy and society.
A career as a plural NED can and should be an emotionally rewarding one. This though is dependent on evident enthusiasm and empathy, qualities which serve any boardroom well - and especially in sport. Always worth remembering when you brief a headhunter. And get your backside onto a seat in the stadium when you get the job!
A version of this article first appeared in The Times on 29 May
Smells like teen spirit
I stumbled across an entertaining study last week of what makes memorable sporting occasions - the ‘wow!’ moments. I’m no fan of ceremonies, so disagree with much of its list of most iconic wows, which ranges from the Super Bowl half-time show to the Wimbledon ticket queue.
What tickled my nostrils was the suggestion that smell can lodge an event in your memory bank. Apparently it’s the Proustian Effect. Got me all nostalgic about odour. Top three for me? The burning mixture of methanol and engine oil that gives speedway its distinctive aroma; the heady scent newly cut grass on a college cricket outfield; and the pungent whiff of cheap disinfectant in the Holmesdale Road stand’s urinals. Yours?
Download the Leaders / GMR Marketing report here
Mr Blue Sky
In the typically storied Premier League season just ended, the soap opera at Chelsea stands above all others for comedy and drama if not tragedy (unless you happen to be Graham Potter). Chairman and part-owner Todd Boehly has been the hapless villain from central casting throughout.
A disappointed under-bidder for the club told me recently that he believed the terms of the agreement between Boehly and majority owner Clearlake Capital mean that the private equity firm could squeeze him out if certain financial targets aren’t met.
I’ve no idea if that’s true. Interesting nevertheless that Chelsea’s new CEO announced last week, Chris Jurasek, is a serial leader of Clearlake-owned companies.
We should probably enjoy watching Mr Boehly in action at Chelsea while we can.
Run to the hills
Caught up with former GB 1500m runner Andy Baddeley last week. The two time Olympian tells me his ParkRun ‘world record’ of 13:48 now gives him more real world kudos than any of his elite achievements. Baddeley is CEO and co-founder of The Running Channel. Its YouTube clips are fun if running is your thing. Check-out this ‘paper map vs GPS’ Peak District challenge video. Spoiler: no world record for the CEO…