December 19, 2013 Stepping on board
At the beginning of December 2013 the BBC announced that it was to appoint two further non-executive directors to its board, bringing the total to six. The move comes as a result of the BBC’s governance review which proposed a series of measures aimed at clarifying the division of responsibilities between the BBC Trust and the executive board.
In announcing the review’s conclusions which have been accepted by both bodies the BBC Director-General, Tony Hall, said “This is an important first step in making the BBC simpler and better run.” Alongside the new appointments, the remit of the non-execs to “provide external expertise and challenge will be strengthened, including adopting a more prominent public-facing role and joining the Director-General to give evidence before Parliamentary Committees.”
The decision by the BBC to appoint further non-executive directors reflects the general move by corporations to use these directors as a means to strengthen governance and oversight. The days of non-executive directors being appointed solely for their name are long past. With non-executive directors being subject to the same legal responsibilities and potential liabilities as their executive counterparts, those who fail to take an active interest in the affairs of an organisation are potentially sleepwalking into danger.
Whilst it is acknowledged that non-executive directors will not spend the same amount of time within the business as their executive counterparts they can still bring a fresh perspective to the board. The Institute of Directors suggests that key responsibilities for non-executive directors are strategic direction, the monitoring of performance, maintaining a dialogue with the wider community and the oversight of risk. Non-execs also regularly sit on remuneration committees.
But it is through their quasi-impartiality allied with their external expertise that non-execs can maximise their worth to an organisation. Being one step removed means that internal day-to-day concerns will not cloud their judgement about the best direction in which to take the business. Leadership means at times making tough decisions but it also means being able to see the wider picture, to anticipate market trends and to steer a course which will keep the company ahead of the opposition. Appointing non-executive directors who have that external expertise, who can bring another dimension to the boardroom table, gives corporations a far better chance of success.
The BBC has already taken its first step in that direction with the appointment of Sir Howard Stringer. Formerly President of the CBS Network and Chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation, Sir Howard is able to contribute both broadcasting and commercial experience. Further appointments will be made by the BBC in the New Year and we shall watch these with interest.