Until the 1990s, being elected to a Board was often the culmination of a career, a professional and honorary recognition of a successful track record. The directorship was not always directly related to the – past – experience or function of the person. The mandate was considered as a reward. A few lawyers being the exception, a legal perspective in any board and on any situation being important even then.
Then, around 1995-2000, the pendulum swung back: lack of specific competencies coupled with so little professionalism, gave rise to the positions of « professional and independent board members”.
Being a Director is such an appointee’s sole activity, he or she has specific and functional experience, enriches the boards on which he or she sits with his or her experience gained on other boards and, above all, is subject to less risk of conflicts of interest. At the same time, the identification, search and approach of potential board members have become more professional, with some executive search firms specializing in this area, or even making it their unique activity.
In the last few years, we are witnessing a third wave of change, with the rejuvenation and feminization (the two often going hand in hand) of Directors’ profiles, a welcome evolution visible mainly in (large) listed companies or state organizations.
In our executive search industry, a recent phenomenon is emerging; we are witnessing a (fourth?) wave, with many – mostly unqualified – candidates wanting to become board members! Is it due to the lower average age of recently nominated directors, which creates a more natural identification? Does a higher level of self-confidence and an increased positive and rewarding interpretation of one’s experience and skills encourage people in their thirties to run for board positions?
What we are witnessing is the desire of professionals, whose regular careers are far from over, to take a break (work-life balance ?) and, in parallel, with the time they have freed up, join a board. There is nothing fundamentally wrong, and without a doubt some of these people have both the experience and the skills to take on such responsibilities. But in many cases, we are witnessing a gap between the requirements of a board position and what the candidates have to offer in terms of experience, specialization and added value. Let us remember that to qualify for a seat on a board, you need outstanding skills in a specific function that the board lacks, significant experience in the company’s field of activity, an extensive address book (and the willingness to open it), added value related to a trade or function that the board might need, and ideally all of the points mentioned! Holding a Directorship is an intense job with a lot of responsibilities and exceedingly high demands. It is not a hobby to fill a few spare hours.