The Bottom Line on boardroom politics and being small

Boardroom table Views differ on how best to approach board meetings

Every budding businessman or woman dreams it making it into the boardroom - but they haven't always thought about what they'll do when they get there.

Between them, my guests on the Bottom Line this week had spent decades in boardrooms of every shape and size. I asked them to share their tips on how to handle the politics of the top table - everything from hidden agendas, to clashing egos, to a plain old failure to agree.

Ken Olisa, the entrepreneur who recently co-founded the boutique technology merchant bank, Restoration Partners, told us about one board meeting he attended, years ago, which perked up a bit when the chief executive arrived with a large shot gun.

For a moment, everyone wondered whether that meeting was going to be their last. It turned out that he simply hadn't been able to leave it in his car. But the mere fact that it was there, leaning ominously in the corner, changed the dynamic of the whole meeting. Well, yes. You can see how it would.

Stuart Fletcher, the new head of Bupa, the international healthcare company, had not experienced anything so colourful. But he said he had had some difficult board meetings in Nigeria, earlier in his career.

Stuart thought it was important to get arguments aired at the meeting itself, not try to stitch everything up beforehand.

But that wasn't the line taken by my third guest, Eileen Gittins, chief executive of the online self-publishing company Blurb.

She thought it was always important to talk through potentially troublesome issues with people before the meeting, so there weren't any nasty surprises. But then, she's an internet entrepreneur from crunchy northern California. They like to connect.

We also talked about the pros and cons of being an upstart. And considered whether the internet plus the new wave of digital manufacturing technique, had shifted the balance of advantage away from large companies - at least in some sectors.

Are old-style economies of scale about to be trumped by the new economy of the small? Watch or listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4 to find out.

Stephanie Flanders Article written by Stephanie Flanders Stephanie Flanders Former economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    encouraging companies to split increases the no of boardrooms, the no of non-executives, the no of jobs. Perhaps then new faces will run UK business instead of the parade of cronies who seem to surface in several companies, even after ruining some half decent enterprises. There should be a limit of one executive post one non executive post per individual..get rid of the old boy's clubs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    We need a chancellor who can make the banks split, return investment back to the depositors in the form of interest, return value back to the investors. Someone who taxes other business on a sliding scale so that small enterprise pays less tax than large conglomerates. Someone who taxes the City to minimise short term profit on casino share trading. In short a man with integrity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    British boardrooms are so far removed from their staff and customers they may as well be Martian rocks. On one visit to a German industrial factory years ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 3 of the board members were from the shop floor assembly line. That German company now owns 6 UK businesses and, the economy that created that kind of foresight is thriving, unlike the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    govt should reward companies which split into smaller enterprises. Usually investors like a synergy or takeover of companies, but the general good usually benefits when companies split. Look at the value created from the split of British Gas, so there is a model for the banks to follow. Why are they afraid of the Vickers split, there is value to be had for investor and public alike.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    integrity and decency can exist in enterprise.
    but whether they can exist in large scale ventures, I would name a scalar benefit as a GATE , in honour of Melinda. So the Gates Foundation is say, 1000 GATEs whereas many FTSE or DOW companies sadly are negative. Governments should create feedback loops to restrict the negativity of these cos and their investors...perhaps raise CGT, max the GATES


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