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

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    @11.UnionRep
    "It should be compulsory for all directors, every five years to have to work on the “shop floor”"

    The "Trouble At The Top" and "Back To The Floor" series on BBC2 several years ago should be either revived for a new series or repeated on terrestrial. They are slightly "over dramatised" if that makes sense - I think the Radio 1 episode of Trouble At The Top is on Youtube.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    My experience, for what it’s worth, is the smaller the company the more the top is in touch with the bottom. In very large operations there is no connection at all.
    It should be compulsory for all directors, every five years to have to work on the “shop floor” for six months four day a week to retain their position. Ditto full time paid union officials.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    How to spell the word committee? Just double everything that you reasonably can.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 9.

    @4.LKC
    "It is agonising to watch the EU trying, but failing, to come to grips with its financial crisis."

    I find it morbidly fascinating, in the same way surviving zebra will casually watch the lions eating their kill. "At least it wasn't me." But it might be, one day.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 8.

    Was anything useful ever decided by committee without coercion

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    Why do legal experts continue with the pretense that the board, which meets once a month, directs the company? It is time that courts rule that fiduciary duties rest upon executive directors, CEO and his team of senior managers. Independent directors might play a supplementary, but definitely not a primary role.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 6.

    Just like with politics, the people who are driven by ambition are rarely the poeople best suited to be at the top. Far too many empty spaces enclosed by ambition get into positions of power

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    "...but they haven't always thought about what they'll do when they get there."

    Well, that'll be where some of the problems lie then.

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

    Quite so.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 4.

    It is agonising to watch the EU trying, but failing, to come to grips with its financial crisis. The unconditionality of ECB's promise of unlimited bond buying isn't helping. I can't help but feel that at the heart of the problem is an over-concern about rebuilding the financial system but little attempt to rebuild economies and generate employment.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    Dear Stephanie, just wanted to say your 'Masters of Money' series on BBC2 was very interesting. I was astounded though why the environmental impact (destruction) from our current form of capitalism wasn't mentioned. Finite resources yet ever incresing production. Perhaps this most important angle of all brings such obvious yet uncomfortable conclusions, its better not to mention them?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    I remember when I started coming into contact with people from the board of a large multi-national. I expected high-powered, tough, intelligent individuals, while the reality turned out to be quite the opposite.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1.

    Small may be beautiful, but unless it's a niche, the big boys will blow you out the water, by fair means or foul. Using the law as a 'delayer' is one tactic that I know of, bring a spurious case then keep getting it postponed at hearing after hearing - big boys have more cash. Then there is HMG, who can't see that a one man band is potentially an Orchestra - check out IR35.

 

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