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

So it's goodbye from me

After 11 years at the BBC, I'm leaving for a new role in the City.

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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

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    as to your last paragraph, inspiring,

    I just hope so,,,,,start small and

    global happiness large

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Viewing the internet as your only market place seems to offer ample space for a modern form of cottage industry. Considering the advances in 3D printing, high speed broadband (where free association is presumed), and access to a vast employee base I can see the opportunity and benefit.

    I once considered entering a meeting wearing a flack jacket and helmet as a visual metaphor. I quit instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Any committee - which is what a board of directors is - needs to keep at the forefront of its collective mind the aims and objectives of the organisation which they serve.

    It is when personal agendas push aside the concept of serving the organisation as a whole that problems arise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It is always worth reminding ourselves that capitalism is by no means the only way for humanity to manage its affairs.
    At a time when that system is not functioning properly due to human failings of hubris and incompetence, perhaps it is past time to review the options?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    In all my years of working, I attended countless boardoom meetings & led countless boardroom meetings.
    What made a bad boardroom - essential factor was lack of vision, unity, whatever you want to call it. I call it MISSION.
    What made a good boardroom meeting, advance agenda allowing people to formuate ideas beforehand, & of course THE MISSION STATEMENT, preferably printed on the agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    how many business are there out there,
    on swiss uni did some research and came back with global figure
    60% of the worlds business is conducted by
    43,000 companies which are in turn controlled by
    1450 smaller interconnected entities
    the remaining 40% could be just state run enterprises or private family
    owned companies
    so that is where we are at big nats smaller fleas on our backs

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    money money money in a rich mans world,how to make and sell your products for a profit,market price discovery,advertise and convince a consumers to part with there hard earned sovs,get the money in run it past your accountants,split the revenue gained in to spends and ins,
    pay your taxes, see whats left split between the share holders job done.
    ech simples

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.


    Most of the rot and corruption in UK business (& politics) results from board room bullying by people who really should be behind bars. More of them need to go to prison!

    Service is not an out of date ethic it is essential for capitalism to function (and Communism as well!).

    We need far tighter laws that punish any and all displays of bad corporate service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Directors are there to manage the company for the benefit of the shareholders. They are there to SERVE the shareholders.

    One of the great problems in the UK is that everyone ignores the reason why you are put in a position of power & responsibility & that is to SERVE.

    Today, James Hunt forgets this - 12 weeks what nonsense, the country wants the law as it exists - he has no right to change it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Board and management politics is a killer. I encountered two clear people-types - those who did their very best for the company believing that positive results would best benefit their career and those self-serving individuals who's only thought was "what's my fastest way up and what can I grab?". Invariably, organisations did best with the former and appallingly under the latter. Flush 'em out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    8.oldcynical - "Was anything useful ever decided by committee without coercion"

    Proverbially there certainly was - the old "created a camel when they tried to create a horse" chestnut......camels are perfectly adapted to the dessert so that proverbial camel was a perfect design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    In simple terms the better companies will treat you as an asset
    The rest will treat you as a cost and a liability

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "British companies are often rubbish and might as well be a chicken plucking factory on some god forsaken industrial estate"

    Offside ref! Which companies? Have you been to visit some of the small precision engineering manufacturing units dotted around the country? Almost uncompetitively expensive, but generally excellent in terms of quality of production.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The Corporate culture of an organisation permeates top down and most corporate bosses are power mad fruitloops

    British companies are often rubbish and might as well be a chicken plucking factory on some god forsaken industrial estate

    There are however a few amazing organisations around, powerhouses of mutual wealth creation where you skip into work each day

    There aint many left now though

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    It was "Blood on the Carpet". Sorry.


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