Are you too old to sit on a board?

I was recently involved in a conversation where a CEO openly discussed how an entrenched and successful business failed under their watch.

The business was more than 80 years old – and popular – with an established, loyal consumer base. It turned over millions and millions of dollars a year.  This particular CEO was new; a forward-thinking, innovative leader who understood that technology was challenging businesses everywhere and that they needed to be prepared.

After meeting with specialist consultants, together they designed a plan to adopt new technologies and developed a road map for navigating the impending change. Next, the plan went before the board.

The board was made up of four people – all of them over the age of 50. Not one had any experience with technology and none understood the changes technology was forcing on the market, or how it was changing the nature of the way their consumers engaged with businesses.

They got cold feet due to the cost of adopting new technology and decided to wait it out. The ground fell out from underneath them less than 90 days later. 80% of their revenues disappeared within three months and they were out of business before the end of the year.

Which poses the question: how many boards have a CIO with voting rights? Or, how about this one: How many businesses are being disrupted by economic or technological circumstances that a millennial can see coming a mile away?

In my opinion, boards are not diverse enough in skillsets and, more often than not, they are too old.

It’s not just a diversity challenge of male/female or nationality… It’s about diversity of work experience and age. Board members are, often, too old. They are usually white, more often male and they’re often not early adopters of technology.  These board members may be experienced in business – they may have been there, done that – and have a wealth of knowledge to share and contribute. But, if that’s their profile, do we need four of them? Could we replace one with a young, technically-savvy millennial or an experienced CIO?

Would a young person, or a representative of their target market, be a valuable contributor to the market discussion? Absolutely!

This is not just a debate on business experience. It is a case of survival. It is absolutely necessary that young people represent a vote on issues challenging businesses today. It is absolutely necessary that someone who understands technology challenges the decisions being made by those that don’t.

Have an experienced 50 year old businessman, with a wealth of experience, chair the board – but let’s make the other board members as diverse as possible.

It might just prevent the ground from falling out beneath you…

 

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