Saturday, April 05, 2008

Boardroom furniture – the role of the chair

The recent kerfuffle about Stuart Rose being an executive chairman at Marks and Spencer (ie combining the roles of chairman and chief executive) should be a useful reminder of the importance of the chair in acting as a balance to executive management.

A degree of tension between a chair and a chief executive can be creative. That is more difficult if the roles are combined. In the public and third sectors, we don’t get the roles combined although weakness in either party can result in a similar type of imbalance.

Perhaps relationships between chairs and chief executives are a bit like marriage. The National Council of Voluntary Organisations’ website has suggested prenuptial agreements as a way of avoiding relationship breakdowns.

There is a lot of truth in the old cliché: the chief executive manages the organisation, the chair manages the board. Unfortunately useful advice in applying that can be harder to find. I would signpost new (and not-so-new) chairs to the Governance Hub if they are looking for some guidance.

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