The Independent Director


The Independent Director:
The Non-Executive Director’s Guide to Effective Board Presence
By Gerry Brown
Palgrave Macmillan – £29.99


The list of attributes required of the non-executive director is so long, precise and contradictory that there cannot be a single board member in the world that fully fits the bill. They need to be supportive, intelligent, interesting, well-rounded and funny, entrepreneurial, objective yet passionate, independent, curious, challenging, and fit. They also need to have a financial background and real business experience, strong moral compass, and be first-class all-rounders with specific industry skills.

                                                                                      The Financial Times

In chapter four (‘Themes’), under the ‘Boards’ sub-section of this book, the author quotes Charles Darwin: ”It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” While in the same chapter, under ‘Strategy,’ he further quotes none other than Lewis Carroll: ”One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire Cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”’

Both quotations, in the mighty big scheme of all things independent director ”(and, by extension, the independent chairman)” related, are of clear, fundamental substance/profound strategic value. BUT, does not all such variant consideration, wholeheartedly depend on where one is coming from to begin with? Not to mention why one has ventured into being an independent director to begin with? Even if just by proxy?

The Independent Director – The Non-Executive Director’s Guide to Effective Board Presence ticks many (of these) boxes and a whole lot more besides, which is already made evident in the book’s Introduction – where Gerry Brown writes: ”The purpose of this book is to explain what independent directors do, how they do it, and why. It begins by showing, through a series of case studies, the variety and complexity of issues faced by independent directors. It goes on to explore key themes that are critical issues for boards. The book is aimed at people who are interested in becoming independent directors themselves one day, or who simply want to know more about the role and what it entails. It is my hope also that some serving independent directors will also find it useful.”

Thing is, what is, and what actually constitutes an independent director?
Furthermore, how would you know when you’ve actually crossed the line from being non-independent to erm, (completely) independent?

Isn’t there a certain degree of much ado about nothing at play here?
Or, does such lateral/preposterous thinking, clearly raise the stakes to far too high a degree of complicit bollocks?

When for instance, is a rocket scientist an independent rocket scientist? An open-heart surgeon an independent open-heart surgeon? A burly bin-man an independent burly bin-man?

Lest it be asked, who, in their most right of minds, actually gives a fuck?

On the one hand, these six chapters and 269 pages (not including List of Figures, Acknowledgements, About the Author, Notes and Index) could be construed as investigating a relatively complex canvas, beset with a menagerie of insightful idioms; many of which are self-reflective and in a way, self-perpetuating.

As Sir Isaac Newton once said (and as quoted herein): ”I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of men.”

On that note, the language throughout isn’t particularly technical, nor hi-faluting, jargon induced junk; which, it has to be said, accounts for this book being far more readable than I’d initially anticipated.

To be sure, as Hugh Lenon, the Chairman of Phoenix Equity Partners has been quoted as saying: ”A fascinating and honest account of the opportunities and pitfalls of life as an independent director, Gerry Brown has a unique blend of executive and non-executive experience and his book brims with authority and useful tips. For those of us on boards, The Independent Director is a must-read.”

David Marx

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