By Tom Peters
Is your Board of Directors as cool as your product offerings … and does it have 50 percent (or at least one-third) Women Members?
“The bottleneck is at the top of the bottle,” strategy guru Gary Hamel reminds us.“Where,” he asks rhetorically,“are you likely to find people with the least diversity of experience, the largest investment in the past, and the greatest reverence for industrial dogma?” His answer, obvious to anyone except the incumbents:“At the Top.”
I can only say, “Amen!” And add: The Board ought to bear at least some slight resemblance to the market we serve/aim to serve. In general, Boards do no such thing!
For example, I’ve been studying for eight years women’s impact on buying decisions, consumer and commercial. It’s enormous—including over 50 percent of consumer electronics purchases. So why was I recently introduced to the just-appointed first woman board member at … Sony?
I’m not urging quotas, but I am saying that, for instance, Deborah Tannen’s book title, You Just Don’t Understand, perfectly captures the communications- understanding “gap” between the sexes. In fact, if it had been my book the title would have been, You Just Can’t Understand. If you were to examine a set of representative board bios, and use my measure, you’d have to assume that the firm’s market was limited to V-OWGs (Very Old White Guys).
Gender. Race. Age.You name it, and the board composition is an embarrassment. No, I take that back. Scratch “embarrassment.” Substitute: Stupid. As in, economically stupid. (We’re talking profit maximiza- tion here, not social justice.)
The women’s market is enormous. The Hispanic market is by far the fastest growing in the U.S. (Find me an Hispanic board member!) Youth are often trendsetters, especially as the new technologies increasingly come into play anywhere and everywhere. (Find me a board member under 35!)
But let me go back to my chief hobbyhorse … Women. I’ll be blunt: I see no excuse, save an open acknowledge- ment of stupidity, for less than one-third of board members being female. (And I’d like that number to be-approach 50 percent, frankly.) Hint: I think (know!) this is an issue of the utmost“strategic”importance.To go to the animating spirit of this essay, Who the hell cares what the “strategy” of the enterprise is … if the Engine of Governance (Board) is completely, maliciously misaligned with the market served?