Marketers Gaining a Seat at the Board Table
As many of you will be aware, the AMI conducts a series of initiatives under the banner of ‘Pathway to the Boardroom’ aimed at educating members on how to gain a seat at the board table. And we do this in conjunction with our expert partners such as Board Direction.
The development of the ‘Pathway’ program came as a result of feedback from senior members seeking marketer-relevant education on finding a board position.
In May, a second ‘Board Search Breakfast’ was held in Sydney featuring David Schwarz, CEO of Board Direction, and Dr. Katherine Woodthorpe AM, a widely experienced non executive director. The interactive session provided practical advice on how to become ‘Board Ready’ as well as hearing first hand experiences from a seasoned NED who works on Boards across a variety of sectors. The feedback from all those in attendance was extremely positive (sessions are planned for both Melbourne and Brisbane – I’d suggest booking in early).
Not long after the breakfast, across my desk came a report in relation to Board diversity*. My attention was drawn to the section referencing ‘skills and experience diversity’. This made me reflect on the skills that marketers bring to a Board.
The Report stated, in part: ‘ whilst the finance, accounting and legal sectors make up 46% (down from 53.6%) of the ASX 300 board seats …over a two year period, the marketing and communication sector has continued to edge up in terms of representation from 5.1% to 6.3%’.
Whilst marketers are well short of the proportion of directors from a finance/accounting/ legal background it is moving in a positive direction: but what is driving the increase of marketers in the boardroom?
One reason, of course, is the move to greater gender representation at Board level: with around 60% of marketing partitioners in Australia being women (especially those at CMO level) it is logical that board appointed marketers are proportionately women (especially when coupled with the skills and experiences they bring to the table).
Gender balance aside, I believe that there is growing recognition of the ‘strategic value’ that today’s marketers bring to a Board.
Boards are concerned with governance and strategy. Rightly or wrongly, in the past, the marketing profession has suffered from being perceived as ‘largely tactical’ and not a driver of the strategic agenda within an organisation. But this is changing. CMO’s are now intrinsically engaged at the ‘C suite’ and the setting of the overall strategic agenda for an organisation.
There is also a gradual shift in focus amongst Boards beyond legal and financial governance (but not to its exclusion); there is greater awareness of the need to understand what is happening in the market and how that impacts on organisational performance. Marketers are trained to understand the consumer, competition and the external environment. A recent Forbes S+P 500 Board Study indicated that Boards with marketing experienced members tended to have better total shareholder return (a 3 percentage point increase) because the inherent insight on consumers and markets translates into demand generating growth.
Following this theme, many Boards are now also cognisant of the intrinsic value that organisational orientation around ‘knowing the customer’ has on performance. They also recognise there is generally a ‘knowledge gap’ at Board level when it comes to customer understanding. Marketers are well placed to fill that knowledge gap.
So, I believe that marketers can play – and are playing – and will increasingly play a significant role at Board level. However, existing Boards need to be more open to an understanding of the value that marketers bring to the table.
One last thing. As David Schwarz points out – a marketer or not – if you aspire to a seat at the Board table you need to be clear about what distinguishes you from other candidates. You are not just competing against other marketers but a wider cohort of Board aspirants. And you must be Board Ready (go to www.boarddirection.com.au to find out more).
Chair, Board of Directors
*2018 Board Diversity Index – Watermark Search International