Guest-blog: Roger Phare – The Jekyll, Hyde and The Executive Director

Roger Phare

As an executive director, how do you powerfully lead your organisation through complex challenges? How do you align your organisation, staff, and board around impact and achieve financial sustainability? As daunting as these questions can seem, they are fundamental executive leadership responsibilities.

In spite of its institutional power, the position of an Executive Director remains an immensely demanding one, and not one that any qualified and capable man or woman will agree to lightly.

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest blogger who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’. Roger have been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

Roger is going to talk to us about ‘Jekyll, Hyde Associates and the Executive Director’

Thank you Geoff, today I would like to discuss the role of the Executive Director, which can arguably be the most individually challenging and changeable of all Board roles. Not that the responsibilities are any greater or less than Non- Executive counterparts, yet the concept of disassociating the “day job” with the Board role can be tricky and take some fortitude. The Executive director must possess or develop the ability to perform separate roles with separate mindsets; a veritable Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (and maybe other) set of personas.

The majority of companies start from small beginnings. Friends, family or work colleagues decide to set up in business and likely form a limited liability company. Almost invariably they become shareholders, directors and employees overnight. Generally there will be a leader; a chief executive who, more often than not, will also be elected chairman of the board. The other board members are often generalists, providing input based upon their work role experience.

Confusion can set in as the company grows and more employees are taken on board. This is where the understanding of role demarcation is vital. I recall being an executive director on the board of a growing company some years ago when one of my colleagues, who was head of the technical department as well as an executive director/shareholder, threatened to fire the receptionist for an indiscretion.
The receptionist did not report to this individual but his view was that as a major shareholder and director he had the over-riding power and right to make such decisions. He clearly had confused the roles, effectively merging all three responsibilities into one.

In the board room the need to disassociate the individual roles becomes even more apparent. Recalling that a director’s duty is to represent the medium and long-term interests of the shareholders, the double or triple role can be a major challenge. Let’s say that within a growing goods and services company the head of development, one of the founders and a minority shareholder, also sits on the board as an executive director. As a manager doing his day-to-day job, he has put up a business case to employ a number of new staff members within the development team.

At a board meeting, the annual item regarding profit distribution by way of dividends is discussed. The head of development sees this as an ideal forum to lobby for the approval of the business case. This is not say the overall decision will necessarily be wrong; it is that he has unwittingly brought his managerial role into the boardroom.

Once a company goes public, then the appetite for executive director’s wanes considerably. Most Commonwealth countries operate a unitary system, indicating a balanced mix of executive and non-executive directors. Yet over the past twenty years there has been a push for greater board member independence, with a move towards more non-executive directors. The executive directors are often consigned to the roles of chief executive and possibly head of finance.

Yet are we about to see the return of the executive director on public boards? There is no doubt that the need for up to date subject matter knowledge of industry trends is as much a requirement as expertise around governance and compliance. The need for this has started show itself in the rise of the advisory board; yet this can never replace true in-house expertise.

Perhaps we are about to witness the return of our Henry’s and Edward’s; but this time around improved peer mentoring and coaching maybe the answer.

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn. Roger Phare on LinkedIn or by email: roger phare @ gmail .com (remove all spaces)

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