WHAT PRACTICAL STEPS DO YOU TAKE AS CHAIRMAN OF SINGTEL TO ENSURE YOU HAVE A DIVERSE BOARD?
The starting point is that we build a board’s needs matrix – which most boards do – skill sets and capabilities change over time as your strategy changes.
Then we do a global search for directors. We make a point of having one female director on our Nominations Committee. Search firms who conduct our global search are required to present female candidates alongside males. Don’t come back to tell us “there’s no women out there”.
The nominations committee is required to consider the female candidates along all the others. We rank potential directors based on what they bring to the table, vis-à-vis our needs. We often find many women in the top 10. So the talent is out there if you are prepared to look for it.
HOW SHOULD COMPANIES GO ABOUT BUILDING A STRATEGIC BOARD?
When you build a strategic board, you need to cover the critical functional skill sets that you should have on a board. So, accountants and lawyers provide valuable perspectives around big decisions. Then you need to have a few people with what I would call domain expertise, and preferably domain expertise around where you’re going as opposed to where you came from. Is this board fit for purpose, and is this board built to really support the strategy of the company?
At Singtel, each year we have a strategic retreat with management. From this, we align on a strategic mandate for management to take the company forward.
So from this clarity of strategy, we ask ourselves, is our Board capable of supporting the strategy? Do we need to add different skill sets?
They are not just doing a job, they are highly engaged. They see that the company’s success is their success.
APART FROM LOOKING FOR DIRECTORS WITH THOSE SKILL SETS, WHAT OTHER QUALITIES SHOULD THEY HAVE?
You need people who bring a high degree of intelligence and curiosity, are interested in the industry you’re involving them in, and are quite passionate about it. They’re not just doing a job – they’re interested, they want to learn, they want to grow and they want to engage with people. They see that the company’s success is their success.
They are the kind of people who are very good at managing interpersonal relationships, have good EQ, and are able to build chemistry, but they’ve got intellectual honesty and integrity and they’ll ask the difficult questions when the need arises – and they’re willing to have a robust debate. That’s the kind of board you’re trying to build.
So character and personality weigh very, very heavily, as does the motivation of someone to become involved in the board.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL NUMBER OF WOMEN ON A BOARD?
Being the only woman on a board is a lonely role; two is helpful and three changes the dynamic for the better. But I want to be clear that it’s not about women per se. To me the starting point – and I think any woman would agree if they’re invited to join a board – would be merit. Gender is a secondary issue. But having said that, I think there is a lot of female talent out there that isn’t being tapped because of conventional beliefs, which in my view are somewhat flawed.