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“Boards getting younger – seek biz & tech skills”

An interesting article in the Globe & Mail yesterday on trends with corporate boards. This article struck close to home, because last November I graduated from the University of Toronto – Rotman Director’s Education Program, which provides individuals with a key range of skills to serve on a corporate or not-for-profit board.

"...boards are increasingly searching for younger directors who are up to date with changes in business and technology...."

I certainly keep busy with some 60-80 keynotes worldwide, and this is certainly one of the most thrilling careers that one could imagine. I’m regularly providing high level strategic guidance to CEO’s and senior management teams for some of the largest organizations in the world. Yet being a futurist, I’ve always had in my mind a 5 to 10 year plan for my career, and looking forward, I anticipate taking on some more substantive strategic work on several corporate boards. That’s why I took the Rotman program.

And that’s why the Globe article was interesting, in that it noted that increasingly, the demographics of corporate boards are changing in a big way:

The ranks of top corporate directors in Canada are swelling with younger directors, which represents a shift for boards, according to a new review of 100 large company boards by Toronto-based director search firm Spencer Stuart. The average age of new directors added in the past three years was 57, down from 62 in the three-year period from 2000 to 2002.

Andrew MacDougall, who leads Spencer Stuart’s board services practice in Canada, said boards are increasingly searching for younger directors who are up to date with changes in business and technology, and who will be able to serve at least a decade before hitting boards’ mandatory retirement ages.

“Boards are more aware now than they might have been in the past that things are changing rapidly in this world, and the fact is that the younger you are – within reason – the more of a sense you’ll have of what those changes look like,” Mr. MacDougall said.

Directors from the baby boom generation (people born between 1947 and 1966) help bring “a new energy and new perspective” to boards, he said.”

Now that caught my interest – “the younger you are – within reason – the more of a sense you’ll have of what those changes look like.” I’m part of that baby boomer generation, and I often find that there is a huge difference in the reaction to my message on the urgency of (business model, strategic, competitive) change for an audience of mine that is composed of baby boomers or below, and those who are of an older generation. And there’s a big difference in the receptiveness to change between boomers and Gen-X. And an even bigger attitude shift between Gen-X and Y….. I think the younger you are, the more open and able you are to deal with change.

As I say in my keynotes, “for the younger generation, constant change is like oxygen.”

And I think here’s what the Globe article is really asking: how can a corporate board possibly be effective if its demographic is primarily a group of CEO’s and senior executives who are 65+? Not to be disrespectful, but I have long had a sense that many corporate boards don’t really have a sense of urgency in dealing with the very fast paced change that is swirling around the organization.  Social networks, technology, changing workforce attitudes, disruptive business model change — it often seems that much of what i focus upon in my keynotes involves extremely dramatic, fast rates of change, often driven by a younger demographic who is intent on changing the business world at the pace that is faster than previous generations, and certainly shaped in a huge way by the tsunami of technology-driven change.

There’s a phrase I use when I open any keynote,: “The future belongs to those who are fast.”

The role of corporate boards, and as a result the role of corporate directors, is changing quickly, and the observations from the Globe article reflect that reality. Now and in the future, corporate boards will take on a greater role in understanding the massive trends that will impact the organization in the future, and make sure that the CEO properly anticipates that very fast change and continually adjusts the corporate strategy to deal with that fast paced change.

There are quite a few boards that are deficient in that regard. And that’s where I’m hoping to help fill the void.

To read about my Rotman experience, read my article, “Learning for a Living

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