Tuesday, 10 July 2012

All the women on FTSE boards ...

There are now over 300 women serving on the boards of Britain's largest listed companies in the FTSE 350 ... there are CEOs, Chairs, Finance Directors, executive team leaders and non-execs.  There are mothers and there are grandmothers. They are all ages from their 30s to their 70s.  There are black women and Asian women and women from every continent.  There is a vanguard of women who were the first to get on board and a new group of women stepping up every year.  To see all the women currently on boards and to celebrate their success click here ...

Monday, 9 July 2012

The women on the board at Barclays ...

Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo, SAB Miller
A non-exec seat on the board of a large listed company has been seen by many as a safe sinecure at the end of a long career; you were not expected to rock the boat but in return could expect a low public profile and little public pressure.  If it was ever such, the “shareholder spring”, (with high profile revolts at WPP, Aviva, Trinity Mirror, G4S and Astra Zeneca), and the corporate governance crisis at Barclays have put paid to this cosy, obscurity.  Women on boards must now expect and, I would argue, embrace a certain degree of controversy.

Alison Carnwath and Dambisa Moyo, the two women non-execs at Barclays will, (with the rest of the Barclays board), be subject to intense scrutiny over the next few months as the SFO investigates the possibility of criminal prosecution of bank staff for fixing LIBOR rates.  The roles that Alison and Dambisa have played on the Barclays board will become clearer as these investigations unfold  but what is certain is that they are no strangers to controversy and have both been known to contentiously rattle cages. 

Alison Carnwarth
Alison Carnwarth, Barclays
Alison Carnwath, (aged 59), has been one of the van-guard of women non-executive directors.  Following education at a Welsh boarding school and Reading University and qualification in the 1970s as an accountant, she was an investment banker rising to the executive board at both Henry Schroder Wagg and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in New York where she was Managing Director.  Since the early 1990s, she has built a portfolio career serving on 15 different boards, and in addition to Barclays, is currently a non-exec director at Man, Zurich Insurance and PACCAR and chair of the board at Land Securities and ISIS Equity Partners. 

She was named by The Times as one of the 100 most influential directors in the UK and yet it has been claimed that “a large party of the City club just don’t like her” (The Guardian May 2012).  She was for example lambasted by the trade press for what they described as a “graceless” speech to the outgoing CEO at Land Securities because she acknowledged that she had not got on with him personally. (The Evening Standard Apr 2012)

Alison Carnwath, Land Securities
Alison certainly experienced the full barrage of shareholder fire this spring when she was subject to high profile votes against her re-election to the Barclays and Man boards, with 22% and 33% respectively of shareholders voting against her.  At Barclays, she was seen, as Chair of the Remuneration Committee, as responsible for the board’s award of a bonus to Bob Diamond despite poor trading and for failing to explain effectively the award at the meeting with shareholders.

However, subsequent coverage in the Wall Street Journal, suggested that Carnwath had actually strongly opposed the bonus and it had been forced through by Chairman Marcus Agius who had demanded that the board support the award unanimously.  Her performance at the shareholder meeting, some now claim, reflected her thorough lack of support for Diamond's bonus.  Indeed, some who have served with her on other boards claim that she “is no pushover on pay” and takes a much harder line than most board members, (The Guardian May 2012). Some Barclays shareholders have now demanded that the split between Carnwath and Agius be officially revealed.

Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo, Barclays
Dambisa Moyo, (aged 43), has been similarly prepared to challenge the status quo and to make herself unpopular in doing so.  Born in Zambia and with a Masters degree from Harvard and a doctorate in Economics from Oxford she worked at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs.  She came to wider prominence in 2009 with her best-selling critique of AID to the developing world, “Dead Aid”, which was followed by “How the West Was Lost” and “Winner Takes All: China’s Race for Resources”.  She joined the Barclays board in 2010 and has also served on the boards at SAB Miller, Barrick Gold and Lundin Petroleum.

Dambisa's first book, "Dead Aid", challenged the effectiveness of long term AID programmes from the World Bank and the governments of the developed world claiming that they have actually undermined Africa's growth.  Although a best-seller, it was subject to savage criticism from the renown economist Jeffrey Sachs that sparked an acrimonious dispute between the two on their respective blog postings in the Huffington Post.  Her second work "How the West Was Lost" which attacks the "economic and social complacency of the west" received many positive reviews but was slated by The Economist (Jan 2011) and The Financial Times for its controversial arguments.

Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo (Damabisa Moyo.com)
I am in no way qualified to pass judgement on the effectiveness of Alison Carnwath and Dambisa Moyo as board directors at Barclays, and that's not my interest here.  (As more and more women join boards, some will prove themselves outstanding non-execs and some poor just as the men on boards always have done.)  My interest, is the importance of genuinely independent minds on the boards of our large public companies and the implications of this for the behaviour of women directors.  Business is by its very nature controversial - there are inherent tensions between the interests of customers, shareholders, management, employees, governments and our environment and decisions have to be made in which some interests lose out some times.  It is the board's role continuously, to resolve these conflicting interests in a way that ensures the long term sustainability of the company.  To achieve this effectively board members have to be willing to challenge accepted practices, to at times disagree publicly with management and despite an obvious need for smart diplomacy to further one's ends, have to be willing to be disliked.  Alison Carnwath and Dambisa Moyo have both shown themselves willing to embrace this behaviour and in this regard at least are effective roles models for other women in the increasing challenges that non-executives must take on following the "shareholder spring". 

Monday, 2 July 2012

The mums who are beating the FTSE ...

Louise Makin
Louise Makin, BTG
13 women currently lead FTSE 350 companies and as a group they are beating the index. In the case of Louise Makin (BTG) and Angela Ahrendts (Burberry) quite massively so - whilst the 350 stands at just 85% of its June 2007 level, Louise Makin has grown BTG’s share price by 345% and Angela Ahrendt, Burberry’s by 193% over the same period.

“When people tell me ‘It can’t be done’, you just do it,” Cynthia Carroll FT2012

Angela Ahrendts
Angela Ahrendts, Burberry
Behind this group performance are some outstanding fundamentals.  Dido Harding at Talk Talk has turned a £3million loss into a £141 million profit in just 2 years in a flat revenue market.  Louise Makin has more than doubled BTG’s revenues and more than trebled its profits in the last 5 years.  Within the same period Carolyn McCall (easyJet), Ruby McGregor-Smith (MITIE), Harriet Green (Thomas Cook), Marjorie Scardino (Pearson) and Angela Ahrendts have all grown profits by over 150%.

"Angela is ... very modern, very human. She gets people to work harder than they ever have, just by letting them know how important they are, how much the team relies on them.” Andy Janowski Burberry Supply Chain Lead, Wall Street Journal 2010

Dido Harding
Dido Harding, Talk Talk

The group is achieving this success in some very challenging sectors, (for example, Cynthia Carroll in mining with Anglo American and Dorothy Thompson in coal power at DRAX), and in companies with decidedly difficult trading records.  Dido Harding who took over at Talk Talk less than 2 years ago keeps on her desk the wooden spoons the company won for worst customer service from a national newspaper.  When Kate Swann took over WH Smith in 2003 it was issuing profit warnings and on the brink of collapse.  Carolyn McCall at easyJet has had to manage the infamously acrimonious relationship between its founder and its board.  Harriet Green has joined this group of trouble shooters moving from Premier Farnell  to troubled travel firm Thomas Cook.

"When I joined I might not have looked that attractive to people, but the alternative was probably going out of business. It was a burning platform." Kate Swann, Telegraph 2011

Harriet Green
Harriet Green,
Thomas Cook
Obviously, the 13 are a diverse group, (ranging from early 40s to mid 60s), of very individual women but there are some common themes in their experience.  9 of the group - Cynthia Carroll, Louise Makin, Angela Ahrendts, Kate Swann, Ruby McGregor-Smith, Dorothy Thompson, Caroline Banszky (Law Debenture), Marjorie Scardino and Harriet Green (at Premier Farnell) - had deep expertise in their sector before their appointment. And  Alison Cooper (Imperial Tobacco) although originally at PWC had been at Imperial for more than 10 years before becoming CEO.  Of interest for the identification of future women CEOs is that 5 of the group - Alison Cooper, Lynn Fordham (SVG), Caroline Banzky, Ruby McGregor-Smith and Dorothy Thompson - had financial backgrounds as CFOs or in Thompson's case Group Treasurer.

“To have that cost control discipline as part of the DNA is, for me, a great strength ...” Alison Cooper, Imperial Tobacco, The Financial Times 2011

Marjorie Scardino, Pearson
But the most striking thing this group share is their individual authenticity.  It's this, that as women we are sometimes afraid of in ourselves - we fear being different, standing out - but it is this, that gives these women their personal charisma and leadership authority.  It shines through in Cynthia Carroll's stories of her early days as a petroleum geologist - “It was great fun - there were lots of helicopter rides and mountain climbing”; in Marjorie Scardino's past kicking up a storm against corruption as a local journalist in Savannah Georgia;  in Dido Harding's former life as a race horse owner and jockey; in the 10 years Lynn Fordham spent working in West Africa; in Ruby McGregor-Smith's energetic tweeting.  But also at the other extreme in very hands on leadership whether its Carolyn McCall picking up litter as she talks to passengers and staff on flights, Dido Harding taking her turn on the phone in her besieged Talk Talk call centre or Kate Swann redesigning the card displays in WH Smith.

"As soon as you're out there you see what's happening. You speak to people - the crew come up and chat - and you know whether the standby levels are correct or not." Carolyn McCall Flight Global 2012

"Some customers have been so angry they have come in to see me because they wanted to let rip face to face, even though we had fixed the issue. That's fine too because then I will do a better job of fixing such problems for other customers." Dido Harding, The Telegraph 2011

Ruby McGregor-Smith
Ruby McGregor-Smith, MITIE
If it is their individual authenticity that is so inspirational to others then their own inspirations and influences are appropriately diverse.  Angela Ahrendts is a committed Methodist who reads the bible every day and Harriet Green a yoga devotee whilst Alison Cooper cites her girls' grammar school which "encouraged you to break the mould", Carolyn McCall being thrown into a sales role - "The most important thing was that I learnt negotiation"-  and Dido Harding her grandfather who "left school at 16, fought in both world wars and ended his military career as the head of the British armed forces. He taught me that if you try hard enough, almost anything is possible."

“I don’t know if I really understand what ‘role model’ means but I guess I am one now.  I found that quite hard. I didn’t know I’d be one, never thought I’d be one.”  Ruby McGregor-Smith, Coutts 2012

"I genuinely think, if you can't do something for yourself for one hour a day, you have become a slave ... whatever is your challenge in yoga is your challenge in life. My challenge is balance."  Harriet Green, The Guardian 2012 

Carolyn McCall
Carolyn McCall, EasyJet
And all these women have through very hard work achieved what many still fear is not possible -  combining leadership success and motherhood.   The group can certainly lay claim to a few stories of "super woman" prowess; Cynthia Carroll was on the phone to work whilst in labour and there are some large families - Carroll and Carolyn McCall have 4 children and Angela Ahrendts and Marjorie Scardino 3.  

Cynthia Carroll
Cynthia Carroll, Anglo American
But more striking are the stories of flexibility at both home and work that have allowed these women to "have it all". The husbands of at least 3 of the group, (Cynthia Carroll, Carolyn MCall and Angela Ahrendts), work from home and a close friend of Marjorie Scardino had described how her husband Albert took a lot of the responsibility for childcare - "Marjorie had the babies, Albert nurtured them". (The Guardian 2003).  Cynthia Carroll has credited her success to her husband's willingness to work from home after the birth of their 3rd child.

Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson, DRAX
In turn flexibility at work has and is making a difference for these mothers.  Dorothy Thompson works half the week at DRAX's headquarters in York and half in London where her children live.  Ruby McGregor-Smith took 18 months off work to care for her second child who was sick and has very publicly discussed the difficulty of succeeding at work whilst being a mother and the need for flexible work places.

Caroline Banszky
Caroline Banszky,
Law Debenture
Lyn Fordham
Lyn Fordham
"My children were six and four when I joined the company, I found it incredibly difficult to be away from them. You need to work with people who understand you have a family and that you are a mother first and foremost.” Ruby McGregor-Smith, Building.co.uk 2012
“What got me through was having a lot of support and flexibility at work, and not having to feel guilty about needing time off when I did.” Ruby McGregor-Smith, Coutts 2012

Kate Swann
Kate Swann,
WH Smith

Alison Cooper
Alison Cooper,
Imperial Tobacco
Understandably, not all of these women leaders want to talk publicly about their family life and children but personally, I find refreshing Ruby McGregor-Smith's frank discussion of her decision to take a break from her career and of the very real challenges of combining work and motherhood.  Too often, it is left to those who have stepped off the career ladder to explore the issues rather than someone who has demonstrated so powerfully that despite these challenges, it is possible for mothers to succeed at the very top of British business and to beat the FTSE whilst they're at it!