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
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". 

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