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Corporate Wisdom – Sir John Parker

by Mel Starrs on October 13, 2006

in Events & Conferences

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend Leeds University Business School’s third Corporate Wisdom event last night.  The speaker was Sir John Parker, chairman of National Grid. A fellow countryman, he started his career at Harland and Wolff in Belfast and has sat on many boards over the past 25 years or so.

Sir John spoke on the role of the chairman, and concentrated on what he believed the correct route to such a role would be.  He emphasised the role of non-exec directors on a board and championed this as a way of observing other chairmen and learning from them. He did not advocate the CEO becoming the chairman – rather moving elsewhere to avoid the danger of failing to fully let go of the CEO role.

As always at these things, the most interesting part of the night was the Q&A session.  He made the point that with good, transparent governance in place, the impact of legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley in the US, should be negligible. Sir John also advocated complete transparency in the boardroom – no nasty surprises should be announced during a board meeting!  He also had little time for non-execs who were ill-prepared for meetings.  And perhaps the most interesting point was a question relating to private equity and VC’s.  When VC’s eventually want to float the company they have financed, they need to place a chairman that the city will take seriously.  In today’s current climate, with many chairmen swapping PLC’s for private equity, this is increasingly becoming a problem.  As an avid reader of VC blogs from the US, including Brad Feld and Fred Wilson, I was interested to hear stories told from another angle.
The FT were covering the event – I was sat next to their reporter.  When I find their write-up, I’ll post it here.