Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

IMHO: Learning how to kill it in the boardroom

By Mike O'Donnell MInstD
1 Dec 2022
read time
3 min to read
Skytower light up at night

OPINION: The Killers played Auckland this week and they killed it.

Or more specifically, an aspiring drummer from Wellington by the name of Taylor Johnston killed it.

The band best known for Mr Brightside, a power ballad on speed that tells a story of jealousy and paranoia, played to an audience of 30,000 at Spark Arena on Monday night.

The track choice was long and tasty, the sound mix close to perfect and the connection with the Auckland crowd astonishing. One of the things that made it astonishing was the band’s spontaneous call to invite 22-year-old Johnston up on stage to play the drums.

The entrepreneurial young man had lined up early in the day to ensure he got a front row spot for the show. With him was a sign that said “I’m Taylor from Wellington. Can I drum For Reasons Unknown?”.

And sure enough, the gamble paid off, with Killers front mage Brandon Flowers pulling him up out of the audience to play on that song.

After a couple of hurried conversations onstage and the advice “keep it simple mate” he plonked down on the drum stool and delivered tight and passionate percussion, much to the thrill of the crowd.

It’s not a new thing for the band from Las Vegas. The band has a tradition of inviting an audience member onstage to perform For Reasons Unknown. And they’re not the only ones.

Bruce Springsteen and the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl do the same thing. These two elder statesmen of rock music are known not just for their wisdom but also their generosity. When asked why he did it a few years ago, Springsteen’s answer was simple.

“To keep us on our toes, man. We’re a bunch of oldies these days and we’ve gotta stay relevant and learn new stuff or the world will pass us by.”

Wise words I thought from probably the most respected living man in rock and roll.

As I listened to an obviously stoked Taylor being interviewed by Radio New Zealand, it struck me that what the likes of The Killers, Springsteen and Grohl have started doing is pretty much the same thing that I’ve seen across boardrooms in Aotearoa over the last five years.

Namely the appointment of aspiring directors. Known as trainee directors in Australia and apprentice directors in the United States, this sees typically younger capable professionals who are interested in governance careers joining a board for 12 to 18 months.

While they don’t have the power to vote, incur costs or move formal motions, they are fully empowered to join in the cut and thrust of boardroom debate and importantly inject a different perspective to old buggers like me. Of the seven boards I sit on, two have aspiring directors sitting around the table and in both cases they add real value.

The development has been given horsepower by the creation of the Future Directors programme by the New Zealand Institute of Directors. The programme originally got off the ground thanks to the support of Sir Stephen Tindall several years ago.

Today Future Directors provides opportunities for aspiring directors on a wide range of boards – both listed and unlisted, private and public. Last year it placed 16 future directors onto various organisations including Spark, TVNZ and New Zealand Post.

The trainee directors get the benefit of going from the theoretical of governance courses to the practical of real world challenges around performance, financials and people.

But in my mind it’s the organisations themselves that get the real benefit.

Firstly it delivers diversity – diversity of thought, age and background. While the average age of directors has reduced in recent years, there are few less than 40 and this runs the risk of companies not being able to see around the corner as to what will happen next.

Secondly, because they are not formal directors it means organisations get the benefit of another perspective without being constrained by governance documents like constitutions or shareholders agreements which can be sticky to change in respect of who and how many can become directors.

Speaking rights without voting rights or companies office obligations gives voice without the need to change the machinery of governance. That’s not to say you can afford to treat the arrangements lightly, so a specialist non-disclosure agreement needs to be put in place to ensure that sensitive information is afforded the protection of confidentiality.

Thirdly, because boards need to continually turn over their make up to avoid stagnation or capture, the use of aspiring or apprentice directors is an opportunity to “try before you buy” new talent for the governance table.

None of this takes away the responsibility of those trainee directors to do a cracking good job.

As Taylor Johnston noted what was foremost in his mind as he took the stage with The Killers, “I’m here to do a job … and for the love of God I must not screw it up”. 

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This article was originally published by Stuff

About the author

Mike O'Donnell

Mike "MOD" O'Donnell MInstD is a professional director, facilitator and writer with a particular interest in digital disruption and consumer centricity.

MOD is chair of Garage Project.  He is also an executive director of Kiwibank, Radio New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand, Serato and Kiwi Wealth.  MOD is an independent weekly business columnist for Fairfax Media and is host of the TVNZ series Start Up.

The views expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the IoD unless explicitly stated.

Contribute your perspectives and expertise on an area of governance to the IoD membership and governance community. Contact us mail@iod.org.nz