On December 12, 2019, Mark Lonergan moderated a very special event for the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange. It was SRO to hear statured Board Chairmen Maggie Wilderotter (DocuSign), Chuck Robel (GoDaddy) and Dan Siciliano (Federal Home Loan Bank) discuss the dynamics of the public company board chairman role.
There has been very little academic study of the role of Board Chairmen. Surveys support the need for strong leaders in the Chairman roles, business leaders with the management skills to work effectively with top people both inside and outside of the companies they serve. During this discussion, we explored several of the characteristics that define the best board chairs: leadership, diplomacy, communications, curiosity and toughmindedness.
Perhaps the most important topic discussed related to the special relationship between the independent Board Chairman and the company CEO. All of our panelists agreed on the need to have a Board Chair who can act as mentor and advisor to the CEO, while holding the CEO and the senior management team responsible for results. The very best board Chairmen are able to maintain “open” and “frank” relationships with their CEOs, offering them continuous feedback and avoiding surprises from either side.
It was noted that over a third of the Lonergan 150 (insert hyperlink here) still have Founder/Board Chairmen. As experienced board members themselves, each of our panelists had experience with this board structure. All agreed that a CEO/Chairman combined title is problematic for most companies, often depriving those companies of objective leadership for an independent board Chair.