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Seeing Blind Spots in the Corporate Board Room

November 30, 2017, 1:50 PM UTC
Modern Business Board Room Empty Round Conference Table
Modern board room sits empty with office chairs around a clean oval table
PeskyMonkey—Getty Images

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A trade group that represents directors of corporate boards releases the results of its annual board member survey this morning. Here’s a shocker: Technology issues feature prominently on the mind of boards from tech and non-tech companies alike.

Industry change, business-model disruption, cybersecurity threats, and technology disruption itself are each among the tops threats cited by boards, as surveyed by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Each in its own is a reflection of the underbelly of breathtaking changes in Silicon Valley and its regional competitors.

This makes sense. Directors are typically accomplished people from various industries or academic disciplines. Rules require financial acumen on a board of a publicly traded company but not technical savvy. Thus, 46% of the 587 corporate directors (representing 520 companies) surveyed cited disruption to their companies’ business models as a concern.

Technology is supposed to make the world better, but in one key component the bosses of the bosses at public companies think things are getting worse. A mere 37% are either confident their company has adequate protections against cyberattacks. That’s down from 42% last year.

Interestingly, deregulation isn’t bothering the directors, 8% of whom cited it as a concern. Fewer still, 6%, are concerned about the effects of climate change on their companies.

My favorite non-shocking nugget from the survey is that while a vast majority of directors feel like they understand the culture at the top of the company—in other words, the CEO and management team they deal with most often, 35% felt they had their finger on the pulse of the middle ranks and 18% understood the rank and file. It’s hardly shocking that boards of directors, parachute artists who get paid handsomely to attend a few meetings a year, are clueless about what’s happening at the company beyond what the CEO tells them. They don’t appear intent on doing anything about climate change. Perhaps they could focus some of their energies on understanding the companies they’ve been tasked to oversee.