New Zealand boardrooms are not keeping pace with today’s digital economy, leaving glaring knowledge gaps around the board table.

Grant Thornton’s new report, Corporate governance: the tone from the top finds that the composition of boardrooms around the world, including New Zealand, needs upgrading to reflect today’s digital economy and diverse business community

The report highlights significant opportunities for improvements to performance and growth to those who meet the challenge. It also points out that, without revision, boards will struggle to meet the diversity of  thinking and skills required to effectively advise management teams in meeting the challenges of today’s economy.

The  report draws on interviews with business leaders and board members around the world. The research reveals a desire for board members to have current industry knowledge – 62%  of those surveyed cite this as an important factor. Furthermore, 86% think  board members should bring new ideas to the table with which to challenge management. However, a significant concern raised in interviews with board directors is the lack of technology experience among boards today.

Tim Downes, National Managing Partner at Grant Thornton New Zealand, commented: “The role of boards is to set the tone from the top, but also to advise and guide management teams. A lack of digital savvy in the boardroom is a glaring hole. Digital has disrupted markets, and the way we do business, but it hasn’t yet changed boards. The digital sector is also among the most entrepreneurial; generating ideas and innovation. Harnessing  this at a strategic decision making level is vital to firms that have an  interest in exploiting technology to drive growth. The truth is, board experience and wisdom on  how to run businesses successfully remains as important as ever. However, boards need a 21st Century upgrade.

“This means boards making best use of their digital experts and other specialists. People immersed in the digital dimension must have appropriate influence. If your business only has junior management with digital expertise then your business likely has untapped  potential, and you need to reflect on your talent mix, recruitment and people development accordingly. Companies with digital acumen on the board will be better placed to embrace and exploit  new technology to drive productivity and performance.”

Grant Thornton’s research also exposes a  gap between perception and reality when it comes to the gender composition of  boardrooms. While they remain overwhelmingly male – only a sixth of directors globally are women – more than two thirds (68%) of business leaders believe  they do an effective job of encouraging diversity.

Figures released earlier this year from  Grant Thornton’s annual women in business survey shows that New Zealand women  are going backwards rapidly on several fronts when it comes to senior  management and boardroom appointments. In New Zealand 19 per cent of senior  management positions in the businesses that were surveyed are currently held by  women. This is an all-time low since the survey started in 2004 and 9% below  New Zealand’s long run average of 28%.

Downes added, “A lack of diversity has an  impact on performance; groups who are the same think the same. This isn’t good  for new ideas and challenging existing practices – something boards tell us  they want to see. But this presents a huge commercial opportunity for businesses.  Evidence suggests that mixed boards outperform those of a single gender, who can succumb to groupthink. Diversity means more than just gender – diversity of culture, background, knowledge and  thought are all important. But doing more to ensure a better blend of men and women sit at the top table, by creating better opportunities for women to  progress, would be a giant step in the right direction.

“The time is ripe for an appraisal of the way boards operate, their culture, the knowledge they possess and who they consist of. This is critical to ensure they continue to reflect the businesses  they govern and the society they are part of. There are real opportunities available to those boards who can successfully adapt.”

Corporate  governance: the tone from the top, explores three major  aspects of corporate governance – the role of culture, board composition and  strategic planning - and how they are affecting businesses around the world. It  draws on interviews with over 1,800 businesses across 36 economies and 82  in-depth discussions with board directors.

Further enquiries, please contact:

Tim Downes
National Managing Partner
Grant Thornton New Zealand
T +64 (0)9 308 2989