OPINION: HOT ISSUE - Do charity leaders belong in the corporate boardroom?

The Higgs report on corporate governance recommends that listed companies broaden their recruitment pool for non-executive directors and appoint more from the third sector. It argues that senior non-profit managers have the skills to make a difference. But can charity leaders add value to corporate boards?

JANE TOZER, non-executive director, 3i European Technology Trust

NO

There is no shortage of good quality candidates for non-executive positions from the commercial pool - people with the real coalface experience that comes from actually running a business.

The perceived narrowness of the non-executive club comes not from a shortage of such people, but from prejudiced recruitment habits that favour FTSE-100 chief executives.

We need to broaden the pool to include those with wide-ranging business experience, not move away from business experience. By all means use advisory boards to tap into the experience of customers, civil servants and academics in developing the business, but stick to experienced drivers to drive the train.

Civil servants, those from a not-for-profit background, academics and customers have a lot to add, but it is unfair to them and to the shareholders to ask that they take on the corporate governance duties that go with being an effective non-executive director unless they also have real, commercial, director-level experience. To do so would seriously weaken the quality of corporate governance.

FRAN BECKETT, chair, ACEVO

YES

The commercial sector is losing out by not drawing on the expertise of voluntary sector chief executives to strengthen its corporate governance.

Running a successful charity demands the same level of business skills as running a company. Charity chief executives are inspirational leaders, effective managers and have a sound grasp of corporate social responsibility issues.

Not-for-profit organisations have multiple stakeholders and their leaders are skilled in handling complexity. They must motivate volunteers and staff, mobilise limited resources and build influential networks to achieve impressive goals.

All these skills are invaluable in the corporate boardroom, but ACEVO's research shows that there is very little effort to search out charity chief executives for non-executive directorships. There is a strong business case for widening the talent pool.

PAUL SMITH, director, recruitment consultants Harvey Nash

YES

The gene pool for non-executive directors is currently far too small and Higgs is right to recommend that companies broaden their approach to recruitment. There are many good people in both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors who haven't yet been picked up by the non-executive director radar.

We must remember, though, that we are a business first and an exercise in corporate governance second. A board of directors has to have the right balance of personalities for successful governance, rather than becoming an administrative exercise designed to pander to the City. Boards must focus on the chemistry that will allow them to drive the business forward through strategy, vision and good management.

We must not lose sight of the issue of personality in pursuit of doctrine and the Higgs debate must provide some leeway to allow for this.

NIGEL WHISKIN, chief executive of Crime Concern and non-executive director of Reliance Security Services

YES

As a non-executive on a plc board, I have been able to make a significant contribution using the expertise I have gained in the voluntary sector.

I have kept the board up to date on the latest policy developments and legislation in the field of criminal justice. I have helped the directors to build the networks they need to run the business successfully and placed the company's corporate social responsibility agenda in a wider context.

My non-executive directorship has also been a richly rewarding experience and has taught me a lot about running an organisation. I have been particularly impressed by the company's ability to communicate its mission, the quality of information it supplies to the board, its focus on involving customers in the development of services and the investment in staff.

The skills and attitudes I have picked up during my non-executive directorship are now proving immensely useful in my role as chief executive of Crime Concern. Cross-sector non-executive directorships are a big win for the organisations and the individuals involved.

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