Publisher’s Note: Selection criteria for Top 25 Most Influential Chairs Of Board Impacting Business

Modern meeting room with solid wood table

We were interested in selecting chairs of boards who are not only role models for good corporate governance and act as champions for the cause, right up to advocating such good practices through advocacy and communications in public forums.

By Dr Hanningtone Gaya, CEO – The Knowledge Warehouse Kenya.

Borrowing heavily from an article paraphrased from a version that appeared in the March–April 2018 issue (pp.96–105) of Harvard Business Review, an effective chair’s main role is to provide leadership to the board of directors, not the organization he/she leads. This style of chair enables boards to function as the highest decision-making body in the organization.

A respondent in one survey conducted during one of the INSEAD training programmes, quoted in this article had this to say: “The chair is responsible for and represents the board, while the CEO is responsible for and is the public face of the company.” This clear and very crucial distinction makes the chair’s job very different from the CEO’s, and it calls for specific skills and practices by the chairs of boards.

A boards responsibility is collective, and the chair’s job is to enable the board to fulfil it. To be effective, chairs must recognize that they are not commanders but facilitators. Their role is to create the conditions under which the directors can have productive group discussions.

But, first things first. There is no shortage of chairs in this country who qualify for inclusion in this list of the 25 most influential. The project team handling this assignment decided to restrict the number to one that coincides with this magazine’s 25th anniversary – while we hope to recognize more in issues to come.

In fact, this issue reintroduces the CEO of the Month with Geoffrey Odundo of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) walking away with this one.

How did we go about selecting those we did include here? We certainly did not confine ourselves to easily measurable indicators such as size of the organization or growth of revenue or profits. Rather, we looked at a much broader range of attributes, ones that have led to these men and women to be selected for the influential roles they are currently playing, and indeed ones they have been and continue to apply elsewhere.

Some are veterans who have been prominent for long and have now begun phasing themselves out; others are yet to reach their peak influence; while most are in their prime right now. Some are men and some are women – and the women in the list are there neither because of nor despite being women.

For all 25 we bore in mind their role as leaders of boards rather than of management. The chair’s position, in addition to providing oversight, requires chairpersons to be champions, coaches and ambassadors. They must be visionaries, strategic thinkers and thought leaders, both within their sector and much more generally in our society. In these days of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) they must lead organizations to be innovative and agile, and they must be so themselves.

Perhaps most importantly they must be responsible leaders, role models for healthy organizational values. They must have visible integrity, men and women who nurture the building of sustainable institutions where all stakeholders are treated fairly. And their organizations must be led by a sense of purpose, one that is uplifting and of benefit to the communities in which they operate.

We were interested in selecting chairs of boards who are not only role models for good corporate governance and act as champions for the cause, right up to advocating such good practices through advocacy and communications in public forums. Those selected have been men and women who have and continue to excel at communicating such lofty aspirations and how to fulfill them to broader audiences, mainly through the media, seminars and in conferences.

Not surprisingly, a good proportion of our Top 25 chairpersons spend significant time volunteering their services on a pro bono basis – to business member organizations, professional associations, service organizations such as Rotary, Lions, environmental conservation, wildlife protection and vulnerable community organizations, and NGOs.

Their personal, professional and organizational track records much speak for themselves, and this consistently over time. As Mugo Kibati says, ‘if they are engineers, they ought to be proud of the roads they have built’. They must be excellent at chairing the board meetings and seeing their boards add value; and their relationships with their CEOs must be good while maintain constructive tension.

No doubt some others would have reached different conclusions, and that seats well with us. We followed these criteria in a qualitative analysis and peer reviewed to triangulate our best judgment criteria to select and to rank as we did. Either way, our expectation is that you will find these 25 stories inspiring, differently created and told by a team of writers relying on submissions, research and on occasions personal inputs, as each of these men and women are distinctly different.

Other than the ranking, which we know is extremely unpopular, we hope and trust that the content and some revelations, like that on the very elaborate and lengthy process of recruiting Peter Ndegwa as the first Kenyan CEO of Safaricom PLC, will stimulate you to reflect on your board leadership attributes, aspirations and probably inform your own CEO succession planning.

For the CEOs who are also chair of other boards, the content is to urge you to use professional coaches to unlearn your previous traits and usher you into even more effective chairs of boards as you deal with the duality of your different roles.

We look forward to hearing your reactions to what we have published here, as we continue the discourse on the making of a good chair of board with influence that makes an impact beyond your personal space and into the wider environment.


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Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Kenya’s Dr Hanningtone Gaya, holds a PhD in Commerce in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is viewed as an authority in country branding and is the founder chairman of the Brand Kenya Board.

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