I had lunch with an old boss of mine a couple of weeks ago. Someone I’ve kept in touch with not just because he was the first person to ‘take a punt’ on me and give me a chance at a time in my career when I needed someone to believe in me but because he’s someone who I have enormous respect for, learnt a huge amount from and whom I rate as a real leader. So I guess really he’s an informal mentor.
Over lunch he told me that his role as Chairman of a board of trustees at a big charity was coming to an end and he didn’t know what he was going to do with his time. This is not a man to retire quietly to the golf course or tend the lawn to within an inch of its life! So I immediately said: Get another trustee role of course, you’ll easily pick up another chairmanship. No, he said I’m over 70 now, no-one will even look at me. When I’ve applied to register with an agency they just laughed. Apparently I have nothing to offer - I’m an old fuddy duddy, a ‘traditional trustee’ and no one wants those anymore!
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Now please don’t get me wrong, I could not agree more with the importance of diverse Boards, of encouraging young people to take on more responsibility and become a trustee. And let’s not forget making sure women have their place at the table too. But it made me think that perhaps we could be in danger of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. The traditional, ‘old school’, retired, professional man actually has rather a lot to offer.
As a CEO I know that one of the most important things you need from a Chair is time – someone who can devote their time to reading Board papers and talking them through with you, who will lead a strategy meeting, make sure the Board works as it should and is happy to pop into the office for an hour here and there to act as a sounding board or to attend our events. Someone who is no longer working full time and who has life and work experience has an awful lot to offer.
So this Trustees Week – while you read all of the articles encouraging you to think of new people to join your Board – step back and think about the traditional candidates too and don’t undervalue them, their knowledge, their leadership skills, their time or indeed their ability to chair a meeting effectively. Don’t assume everyone retires to the countryside and wants a quiet life – because if 40 is the new 30, 70 is the new 60!! Our country is moving into an era of an increasingly ageing population (there are more than 10 million people over 65 in the UK) and our older people are fitter, more active, and have more to offer than ever before.