Sir Roderick Deane's website reflects on corporate governance.
He notes that our top companies face political and regulatory risks that may dwarf their normal business risks:
"Think of how many companies face actual or implied political regulatory threats today and you will encompass many of the top companies in New Zealand: Meridian, Mighty River, Contact, Genesis, Telecom, Vodafone, Chorus, Sky City, Sky TV, Auckland International Airport, Fletcher Building, and so the list goes on. Their directors live in a world that is hugely demanding commercially without the need for all the additional and burdensome regulatory uncertainty".
Commentators ooze smug criticism of directors who accept appointments to boards without specialist expertise in the relevant lines of business. They howl for the blood of directors caught short for lack of understanding of arcane accounting points. Yet most of these top companies, which now sadly may require political sensitivity as much as business 'excellence', leave themselves without instinctive appreciation of it. There is no substitute for experience at the sharp end of voters' conflicting demands and expectations. Knowing how those pressures are likely to be reconciled with reason and duty requires the judgment of Gladwell's 10,000 hours.
In my experience most big company directors feel they can, or will be able to schmooze politicians when necessary. But their body language gives them away. From experience I think they feel superior in abstract to most politicians, morally and intellectually. They are indifferent to very senior public servants who could supply the same insights.
In reality directors and senior executives alternate between obsequious greasing, and letting slip their underlying contempt. Some can hardly bear the company of politicians.
For a sample of the popular attitude, recall the gleeful vilification in comments on Lombard directors Sir Douglas Graham and Bill Jeffries, and the criticism of Dame Jenny Shipley's role for Genesis.
The political and regulatory risks have crystallised for Chorus, A respected analyst tells me all the equity of that company has gone, for the present. If so they've lost far more than Lombard.
Yet the shareholders of Chorus entrusted their wealth to a board bereft of anyone with an insider experience of democracy. A company with such political and regulatory exposure should have a former minister on the board. There is not even a former senior official, or parliamentarian to ensure the board grasps the realities of politics and not some group stereotype.
I do not blame the Chorus directors for this gap. The Telecom board was similarly bereft when the Cunliffe bomb hit them seven years ago. Most of the companies listed by Sir Roderick are no better equipped.
The IOD and the senior director network are terribly anxious to show themselves respectable on 'diversity' and opportunity and training and evaluation.
They've lost sight of what I think Sir Roderick was saying in his paper – that directors should be people who watch and speak with the natural mana of experience, of having done their 10,000 hours, of having walked in the shoes of management.and made mistakes, but shown their worth by results.
Instead our board tables are carefully put together like dinner parties, designed to show interesting diversity, making sure the mix would photograph well, but above all excluding anyone who might be tough enough and uncouth enough to make the rest uncomfortable.