8 August 2022

Marion Banide

A Sneak Peek into the Boardroom, with Frans van Steenis

A former chief executive officer, Frans is a highly experienced C-level suite professional with a decade-long experience spent at the helm of some of the Dutch most prominent companies and institutions – the Dutch State Lottery, but also TUI, Holland International Travel Group, the National Chamber of Commerce, Adecco International – including a stint in the world of advisory as Managing Partner of Deloitte’s Human Capital Advisory practice.

1. Leadership

“There is a renewed culture of compromise”

“Over the past ten years, I have witnessed a radical change of mindset and leadership attitude at the board level. Until a few years ago, it was common for boards to be led by a strong Chairman figure, himself driven by a clear vision of growth and strategy. But today’s world is way too complex to rely on one people’s vision and a 10-year outlook. Boards have evolved towards greater communication between members, fostering greater cooperation, information-sharing, and a stronger sense of compromise.”

2. The 30% quota

“The Boardroom should be a mirror of society”

“Overall, the boardroom should reflect society, its aspirations, and its needs. I believe the introduction of the 30% quota was a very good decision, although it is sad that we could not achieve this goal without a dedicated policy.

“It is proven that diverse boards help companies better respond to competitive challenges. From my experience, I think women are better at handling change. In an ever-changing and complex world, they approach the transitions with more patience and flexibility. They are less focused on “leaving their mark” straight away and calling for drastic changes; they are willing to listen and adapt. Those qualities are very valuable in the boardroom.

“Overall, the complexity of society has forced boards to diversify, taking on people from different cultural backgrounds, different areas of expertise and specialisms in fields like sustainability, diversity, and inclusion or digital and Artificial Intelligence.”

3. New technologies

“Successful strategic decisions take root in positive inter-personal relationships, not virtual meetings”

“Boardrooms, as all areas of business life, are not immune to new ways of working. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a surge in the use of online meeting tools, with offices switching to services such as Teams or Zoom for all communications. Not only these tools are convenient but help companies reduce unnecessary flights and subsequent carbon emissions.

Although I believe this is great for daily work, I also see that at the board level like any other strategic level, in-person interactions are critical to maintaining positive and dynamic relationships. Boardrooms should meet at least 3 or 4 times per year in a physical set-up to define the next steps, review mid-term priorities and cement further the relationships.

“In the modern boardroom, time should be spent in getting to know your co-workers not only on a professional but also personal level. Only by knowing someone’s key traits, viewpoints and perspectives can you make the best decisions. It also shows commitment.”

4. Accountability & performance

“Trust needs to be restored. Greater transparency on performance and remuneration is a way of doing it”

“Corporate accountability is more than ever under scrutiny, as society expects companies to uphold higher transparency and sustainability standards. But overall, trust in the corporate world is low. The past few years has been studded with scandals associated with poor corporate governance – Wirecard, Thomas Cook in Europe but Arthur Andersen or Enron in the United States. This trust needs to be restored by fostering greater transparency and showing exemplary conduct”. 

“One way to start is to look into the question of remuneration and performance assessment of members of the Board. Boards are generally tasked with setting performance measures for CEOs, but they rarely look at their own performance. As per the remuneration, how can a member of the board earn sometimes 20 times more than their personal assistant? If there is a reason, it needs to be explained. Like any other employees, members of the board should be rewarded when they perform. If they underperform, they cannot be rewarded equally”.

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