Do all boards need Gen Y?

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The average age of boardroom members is estimated at 50. Is it better to let Millennials, who possess new skills, digital savvy and fresh perspectives, make more of the big decisions?

Alan Mak

YES We operate in the fastest-changing competitive marketplace in history, and businesses that want to stay ahead need Generation Y directors to help them deal with the big trends affecting their future – from the rise of digitally empowered consumers to understanding the post-financial crisis business environment. Generation Y is the world’s biggest demographic group by spending power, so every business needs to understand its behaviour as customers and influencers – and younger, suitably qualified directors play that role.

Better decisions are made when businesses draw on the widest possible range of talent and perspectives regardless of age.

Globalisation has created decision-making environments that require new skills (speaking Mandarin or understanding Ruby on Rails) and fresh viewpoints (insights into social media) that Gen X can’t deliver easily. Putting younger leaders in the boardroom helps their development while sending a wider message that an organisation rewards talent not just longevity.

Finally, the financial crisis caused an irreversible (and positive) cultural shift: business must now be done better and differently. From banks to supermarkets to advertising agencies, businesses are redefining their values and business models to become more transparent, accountable and sustainable. Generation Y instinctively understands this new paradigm, and they’re best placed to act as boardroom cultural translators, helping their colleagues keep up.

Alan Mak is a non-executive director of Havas UK Group

Twitter: @AlanMakUK

John Fisher 

NO Boards are for strategic thinking. They should not be opened up on the basis of any other arbitrary skill or personal trait such as age, sex or business discipline. On this basis, all football clubs would be managed by ex-players and pharmaceutical companies would be run by GPs.

If by Generation Y, we’re referring to an understanding of digital media, then this can be fed up the line to the relevant operational thinkers who sit on the board. It may be that some training needs to be offered to non-specialist board members on the effect of digital devices, so that they can fully appreciate their full impact.

However, digital skill is not just a technical issue. HR, finance, operations and sales all need to understand how Generation Y views the world in order to maximise shareholder value. You don’t have to tweet to appreciate what a powerful communications channel Twitter can be. Understanding the buyer is what most businesses strive to do best. It’s the board’s job to provide the plant and human resources to make the most of that potential transaction.

The best boards are most effective when they work together towards a common goal. Simply adding someone on a quota or technical basis is a bad idea. It’s how board members think rather than what they know which is the important thing and the broader their strategic views, the better.

John Fisher is managing director of FMI Group and owner of apps developer Red C

Twitter: @John_Fisher01

About author

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker is deputy editor at Think Publishing. Previously she worked as a features writer and sub-editor for Director magazine

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