'Professional Directors' Revisited.

Author:Rock, Robert H.

Directors & Boards' last issue highlighted a Deloitte survey that found almost 90% of respondents consider current or retired CEOs as the most effective board members. Yet, in the same issue, our Directors Roster showed that less than half of newly appointed directors had experience as a corporate CEO, and only 17% were sitting CEOs.

A current or former CEO brings to the boardroom a unique perspective, namely the visceral understanding of the challenges facing the top executive. As President Harry Truman stated: "The buck stops here." Or as a winner of the Iditarod dogsled race so aptly put it: "If you're not the lead dog, the view is the same."

Recruiting a current CEO to the board, however, is difficult given their limited time and availability. Recruiting retired CEOs is easier, but their age and relevancy may be waning.

In the absence of CEOs, many new board recruits come from the ranks of current and former senior managers, and from other professions such as academia and non-profits.

There is also another growing group, one I've increasingly come to respect and admire: The "professional directors."They include former executives, consultants and government officials who now spend much of their time and derive much of their compensation from board service.

Professional directors pose pros and cons.

The pros

* This pool is typically more diverse in terms of race and gender, which has resulted in the percentage of both women and minority board members inching upward.

* As I know from my own board experiences, professional directors have much to add to board deliberations. They are often very engaged, highly participative, and most up-to-date.

* They have extensive work experience, and many...

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