Commentary: Widening the non-exec net

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The Independent Online
Yes, it is true. Non-executive directors would be more effective if they got out of the boardroom and spent more time finding out about the operations of the companies over which they preside. This commonsense conclusion is backed up, in the nervous way of our times, by a survey.

Like the idea of non-executive directorships itself and the overriding concept of corporate governance, the 100 leading business people gathered in the leafy calm of Sundridge Park, south London, yesterday could hardly find fault with it. More problematic is putting this noble sentiment into practice.

For all the efforts of Pro Ned, co- sponsor with the Sundridge Park Management Centre of yesterday's conference on 'Building the Main Board Team', companies are still apt to look to the golf course or the gentlemen's club rather than use more hard-headed recruitment techniques when selecting non-executives. When they reach beyond their own circles, they want big names rather than relevant experience or skills.

The result is that - as with Barclays Bank, for instance - companies load up their boards with familiar figures who have so many calls on their time that they can barely fit in the obligatory meetings, let alone do any fact-finding that might give them an independent view. Reading the agenda on the way to meetings is apparently common.

It would be far better - as Sir Adrian Cadbury, Pro Ned's chairman, pointed out in his report on corporate governance - for the net to be widened to include directors of subsidiaries of large businesses, which are in many cases bigger than leading quoted companies.

Not only would they have more time to put at the disposal of another company's management, they might also have the hands-on experience that would enable them to pass on practical advice.