Boards are secretive. They act behind closed doors and under cover of legally-binding confidentiality. Few directors would risk disclosing what goes on in the boardroom. When things go wrong investigators have scant evidence to recreate boardroom discussions. When a company crashes, there is no black box to tell who asked the tough questions or who gave the wrong answers.
So it came as a surprise at the company directors’ conference last week when the board of Gold’n Gas broke ranks and held a meeting live on stage in front of 500 people. More incredible still, they knew that there was going to be a crisis, they just didn’t know what it was going to be or how it would hit. To add to the pressure, every decision they took was relayed to the audience who could vote on whether or not they agreed.
Of course the event was only a hypothetical (what real board would invite Stephen Mayne to join?) but even so, the directors placed themselves into a crucible and allowed the crowd to watch as they doused or fanned the flames. Four brave souls from some of Australia’s leading corporates and one high-flying adviser from the US accepted positions on the board and prepared for a board meeting as they would in real life.
They were warned that there would be a crisis but none of them expected to be left “home alone” on their first meeting. The company had hit the headlines and the news was anything but good, but where was the chairman and the CEO when they needed them? One was apparently “helping ASIC with inquiries” and the other had absconded to Mongolia, leaving behind an offer to resign! The fertiliser had met the impeller; a brief discussion on the merits of resignation followed.
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As with any group under pressure, the dynamics were fascinating to watch. Alliances were formed and tested. Allegations were hurled and retracted. Notes were taken and referred to. Decisions were made and revised as new facts or theories were proposed. One hapless soul kept waving a copy of AICD Director’s Duties (doesn’t every director have a copy?) in the vain hope it might contain the answers. The newly elected chairman (though he was never sure whether he’d accepted the job for a day, the week or until ASIC caught up with him too!) bravely kept the peace and drew members to consensus on all the crucial issues.
After an hour the organisation had a credible plan of action, the MD was history, the directors had forged a team, the agenda had been dealt with and the audience was invited to critique and second-guess the board. Sure, some stuff got overlooked but onlookers agreed they wouldn’t have been able to do any better.
The directors concerned deserved the ovations they received if for nothing else than being prepared to show what goes on behind the closed doors of the boardroom. Could this be a model for the next “reality TV” hit? And, having proved he can hack it in the boardroom with the best, will Stephen Mayne lose his title as Australia’s most unsuccessful board candidate?