Home » Action on Eskom board signal on importance of board composition – IoDSA

Action on Eskom board signal on importance of board composition – IoDSA

by Media Xpose

The Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, has made headlines by announcing that the board of Eskom would be reconstituted and renewed. According to Parmi Natesan, CEO, Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA), the moves to renew that Eskom board should prompt corporate South Africa to ensure that its own boards are fit for purpose, and have the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience to add value to the company.

The first step is to assess urgently exactly what skills are needed. Business/financial skills are clearly important, but so are specialist, industry-specific skills—like engineering/energy in the case of Eskom.

“Some have commented with disappointment that the country’s sole energy utility had virtually nobody on its board who has domain expertise in its core business,” she says. “This is a basic shortfall that every company should guard against when assessing their board skills matrix.”
Boards also need individuals who are skilled in developing and monitoring strategy, and who understand how to monitor effective governance frameworks.

More generally, she points out, directors also need to possess skills relating to directorship itself. The IoDSA has long advocated the professionalisation of directorship in response to the increasing importance of the board’s role, and the fact that directors can be held liable in law for their actions. Its Directory Competency Framework provides a guide to the professional skills a director should acquire, and its two professional designations—Certified Director and Chartered Director (South Africa)—provide a structured programme for attaining them, and ensuring they are kept up to date.

A particular challenge for public-sector boards is that directors are often replaced as a whole collective unit, leading to a calamitous loss of institutional knowledge and inevitably creating a leadership vacuum until the new board can get up to speed. A programme of staggered rotation, such as is generally followed in the private sector, makes much more sense from multiple points of view.

Ideally, the Minister would follow the wise advice of King IV and exercise his power of appointing board members in line with the boards, and ultimately the company’s needs, and not purely in terms of political affiliation.

“Boards (and those appointing them, in this case Ministers) should regularly evaluate what skills are needed and whether the Board as a collective in fact possesses them, and then take steps to close any gaps,” Ms Natesan comments. The IoDSA strongly urges boards and shareholders to use this opportunity to take a long, hard look at their board composition, and then take any necessary remedial steps if necessary to make improvements.”

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