Mike Evans is Chairman of Hargreaves Lansdown, Senior Independent Director of Chesnara and Chairman of Zoopla Property Group. He is also an Actuary and has been COO of Skandia.
How have boards changed over the last few years?
The financial crisis of 2008 was a real turning point, forcing boards and regulators to up their game. The result has been a greater focus on regulation and compliance, but this alone won’t drive better governance. The challenge for Chairmen is to craft a board agenda that addresses these areas but that still leaves time to discuss strategy and performance.
What do you most enjoy about being a Chairman?
For me, being a Chairman is a constant journey towards promoting greater board effectiveness and setting up meetings that directors look forward to. One of the things I find particularly rewarding is spotting something that works well on one board and introducing it to the other boards I sit on. After all, the best boards are those that are open to learning from others.
What are the characteristics of a good Company Secretary?
In my experience, the best Company Secretaries advise executives on the papers they need to write, educate the board on regulatory changes and provide critical support for the Chairman. Ultimately, a Company Secretary should give me confidence that the right things are being done at the right time.
How important is information in the boardroom?
It’s fundamental to an effective board. For me, the right conversation in the boardroom depends on having concise and relevant information. After all, if non-executives are well-informed and well-prepared, then they’ll be able to ask insightful and challenging questions in the boardroom and drive better results for the company.
What single government policy change would you like to make to support British enterprise?
I would like to see a more level playing field on executive pay disclosure. There’s lots of media and political focus on pay in publicly listed companies, but I think other organisations such as professional services, the civil service and privately-owned companies should also face these requirements. Otherwise, there’s a real danger of talent draining away from listed companies to sectors where pay is under less scrutiny.
How will the UK’s global influence change over the next decade?
I’m an optimist! I think we’ll be more influential once we have weathered the next 2-3 years of uncertainty around what Brexit actually means. My optimism, of course, assumes that our politicians can secure a deal where we can be flexible and entrepreneurial in Europe, but where we also have a greater voice on the world stage.
What is the smartest business decision you’ve witnessed?
It has to be Hargreaves Lansdown’s response to the Retail Distribution Review in 2012.
The Review focused on ensuring that financial advisers offer their clients a transparent charging system and that they’re clear about the service they provide – so naturally our clients were our priority. But we also had to satisfy the regulator, consider the impact on our shareholders and keep an eye on our competitors. There was a risk that we could have entered a race to the bottom on charges, but we listened closely to our customers and our executive team were brilliant in forming a response that the rest of the market followed.
What book is on your bedside table?
As a mathematician and actuary I’m not a great reader – and I have enough to read through my board roles! But on a recent holiday I read The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which explored important questions about life and society from a Jewish standpoint.
What is your golden rule?
I have two. Firstly, no surprises in the boardroom: the chairman should know in advance of the meeting if any stones are going to be lobbed into the pool. And secondly, do as you would be done by.