60 seconds with… Dame Clara Furse

Chair of the board

3 min read

Dame Clara is a Director of Nomura Holdings, its FSA regulated entities, and Chairman of Nomura Bank International. She is a NED of Legal & General, Amadeus IT and the Department for Work and Pensions. She is also a member of the Panel of Senior Advisers to Chatham House and was CEO of London Stock Exchange from 2001-2009.

What changes would you make to UK boardrooms to make them more effective?

Boards need to think more about the future we want and how we’re going to create it. There is a vast amount of capital sitting dormant on UK balance sheets so we need boards to focus on strategy and investment. But the financial crisis still dominates both headlines and sentiment and too many boards are still in defensive mode. Ultimately it’s the calibre of the Chairman that’ll determine where you sit on the scale.

How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?

We need less paper and more information. Information sets the framework for the discussion in the boardroom and we need the right information, at the right time and of the right quality. And it’s not just about KPIs. The board also needs the information that fuels a forward looking and strategic conversation. This is critical for an effective board meeting.

How could, or should, the role of the Company Secretary evolve to better support the board?

Their role is pivotal – or at least it should be. A good Company Secretary is the Chairman’s right-hand and is involved in every aspect of a board meeting: from the logistics and timely distribution of quality board packs, to ensuring the agenda is focused on what really matters. As the point-person for the board, they’re likely to know and read the directors and the meeting better than anyone – which is a tremendously valuable asset to the Chairman.

Do boards give the technology strategy the attention it deserves?

The potential for technology to determine the fortunes of a company is clear – so boards need to be discussing this regularly. Too many boards view technology as a risk and fail to appreciate the strategic advantage it presents. This is why we need diversity in the boardroom, beyond gender diversity, to ensure we have the right mix of skills and experience around the table to engage in such a debate.

What single government policy change would you like to make to support British enterprise?

I’d like to see the government do even more to support SMEs. The Funding for Lending scheme and Business Bank will have real impact, but there’s still more that can be done. France and Germany offer far better support to their SMEs, and we need to do a lot more if we’re to keep up and build new businesses.

What is the smartest commercial decision you've ever known?

When William of Orange was offered the throne in 1689, he brought with him from Holland two extremely important constructs: Firstly, the Central Bank and secondly, the Stock Exchange. Although a political decision, they brought immense business benefits which enabled Britain to finance its extraordinary growth over the centuries that followed.

What book is on your bedside table?

I always have at least two on the go. One of the books I’m reading was written by my father-in-law, Tony Furse. It’s about his uncle, the late Air Chief Marshal, Sir Wilfrid Freeman, who is one of the great unsung heroes of WW2. He played a pivotal role in securing Britain’s air supremacy and it’s always inspiring to read about the impact that one individual can have.

The other book that I’m reading is Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Márquez; I think his writing resonates because of my childhood in Colombia.

What is your golden rule?

Take the road less travelled. As Robert Frost said so beautifully in The Road Not Taken, “that has made all the difference”.

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