Jamie Hambro is Chairman of James Hambro & Partners, J O Hambro Capital Management and The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Prior to this, Jamie was Chairman of the Henry Smith Charity, a large grant making charity, and Deputy Chairman of the Peabody Trust.
What is the secret to an effective boardroom?
There’s no single answer, but a large part of the effectiveness of a board is down to the people around the table and having a chairman who can get the best out of them.
People skills are part and parcel of good leadership. As a chairman, you can have all the operational skills or market expertise in the world, but if you don’t have the people skills to match then the effectiveness of your board will suffer.
Has the way boards operate changed much in the last few years?
Over the last few years governance and regulation have dominated the board discussion, and in many respects this greater focus on governance has been a good thing. Clearly, we can’t let another 2008 happen and it’s not right that directors get away scot-free having lost the economy billions of pounds. But in trying to rectify this, regulators are at risk of over-exerting their powers.
There needs to be a recognition that too much scalp-hunting and regulation may kill the golden goose: organisations are being suffocated and the new legislation from UK and EU regulators are costing industries millions. Is that really what the regulators want?
Putting your charity chairman hat on, what challenges do you see in that sector?
There are so many registered charities in the UK, and so many more waiting to be registered, that the Charity Commission is woefully understaffed to deal with them all. My recommendation to those who are thinking of setting up a charity is to explore existing charities, find one which is broadly in line with your goals, and see how your energy and expertise can help it achieve them.
How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?
Information is the lifeblood of the board discussion but there’s a tendency for management to produce tonnes and tonnes of information to the point where you can hardly lift the board pack. A good company secretary will make sure the information the board receives is no more than the information they need.
What is your proudest achievement?
It sounds rather grand, but I’m proud of my role in creating Vodafone. I introduced a friend of mine to the director of Racal, the electronics firm which won one of the two UK cellular telephone network licences in 1982, and we set up Vodafone together. I was a director from inception and was lucky enough to make the UK’s second ever mobile phone call during Vodafone’s early days!
What book is on your bedside table?
At the moment, it’s Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale. It’s a rather amusing tale about how, when the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, the Germans helped Lenin get back to Russia from his place of exile in Switzerland. The Germans spotted an opportunity – by helping Lenin they increased the chances of a Russian civil war, meaning the Russian armies would be fighting each other rather than them.
What is your golden rule?
I don’t have one – who does? Of course, I could proffer some kind of moralising statement but I would only disappoint it one day!