Lorraine Baldry is Chairman of London & Continental Railways, Inventa Partners and Tri-Air Developments. She is a Senior Independent Director at Circle Holdings and a board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority.
What would you change to make UK boardrooms more effective?
In my experience the most successful boards have diversity, chemistry, and a willingness to challenge. Contrary to the findings of The Walker Review, I don’t share the view that the board of a financial services firm must be filled exclusively with bankers. I believe we should appoint directors from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible, each attuned to different opportunities and risks, provided they are willing to learn what they don’t already know. My background is in technology and I’ve worked across a wide range of sectors, so I’ve had to ‘learn how to learn’ and I’m used to asking the all-important questions to understand a new industry quickly.
For a diverse board to succeed they need something in common around which to coalesce; they need a shared sense of values and a common desire for the business to flourish. At Circle Holdings where we are the first private operator of an NHS hospital, the board is very diverse: I have a property and technology background and there is a lawyer, a banker, and a medical man too. But we share a common belief in social enterprise and that we can run health services better.
How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?
Information is critical — but it’s got to be of the right scope and quality. There’s a fine line between being overwhelmed with too much information and being dissatisfied with too little. And whilst a summary sheet alone may sound good in theory, you have to rely on someone else’s interpretation of the data which can be dangerous. Presenting data with red, amber and green coding to signal whether or not performance is on track, is a good starting point.
Has the way boards operate changed much in the last few years?
There’s an increasing focus on compliance and regulation, particularly in Audit Committees, which is a drain on precious boardroom time. I’d prefer if these items were slotted into the board pack as ‘items to note’ and then more time could be spent on exploring growth opportunities and managing risk.
What government policy would you like to change to support British enterprise?
I’d introduce a scheme for SMEs where the Government guarantees supplier payments. This would encourage businesses to extend credit in the knowledge that, if the SME gets into financial difficulty, the supplier will be paid.
How will the UK’s global influence change over the next decade?
We’re currently facing increasing competition from Asia and parts of South America, which the Government clearly recognises. However, African countries, with their wealth of resources and desire to change, are already showing high growth rates and over the next decade could also become serious competitors. Now is the time for the Government to step up their involvement with these new players on the block.
Which companies would you back for the next decade?
I’m probably biased because of my technology background but I’d back companies that embrace new technology. Used in the right way, technology gives a business a competitive edge.
What is the smartest decision you’ve made?
Taking the step from being ‘doer’ to ‘manager’.I’ve just downloaded ‘Capital’ by John Lanchester onto my Kindle which is about the lives of a handful of Londoners. But it’s mysteries that I really enjoy — especially a Sherlock Holmes!
What is your golden rule?
Never agree to anything you don’t understand.