Paul Drechsler is President of the CBI and Chairman of Bibby Line Group and Teach First. Prior to this, Paul was Chairman and Chief Executive of Wates Group, and Chairman of the National Skills Funding Agency.
How have boards changed over the last few years?
I’d say there are three main changes. The first being that there’s much greater gender diversity, with around 26% of FTSE 100 non-executives now being female. Although this is progress, we still have a long way to go to improve the gender balance at the executive level. And we need to do more to draw the widest pool of talent from all backgrounds into the boardroom.
The next change has been the requirement for boards to step-up and deal with the challenges of globalisation. We have seen an internationalisation of issues from regulation and competition, to technical developments, which has led to a rapid increase in the volume, pace and variety of topics faced by boards.
Finally, the third change has been the need for boards to accelerate their corporate social responsibility agenda. Whether it’s at a local, national or international level, companies are now expected to do their bit and give back to society. Younger people in particular have accelerated this development. They are less tolerant of companies who don’t take their social responsibility seriously and organisations who fail to demonstrate their commitment to society.
How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?
The quality of information is vital to the quality of discussion that the board can have. And since boards are facing more information than ever before, it’s critical that this is of a high quality.
That said, my preference is for less, not more, information. I don’t need to see every bit of detail; what I want to see are the key points drawn out and careful analysis of these. This insight is what really helps boards prepare for productive boardroom debates.
What single government policy change would you make to support British enterprise?
I’d have All-Party ownership of education.
Education goes beyond the political cycle and is how we can make Great Britain even greater. Through education we can shape and embed the right values in society, but in order to do this we need policies and initiatives which sit above party politics and which are protected from the whims of whoever happens to be Minister. Education is one of the most vital ingredients for the long-term success of our country and it’s essential these policies are properly invested in and followed through.
What is the role of business in society?
Business and society are inextricably linked. And although recent headlines might make you think otherwise, business is absolutely a force for good. For instance, Teach First wouldn’t exist without business. Not only has the charity benefited from funding, but I’ve seen first-hand how it’s benefited from sweat equity too, with business lending some of its greatest people to the cause.
Which companies would you back for the next decade?
I’d ask myself the question, what does the world need? Any company which offers innovative solutions to address climate change and health, or which makes people’s lives easier is on to a winner.
What book is on your bedside table?
My bedside table is leaning to one side right now, as there’s rather a lot on it! But the book nearest to me is Naked Diplomacy: Power and Statecraft in the Digital Age. It’s written by the former British ambassador to Lebanon who happens to be the youngest ambassador appointed for a number of years. And it explores how professionals and politicians are having to adapt to govern and influence in the digital age.
Diplomacy is both an art and science and given this era of globalisation, it’s now a vital competency that I’m keen to learn more about.
What is your golden rule?
Always respect others.
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