60 seconds with… Philip Green

Chair of the board

2 min read

Philip Green is Chairman of Carillion and BakerCorp, Chairman Designate of Williams & Glyn — the challenger bank being spun out of RBS — and Senior Independent Director of Saga. He is also Chairman of Sentebale, Prince Harry’s charity in Africa, and founder of Hope Through Action. Philip was formerly CEO of United Utilities Group and Royal P&O Nedlloyd.

If you could rip up the rule book, what would good governance look like?

More attention should be paid to the Chairman-CEO relationship. It surprises me that this isn’t focussed on more often.

If the chemistry isn’t right or if the relationship is dysfunctional, the board and the business will suffer.

Has the way boards operate changed much in the last few years?

The evolution of the Senior Independent Director - the ‘SID’ - has been a positive development. When a board is stable and without issues, the SID is less critical. But when you need them, you really do need them. And it’s not an easy role. You are the broker between the CEO and Chairman and it’s the SID who leads the Chairman succession process. Good people skills are essential.

Board diversity is the other important development. But a diverse board goes way beyond gender. A board benefits hugely from a variety of experiences, backgrounds and approaches, to address issues in a balanced and reasoned way. If everyone around the table has come up through the same path, you’re unlikely to have a diverse set of perspectives.

How important is information in the boardroom?

It’s hard to have an effective board meeting without it. Management need to put themselves in the non-executives’ shoes and think carefully about what the board needs to know rather than everything they can tell them.

It’s essential that the information is pitched at the right level, in a good format, and in an appropriate quantity.

How will the UK’s global influence change over the next decade?

We still have the potential to punch above our weight.

Our judicial system and financial markets are respected the world over and it is important that we continue to build influence.

What is the smartest business decision you’ve made?

The smartest decisions a CEO can make relate to their senior team. The team I built at Royal P&O Nedlloyd took the business onto the public market and grew its share price from €15 to €57 in two years.

Many years before that, I remember inheriting a team and being advised to let someone go who was “useless”. I decided to keep him and work with him. As it turns out they were wrong - he proved tremendously successful. Spotting the talent and picking the players is critical.

What book is on your bedside table?

My next book is Boris’s The Churchill Factor. But the book I’ve read most recently is Into Africa by Martin Dugard, which tells the story of Stanley and Livingstone’s courage and tenacity as they walked hundreds of miles through the bush, often in great danger.

If you have any sort of affinity, like I do, with that part of the world then it’s well worth a read.

What is your golden rule?

Be authentic.

What you need to know, when you need to know it

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