Richard Meddings is the chair of TSB Bank. He’s also a NED of Credit Suisse — where he chairs the audit committee — and HM Treasury, as well as a trustee of Teach First. Prior to this, Richard was a NED of 3i, Legal & General, Deutsche Bank, and JLT.
What are the hallmarks of a great board meeting?
The main one is a clear exchange of knowledge between the executives and the board.
Given their wide range of other experiences, skillsets, and attributes, non-executive directors are able to bring different perspectives — individually and collectively — and another level of challenge. Make space for that in the board discussion to foster the knowledge exchange, and you’re much more likely to have a great meeting.
How did you maintain that space for independent challenge when you went from non-executive chair to executive chair at TSB?
When you step in as executive chair, your thinking goes into “CEO mode” — so, there’s indeed a risk to the independence of the board’s decision-making process if you don’t rebalance your ways of working.
“When you step in as executive chair, your thinking goes into ‘CEO mode.’”
There are two things chairs should do in that situation:
- First, you need to rely on — and enable — your senior independent director. In our case, we increased the frequency with which I met our board’s SID, and she played a stronger role than previously.
- Second, you also have to be ready to step back as soon as you bring the new chief executive in. At TSB, Debbie Crosbie was very much the CEO from the day she arrived. We did maintain a frequent dialogue, but I was careful not to crowd her.
What’s one thing that chairs steering their boards back to stability should know?
You need more intense engagement and more frequent meetings during turbulent periods, because you can’t let other agenda points slip. You can’t just drop everything and focus exclusively on the crisis on hand, especially in a highly regulated industry like financial services — you still have to cover performance, product, strategy, brand, etc.
“You need more intense engagement and more frequent meetings during turbulent periods, because you can’t let other agenda points slip.”
In 2018, when we were dealing with the aftermath of a complicated IT migration, the board of TSB met around 50 times in just a year — which can be a battering experience for all. But when you sign up for a board, you sign up for the challenges.
Is it harder to foster good board dynamics remotely?
Boards can work remotely in certain cases. Virtual meetings can be well suited for reporting discussions — or “narrative governance.” And while it’s not ideal, you can even induct directors remotely, provided you have a structured remote induction programme where new NEDs spend enough time getting to know executive committee members and the teams below them. At TSB, we inducted four new directors remotely last year — which was a challenge but was really well handled.
“Social interactions aren’t just a nice-to-have, they’re also a great tool to transfer information in those spaces between board meetings.”
However, we also have to keep in mind that you lose a lot of valuable interaction with virtual meetings. And social interactions aren’t just a nice-to-have, they’re also a great tool to transfer information in those spaces between board meetings — whether it’s talking about an article you’ve read or a new idea you’ve had. When the conversation becomes more functional, you lose most of that.
What big themes are you seeing in boardrooms at the moment? And after Covid, is rethinking our approach to risk one of them?
ESG is clearly one — and across every letter.
Another theme is working out how the workforce will operate. To what extent can we all work from home? How can we have mixed meetings and manage some people being in the office and some at home? Navigating hybrid working is going to be a clear issue for the next two to three years.
With regards to risk, I hope we’re reaching an understanding that boards should manage risk, not regulation of risk. Too often, they perform a “regulatory dance”, by meeting at a certain frequency to prove they’re on top of things — but that’s not managing risk, that’s managing the regulator.
“Too often, boards perform a “regulatory dance”, by meeting at a certain frequency to prove they’re on top of things — but that’s not managing risk, that’s managing the regulator.”
What book is on your bedside table?
The Reverse of the Medal, by Patrick O'Brian. A naval tale that I’m reading for the third time!
What is your Golden Rule?
“You have to stand.” If you see something that looks wrong, bring it out.
We tend to think that integrity and courage are all it takes, but they aren’t always enough. You also need experience and knowledge to make sure you know what you’re calling out.