Australia’s population might be ageing, but not the Boards of the ASX 200. According to analysis undertaken by law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, the average age of Directors on Australia’s top ASX 200 companies is falling and Directors under 40 years of age are becoming a more popular choice for Boards.
Five years ago almost three quarters of directors on ASX 200 Boards were 60 years of over. But this has dropped to just over half (57 per cent).
“Contrary to what you might think, it seems that the Board’s of Australia’s top companies have taken a deliberate decision to introduce younger directors,” said Corrs partner Andrew Lumsden.
Lumsden and fellow Corrs corporate advisory partner Lizzie Knight have conducted analysis into the dynamics and make-up of 200 leading Boards. They found that while the majority of Directors are still aged 50 and over, the surprising statistic is that the proportion of Directors under 50 years has doubled since 2009.
Information technology, healthcare, financials and utilities companies have the youngest boards while at the other end of the scale energy, industrials and real estate companies have the most directors aged 60 and over.
The changing industry make-up of the ASX 200 has played a part in this new Board demographic.
“Fifty-one new companies have entered the index in the last five years with a strong bias to consumer discretionary businesses. The boards of these companies generally have a younger profile than existing ASX 200 companies”.
“The proportion of women on boards is also increasing. Female directors are on average six years younger than their male colleagues among the ASX 100 and nine years younger in the ASX 101-200,” Mr Lumsden explained.
Investors also play a part. In 2012, the UK and other parts of Europe saw the ‘shareholder spring’ which focused on executive remuneration, but this activism has now expanded to board composition and diversity.
Knight believes this change has also been in part driven by the dominance of the world’s largest demographic, 18-35 year olds, who with social media at their finger tips will by 2018 have the biggest spending power. “Every business needs to understand the younger demographic and younger directors are arguably better placed to do this.”
Younger directors bring more diversity to boardrooms and add value by thinking differently around new business challenges including constant change, increasingly sophisticated retail channels, data collection and storage, and potential threats of cybercrime.
“Australia’s top boards are looking to involve new view points. In many ways, today’s technology is changing how businesses and customers connect - younger directors can bring fresh ideas and insights into a new age of customers and opportunities.”
Both Lumsden and Knight agree that an age balance is advantageous, but warn that experience and the ability to cope under pressure become critical when the company is facing reputational risk, financial stress or undergoing large changes such as merging with another company.
“Boards of directors need an armoury of skills, knowledge and behaviours to be effective. Technical skills like legal, finance and accounting expertise are valuable, but must be combined with market knowledge and an astute ability to judge risk. Unfortunately some of these lessons can only be learned in the burning intensity of a crisis. But there are ways to learn from those that have had to manage their way through a crisis.”
Lumsden and Knight believe that Boards who have taken a deliberate decision to introduce younger directors will need planning and training to help directors with less experience deal with unexpected, adverse events, without comprising their creativity and innovation.
“The balance of wisdom and experience cannot be underestimated, particularly in a volatile market where a quick but predictable response is paramount,” said Lumsden.
“Director training programmes can help less experienced directors prepare for crisis situations. Ultimately though, less experienced directors need experienced members of the board to support and mentor them. It’s the right mix of innovative thinking, skills and boardroom experience that will be most effective in driving shareholder value.”
“In a 24/7 media cycle, every decision is capable of being intensely scrutinised, and unpredictable decisions or signs of weakness even if the result of inexperience, can wipe away shareholder value. Despite these risks, boards can support younger directors to ensure they have wisdom beyond their years if for some reason they find themselves having to manage a difficult situation on their own.”
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