Wanted: A New Board Chair for the BBC – My Country Needs You

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The British Broadcasting Corporation is looking for a new chair of the BBC Trust, the governing body of the organization. If you are reading this in the United States (and most of NACD’s 10,000 members will be) there is no reason for you to care about this as much as I do, but nontheless I hope you will look carefully at the job description because the UK’s public service broadcaster needs great governance as never before. Brush up on your British English and get your application in.

Here’s a primer to get you started: in the UK every household with a TV pays a fee to the government and the entire population can access BBC television, radio and online content for free and on demand. The license fee, as it is known, is supplemented by sales of programs and formats ( including Dancing with the Stars, The Office, Dr Who, Life and all of David Attenborough’s output) overseas.

In recent years the BBC has been under threat from Rupert Murdoch’s satellite and cable service which of course carries all the BBC channels. Rupert owns a lot of rights to major sporting events and he also owns the technology which beams those events into people’s homes. He charges a lot for this. People who choose to watch sport rather than comedy, drama, nature, children’s programming (yes, the BBC brought you the Teletubbies) and who pay their bill to Sky, don’t see why they should pay up if they don’t choose to watch the Beeb. This said,more than 95 per cent of the British population avail themselves of some BBC service every week – the broadcaster remains resolutely at the center of everyday life.

With the election of a new coalition government, the UK is facing public service cuts that not even Maggie Thatcher would have dreamed of. The BBC will suffer a 16 per cent cut in its income and the Chairman’s salary has taken a similar hit.

Less income means staff cuts, more repeats in primetime, and limits on the kind of technological innovation that has led to the BBC becoming one of the world’s most trusted digital guides.

This matters to me because the BBC practically brought me up. I was one of those children with square eyes, a pasty complexion and the ability to make great halloween costumes, sex a tortoise and identify the cuisine, terrain and music of all world capitals because I had seen it on TV. I learned to expect the Spanish Inquisition, and had my own silly walk. Like all Monty Python fans I knew when a parrot was an ex parrot.  All my crushes were BBC presenters and my female role models were too. They still are. 

My first job was with the BBC and I was the envy of everyone I knew for there could be no more exciting and interesting place to work. Here, I could learn faster than I could anywhere else, and each morning as I walked through the Television Center scene dock past the Tardis and the sets of my favorite sit coms (Mrs Bucket’s table for candlelit suppers, Mrs Slocombe’s shopfloor bust from Are You Being Served? and, later, Edina and Patsy’s office from Ab Fab) I felt lucky to be there and proud to be part of the BBC. I worked in the newsroom then. I didn’t last long. The BBC demands a rigor in its news services that to which I was totally unequal. Sidelined from the serious stuff, I went on to run the BBC’s daytime services and later came to the US to be part of the early years of BBC America.

I'm Proud of the BBC

I'm Proud of the BBC (video)

I still love the BBC and I am glad to say others do too. Check out this video, now something of a hit in Britain. For a slightly more upscale appreciation of the BBC services check out this promotion for the range and diversity of music featured by the public service broadcaster.

I expect the job of chair of the BBC Trust will go to a Brit, and someone well-known to the current UK government, but I urge you to think about it carefully. The BBC is worth having, and so, therefore, is this job.

Time to Tone Up—Do You Need a Personal Trainer for the Social Media Age?

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“Technology leaves companies naked and it’s time to buff up,” says Phil Cowcill, facilitating a session at an e-learning conference I am attending this week in San Francisco.

WeightlifterHe believes all boards and companies should embark on a workout schedule and, if necessary, hire a personal trainer so they look good under the scrutiny of stakeholders using social media. “You can’t keep technology out of the room,” Cowcill says, “so use it to learn what your stakeholders really think, feel and see.”

Your skin, in addition to being toned and oiled, needs to be thick, says Cowcill, for sometimes your stakeholders will say and do things that you feel threaten the company, but if you learn to think of them as partners rather than threats— NACD Webinar people with whom you have collaborative dialogue—then you will gain more value than you will by playing defensively.

We discuss the recent decision by Gap, Inc. to withdraw their new logo in response to customer feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Was Gap really committed to the logo or did they just float it on Facebook to test the response?
  • What have they gained in column inches and from appearing to be responsive to their customers?
  • What have they learned that will inform new product launches and strategic initiatives?

However you address the questions above, your answers will demonstrate the need for new thinking around stakeholder—including shareowner—engagement. How good does your board’s body look in the social media age? Leave your comments below.

The Global Question: Do Directors Have What it Takes?

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Having a global perspective – or at least someone on the board asking the right questions relating to global changes – is critical for today’s companies. Major international demographic changes are taking place in the U.S. and around the world. These changes impact how we do business and where our opportunities and challenges are.

At a recent gathering of corporate directors, many questions were raised about “the global question.”

  • About who in the boardroom is raising the questions, and do we have the range of skill sets, experiences, and backgrounds necessary to address these changes in the competitive environment?
  • Is someone asking what our crisis communication plan is? The plan needs to be developed well before a crisis in order to be out in front of the social media avenues, delivering the message concerning the crisis.
  • For insights on how former Exxon Mobil director Reatha Clark King and former ConocoPhillips chairman and CEO Archie Dunham handled major crises at their companies, view NACD’s webinar  (complimentary for NACD members); for more and for sample plans, see NACD’s Board Leadership for the Company in Crisis, (full disclosure: I co-authored this publication).
  • Do we have board members raising the right questions about communications in this new environment of social media, blogging, and real-time news? (p.s., have you seen some of the headlines in NACD Directors Daily about this issue – Social Media vs. Anti-Social CEO, Facebook, Twitter Help Companies Connect, or The Democratization Of Corporate Philanthropy?)

If we are to protect the reputation of the company, we can’t be the last to get the message out. Changes in criteria for board leadership to meet today’s challenges can be overlooked as well. We need to look carefully at the challenges and opportunities in our current and future environment, our short-term and long-term strategy, and ask ourselves whether the right people are at the table to meet those challenges. Click below to see a quick video about how NACD’s Board Advisory Services can help your board meet global (and other) challenges head-on.

NACD Board Advisory Services: Custom, Confidential In-Boardroom Corporate Board Education and Evaluations