Time for new thinking in Hong Kong boardrooms

Companies could consider the young with experience and knowledge as directors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 4:31am

The latest James Bond film, Skyfall, has actor Daniel Craig saying "You must be joking." when he finds out Q is now a baby-faced young man. The nerdy scientist known for supplying deadly gadgets to 007 has traditionally been played by older men.

Letting a young actor play the role is a new twist, but Q showed he was capable of doing the job with his cyber and internet knowledge. However, his appearance made it hard for Bond to swallow the new look.

The same attitude could apply to those who choose which directors sit on which boards in this city. Many chairmen or chief executives, like Bond, would not accept the idea of having a young man or woman on a board.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing recently undertook a consultation about requiring companies to have policies to encourage diverse board composition.

But what is considered diverse composition? The exchange wants companies to seek candidates of both genders, as well as of all ages and knowledge. The public so far has paid little attention to the age issue.

After the consultation kicked off, many women's rights organisations came out to fight for more females on boards. HKEx statistics show that 40 per cent of listed companies have no female directors while 37 per cent have just one.

But no organisation really talked about another aspect in the HKEx consultation - the ages of directors.

The HKEx figures show 67 per cent of directors are between aged 41 and 60, and only 10 per cent are below 40.

It is the same overseas.

A study by US executive search firm CTPartners early this year found that more than 1,100 directors on Fortune 1000 boards were over 70 years old.

This shows that many believe people of more mature years should be allowed to sit on boards.

This is traditional thinking but how about a young person who has knowledge of technology or other skill that can benefit a company?

We are not talking about appointing high-school kids but the HKEx data shows even people under 40 find it hard to squeeze into the boardroom.

If young people have certain experiences and knowledge, companies should consider making them directors.

Kathryn Yap, a managing partner at CTPartners, said companies should set guidelines and goals for hiring executives to achieve a more balanced board composition.

Some countries also have adopted regulations requiring at least 20 per cent of all candidates for directorships be women.