Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


If you do not live in the UK, you might not have noticed that we have had a Coronation and we now have King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

If it sounds antiquated, that is because it is. The major element that involves the leather industry is the glove that is placed on one hand during the enthronement. It dates to when the Coronation took place in the City of Bath in 973 and the glove symbolises the sovereign as advocate for the protection and honour of the people. He would throw it down in front of his citizens’ enemies to challenge them to fight.

King Charles chose to reuse the gauntlet made for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. It was again presented by the Worshipful Company of Glovers, which has looked after it in their Collection since.

I support the Monarchy because I like tradition and I enjoy magnificent spectacle. I think the benefits, emotional and real, far outweigh the costs for the British economy and believe having a constitutional monarchy aids the long-term survival of democracy.

In a revealing interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC, the King’s sister, Princess Anne, explained: “I would just underline that the monarchy provides, with the constitution, a degree of long-term stability that is actually quite hard to come by any other way.”

One can see parallels with the appointment of the Chair to a company board of directors. This has become a big issue. There is not a lot of focus on ESG, with stricter governance rules, worries about war, supply chains, technical disruption and climate change along with a lot of the sort of geopolitics that can bring companies into contact with politicians whose motivations are not always apparent. The task is no longer a “nice little earner” for a friend of the CEO.

Most Chairpeople have not been very good

As I look back at the boards I have sat on, or interfaced with, only a couple of standouts hide the mediocrity I have seen from the Chairmen (they have always been men) and consequently overall board performance, including my own, has not been good enough.

The separation of the Chair from the CEO is necessary. The board of a New England company I sat managed well through all manner of issues, takeovers and divestments with a combined CEO and Chair. But, when it came to selling the business, although there was general satisfaction, my longstanding view that a separate, well-qualified Chair would have led to a better outcome was confirmed.

Often the blame lies with a poor, sometimes lazy selection process

In the UK, the Monarch offers, through extensive schooling, the skills and knowledge required of a strong independent Chair. Our new King gets a daily red (leather) box of Government cabinet papers to stay up to date with affairs. He will meet in-person with the Prime Minister weekly to discuss these and other matters. He has been trained in constitutional and procedural matters and so is able to observe, support, advise and ask those difficult questions that need to be asked early.

One thing our King will have, which a Chair needs, is time to understand the business and its context. It is good to see company board members attend occasional trade fairs and taking time to visit customers and suppliers. This is about listening and understanding, not about control.

King Charles will make visits to the Commonwealth and the elsewhere in just such a way to meet leaders, politicians and many others at occasions where conversation is possible at a different level from everyday government representatives. He is also welcomed to more mundane places like charities, community businesses (in the UK, any leather-associated business that has not had a at least one visit from Princess Anne can never have thought to invite her) and stays in touch through interests in training, welfare and the like.

This ability to see matters over a longer period than a single Parliament is not that different from trying to work out long term strategy in business. Over 20 years ago, the King Charles made visits to understand the impact of the livestock disease foot and mouth and give moral support to those involved. He visited an upland farm where they had most of the sheep culled. Because restocking would take years, they would maintain some income with a farm bed and breakfast. He quietly booked a holiday there and went secretly, returning many times since. During one of his stays, he decided to set up the Prince’s Countryside Trust, which has been providing practical support and commitment to the people of rural Britain since 2010.

A company board needs such people with wide knowledge, a willingness to listen and learn, insight, and an ability to intervene when something is happening which is wrong.

My attitude to the monarchy may be romantic, and it may indeed be a bastion of hereditary wealth and power with no validity in modern life. But, when I look at the issues we face, I struggle to think that a Blair, Johnson or even Beckham we could get through an elected President could even start to fill the role.

A commitment to the long-term and to continuity

In the analysis of strategy in the leather business, we talk of Resource Based Activity and Path Dependency, both of which demonstrate the importance of understanding the past. It involves a commitment to the long-term and to continuity. That is certainly what a constitutional monarchy brings to a democracy, and it is what all stakeholders expect of their board.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

Publication and Copyright of “Redwood Comment” remains with the publishers of International Leather Maker. The articles cannot be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the publisher.