Behind the Boardroom: What Do Directors Do?

Have you ever wondered what company directors actually do? Are they just the smartly suited figures that appear for the occasional meeting on mahogany row, or do they have a valid and meaningful purpose, as specified in a BBC article?


Directors are very far from being an arcane body of people, even if they have no day-to-day presence in the office. Being a director is complex; traditionally, the role encompasses managing company finances, ensuring compliance with current legislation, interfacing with senior managers and keeping the shareholders, as well as the employees, happy. Those are the maintenance aspects of the role. But in a fast-moving global economy, directors now also need to be able to engage in blue skies thinking, and develop that thinking into strategic future plans, ensuring sustainable growth.

Boardroom Demographics

The demographic of the boardroom is changing and becoming more diverse. As women increasingly break through the glass ceiling, according to a Russell Reynolds Associates’ article, there is evidence that it’s younger women who are making it on to the board, although with only 11% of the seats in the Fortune 500 occupied by women, the change is far from rapid. We live in a world which is also becoming more ethically aware, and the directors are vital not only in determining the ethos of the company, but in ensuring that it is nurtured at every level, from board to shop floor or office desk. The health and well-being not just of employees but of wider society is increasingly seen as a company responsibility and the whole governance process is becoming much more transparent, not least due to the advent of social media.

Attributes of Effective Board Members

So what sort of person makes an effective member of the board? In addition to understanding legal responsibilities of directorship, a range of skills and experience is needed. The first and most obvious is proven business acumen and an understanding of corporate culture. Directors are often capable financial managers with a track record in financial probity. Interfacing with shareholders is important – when things go wrong, being a director is like standing in the middle of the road and getting knocked down from all directions. Because of this it can be a very stressful position, and therefore Director positions can tend to change relatively frequently. Even so, it’s not that easy for a director to step down and retire, and it can be quite a lengthy process that starts with a specialist director resignation letter, and can take months to work through all the red tape.

According to an article on the University of Stellenbosch Business School site, ultimately, the best directors don’t just conform, they perform. If a company is to grow and flourish, it needs directors who will calculate risk and be willing to take it; to ask difficult questions; to prompt robust discussion and, sometimes, to think the unthinkable as they lead the company forward.