Regular readers will know that my passion is what I term ‘Boards of the Future’ and twice this year I have written my column on just that. When I gave the challenge to Chairs earlier this year, to be brave and to hire one for their board, the first one who accepted the challenge was Allan Leighton, Chair of the Co-Op.
As always, once briefed, I like to get views from my trusted advisors and once such person is a Managing Partner at a prominent tech venture capital firm. He told me that I would never attract anyone young because ‘boards are a holdover from the sixteenth century and that they’ve been run the same way since the Dutch East India Company was founded!’. The very opposite happened and to my delight, I discovered that my millennial minded candidates were excited by the chance of sitting on a Board of a multi-billion pound organisation around a table with some of the most experienced and impressive business heads in the country.
Some companies have though, welcomed the growing trend and appointed younger professionals as board members. In 2011, Clara Shih was elected to the Starbucks Board of Directors at 29 years old. Examples like Clara are few and far between. Which begs the question, where can such talent be found?
I’m always on the lookout for promising talent and because of that I was interested to see a few interesting developments including a competition hosted by TransferWise. The fintech company, recently set out to identify 20 of the most talented CEOs, aged between 16 and 19. Winners received £1m of fee-free international payments for their enterprises to continue growing.
They succeeded and named Rose Dyson the winner of a £10,000 no-strings-attached investment. Rose, now 18, founded Pura Cosmetics when she was 15 years old. Her business offers a range of ethical, handmade cosmetics. Prior to TransferWise’s competition, Pura Cosmetics was the recipient of several other small business awards.
Callum Griffiths, founder of Clydach Farm Group, made it to the competition’s top 5. His animal nutrition and poultry business employs twelve people and exports animal feed across Europe. He impressed the judges by demonstrating an “excellent knowledge of his product and his market”.
Earlier this month Forbes hosted an Under 30 Summit in Boston. Over three days the event successfully brought more than 7,000 young entrepreneurs and visionaries to a single location. Forbes also hosted Under 30 Summits in Hong Kong and Amsterdam this year.
At the Boston Summit, speakers included a member of the 2016 class of Forbes’ 30 under 30, Marcela Sapone – the co-founder and chief executive of Hello Alfred. Marcela launched the in-home hospitality and commerce platform in 2014. The on-demand service coordinates everything from grocery shopping to pet sitting, you can even use it for party planning. Marcela’s company recently raised $40m in a Series B round, which she’ll use to expand to other locations beyond New York.
CEO and founder of Thrive Causemetics, Karissa Bodnar, also spoke at the event. At the age of 28, she was named one of Marie Claire’s Most Powerful Women as well as previously appearing on TODAY, Good Morning America, CBS and FOX. Karissa launched Thrive in 2013 when she was 24 years old. Her ethical cosmetics company is an industry leader on a mission to change the beauty sector.
The summit was presented by JPMorgan Chase & Co and benefitted from a plethora of exciting sponsors, who were no doubt on the lookout for young leaders and industry disrupting talent.
So, the good news is, firms have found a way of engaging with young, incredibly talented people. Whether this encourages FTSEs to invite 30-somethings to chair 50-year-old companies is another question. But certainly one that we should continue to address.
Starting a promising business at such a young age is one thing but convincing a company to appoint a 17-year-old NED is another. Experience is essential and invaluable; especially when your remit is heavy on risk management, strategic development and mergers and acquisitions. This knowledge is usually gained over a long and diverse career, spanning several decades. There are few substitutions for it. Landing a role as an NED could mean utilising a business network that you’ve carefully cultivated over the years. If not, it means competing against senior executives that do have these connections.
Perhaps TransferWise’s 20 under 20 aren’t quite ready to sit on the boards of FTSE companies yet, but their entrepreneurial attitudes demonstrate a willingness to engage in business. Companies suffering from the paradigm shift and explosive growth in e-commerce might do well to learn from the younger generation.
Instead of permanent board members, firms might be better off hiring under 20s as strategic advisers. As an extension of my previous challenge to Chairs, I suggest they keep an eye out for emerging talent beyond rudimentary graduate schemes. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to appoint someone who deserves the seat, because traditionally they aren’t old enough.
Just today I found out about the One Young World conference taking place in the Hague this week. I look forward to reading about it over the weekend.
Lastly, my youngest client – of course he runs a tech company, is 30 and I love every minute of working for him. Bets on for when I take on my first search for a 16 year old CEO….watch this space….