Strengthening the case for professional directors

The ongoing parliamentary enquiry into the SABC has eluded to the suggestion that one of the causes of the public broadcaster’s poor performance was a board that did not possess the right mix of knowledge, skills and experience to be able to discharge its duties effectively. Parmi Natesan, Executive, Centre for Corporate Governance, Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA), says that the investigation’s findings make a strong case for the benefits of professionalising directorship.

“The parliamentary enquiry into the SABC demonstrates that the quality of governance exercised by the board has a knock-on effect on a company’s operational effectiveness,” Natesan says. “It’s also clear that board members must have certain knowledge, skills and experience in order to fulfil their responsibilities. To give one example, recent media reports indicate that some of the board members did not properly understand the Broadcast Act, and thus were not in a position to ensure the legal mandate was fulfilled.

“However, board members cannot claim ignorance as an excuse, and the onus is on them to be properly informed prior to making decisions.”

This kind of situation can be avoided if board members are properly inducted onto the board, and proactively expand their knowledge of the company, the market/legislative regime in which it operates and developments in corporate governance. But they also need to have a good understanding of what their duties and responsibilities as directors are.

Angela Cherrington, CEO of the IoDSA, says that because markets change so rapidly and are increasingly competitive, boards are under increasing pressure to maintain the right levels and types of skill, experience and diversity to keep the company on the right course.

“Directors play a hugely important role, and their job is becoming much harder. The case for a new breed of professional directors is growing stronger by the day. Companies would be able to assess objectively what skills individuals have, and thus whether they would complement the existing board’s skills. As professionals, directors would also have to commit to a formal, ongoing programme of professional development,” she explains. “Professional directors would be bound by a code of conduct enforced by a professional body.”

In response to this growing need in corporate South Africa, the IoDSA launched a professional designation, Chartered Director (SA), or CD(SA). According to Cherrington, this initiative recognises that directors require specialist skills, experience and integrity alongside their purely business skills. The CD(SA) designation also gives directors a way to demonstrate their mastery of the director competencies, and to enhance them through a formal continuous professional development programme. They would have to subscribe to a code of professional ethics.

In addition, the IoDSA will soon be re-launching Certified Director, an interim designation on the pathway to CD(SA). This re-introduction aims to capture those individuals who do not yet have the board experience to enter the CD(SA) process, but who have the knowledge necessary to start their directorship journey.

The IoDSA administers, and is the custodian of, the both designations.

“We were delighted to see that PWC’s Non-executive directors: Practices and remuneration trends report for 2017 predicts that ‘non-executives will become specialised professionals’ in order to meet the challenge of increased business risk,” Cherrington concludes. “The CD(SA) designation provides a framework against which directors can be measured and grown, and it will increasingly become the gold standard for directors in both the public and private sectors.”