Lincoln Academy Lecture: Corporate Boards are Destroying Rather than Creating Value

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Billions are squandered on acquisitions and fashionable activities that miss critical success factors and encourage losing behaviours. In his Lincoln Academy Lecture Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas author of 'Winning Companies: Winning People' reports that directors of every company he has examined could boost individual and corporate performance by putting additional critical success factors in place and adopting more winning ways.

Many corporate boards are destroying rather than creating value according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas. In his Lincoln Academy Lecture the leader of the 'Winning Companies: Winning People' research programme reports that "Billions are devoted to fashionable activities and acquisitions that reduce shareholder returns. They benefit professional advisers but not investors, customers or employees."

The 'Winning Companies: Winning People' investigation has identified critical success factors and what high performers or 'winners' do differently in areas such as winning business, pricing and purchasing. According to Coulson-Thomas, "Many corporate initiatives miss critical success factors and encourage losing behaviours."

The findings -- summarised in Coulson-Thomas' new book 'Winning Companies: Winning People, the differing approaches of winners and losers'* -- are encouraging. He explains: "Every one of over 2,500 firms participating in the programme could significantly increase individual achievements and corporate performance by putting additional critical success factors in place and adopting more winning ways."

Yet according to Coulson-Thomas "Many directors ignore opportunities, fail to exploit corporate know-how and follow false gods. They acquire where they should build. Collaboration not ownership is the issue, growing organically through mutually beneficial relationships with customers, employees and other stakeholders."

Coulson-Thomas believes "Many boards do not pursue organic growth strategies because they are unaware of how to help average performers to adopt the approaches of superstars. Most directors do not know that critical success factors and winning ways have now been identified in areas vital for corporate success."

The Adaptation Chairman finds many boards have lowered their ambitions: "Because past management fads have failed to deliver many directors now operate behind prison bars they themselves have created in their own imaginations. They are preoccupied with ensuring compliance not boosting performance. No wonder so many entrepreneurs see boards as costs rather than contributors."

According to Coulson-Thomas, "Corporate performance depends primarily upon what boards actually do and how their members behave. Winning boards are distinguished by the attitudes and conduct of their members. Corporate governance arrangements are often a symptom rather than a cause of board effectiveness."

Coulson-Thomas argues: "The board should be the heart and soul of a company, the source of its ambition and drive. Whether or not a company competes and wins, sustains success and remains relevant usually depends upon its board. Without a sense of purpose, a sound strategy and the will to achieve, well endowed corporations wither and die."

Winning boards can be distinguished. Coulson-Thomas finds: "They display the will to win and are driven to succeed. At the same time, their actions demonstrate they care. They understand what is happening in the business environment and are sensitive to marketplace trends. They anticipate events. They confront realities, take a longer-term view and provide strategic leadership."

In Coulson-Thomas' experience: "Directors of winning boards don't look for excuses or blame others. They assume personal responsibility and collective accountability for their actions. They appreciate the distinction between direction and management, and understand their directorial duties and responsibilities."

Winning boards focus on what is important. According to Coulson-Thomas, "They concentrate upon the external, strategic and business development aspects of corporate governance. They strive to benefit shareholders by delivering additional value to customers. They provide and communicate strategic direction, a distinctive vision, a compelling purpose, achievable goals and clear objectives."

Coulson-Thomas emphasises that: "Winners focus upon the critical success factors for competing and winning. They develop additional income streams, new capabilities and fresh intellectual capital. They invest in director development and the professional selection, appointment and induction of new directors. Their chairmen consciously build effective boards of competent directors."

Coulson-Thomas believes "Urgent action is needed to improve the competence of directors and the effectiveness of boards. Identified success factors must be put in place and winning behaviours introduced where required. Nomination and selection committees should look beyond current holders of directorships with their experience of losing ways, and identify people who know how to win."

*'Winning Companies; Winning People, the differing approaches of winners and losers' by Colin Coulson-Thomas (ISBN 1-904235-58-1; Price £19.95 plus postage and packing) can be ordered from Kingsham Press, Tel. +44 (0)1243 779378; Fax. +44 (0)1243 779078; or on-line from

Details of reports presenting critical success factors and winning ways identified by the Winning Companies; Winning People research programme and related bespoke benchmarking reports and workshops can be obtained from Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas or from

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas has advised over 100 boards on improving board and/or corporate performance, reviewed the business development processes and practices of over 100 companies and spoken at over 200 national, international and corporate conferences in some 30 countries. He is the author of over 30 books and reports and can be contacted by Tel: + 44 (0) 1733 361 149; Fax: + 44 (0) 1733 361 459; and via

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