Building an effective Trustee Board
- Board of 12 trustees including four elected member nominated trustees and an independent
- Just completed closure negotiations with sponsor that had unsettled the board
- Board included healthy diversity of views and backgrounds but was failing to harness skills to function effectively – decision-making variously deferred and had a feeling of being rushed through
- Incomplete collective accountability; board members distracted by other business during meetings
- Asked by Company to take over the chair and improve effectiveness of Trustee Board
Changes implemented with Robert's influence:
- Reduced Board size from 12 to 8
- Introduced Member Nominated Trustee selection in place of election
- Re-defined sub-committee terms of reference to increase empowerment and clarify main board direct responsibilities
- Selective changes to advisory team
- Blackberry/cell phone ban coupled with breaks in meetings for other business
Key success factors identified by Robert:
- People are key – think about them, respect their feelings and views, seek consensus and don’t assume you know what they think (ask them).
- Adhere to principles while addressing legitimate concerns. For example "we will address your concern that the Company should not be able to influence the outcome but I am not prepared to drop the principle of MNT selection".
- Focus on accountability. For example Board approve new investment classes; once approved Investment Committee is responsible for implementation. That way the Board make strategic investment decisions but the IC is empowered to act.
- Build for the long-term, but don’t get stuck. Decisions to retain or change advisors made based on their contribution relative to the Board’s current needs, not on tenure or history.
- Careful choice of timing. For example reduced size of Board when several trustees were stepping down anyway.
- Board clearly accountable for strategy and outcomes
- Streamlined decision-making
- Diverse opinions harnessed to add value not generate argument
- Strong engagement and sense of purpose amongst trustees with close to 100% attendance at and attention to board meetings
- Improved sponsor satisfaction
These changes took a couple of years to define and implement. The strong culture has underpinned further developments including a high turnover of trustees.
This case study was written by Robert Thomas one of LawDeb's pension trustee directors. It is specific to a particular set of circumstances and is not a blueprint. To find out more about Robert's experience visit his profile here.