In the fourth quarter of 2010, we saw a trend continue toward appointing traditional heavyweight CEOs or financial-focused, grey-haired execs to boards. Prime examples include Apple, Caterpillar and Time Warner. Apple's financial exec board appointment shows that CEO Steve Jobs doesn't mess around when hand picking his small, but powerful board. Caterpillar also got serious with the appointment of an IBM financial heavyweight and Time Warner appointed an investment banker specializing in leisure and entertainment.
Mirroring the CEO appointment trend, many of 2010's most significant fourth quarter board appointments were globally-minded execs with Asia and Europe experience. Some companies even expanded their boards to accommodate this talent. Key examples include Qualcomm naming a Spanish Telecom exec and Dell naming a German-born lead independent director.
Although women have been gaining ground on tech boards, the fourth quarter saw fewer women appointed to the boards of larger tech companies. Cisco's 46-year-old Laura Ipsen is a major exception.
Finally, we are keeping a close eye on the trend of separating the roles of Chair and CEO. There is no general consensus as to the best practice—the reality is that one size does not fit all. A company could easily separate the roles, yet fail to appoint a strong Chair or CEO, effectively nullifying the intent. What's more, combining the roles may be necessary to enable a CEO to act decisively. A strong lead independent director could be the right move in certain situations. We also see a few significant appointments with the former CEO becoming Chair. Xerox did this as it transitioned in its new CEO, then gave her the title of Chair. We will keep a close eye on the fall out of decisions to separate or not separate the Chair and CEO roles in the quarters ahead.
Please see our blog entries on large cap board appointments and Chair/CEO appointments.