BBC: “The Problem With Super Stars”

Big personalities draw attention, ratings, and revenue. It doesn't matter whether it’s the world of entertainment, sport, fashion, or any other kind of business, charismatic personalities can be a real boon. But what happens if something goes wrong?

What happens if the person who has been so valuable to the company crosses an ethical line, behaves in a way that brings disrepute to the organisation, or acts in an inappropriate way? And what role does a company board play in such a situation?

There have been several recent example of this in the media and entertainment world. Take Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News in the US or Jeremy Clarkson, the now former co-presenter of the BBC show Top Gear — powerful and charismatic people who have brought creativity and recognition to their organisation. But Williams recently stepped aside after apologising to a group of Iraq war veterans for exaggerating the danger he and an NBC News crew faced while covering the start of the war in 2003. Clarkson was dismissed after allegedly physically assaulting a colleague, and there had been prior issues and complaints about his insensitivity in years prior.

The companies that employ high-profile stars who’ve gone astray have to think hard not only about what to do in each case, but also how they act as organisations full of talented and creative people with their own individual fan-base and following.

Sometimes the public expects the board to act — there is a belief that dealing with high-profile cases should be the responsibility of the board. Sometimes they are right, but perhaps not in the way that might be assumed.

To step back for a moment, it is important to remember the role of the board is one I term hands on but not hands in. That is to say board members, and more specifically the independent directors, are not company executives and their role is not to run the company on a day-to-day basis.

Boards can ask questions and help set direction and company policy, but, except in the most extreme situations or those that deal with the most senior management team, we cannot march in and take over a human resource situation. We cannot interfere in hiring and firing where a process and professionals are in place to do that job…

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The Board Director Training Institute (BDTI) is a "public interest" nonprofit in Japan dedicated to training about directorship, corporate governance, and related management techniques. It is certified by the Japanese government to conduct these activities as a regulated nonprofit. Read a summary about BDTI here, and see a menu of its services for both corporations and investors here.

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