INSEAD’s finding indicates disparity in the ability of European board directors to match their North American counterparts

Governance experts Professors Ludo Van der Heyden and Timothy Rowley 
uncover shortcomings that may be undermining effectiveness

Fontainebleau, France/Singapore/Abu Dhabi, 9-6-2014 — /EuropaWire/ — A new finding by INSEAD governance scholars indicates a disparity in the ability of European board directors to match their North American counterparts. According to a benchmarking survey of nearly 300 European directors from 20 countries conducted by the INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative and the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness (CCBE), University of Toronto, European directors lag their Canadian and U.S. peers in terms of governance practice.

The survey’s primary conclusions are that European directors demonstrate a lack of understanding of their company’s industry. In addition, directors act too much like managers rather than board members and fail to devote sufficient time to their director duties. In all, the survey examined nearly a dozen factors deemed to be impeding director performance.

The annual survey, initiated this year, draws upon the thought leadership of INSEAD scholar Ludo Van der Heyden, The Mubadala Chaired Professor in Corporate Governance and Strategy at INSEAD and Academic Director of the INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative and Timothy Rowley, Visiting Professor of Strategy at INSEAD from the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and home to the CCBE.

“Canada offers a great benchmark for Europe,” said Professor Van der Heyden, a global governance scholar. He noted that the nation is widely regarded as a corporate governance exemplar in terms of best practices, followed by the U.S. “Canada is also not that far removed from Europe in terms of its linguistic and multicultural diversity,” he added.

In the published benchmark study, the scholars provide the survey’s findings, which highlight the fact that Canadian directors seem to place greater importance on key governance areas—such as industry expertise—than do their European counterparts.

One area where Canadian boards strongly distinguished themselves was in the importance given to executive sessions—forums where directors can express themselves freely and privately. By a 3-to-1 ratio, Canadian boards believed this forum more important than did their European peers.

The study also offers several recommendations for how European directors might improve their performance. Improvements at the board level include educating directors to gain a greater understanding of “duty of care” toward the organisation itself, rather than acting to directly please its shareholders. In addition, directors might gain greater industry knowledge while paying more attention to “process skills,” including board and director evaluation practices.

“These process issues are especially troubling,” say the study’s authors, “since they indicate that board practices may be insufficiently evaluated and, as a result, inadequately corrected.”

The survey also highlights a disparity in terms of gender diversity on European boards. “The picture is a bleak one,” write Rowley and Van der Heyden. “Nearly one out of every two EU boards has no women directors, which is quite shocking, given all the discussion on the value of women in improving board process and collective discussion.” Here, too, Canadian boards perform better, but only slightly, with nearly 40% of their boards having no women directors.

A related issue uncovered by the survey is the general lack of formality in terms of board nominations. About two-third of all European directors gain their governance role through personal contacts rather than through management recommendations for search firms. As a result of such informality, top talent may be being overlooked.  One of the key factors behind board effectiveness is the effectiveness of the board nomination process.

Overall, the benchmarking survey’s findings indicate the need for European directors to advance their formal governance education. In fact, those surveyed—INSEAD alumni and participants in the INSEAD International Directors Programme —seem to recognise their shortcomings and express a willingness to learn and improve.

INSEAD has moved forcefully over the last years to offer a rich set of courses for directors and boards, which is unique amongst business schools.  Adding to this, INSEAD courses attract directors from all over the world which is quite distinct from training that is offered throughout the world, which is typically very national in content and participation.  Participants of INSEAD courses always revel at the discovery that board issues across the world are more common than they are distinct.

To read the entire 2013 Benchmark Survey, please visit:

To learn more about the Survey, please go to INSEAD Knowledge:

For more information regarding the INSEAD International Directors Programme, please go to:

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World
As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to change lives and to transform organisations. A global perspective and cultural diversity are reflected in all aspects of our research and teaching.

With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and Abu Dhabi, INSEAD’s business education and research spans three continents. Our 146 renowned Faculty members from 34 countries inspire more than 1,300 degree participants annually in our MBA,Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Master in FinanceExecutive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 12,000 executives participate in INSEAD’s Executive Education programmes each year.

In addition to INSEAD’s programmes on our three campuses, INSEAD participates in academic partnerships with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia & San Francisco); the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University near Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University/SAIS in Washington DC. In Asia, INSEAD partners with Tsinghua University in Beijing and with CEIBS. INSEAD is a founding member in the multidisciplinary Sorbonne University created in 2012, and also partners with Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil.

INSEAD became a pioneer of international business education with the graduation of the first MBA class on the Fontainebleau campus in Europe in 1960. In 2000, INSEAD opened its Asia campus in Singapore. And in 2007 the school began an association in the Middle East, officially opening the Abu Dhabi campus in 2010.

Around the world and over the decades, INSEAD continues to conduct cutting edge research and to innovate across all our programmes to provide business leaders with the knowledge and sensitivity to operate anywhere. These core values have enabled us to become truly “The Business School for the World.”

About INSEAD’s Corporate Governance Initiative
The INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative (ICGI) harnesses INSEAD’s expertise in multiple disciplines – accounting, finance, economics, strategy, risk-management, entrepreneurship, family governance, organisational behaviour and corporate social responsibility – for a comprehensive and sustainable response to the challenges facing directors today.

ICGI is unique because of INSEAD’s academic emphasis and international outlook. It combines faculty competence and institutional visibility with the aim of: 1- educating international board members to master corporate diversity; 2- conducting research with a global focus and developing innovative pedagogical materials on the most fundamental issues faced by boards; 3- hosting forums of peer-to-peer exchanges to address the many challenges facing boards and promoting the highest professional standards of conduct. The initiative brings an unmatched international viewpoint to its activities thanks to INSEAD’s position as The Business School for the World.

More information about INSEAD can be found at

More information about ICGI can be found at

Contacts for press:

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Julia Irrgang
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Aileen Huang
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Middle East
Joe Chedid
Tel: +971 2 651 5200


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