Business MeetingThe prior Family Business Advocates blog post provided an overview of the different legal roles that shareholders, directors, and officers play in the intersection of ownership and management of a company, but how does a family-owned business manage the intersection of all three of those legal roles? Answer: The Board Chair (a/k/a Chairman, Chairwoman, Chairperson).

  1. What is a Board Chair?

Simply put, it’s the leader of the Board of Directors. The Board Chair sets the agenda for, and presides over, meetings of the Board. The Board Chair also acts as a link between the Board and the executive officers of the company. The bylaws of the company often determine the scope of the Board Chair’s duties and obligations.

  1. Is the Board Chair an officer, director, or shareholder?

A director, but maybe all three. As a director, the Board Chair has fiduciary duties to the shareholders of the company, but that does not mean the Board Chair cannot also be a shareholder (and often times in a family-owned business the Board Chair is a shareholder).  The bylaws may provide that the Board Chair is also an executive officer of the company; however, many argue that best corporate governance practices favor appointing a non-executive officer Board Chair in order to reduce potential conflicts of interest (among other reasons). It is also important to note that the role of the Board Chair may change over time. A company may start out with a dual CEO/Board Chair role but later bifurcate the role as the family business matures or for succession planning purposes.

  1. Who appoints the Board Chair?

The company’s bylaws govern the appointment or election of a Board Chair. Typically, the Board Chair is elected by the other directors, but a family-owned business may develop its own unique process for selecting the Board Chair. For example, the position may rotate among different branches of the family tree, allowing a subset of the directors to select the Board Chair for a specified period of time.

  1. Why does a family-owned business need a Board Chair?

Every business with a Board of Directors needs a leader of the Board, but the role of the Board Chair is particularly important in a family-owned business. In a family-owned business, the Board Chair often acts as the voice of the family in interactions with the CEO.

  1. What qualities should a family-owned business look for in a Board Chair?

In addition to knowing the company’s business objectives, the Board Chair for a family-owned business needs to understand the family and its goals, challenges, and maybe most importantly, politics. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting an appropriate Board Chair, but here are a few qualities to consider:

  • Familiarity with the company’s goals and strategies
  • Sound judgement
  • Experience and leadership maturity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Accountability
  • Reputation in the community
  • Relationships with others
  • Forward-looking vision
  • Time and desire to take on the role

We want to hear what you think. What additional qualities would you add to this list?