Boards play a key role in the development and growth of scale-ups, innovation and the growth of our economy. Scale-ups require a different approach when it comes to governance, as they have different challenges than traditional boards of larger (listed) companies.

Traditionally, a board should supervise the manner in which the management board implements the long-term value creation strategy. This is written down in the Dutch Corporate Governance code. [1] This code is applicable to Dutch listed companies (traditional companies), not to scale-up companies. For scale-ups there is no governance code available. Although parts of the code might be helpful for scale-ups, applying the Dutch Corporate Governance code to scale-ups will not work.

The needs of scale-ups differ from those of traditional companies. Boards of scale-ups can bring vital experience and expertise, and play a critical role in supporting, rather than governing, the founder to help them build the business.

Scale-up boards can play different roles according to The Startup Board Report [2], as was discussed in the business cases used in the ScaleUpBoard program. Because of these different roles, diversity and agility is critical for board members of a scale-up. Especially in terms of:

  • Strategy setting
  • Monitor the operational and financial position and performance
  • Founder support and mentoring
  • Networking
  • Helping founders assess their leadership and succession planning

As scale-up boards play a different role compared to traditional boards, they need distinctly different board profiles. According to Dr. Natalia Blagburn, there are main differentiators in a profile for a scale-up board member compared to a board member of a traditional company [3]. Board members in a scale-up should have (1) expertise in scale-up stages and high growth and (2) mentoring/supporting skills.

According to my experience, research and the knowledge gained during the ScaleUpBoard program, I would say that the following characteristics are key to the success of scale-up boards:

Alignment on purpose: Often boards under designed (composed by default), under led (no chair) and under resourced [3]. Therefore, it is crucial they are aligned on the purpose.

Experience and expertise in scale-ups: Boards that bring the right balance of expertise, experience and access to senior global networks can help founders build faster growing and higher performing companies.

Mentoring/supporting: Board members play a critical role in supporting/mentoring the founder to the next stage of growth.

Agility: In scale-ups it is more about executing the opportunity rapidly and keeping up with market movement than detailed business planning and weighty board papers.

Diversity: Diversity is important for all boards, but the majority of start-up boards do not have any diversity targets in place for board recruitment and selection. [2]

Self-awareness: Boards are not evaluated (self or by 3rd party specialist), so they are rarely self-aware. [3]

Martine Buis-Klink

Head of People at Studytube

Martine has a long track record as an HR professional. From consulting to scale-ups, she has held positions at Accenture, Danone, DLA Piper and Adyen. Martine is currently the Head of People at Studytube, a learning platform for companies, where everyone from employees to managers can complete training programs.

Sources:

[1] The Dutch Corporate Governance Code | 8 December 2016

[2] KPMG Enterprise | The Start up board report

[3] Dr Natalia Blagburn | Venture Board Effectiveness | 16 September 2021

Martine has a long track record as an HR professional. From consulting to scale-ups, she has held positions at Accenture, Danone, DLA Piper and Adyen. Martine is currently the Head of People at Studytube, a learning platform for companies, where everyone from employees to managers can complete training programs.

Scale your impact as a board member

The next ScaleUpBoard class is kicking off on September 15 in Amsterdam. You can find all of the details here. Get in touch with Jacqueline to save your seat:

Jacqueline van der Heijden

+31 6 55212519
jacqueline@scaleupnation.com

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