The Future – Social Skills = 0, Gadget Skills =10, Boardroom Skills = ?

As the train glides along the tracks on its way back to Euston, I ponder on how life has changed and just 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to browse the web on my phone and plug in my laptop in transit. This week is a bit of a roller coaster, as markets reel from the debt crisis in Dubai. However confidence and spending increases and I even got a phone call from a colleague to tell me he had just struck a deal for financing for his travel business. I consider this quite an achievement, even if he had to change his business model to get the deal done. The papers forecast 30 November will be a record day for internet sales as discounts are made for consumers sharing some personal contact details so that they can be sent other enticements to keep spending online.

Last week I went to another “Boardroom ready” event and learnt how an Angel Investor manages her board roles. She explained how she has to bite her lip sometimes, listen carefully and be well prepared for her board meetings in order to add value to these companies she invests in. It’s harder than you think, because as a Non Executive you have all the liability of an Executive Director but not the same control. You have to learn the art of well researched persuasion to lead a start up company to pre-empt any cash flow crises and predict how the market is changing. In the case of my friend who has just won his investment, he knew that trying to get annual advertising fees was too hard so he’s now working with a pay per lead model.

Cash flow is still king and you can have the greatest business plan in the world but if you have not modelled your cash flows accurately and run your “what if scenarios” your business can get into trouble very quickly. It may only take one client to pull out and your sales pipeline to wobble to see businesses get into problems if cash reserves are low. You might ask what an acceptable period of future financing looks like, but it’s never that simple. If it takes a year to bring in a new client then you may need to find the cash flow to fund that time lag before you see your first income streams coming online. It may be more if you then factor in the time from signature to delivery, the set up and payment terms. Many companies have turned to factoring but that can sometimes signal warning bells to your clients as it has a certain stigma attached to it. Several companies ensure they have clauses in their terms and conditions, to let the client know that late payment will incur interest payments. Only fair I think in this current climate, where prompt payment can often make the difference between survival and failure.

When I see young people so focused on their gadgets I question if their social skills are going to be as developed to persuade other board members to listen to their point of view in the board rooms of tomorrow. I witness more and more young people, especially teenage boys, with most of their attention focused on their iphone, PSP or games console and not on the conversation in progress. I also read in last Saturday’s Times that 64% of teenage boys surveyed want gadgets for Xmas. I still think it is good manners to turn them off when in company but there appears to be no set etiquette or best practice. Anyone seen any research or thoughts on how reliance on these gadgets will shape our future boardrooms?

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