Indpendent input can pay dividends

The most fundamental role of the chairman is to run board and other one-off meetings effectively and efficiently. This brings a formality to proceedings that may have been previously lacking, but may seem unnecessary – even slightly scary – to some family businesses.

However, it does ensure best use of time, with everyone given the chance to air their views. By taking some of the emotion out of the situation, it should produce a better outcome.

The chairman should bring additional skills apart from running meetings and this can be a good opportunity to bring more experience, expertise, ideas and contacts into the business.

The chairman can also act as a trusted 'sounding board' for the managing director.

The line between ownership and governance can often become blurred in owner-managed businesses, and even more so with family businesses.

This can become particularly problematic in a long-established business where many family shareholders are not working in the business, with potential for resentment between working and non-working shareholders.

An independent chairman will remind the board of their responsibilities to the shareholders as a whole, ensure fair play and offer a line of communication between the two groups if necessary.

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This can help to diffuse potentially explosive situations, which would otherwise damage both the family and the business.

Finding the right individual with the required experience, personal and business skills to suit your requirements can prove difficult. You may have come across someone that fits the bill during your business life, or you may find that your accountant, solicitor or bank manager can recommend someone to you.

Alternatively, try Norfolk Knowledge, an initiative led by the Norwich Business School (UEA) and Norwich City Council to allow those retired or otherwise heavily experienced in running businesses, departments or voluntary organisations to share their knowledge with small businesses, public bodies and voluntary organisations based in Norfolk.

You can register details of your requirements on and they will pass these on to registered experienced individuals who might have the relevant skills and experience that you are seeking.