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Alumni Matters is produced by the Cranfield alumni team. In each three-episode miniseries you'll hear from Cranfield alumni from all disciplines, who will share ideas and insights that can help you in your career, organisation, or personal development. 

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Alumni Matters with Patrick Dunne (MBA 1985)

Patrick Dunne

There has never been a more testing time for boards. COVID-19 feels like SARs, 9-11, and the financial crisis all rolled into one. The existential threat to businesses and, more importantly, to our colleagues, friends, families, and selves, is real. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. We interviewed Patrick about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on boards, their behaviour, people, and corporate sustainability.

Episode 1: Boards and the coronavirus
Episode 2: People and the coronavirus
Episode 3: Corporate sustainability and the coronavirus

Listen now below, or download to take the episodes with you.


Episode 1: Boards and the coronavirus

  • Fundamentally the purpose of a board is the same as normal in terms of fundamental roles but there are differences and boards are having to govern in a different way and with different priorities.
  • There is a risk of poor behaviour in the boardroom but what we shouldn't make a mistake over is our values and our culture, those should stay true.
  • Your company isn't an island. You need to think about where you are in the value chain. You need to think about where you are in the sector as a whole, where you are in the community, all these things. And actually everything you do has a consequence, now within your organisation and outside your organisation.
  • Decisions need to be taken. But do they all need to be taken now? What are the consequences?
  • Boards, and particularly Chairs, need to consider - what is the culture you want in your board? How does that impact on the behaviour of the board and the decisions they make?
  • The three aspects of great leadership are great judgement, interpersonal skills, and leadership antennae.
  • Boards will change for a number of reasons. Vision and strategies will change, organisations are finding out who their stars are, and many people have found out that it is incredibly hard work being a board member going through a crisis like this.
  • Where next for boards and what role should boards expect to play going forward? Organisations are saying they are pivoting to digital, but the investment you have to make in some businesses is very significant, how can you manage the risk management through that? Boards need to think more about consequences rather than the event which caused the consequences.

Episode 2: People and the coronavirus

  • What is the effect of board behaviour on the staff of an organisation? Leadership need to find the spot in the middle between being frenetic and relaxed. The way that you speak to people through things when you are very time poor is really critical, and it’s about providing the right level of detail.
  • “I'm not working from home, I'm at home and working.” Understanding each other's own situations really helps, you have to encourage people to collaborate and choose what is the best for the organisation rather than what is the best for that function or team.
  • You're not actually going to keep your shareholders happy if you've got an unhappy workforce, miserable supply chain, grumpy customers, and the local community hates you. You need to support your employees and guide them in what you would like them to do in these circumstances.
  • Communicating how you are making your choices, being transparent so that employees can understand how decisions are made is really important for CEOs and boards.
  • How can boards achieve a balance between oversight and support? The balance needs to be right and communication is key in this. It also needs to be sustainable over the long term and boards need to consider about how support is provided. Some support can be unhelpful.
  • Most of the time good CEOs on the normal distribution curve of pressure and effectiveness are to the right of the peak, but if a CEO is trending downwards instinctively a board puts them under more pressure when what they need to do is reduce the pressure a bit.
  • You find out in this situation who your best people are for a crisis. They may not be the best person for a different type of situation. You have to be careful about that but you find out who's got that good judgment, who's got that really good interpersonal skills, who's got that antenna.
  • Chairs need to lead by example. Who are those who have inspired the people around them, encouraged them to step up? What have these people been doing that has left others in the shade?

Episode 3: Corporate sustainability and the coronavirus

  • Business continuity is crucial and some boards didn’t really realise how complicated their supply chains were and they are only finding out now. If you have a brittle, complicated supply chain, and it's at capacity, there's no room for error.
  • Organisations that have had people that can do more than just one job have probably fared better, because you've been able to be more agile, and move people around, switch people from that function to this function.
  • Boards don't always have the full information they need to make a decision. What people need to do is to think about what information could we have to make this decision? What information do we need to have to make this decision? What's a fact, and what's an interpretation?
  • Will business and operating models change permanently as a result of the crisis? How sustainable are the current business models? Working digitally at home requires a different way to engage extroverts and introverts in the meetings so you can maintain healthy dynamics.
  • There's no conflict between being socially responsible and making good money. If you're a public company you have to maximise shareholder value amongst other things but if you just give it all back to shareholders, then you may not be doing the best thing for the sustainability of your business in the long run, as people might not want to work for you.
  • We can learn from Unilever and Aldi, and the way they have been supportive of their communities.

Additional resources

Patrick Dunne bio and contact details

Patrick Dunne (MBA 1985), Chair, Boardelta, EY Foundation, ESSA, Visiting Professor Cranfield School of Management

Patrick is an experienced Chair and serial social entrepreneur with extensive experience of working with boards in Europe, Asia and North America. Currently he is Chair of board consultancy Boardelta, the charities The EY Foundation and ESSA- Education Sub Saharan Africa as well as Chair of the oversight board for the Chartered Management Consultant and trustee of the Chartered Management Institute. 

His executive experience includes 26 years in a variety of investment and management roles with 3i Group plc where, until 2012, he was Communications Director, a member of its Operating committee and Chairman of its Operational Risk forum. At 3i he built a resource of over 600 experienced directors who were appointed to the boards of over 2,000 high growth businesses for 3i in 14 countries across Europe, Asia and North America. The programme he established became widely recognised as a model of adding value and a leader in best practice. 

Author of “Boards” and three other successful books on the subject, Patrick has helped to establish successful courses on board skills over the last twenty years and helped Chairs across a wide range of sectors to transform the effectiveness of their boards. Today he provides this service to businesses, public bodies, the social sector and to investors through Boardelta.

Patrick has a passion for education and was a member of the General Council of the University of Warwick from 2006 to 2015. He is a Visiting Professor at Cranfield School of Management and former member of Business in the Community’s education leadership group.

He also has extensive experience of developing social enterprises using venture philanthropy techniques, most notably with Leap Confronting Conflict where he is Patron and was Chairman, from 2006 to 2015, with ESSA, the EY Foundation and with Warwick in Africa which he founded in 2006. Warwick in Africa has now benefitted over 750,000 young Africans with transformed Maths and English teaching.

Get in contact with Patrick via email, on LinkedIn or on Twitter.