The rise of entrepreneurial chairs – A conversation with Michael Hilb 

The rise of entrepreneurial chairs – A conversation with Michael Hilb 

Learning from professor, board member, and entrepreneur Michael Hilb

We are grateful to learn from Michael Hilb. Michael is a titular professor teaching strategy, innovation, and corporate governance at universities in Europe and Asia, such as the University of Fribourg, St Gallen, and Singapore Management University.

He serves on several corporate boards as well as the International Board Foundation, the European Confederation of Directors’ Association, Chapter Zero Switzerland, and is the founder of DBP Group.

Michael is passionate about supporting companies and boards to use modern strategies and an entrepreneurial approach also in corporate governance.

The episode is recorded as both an Audio and Video Podcast, and it focuses on Michel’s journey and approaches that he finds effective for leading chairs and top companies.

Welcome to listen and learn about

  • Michael Hilb and how it all started
  • Board work changes
  • Myths about working on boards
  • Board Members changing role
  • Background for the research and article about Reinterpretating the Role of the Board
  • Role of chairs with examples from Hilti, Maersk, and Nestlé
  • Michael as a furniture 

Inspirational insight into three entrepreneurial chairs approaches.

Professor Hilb has, together with a colleague Harry Korine, researched and written an excellent article named Reinterpreting the role of the Board of directors on how three entrepreneurial chairs for three different companies found success by making corporate governance a competitive advantage.

These companies are each looking to their chairs and boards to ensure they are future-proofed and ready for the challenges of tomorrow. Today, a company’s strength lies in its ability to ensure a differentiating strategic position and continuously adapt to changing environments.

For instance, Hilti, with its Chair Michael Hilti, embeds the Board in its business to drive change while maintaining cultural continuity. Møller-Maersk, with its previous Chair Jim Hagemann- Snabe, future proves its Board to spearhead strategic reinvention, and FMCG giant Nestlé with its Chair Paul Bulcke, aligns the Board with global industry conditions to navigate stakeholder relationships.

The changing role of successful board chairs and boards 

With the growing list of challenges and topics, from climate change to diversity policies, boards need to focus on the many essential responsibilities for the company.

Board members are asked to take on an increasing number of tasks: direction, value creation, compliance with laws and regulation, monitoring risk, and promotion of social and environmental responsibility.

The Board’s contribution needs to be tailored to the context. The Chair needs to ensure a sharp vision of the Board’s role, based on a clear-headed analysis of the company’s purpose and future competitive position.The Chair needs to understand what the organization needs to accomplish, including what is needed from the Board.

Rather than the top management team, the Board operates in a different state of long-term value creation. The chairs can indirectly influence what information is shared by members, which is essential given that one of their responsibilities is to explore alternative routes the company should take.

The Chairs need to foster a culture of debate, with open conversations and frank exchanges as the expected modus operandi.

All companies are bound to the same set of standards, but it is up to the Chair of a company to decide what aspects of that standard they emphasize. Entrepreneurial chairs avoid relying solely on legal opinions as they try to move forward with the boards becoming more innovative and agile.

The rise of the entrepreneurial chairs

In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift in the composition of corporate boards. A new breed of entrepreneurial chairs is emerging, and they are changing the board game.

These chairs are typically more tech-savvy and more hands-on than their predecessors. They might be founder-CEOs who have brought their companies public. They might be investors with a deep understanding of the start-up ways of working. They might be family business owners. They might be tech-savvy executives with a history of fast and impactful business transformations.

They are passionate about their companies and missions and are willing to take risks to achieve them.

This new breed of chairs is having a profound impact on corporate governance. They are driving changes in board composition, structure, and dynamics. And they are changing the way boards engage with management and make decisions.

The skill set of future chairs will have to include solid experiences, strong personal values, willingness to learn, adaptability, and nuanced leadership skills.

How these chairs are changing the board work

These entrepreneurial chairs are shaking up the board game. These chairs are ambitious, dynamic, and not afraid to challenge the status quo. They’re changing the way boards work, and in doing so, they’re making a big impact on the business world.

Here’s a look at how these entrepreneurial chairmen are changing the board approach:

  1. They’re challenging traditional governance thinking.

These chairs question traditional thinking and ask why things have always been done a certain way. They’re not afraid to challenge the status quo and push for change. This fresh perspective is leading to better decision-making and more effective boards. They continuously evaluate the board’s work and contribution to the company’s more value-creating position.

  1. They’re embracing technology.

Technology is changing the way businesses operate, and these chairs are embracing it. They’re using technology to improve communication and collaboration within their boards. Additionally, they’re using technology to make boards more efficient and effective.

  1. They use sustainability as a core reason for company innovation and transformation. 

Many boards look at sustainability as a compliance topic. These chairs use sustainability as a platform for innovation and a unifying driver of transformation.

  1. They’re putting shareholder value first but ALSO ensure stakeholder value is generated.

Traditionally, boards have been focused on protecting the interests of management and insiders. However, these entrepreneurial chairmen are putting shareholder value first but ALSO ensure stakeholder value is generated. They’re focused on creating value for shareholders, still making decisions that benefit all stakeholders.


Chairs of the future will be required to be more entrepreneurial, and ensure the focus of the Board is directed to the most critical strategic matters. Owners will increasingly compete for these ambitious entrepreneurial chairs, as they are still scarce and in high demand.

Learn More

About Michael Hilb 

Follow Michael Hilb on LinkedIn and reach out to him if you like to discuss entrepreneurial approaches to corporate governance

Reinterpreting the role of the board of directors (article by Korine & Hilb)

Michael Hilb website


Other inspiration 

How to be a good chair (by prof Shekshnia INSEAD in HBR)

Critical role of the board chair in driving board performance (by Russel Reynolds)

Sequencing the DNA of the future Chair and Board (by Savannah Group)

Leading a board, what makes an effective chair (by prof Shekshnia INSEAD)

Leading a board, Chairs’ practices across Europe (book Edited by prof Shekshnia INSEAD, co-author L Engstam et al)

Board effectiveness and the Chair of the future (by Deloitte)

What the world can learn from Nordic boards (by prof Shekshnia, S Buchreitz Jensen, L Engstam)

Boardrooms keep getting it wrong (by Drenik and Lagercrantz from Boardclic in Forbes)

Shaping the boards strategic direction on Climate – The chairs Perspective (Boards Impact Forum, Climate Governance Initiative & Deloitte)


This blog post was originally shared at the blog of Digoshen,  and the blog of the Digoshen founder

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