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Here's How Apple's Board Should Evolve. Why Doesn't It?

Major Apple shareholders have griped that the Apple board is all white men. One prominent VC has some advice to ameliorate the problem.

Here's How Apple's Board Should Evolve. Why Doesn't It?

[Image: Flickr user Lambert Rellosa]

Apple has finally yielded to two major shareholders who were pressuring the Cupertino company to add more women and people of color to their board, according to Bloomberg. The iPhone maker announced today that it would add new language in the company's board committee charter promising more diverse board choices in the future. Apple has eight board seats, only one of which is occupied by a woman—former Avon CEO Andrea Jung.

It took five in-person meetings for major shareholders Trillium Asset Management LLC and the Sustainability Group to convince Apple to make the amendment. Being bullied by major shareholders doesn't sound like an ideal tactic for boardroom innovation—but such power-positions can make boards a bit tight-fisted. Just ask Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, both of whom still sit on the Microsoft board, one reason that no one's jumping to be Microsoft's new head honcho. What CEO wants to be a Manchurian candidate?

VC and profligate blogger Mark Suster has some suggestions for how a board should evolve: namely, bring in someone with startup DNA. Adding a board member to his portfolio company Invoca, Suster tapped an old friend, Josh Jacobs, who was a "perfect choice" because he could bring back the company's startup spirit. In a January 6 blog post he says:

But as importantly Josh was also formerly a startup CEO of a tech business and thus had empathy for startup land. By bringing in an industry player with startup DNA we brought somebody that could push the team much harder on how their value prop would resonate (or not) with customers, which verticals to target our offering to and importantly what others solutions were in the market and how we stacked up. This brought insider knowledge and perspective that frankly John & I lacked.

He's not talking about Apple specifically in this post, but this passage sure is apropos. How did Apple end up with a board that is almost entirely white men over 50? Comfort, says Suster:

Surprisingly some tech startups don’t also evolve their board structures. The inertia of working solely with the board members who funded you early in your cycle becomes comfortable and making change on the board seems like a non-critical-path chore. But just as your company needs change with growth so too do your board needs and bringing diversity of skills, people, experiences and relationships on boards is critical to your continued growth and success.