Sunday, December 14, 2014

Networks and Boardmembers

To start, this is a short basic exercise in social networks.

I’m not sure what being on a board of a large company entails.  In general I get the sense that you have some responsibility in how the company runs and maybe where it’s going.  I’m sure each board is different and the members have varying degrees of responsibility.  I recently saw an image of a network showing the involvement of board members in different companies.  Not sure if companies have rules on being on multiple boards but it seems that at least some don’t.  This image shows different companies and their common board members ~mid 2009.

Image from the book "Networks, Crowds, and Markets:  Reasoning About a Highly Connected World"

As you can see many companies utilize and probably think it advantageous to have a member from another company who may or may not have a common product.  Really with all these companies we’re not necessarily talking about specific products anymore.  When you become as large as these companies are, you probably think in terms of influence .  Which is why the associations of board members becomes more interesting, because the scale these people have to think on.  My thought is that perhaps the direction of influence is perhaps guided by board members in the same way product offerings would be guided by certain talent acquisition.  Here is a network of 8 companies and their board members that at least in the US (and really worldwide) are top level “influencers” (and happen to be some of the largest companies from a revenue perspective as well).  Companies as yellow vertices and board members as white vertices, with arrows indicating board affiliation of the person(s).

You’ll notice that less so than with the 2009 network, there are board members that sit on the boards of other companies in the network.  Does this say anything about those companies' strategy of influence or communicate maybe a change with their strategy when compared with 2009?  We can color the different companies based on their board members and perhaps infer on the strategic influence these companies want at least from their board members*.

Disney shares members with social media giants and Apple.  Exxon with Walmart, while Amazon and Google share with none of these (a shift from 2009).  In some ways we could view some of these companies as competitors not because of their product offering but because of the influence they want.  Which begs the question, does Amazon or Google want strategic influence/input from these other companies or do they see affiliations which were once (in 2009) helpful as now unhelpful associations?  Maybe we’re inferring too much.  Even still, the expansion of Disney recently (and previously) into multiple acquisitions does indicate that the desire to influence across multiple markets is definitely a goal.  Alternatively Apple, Facebook, and Twitter see individuals on Disney’s board as helpful for their own goals (maybe).  Either way, the board member sharing between these 4 companies is interesting not because of the fact they share board members but more so because they all have SO much influence over our social media, entertainment, and technology.  Wal-Mart and Exxon having a common member (largest company, largest energy company) may have more to do with what Mr. Reinemund brings to the table than with strategic expansion...I infer too much perhaps.

In general realizing the sharing of influential people was for me kind of sobering and remarkable in that few people can probably take on roles like these and yet these roles have so much power:  shaping the social, entertainment, and technological world.

*As a side note there are few people who can make decisions on the level of these companies so finding board members who can think like this in and of itself is probably just difficult.  So the fact that these companies share board members could be more of a function of the “pool” of individuals they have to choose from rather than directions or influence they want.  Also, board members may not really be considered agents of the companies on whose boards they sit, but just smart people that are desirable to have influence in a particular company.  The former is just an idea that makes this whole exercise more interesting.