Is this the most diverse company Board in the World?

There are few IT companies or airlines which have lasted as long as SITA – the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques – which was 61 years old this February, and which I currently have the privilege to chair.

So what can the global business community learn from an IT and telecommunications co-operative founded in 1949?  We have 550 members from across the global air transport industry, have a turnover of $1.5bn and operate in 220 countries and territories across the world, with colleagues who speak 70 different languages.

Having recently returned from one of SITA’s Quarterly Board Meetings, I am struck yet again by one of the attributes that makes SITA unique: the diversity of our Board.

Now, SITA exists purely because we, the Air Transport Community, want it to exist and because we find it useful.  SITA gives us, its customers – who are also SITA’s owners – real choice, since it has the largest portfolio of systems, solutions and services in the air transport business.

At the heart of SITA is the concept of Community: a belief that people, nations and companies need to work together to produce wealth, health and happiness. SITA is owned by its customers – most of them the airlines – who use SITA’s systems, services and networks.

The Board comprises the 20 largest users in the previous year, plus representatives of nine regional airline groups and three co-opted Board members.  So we, the users – the shareholders and Board members – can, and do, direct SITA strategically.

Our stake in SITA is determined not by how much money we have put in historically, but by how much, in the year just gone by, we have used SITA’s systems and services. So if you stop using SITA, you lose your Board seat and lose your ability to help set the strategy.  It’s very simple: your stake is based on your use.

So let’s look at the Board composition generated by this unique governance structure: it is made up of airlines from every region of the globe.  We have Board members from Europe, China, South Asia, East Asia, Japan, Australia, the Middle East, North and South Africa, North America and Latin America – although it is true we are missing Antarctica!

We have carriers from each of the three major global airline alliances and non-aligned carriers both large and small.   We have a representative of a cargo airline, an airport and a global distribution system (GDS) as well.   And, perhaps most surprising of all, we have Board members – and long have done –  from competitors of SITA who are also SITA’s customers.

All this means that SITA benefits from a unparalleled diversity of experience and advice from its non-executives, who have as good a view of the state of the air transport industry as any group could have, and we benefit greatly as a company from this unique governance.

So I believe that SITA is probably the most diverse commercial company for its size in the world. We are also a co-operative – but a determinedly commercial one – and much the better for it!

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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