The article titled, “Time to Fly: Predicting Director Exit at Large Firms” by Boivie, Graffin and Pollock (2012) presents a unique perspective to the issue of board operations.
The writers sought to investigate the factors that influence the decision by directors to quit or to remain on the board of large firms. This paper presents a systematic review of the article with an emphasis on the research decisions made by the writers, as well as the nature of the information presented.
The researchers did not state a clear research question for the project. They however laid out a basis for their research on the fact that it is difficult to study why people choose to serve on boards.
Such a study would require access to people who have declined offers to serve on the boards as well as those who have accepted. That said, the introduction of the article points to an interest by the researchers in the reasons why directors “choose to remain or leave boards”. This will suffice as the research question for the purposes of this analysis.
The theoretical framework used in the research process had two aspects. First, the researchers explored the use of the agency theory in studies relating to director exit. This theory argues that the executives in a firm will tend to pursue their own goals rather than pursue the interests of the owners of the firm. Therefore, the presence of a board encourages the executives to stick to the objectives set by the owners of the firm.
The motivation of external directors is the good performance of the company, as well as the potential backlash arising from poor performance by the firm. The researchers faulted this theory because it focuses on extrinsic motivation to the exclusion of intrinsic motivation. In this regard, the researchers chose to use the self-determination theory as the guiding framework for the project because it accounts for intrinsic motivation.
Research Design, Data Collection, and Analysis
The research design for this project took a long-term view of how directors exit firms. The researchers used data that followed the exit path of directors, rather than following how directors exited from specific firms. The data collected for the research came from various sources. The directors chosen were those listed in Risk Metrics, formerly IRRC.
The database contains a list of all directors listed in public firms in the United States. The list used in this project had more than 11,000 names, representing 30% of all directors. Other data, such as the demographic information of all the directors, as well as the characteristics of the boards, and firm sizes came from various sources. These sources include Social Register, LexisNexis, and Compustat.
The analysis of the data collected from the sources sampled above involved the identification of dependent and independent variables. The dependent variable in the project was “director exit”. The independent variables were prestige, director influence, as well as reputational and financial risk.
The researchers also identified a set of control variables. The control variables were firm size, firm diversification, CEO duality, and total director pay, among others. These variables formed the basis for data analysis.
Summary of Findings and Authors’ Contribution
The researchers made the following findings. First, the researchers found that prestige contributed to continued board membership in addition to the holding of a formal position within that board.
The second main finding reported by the researchers was that the likelihood of board members quitting was higher with increased time demands. Boards that take too much time from the directors tend to have a higher transition rate. The researchers also found that board members are likely to quit from organizations that are performing poorly and those that have little media visibility.
Financial and reputational risks are closely correlated to board member retention. The main contribution of the researchers to the issues that they have investigated is that they have done a longitudinal study showing why directors leave, from the perspective of the directors.
Critical Examination of the Study
The journal article presented by the researchers was well prepared. The researchers were able to show a distinct difference in their approach to the issue of directors leaving organizations by following the career path of directors through several organizations. This made the research question interesting.
The research was not groundbreaking, rather it was meant to fill in a gap. In this sense, the research questions were not original, but were very innovative in the context of the other studies that sought to address the same issue.
The researchers themselves indicate that the use of historical data was a weakness in their project. While this method made it possible for them to collect and analyse a large quantity of information, it was not possible to check the findings against current realities.
The researchers suggested that a study that uses questionnaires and interviews would help to check the attitudes and the views of current board members against their findings. A second way in which the researchers could have undertaken the project would be by looking at specific organizations as well as the directors who served in them.
The study results helped to answer the research question. The research question used in this research project was to determine the reasons why directors choose to remain or leave organizations. The researchers did well to find out reasons contributing to the retention of directors as well as those that lead to their exit from organizations.
The main limitation of this study was the lack of a mechanism to validate the information collected by the researchers. The researchers did not involve board members in the study. While the goals of the project as set by the researchers were achieved, the research results would have been more authentic if it was subjected to a validation process.
Secondly, the researchers relied on very specific databases and listings to get the research results. There is no proper basis given for the use of the Standard and Poor’s 500 list of companies. This betrays a lack of rigour in the choice of information sources by the researchers. What would the results look like if they used the Fortune 500 list of companies, or if they developed their own listing based on a stronger theoretical perspective?
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