Elms N., Pugliese A. (2023)
Director tenure and contribution to board task performance: A time and contingency perspective, LONG RANGE PLANNING
Director tenure is a topic of great interest in the corporate governance debate. Researchers try to assess the effects of tenure on director contribution, board effectiveness and firm performance. Regulators, corporations, and institutional investors advocate for term limits for outside directors to reduce the risks of impaired governance. Despite the burgeoning interest, there is lack of consensus on the mechanisms shaping directors’ contributions over time. We argue that next to the ‘loss of independence’ and ‘knowledge acquisition’ hypotheses, respectively predicting a negative and positive effect of tenure on task performance, socio-cognitive and behavioral approaches elucidate the way in which directors’ contributions rise and decline with time. Using a multiple case study approach, we document wide variability in directors’ contributions at similar levels of tenure. We find this is due to a series of contingencies including whether directors are novice or experienced, the frequency and nature of board interactions, and the relative power of a director. This variability is particularly clear in longer serving directors for whom we find polarizing results: while some grow stale in the saddle, others sustain high levels of contribution despite extreme tenures. The latter finding is at odds with agency-based assumptions and general predictions from the literature. Overall, our study offers a tentative explanation as to why setting an ‘ideal’ tenure for outside directors has proven so difficult and encourages boards and policy makers to consider the influence of director-level features as well as board dynamics in shaping directors’ contributions.