This is a very good book, and it is with a certain sense of reluctance that I rate it with only four stars instead of five. Mr. Bowen, a distinguished and highly experienced professional who has served on many for-profit and not-for-profit boards, does a commendable job of sharing his wisdom, insights, and recommendations in this thoughtful and important book. The one frustration that I found with the book is the manner in which it jumps back and forth between issues involving for-profit boards and not-for-profit boards. In jumping back and forth, I felt a bit like my train of thought was continually interrupted. Perhaps a good analogy to explain my sentiments might be the following: You enroll in a foreign language studies program with the hope of learning both French and Spanish only to find that both languages are being taught in the same class at the same time; an astute student will learn a great deal, perhaps, but it might be easier and more enjoyable to separate the lessons a bit more.
That being said, let me share some observations as to why this book is so good (in spite of the shortcomings mentioned above):
* The depth of Mr. Bowen's experience shines through on every page. This is a man who really knows what he is talking about, and he does an excellent job of sharing his valuable knowledge in a way that readers can easily understand and readily absorb.
* His advice is not just scholarly or "ivory tower", but rather very practical. One can put down this book, head straight for the boardroom, and apply its lessons immediately.
* Mr. Bowen captures the heart of many cultural, political, and related issues that impact the duties and responsibilities of those who serve as directors and trustees. Indeed, he goes far beyond simply sharing what he has seen and experienced: he offers interpretations and explanations for such trends, and thoughtfully weighs the pros and cons of many important issues. His discussion of the trends, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks, of the move towards more non-executive chairmen of for-profit companies is one good example.
Overall, the book is rich in useful suggestions and good advice; I could cite many more examples, but instead I suggest that you simply read the book if you have any serious interest in this topic. Indeed, this book should be required reading for any director of a public company, large privately owned company, or significant not-for-profit entity.
One of the reasons that I like this book so much might be that I agree with so much of what it has to say. While I do not have experience on not-for-profit boards, I have served on about a dozen small company boards, mostly for private companies. Many issues that I have addressed as a board member are thoughtfully presented and articulately discussed in this book. I found the chapters on "Board Leadership," "Building the Board," and "Board Machinery" to be particularly helpful.
Finally, the last chapter, entitled "Themes," is a great compilation and summary of topics covered throughout the book. This chapter alone, while very brief, is nonetheless worth the price of the whole book.