The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Ask five people what disruption means to them and odds are you will receive five different answers. To share best practices for corporate boards in today’s business environment, one of the partners at Grant Thornton moderated a virtual board member exchange. To no surprise, each of the five speakers approached the topic in a different way, yet their insight shared a common theme: corporate boards need to embrace change.

Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
A great starting point is to have a clear understanding of a company’s performance and bottom line. This is why a number of speakers stressed the importance of data analytics and artificial intelligence. The purpose is twofold: a clear understanding of data allows for both boards and audit committees to more effectively understand a company’s performance and deliver insights to management. Transparency will lead to dialogue that is impactful and improve results.

Innovation and the Board
It is not an easy task to govern and lead a company through disruption. A delicate balance between the fiduciary responsibility of the board and execution on behalf of management is required. This is why each speaker emphasized the importance of dedicating time to strategy discussions.

We are not referring to carving out 20 minutes on a meeting agenda. This is on a much deeper level, where you can think about innovation from outside the box. It is also important for boards to let management understand that they do not need to come to the table with a fully baked idea. In a way, management has to come in with a sense of vulnerability.

“We’re thinking about these ideas. What are your perspectives?” This is more effective because, when you throw all of your eggs into one basket, you are running with a higher sense of risk. For example, if Option A no longer works because there are new tariffs in a country, there need to be Options B and C for discussion. There must be a backup plan in place and boards must convey that message.

Time for Learning
Technological disruption is at the forefront of change for boards and management alike. However, it is not always easy to stay up to date on the latest trends, products, and solutions. In addition to scanning newspapers, magazines, and websites on a regular basis, here are three techniques to consider:

  1. Connect with venture capitalists, analysts, entrepreneurs, and technology influencers in your industry. They are never okay with the status quo and are always looking for the next great innovation. Follow them via social media and listen to their podcasts. Consider following tech influencers. They have dedicated their careers to staying ahead of the technology curve.
  2. Walk the floors of major technology conferences and tour Silicon Valley with your management teams. Having a feet-on-the-street perspective allows you to engage with founders and representatives of companies on a deep, personal level and learn about emerging trends. Examples include CES, Consumer Technology Association events, and other tech symposiums.
  3. Join networks with your peers to exchange ideas, build relationships, and stay informed on key trends and best practices from other boards. Examples include the National Association of Corporate Directors and networks created for board and C-Suite members.

Boards set the tone for the entire organization. Embracing the changes needed to stay ahead of innovation, technology, and economic developments will empower the entire group to evolve faster and succeed.

Toru Shirai is a senior manager at the Tokyo office of Grant Thornton Japan, where he provides assurance services to multinational companies. He began his career as a certified public accountant in 2001. When Shirai was seconded to Grant Thornton’s Chicago office for three years (2012–2015), he also supported cross-border business expansion. He has 16 years of experience in public accounting and specializes in ICT and manufacturing.

For more information, please contact your Grant Thornton representative at +81 (0)3 5770 8829 or email me at

Toru Shirai is a senior manager at the Tokyo office of Grant Thornton Japan