The future of corporate boardrooms is changing, with digital literacy becoming an increasingly important and desirable trait for effective board members.

Stanislav Shekshnia, senior affiliate professor of entrepreneurship and family enterprise at business school INSEAD, says companies need to strike a balance between having traditional corporate types and digitally-savvy, younger executives on their boards.

INSEAD’s recent research report, entitled ‘Board Chairs’ Practices across Countries: Commonalities, Differences and Future Trends’, shows that expertise in digitisation is emerging as a requisite skill, which suggests a new type of board leader is in demand.

Shekshnia cites the example of Jim Hagemann Snabe, who was earlier this year named chairman of Danish shipping conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk as well as nominated chair of Siemens.

“At only 51, Snabe, a former co-CEO of SAP, is much younger than his predecessors,” he said.

“He is also an active member of the World Economic Forum, a director at Allianz and Bang & Olufsen and also teaches at Copenhagen Business School. Snabe’s expertise in digitalisation was said to be a key reason for his appointments.

“Does he represent a new, emerging type of board leader?”

Tradition still plays an important role in corporate governance and change is not always welcome, Shekshnia says, but the chairs surveyed for INSEAD's study said they foresee an evolution in the way they work.

“The pace of digital change requires board chairs to have both digital foresight and digital savvy in the boardroom itself,” he said.

“Our report also showed that the average age of chairs will fall. While professionals in their 70s and 80s will continue to lead boards, there will be many more 40-somethings in the role.

“While the general management-to-board route will remain the main career track for board directors, chair backgrounds will be more diverse.

“This opens the way for younger executives with diverse backgrounds, especially in the digital and social space to step forward into board roles.”