Unpalatable Questions a Shareholder Should Ask 

articles leadership resources worksheets Mar 29, 2023

“How to give the board and strategy meetings a bit of a zing?”, that is the question.

One simple way is to imagine having (or actually have) a raw-meat, raw-garlic-eating shareholder in the room. 

What would they be expecting to see? 

What would they ask about and why? 

What evidence would they need to see to convince them that you were on top of your game?

We have produced a Shareholder’s Cheat Sheet. A guide to the questions you need to be asking yourself. A decent shareholder would ask some of these so why would you not ask them of yourself? In my opinion… to avoid or ignore these questions is the equivalent of negligence. So, buckle down, belt up and let’s get going. 

Just to be clear this is not a list created in homage to the Rockstar TV Shareholders that hold the TV public’s attention (Sir Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne or Elon Musk) These are just the sensible questions that any proficient shareholder might want to know the answers to.  

In all honesty, you may only need to explore three or four of these questions at any one meeting, but you need to be prepared for any one of them to come your way. And what does it say if you are unable to answer the tough, laser-focused questions? Well, it suggests that maybe you aren’t up to your job or at least you need to do some more homework!


If you don’t know any of the phrases or acronyms, then feel free to reach out! (Spoiler Alert: you should be familiar with all the language in this article.)

Any questions that cannot be answered succinctly need reviewing. There should be no need for rambling, spluttering answers. 

Finance Questions

  • How are we performing against the plan?
  • Where do we make the most money? What are the top 20% of our services? What should we do more of?
  • Where do we make the least money? What are the bottom 20% of our services? What should we cut?
  • What are the figures for revenue, gross profit, net profit, EBITDA, sales and GVA per fee-earner, utilisation rate? 
  • Can we increase prices? By when? By how much? What will be the impact?
  • Which direct costs can be reduced?
  • Do we have any underperforming services, suppliers, clients or staff  and what are you doing about them? Which should we sack and by when?
  • How long have we got till the lights go out if we received no more income?
  • Are we scaling? Is it getting cheaper to do more
  • Have you got all the information you need at your fingertips to make informed decisions?
  • How to increase profitability and revenue per head?
  • What is the life-time value (GP) of the average client
  • Is there some random, undefined, pie-in-the-sky, ‘Project X’ where you will create wonderful profits? (And pigs might fly)
  • What is your one number?
  • What if…
    1. Revenues fell by 20%?
    2. Revenues fell by 40%?
    3. You lose your top three clients?
    4. You lose your two top members of the team?
    5. Next quarter is a trading disaster?


Marketing and Sales

  • How are we performing against the plan?
  • Who loves us and why? Why not more?
  • Who hates us and why? What can we do about it?
  • What %age of spend is on marketing?
  • What is the cost of customer acquisition?
  • Who are your clients and why do they buy from you rather than from the competition?
  • How good is your marketing compared with that of your competition?
  • What makes you different from the rest?
  • What is your quantifiable customer value proposition?

Operations, Processes and Systems

  • What are the Board’s KPIs and OKRs?
  • What is the cause of customer dissatisfaction?
  • What are the bottlenecks in the agency? 
  • What’s holding you back from growing faster?
  • How effective are your systems and processes?
  • What are we currently tolerating?

People and Culture

  • Who are we currently tolerating?
  • What keeps each director awake at night, about the agency?
  • Is the whole business bought into the vision?
  • How can you accelerate the rate of change in the agency?
  • Who is on the bus and who should be off the bus?
  • How good is this board? What’s missing?
  • How good is the leadership team? What’s missing?
  • Is the board rhythm in place (regular monthly meetings with great board packs, run on time with full attendance and full engagement)?


  • Why are we not more ambitious?
  • If you could fix one thing right now, what would it be?
  • What can go wrong?
  • What are the four top strategic initiatives right now?
  • What is our superpower that separates us from the competition?
  • What would Sir Richard/Sir Alan/Duncan/Elon do with this business?
  • What is the One Thing you need to do this month and this quarter.
  • What is the focus of the coming month and quarter?


This list is not exhaustive but it should be an invaluable Cheat Sheet for any wannabe NEDs and it should be a great way to prep for your next board meeting.