Despite stories of an increasing number of businesses recognising the value of grey hair - aka ’wisdom’ - the mean age in this country’s boardrooms is constantly falling. At this rate, the Justin Kings [CEO, Sainsbury’s] of this world will soon be the norm rather than the exception.

Another trend noticed by Oxford-based legal firm Darbys’ ’Employment in Food’ team is an increasing number of senior executives in the bakery sector joining company boards from outside the industry. Consequently, Darbys is receiving more calls from chairmen and non- executive directors seeking guidance on how to introduce new talent into their business with minimum disruption.

As the promise of a seat at the board table in return for loyal service has been largely confined to history, there has been a corresponding increase in the need for professional recruitment.

The norm is for boards to dele-gate recruitment to head-hunters. While effective delegation maybe the hardest managerial skill to master, instructing personnel should remain cognisant of their own, as well as their head-hunter’s, legal obligations.

Tip No. 1:

Have a transparent and objective recruitment policy. Identify objective selection criteria and ensure that head-hunters/any agencies used understand them.

Tip No. 2:

Having agreed with head-hunters the criteria to be applied, create a matrix with scores/weighting to be applied by interviewers.

Remember, too, that a head-hunter is an agent of the instructing company. So you may need to consider both the issue of liability for representations made by the head-hunter and their likely standard terms and conditions, which normally require an indemnity from the instructing employer. Ever-more stringent discrimination laws may mean that the employer has a greater exposure legally, but personnel who are thinking of swapping senior executive roles will still tend to look more favourably on perspective employers with best-practice recruitment procedures in operation.

If a head-hunter is used for a senior level appointment, the commission is likely to be large. So, commensurately, a head-hunter is unlikely to want to lose such commission. It is worth reviewing their standard terms and conditions and you should seek to negotiate amendments to them - in particular, the removal of any indemnity such as that referred to above.

Tip No. 3:

Get terms of engagement nego- tiated so that, for example, if an appointed executive s not prove to be up to the work, you are not also saddled with a heavy commission payment. An agent’s fees should be made contingent upon the performance of the personnel whom it essentially has introduced.

When the age regulations became law in April 2006, fears of age discrimination claims were spread by many law firms. Yet to date, such fears have largely been without foundation.

The reality is, of course, that significant experience is required before individuals are able to carry out the functions necessary to run the complex operation that is a bakery-related business.

Tip No. 4:

In job adverts, make reference to skills/experience rather than number of years’ service required. Notice periods tend to increase in direct correlation with the seniority of the personnel concerned. Although a long notice period may be a wise provision to have within a service agreement, if the market intelligence held by the executive concerned may quickly pass its sell-by-date. In many sectors, notice periods could be reduced. The cost of replacing the old guard is often unnecessarily high, because long notice payments need to be made to avoid a claim for wrongful dismissal.

Tip No. 5:

Review and, if appropriate, negotiate proportionate notice periods. Although age discrimination may be the hot topic in the media’s eyes, the starting point for any member of the "old guard" who wishes to bring an employment claim will be to consider making a claim for wrongful dismissal (for his/her notice period) and for unfair dismissal (that one of the five fair reasons for his/her termination has not been sustained).

An employer will find it much easier to successfully refute a claim of unfair dismissal if it has applied the company’s disciplinary sanctions ahead of reaching such a decision. Do not be afraid of us ing the dis ciplinary sanctions, in which so much money has been invested - both in their drafting and in the training necessary to ensure that they are effected correctly.

Employees are less likely to refute allegations of inadequate performance and the like if they have been put through internal proceedings already.

Once an employer has addressed its potential legal exposure to a claim from a departing member of staff, it should think about how best an exit may be presented to such person(s).

An increasingly common and valuable way of doing so is to use outplacement counselling. Often, the cost of doing so does not significantly add to any termination payment, but the dignity of the departing person(s) is likely to be maintained if that individual feels that he is being supported by his soon-to-be former employer in moving on to pastures new. Consequently, the likelihood of an employment tribunal claim following his/ her departure will be commensurately less. Information on outplacement support can be found at [].