Open source boards and tenure terms: The FSF has stalled

Rotation in open source boards: Average # of years served by members

The ASF, PSF, and OSI keep renewing their board members. On average each member serves less than 8 years.

Meanwhile the FSF average # of years served per board members keeps growing — currently >13.83 years. Or more, if the count started before 2001.

Why boards should rotate

The following research articles show why institutions need to keep boards fresh, regardless if they are non-profit or not:

Rotating new board directors into the boardroom and on committees prevents the board from becoming stale. The IRS favors term limits because they believe that static board membership leads to unhealthy attitudes, which can cause boards to govern out of self-interest rather than community interest. Boards that have a majority of longstanding members may intimidate newer members, causing them to hold back with new thoughts and ideas.

Tenure Trends Reversing… And May Reverse Again: Investors’ concern — warranted or not — over rising director/board tenure is based in reality. Average boardroom tenure steadily rose from 8.4 years in 2008 to a peak of nine years in 2013 before slowly reversing course from 2014 to 2016 (YTD). As a result, average director tenure at S&P 1500 firms now stands at a level — 8.7 years — last recorded in 2010. Moving in a similar pattern, median board tenure across all S&P 1500 directorships rose from six years to seven years in 2009, but has remained steady from 2010 to 2016. Absent intervention by boards, however, structural issues — especially rising mandatory retirement ages — could cause average and median tenures to climb again in a few years.

Source data

Brian Fitzpatrick researched and shared this data in a Google sheet:

Thread: This tweet got me to thinking: is there a way to show just how broken the FSF is as an organization? Is there a way to show how their board isn’t really a functioning board, but rather an enabling body for RMS? Turns out, there is! And I will show you in *four* tweets.

Sheet to SQL

I found it difficult to manipulate these numbers within the format that Brian chose for these sheets, so I brought everything to SQL.

I copy pasted the whole sheets into Snowflake, parsed with SQL, and added window functions to count the number of years that each member served:

// see as (
select f
, split(y.value, '\t')[0]::string who, z.index+2000-5 year
, row_number() over(partition by f, who order by year) years_served
from sheet4
, table(split_to_table(x, '\n')) y
, table(split_to_table(y.value, '\t')) z
where z.index>5
and z.value='1'
-- select *
-- from unpivot;
select f, year, avg(years_served)
from unpivot
group by 1,2
order by 1,2

Above average terms

With counts starting in 2001:

FSF: Gerald Sussman (21), Geoffrey Knauth (21), Richard Stallman (20), Henry Poole (19), Benjamin Mako Hill (13), Hal Abelson (10)

ASF: Jim Jagielski (17), Greg Stein (16), Sam Ruby (14), Bertrand Delacretaz (11), Shane Curcuru (10), Roy T. Fielding (9), Brett Porter (9)

PSF: Tim Peters (13), Martin von Löwis (11), Van Lindberg (9), Steve Holden (9)

OSI: Simon Phipps (9)

Board members that have served for 9 years or more

Shared sheet

Find the unpivoted data on my own shared sheet:

Learn more

I’m looking forwards to Matt Asay take on this data!



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Felipe Hoffa

Felipe Hoffa

Data Cloud Advocate at Snowflake ❄️. Originally from Chile, now in San Francisco and around the world. Previously at Google. Let’s talk data.