Julia Hobsbawm

Andrew Hill

Are networks both good and bad? Getty Images

The assumption that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has informed business and politics for decades, even centuries. But the benefits of strong networks – and networking – are shadowed by threats. When is a network too cosy, and, if you’re outside the network, how would you know?

The Corporate Library – now part of GMI Ratings, the governance research group – has for years been developing tools to answer this question, particularly in the US. In 2002, researchers there did some bespoke research for the Financial Times looking at cross-company links among directors of the FT 500 list of the world’s largest listed companies. It revealed that because of multi-tier boards in continental Europe, the most closely connected directors oversaw French and German companies, such as BNP Paribas and Allianz.