Purpose – This paper aims to undertake a study of national configurational demographics in order to determine the spread of understanding of the chairman's role, performance and contribution. Design/methodology/approach – Qualitative methodology, exploratory in nature through in-depth interviews and workshop discussion involving 103 UK, US and Australian participants, was undertaken. Findings – The role of chairman is considered as having a distinct effect on board dynamics, role and contribution and the monitoring and support of management. Nine demographic factors are identified as affecting the manner in which the role of chairman is exercised in the UK, USA and Australia. Research limitations/implications – The findings of this qualitative exploratory study need to be integrated into a quantitative empirical survey in order to ascertain the validity of the results to date. Practical implications – The two key conclusions highlight the requirement for governance due diligence, examining the financial and competitive strength of the organisation as well as uncovering contextual sensitivities. Originality/value – Insufficient attention has been given to the role of chairman. The study offers additional insight on how demographic factors influence the shaping and determination of the role of chairman. This paper should be of interest to practitioners, consultants, line managers, board members, chairmen, management academics and business studies students.