It’s Not You, It’s Me

Sadly, I suspect many of us have been on the receiving end of that famous phrase “It’s not you, it’s me”.  And I suspect that this phrase has been uttered to disclose the end of some sort of relationship. 

Not pleasant at all.

Now imagine if a potential employer were to say that to you.  Would it be as off putting as the same utterance at the end of a relationship?  Our immediate reaction might be a resounding “YES”. 

But not so fast.

I believe more potential employers should be telling potential candidates this very phrase.  Allow me to explain.

As an owner of a business that employs several people, I am on the lookout for those candidates who are going to make my business shine.  I am burdened with problems and issues running my business and hire people to help make those problems and issues go away.  That is my number one concern and priority.  Everything else is secondary.

So imagine how I feel when I receive a resume from someone that has an objective stated right at the top.  Unless it says “My objective is to make your life way simpler” (it rarely does say that, by the way) then the objective is about the candidate and what they hope to get out of the relationship.  It is kind of like going into a car dealership to buy a car and the sales rep tells you they are gunning for the monthly sales record.  Frankly, I don’t care.  Tell me how you are going to make my problems go away.  Tell me how my life is going to be better off. 

Imagine how I feel when an interviewee is totally focused on their own gain.  Sure they tell me great stories about all of the wonderful things they have done in the past but they never link it to the issues I am facing.  I would love to hear a candidate say “…and I can apply the same results to help your organization”.  Magic (again, rarely spoken by most candidates.)

And finally, stop asking me for a “job” or “an opportunity”.  As soon as I hear that, I instantly think of “cost”.  If I remember my accounting classes correctly, Profit =Revenue – Cost.  In other words, I think about how my profit is about to take a hit.  I’d rather someone tell me how their skills, experience and knowledge are going to help make my problems go away and make my life better.

In other words, It’s not (about) you, It’s about me.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Sadly, I suspect many of us have been on the receiving end of that famous phrase “It’s not you, it’s me”.  And I suspect that this phrase has been uttered to disclose the end of some sort of relationship. 

Not pleasant at all.

Now imagine if a potential employer were to say that to you.  Would it be as off putting as the same utterance at the end of a relationship?  Our immediate reaction might be a resounding “YES”. 

But not so fast.

I believe more potential employers should be telling potential candidates this very phrase.  Allow me to explain.

As an owner of a business that employs several people, I am on the lookout for those candidates who are going to make my business shine.  I am burdened with problems and issues running my business and hire people to help make those problems and issues go away.  That is my number one concern and priority.  Everything else is secondary.

So imagine how I feel when I receive a resume from someone that has an objective stated right at the top.  Unless it says “My objective is to make your life way simpler” (it rarely does say that, by the way) then the objective is about the candidate and what they hope to get out of the relationship.  It is kind of like going into a car dealership to buy a car and the sales rep tells you they are gunning for the monthly sales record.  Frankly, I don’t care.  Tell me how you are going to make my problems go away.  Tell me how my life is going to be better off. 

Imagine how I feel when an interviewee is totally focused on their own gain.  Sure they tell me great stories about all of the wonderful things they have done in the past but they never link it to the issues I am facing.  I would love to hear a candidate say “…and I can apply the same results to help your organization”.  Magic (again, rarely spoken by most candidates.)

And finally, stop asking me for a “job” or “an opportunity”.  As soon as I hear that, I instantly think of “cost”.  If I remember my accounting classes correctly, Profit =Revenue – Cost.  In other words, I think about how my profit is about to take a hit.  I’d rather someone tell me how their skills, experience and knowledge are going to help make my problems go away and make my life better.

In other words, It’s not (about) you, It’s about me.

Experience the Technologies Changing Our Future

At NACD’s Master Class this August, directors from companies like Boingo Wireless Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., GameStop Corp., and the Royal Bank of Canada convened in Laguna Beach, California, for peer-to-peer discussions on strategy, risk, and leading through disruption. One common thread ran throughout the discussions: companies expend enormous resources and efforts to mitigate cyber, geopolitical, and other threats, but they have yet to allocate the same attention to technology disruption. Kelvin Westbrook— president and CEO of KRW Advisors LLC, and a director of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Stifel Financial Corp., and T-Mobile US Inc.—framed the issue this way for Master Class participants: “Companies can survive cyber data breaches, but many don’t survive innovative technology disruption. It’s a bigger deal that we need to address.”


A prosthetic hand created using low-cost 3-D printing technology was demonstrated at the 2015 Global Board Leaders’ Summit. Photo by Denny Henry.

This year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit puts technology and disruption front and center, with a variety of leading-edge speakers and sessions that focus on these themes. But more than just convening discussions, the director community get hands-on experience with emerging trends via Innovation Nation. This popular feature, launched at last year’s Summit, is back once again, featuring an even more robust cross-section of the trends, technologies, and innovations that are disrupting your businesses and shaping your world. This year’s exhibits include opportunities to immerse yourself in virtual reality, experience the sharing economy at work, and see the latest in drone technology up close. Here is a sampling of who will be on hand:

  • Dancing With the Start-Ups, a new feature modeled after the popular show Shark Tank, builds on popular sessions from past Summits that gave directors a chance to “Meet the Disruptors.” This fast-paced competition will feature 12 companies across three key industries—healthcare, financial services, and energy— to showcase the latest and greatest in emerging business. Both the competition and a booth showcasing the startup talent in Innovation Nation will offer Summit attendees the chance to meet the entrepreneurs who are hoping to be your next competitors in the marketplace. For those who can’t make the Sunday session, or who just want to get to know the companies a little better, swing by Innovation Nation to learn more about innovative new ways to diagnose malaria, the latest in solar energy technology, the intersection of market data with sustainability, and much more.
  • Dave Meadows is a self-described “lifelong ‘tinkerer’ and inventor”—inclinations that served him well in his former role as a senior research and development executive with Novartis International AG. Several years ago, Meadows set out to solve a problem that has plagued wine drinkers for nearly 9,000-years—adverse physical reactions, especially when drinking reds. Five years later, The Wand was born. This invention removes 95 percent of the histamines and sulfite preservatives from wine. The result—a whole legion of wine enthusiasts who had previously learned to avoid wine can once again partake without the fear of headaches and other adverse reactions. You can experience the power of The Wand firsthand and talk to Meadows about and his work in the areas of medical diagnostics, sports medicine, and consumer packaged goods.
  • Big data and analytics are driving the growth of nearly every business, from heavy hitters like General Electric and Alibaba to early stage start-ups and family farms. This new trend is poised to transform industries, power new business models, enable innovation, and create greater value. According to research from International Data Corporation, worldwide revenues for big data and analytics will grow to $187 billion by 2019—a 50 percent increase from revenues in 2014. But Powerlytics Inc. cofounder Kevin Sheetz cautions that, when it comes to data, big doesn’t mean better, and behind the hype are a number of critical questions boards should be asking to ensure their companies are taking full and smart advantage of this trend. Sheetz will be at the Summit to give directors real-time interaction with the company’s platform, which aggregates publicly available consumer and business financial data from sources like IRS tax returns, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • February 15, 2011 became a milestone in both game show and artificial intelligence (AI) history, as the IBM-designed super computer, Watson, bested previously undefeated players Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter to win Jeopardy! The Watson team has been hard at work in the intervening five years to use natural language processing and machine learning to make sense of large amounts of unstructured data. IBM developers will be available to demo this technology and answer questions about the intersection of AI and analytics.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) is reshaping the business landscape in ways that aren’t yet fully understood. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is one of many organizations harnessing the IoT to save lives. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were more than six million police-reported crashes on U.S. roads in 2015. While the number of people surviving car accidents has increased significantly thanks to airbags, antilock brakes, and other technology, USDOT’s Connected Vehicles program aims to stop many of those crashes from happening in the first place. This unique partnership between state and local transportation agencies, vehicle and device makers, and the public, aims to test and evaluate technology that will enable motor vehicles, roads and other infrastructure, and devices to “talk” to one another so every vehicle on the road is aware of the position of other nearby vehicles. Chris Gerdes, USDOT’s chief innovation officer, will discuss the program Monday on the main stage. Swing by the Innovation Nation to check out this technology, learn more about how you can bring the program to your home city, and get inspiration for how the IoT might just help your own business survive and thrive.

These are just a few snapshots of the incredible line-up of thought leaders and emerging technology at next month’s Summit. Want to learn more? View the full list of speakers and sessions at


Does Investor Relations Expertise Belong On the Board?


Robert D. Ferris

Times sure have changed. Whether a company’s equity is owned by a few venture capitalists or a league of activist investors, investors today want to have their say about where the company is headed and who is leading it.

Perhaps the time has come for companies, both public and private, to consider better use of an underused and under-appreciated asset that many of them already have and others should acquire: the role of the investor relations (IR) professional. Integral to the board’s oversight of corporate asset allocation (i.e., dividend policy, investment in research and development, external growth through M&A and other measures to return value) is a current understanding of how the securities and capital markets work, characteristics and propensities of investor types, investor attitudes and concerns, and relative values of the enterprise.

Request Reports From Your IR Professional

It is commonplace today for the corporate IR professional to present quarterly market analysis reports to the C-suite and in particular the CEO and CFO, regarding relative market performance, changes in ownership, and current investor perceptions and concerns. In my opinion, such reports should find their way to the board of directors as well, both in formal, written form, and as in-person presentations, inviting questions and discussion—all in an effort to keep the board up to date regarding pertinent market activity and best prepared for contingencies.

In the current market environment, the IR professional requires special and multi-disciplined skill sets that can help a board. As spokesperson for the company and often the proxy for the CEO and CFO with investors, the IR professional must be thoroughly familiar and conversant with the business plan, financial structure and strategy, and the performance of the company. He or she must be aware of and sensitive to disclosure Regulation FD, securities laws, and other regulatory imperatives.

Intentionally Include IR Experience and Perspective on the Board

In addition, nominating committees should consider seeking an outside director who has IR experience in addition to other useful boardroom skills. Just as public companies are required to have a financial expert on the audit committee, perhaps boards should be urged to have a skilled investor relations professional among their ranks. While the same might be said of other core disciplines (cybersecurity, finance, human resources, law, marketing, technology, and so forth), the domain of IR knowledge seems worthy of particular consideration at this time of market turmoil and uncertainty. Having IR expertise on the board certainly would make the board smarter and better prepared to deal with myriad corporate and financial decisions within its purview.

The corporate IR professional could be an invaluable asset to the board, as he or she must be cognizant of the pulse of the investment community on specific issues, while bringing this critical perspective to bear on the board’s discussion and decision-making process. The corporate investor relations discipline has evolved significantly over the years out of necessity. No longer simply a stockholder relations functionary, the IR professional is the primary, and sometimes the only daily, interface with owners (as well as prospective owners and market influentials) of the enterprise. The IR professional thus has a keen sense of investor interests and concerns, their perceptions of relative value, and of their voting propensities.

Suggesting the addition of an IR skill set on the board is not to be taken lightly. Recognize that there are numerous skilled and experienced IR professionals available, all of whom, in addition to the aforementioned experiences, know how investors think and know all the hard questions and concerns regarding material corporate events, financial performance, prospects and policies—all in a constantly changing economy.

Robert D. Ferris is an investor relations and crisis counselor and commentator, with more than four decades of experience with both domestic and foreign issuers. A former chairman of National Investor Relations Institute’s Senior Roundtable, his ideas on C-suite communications strategies in challenging corporate situations have been widely published.

What Boards Should Look for in Corporate Ethics and Compliance Programs

One of the board‘s key responsibilities is the oversight of a company’s conduct, including the strength of its culture and the effectiveness of its ethics & compliance (E&C) program. In recent years, that responsibility has become even weightier. Recent corporate scandals, such as Volkswagen, Unaoil, and Mitsubishi Motors, have created public skepticism about business ethics, and policy makers have responded with a new emphasis on accountability for both companies and responsible individuals, including directors who are either negligent in preventing fraud or willingly participate in it. Enforcement agencies now scrutinize a company’s E&C efforts before making prosecutorial decisions by inquiring about board oversight in the company’s approach to E&C.

Ronnie Kann

Ronnie Kann

Patricia Harned

Patricia Harned

Organizations around the world invest tremendous resources to establish internal E&C programs and prevent corporate wrongdoing. Although E&C was historically a U.S. focus, a number of international standards have heightened the importance of E&C programs globally: the UK Bribery Act; the new International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 19600 Compliance Management System Guidelines; and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Directors observe these developments and scratch their heads. What does an effective E&C program look like? How can we succeed with E&C without stifling our business? What is the board’s role in E&C oversight? Has any organization gotten it right?

There is good news for directors. There are exemplary organizations—representing a wide variety of sizes, sectors, and industries—that have raised the bar even higher than mere compliance with the law. These organizations have transformed their workplaces through their E&C efforts to yield stronger, more positive results. And even better, there is now a framework to help directors guide their own organizations in establishing such an E&C program.

The Framework: Principles and Practices of High-Quality E&C Programs

In May 2015, the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) convened a group of 24 thought leaders with E&C program experience, including corporate directors, former deputy attorneys general, former members of the United States Congress, business executives, senior E&C practitioners, and academics. The panel produced a new report with leading principles and practices for effective E&C program implementation: Principles and Practices of High-Quality Ethics & Compliance Programs. The report includes five key principles practiced by organizations not satisfied with “minimum” E&C efforts; these organizations are referred to in the report as high-quality programs (HQPs). The principles, which should be tailored to each company’s individual circumstances, are adapted below from the original report:

Principle 1:  Ethics and compliance is central to business strategy.

  • E&C is both a function on the organizational chart and is considered to be an essential element within every operation.
  • A high standard of integrity and compliance is articulated as a business objective, and every strategic decision is evaluated for alignment with the organization’s values and standards.
  • An HQP ensures compliance with law and regulation, and is resourced to help leaders across the organization understand their critical role in setting and meeting the standard for integrity.
  • The E&C program is expected to provide an independent voice, and regularly updates the board on E&C objectives, risks, and progress.
  • HQP staff maintains excellence by dedicating themselves to continuous improvement in E&C through innovation, engagement with stakeholders (inside and outside the organization), and consistent consideration of employee feedback.

Principle 2: Ethics and compliance risks are identified, owned, managed, and mitigated.

  • While organizational values are the heart of any E&C program, risk assessments provide the foundation upon which HQPs are built.
  • E&C staff collaborates across the organization to support a risk assessment process that identifies, prioritizes, and mitigates risk consistently.
  • Compliance performance, strength or weakness of organizational culture, employee willingness or fear to report, and other key E&C areas are evaluated and reported to the board as potential risks to the organization.
  • Leaders at all levels assume ownership for the ongoing identification and mitigation of risks that are relevant to their areas, both inside and outside the organization.
  • The board is regularly briefed on emerging E&C risks and how the E&C program is monitoring and mitigating risks where necessary.

Principle 3: Leaders at all levels across the organization build and sustain a culture of integrity.

  • Culture is the largest influencer of business conduct, and leaders are recognized as the primary drivers of that culture.
  • Leaders throughout the organization are committed to, and responsible for, making ethical conduct and decision making central to the organization and its operations.
  • The board assumes responsibility for evaluating the performance of senior management in providing ethical leadership and setting a proper tone at the top.
  • HQPs equip managers and supervisors with the support needed to make those values relevant to their day-to-day operations.
  • Recognizing that employees at all levels make ethics-related choices every day, HQPs provide resources, guidance, and training that emphasizes to all employees the importance of acting in accordance with shared values, seeking help, and speaking up.

Principle 4: The organization encourages, protects, and values the reporting of concerns and suspected wrongdoing.

  • HQPs focus on establishing an environment where issues can be raised long before situations are elevated to the level of misconduct.
  • HQPs prepare leaders and supervisors to respond appropriately if/when employees do come forward with concerns about wrongdoing.
  • Managers understand the impact of their actions, and HQPs hold them accountable for contributing to a culture that does not support the reporting of concerns.
  • There are focused efforts to prevent and deter retaliation.
  • HQPs treat all those who report violations fairly and consistently, and effectively support employees who report suspected violations.
  • The board is regularly briefed on high-level trends in employee reporting, and management is expected to be transparent with the board when substantive “bad news” transpires.

Principle 5: The organization takes action and holds itself accountable when wrongdoing occurs.

  • Investigations are timely, neutral, thorough, competent, and consistent.
  • When a violation is confirmed, the organization responds with appropriate consequences, regardless of the violator’s position within the company.
  • The organization maximizes learning from every substantiated case of wrongdoing.
  • HQPs recognize that technology has increased reputational risk.
  • HQPs have well developed systems for escalating issues, with regular testing for crisis management and response.
  • When appropriate, HQPs disclose issues to appropriate regulatory and government authorities and work cooperatively to respond to their concerns.
  • The board is well informed when substantive issues arise that require organizational accountability to stakeholders.

As corporate directors know better than anyone, there is no one approach to effective ethics and compliance. Each company’s circumstances are unique; therefore, their E&C programs must vary accordingly. But there are some universals among organizations that “get it right,” particularly when it comes to implementing a proper E&C tone at the highest levels of the organization. The board has an essential role in setting the expectation that the organization will not be satisfied with upholding only the minimum standard. Understanding the principles and practices that characterize leading E&C practice will help board members engage with management to ensure that the highest standard of integrity is seamlessly aligned with the performance of the organization overall.

See NACD’s Director Essentials: Strengthening Compliance and Ethics Oversight for more guidance on how directors can effectively oversee compliance and ethics efforts at their companies. Fortune 500 company directors offer additional insights on the role of the board and the audit committee in E&C oversight in the research brief NACD Audit Committee Chair Advisory Council: Audit Committee Oversight of Compliance.

Patricia Harned is CEO of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) and frequently speaks and writes about workplace ethics, corporate governance, and global integrity. Ronnie Kann is executive vice president of research and program development at ECI, having served chief ethics and compliance officers, general counsel, and chief human resource officers throughout his career. Harned and Kann both contributed as authors to the ECI report Principles and Practices of High-Quality Ethics & Compliance Programs. The Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) empowers its members across the globe to operate their businesses at the highest levels of integrity. ECI provides leading ethics and compliance research and best practices, networking opportunities, and certification to its membership, which represents more than 450 organizations across all industries. ECI is comprised of three nonprofit organizations: the Ethics Research Center, the Ethics & Compliance Association and the Ethics & Compliance Certification Institute.

Is Internal Audit Meeting the Board’s Expectations?

Jim DeLoach

Jim DeLoach

Recently, the world’s largest ongoing study of the internal audit profession—the Global Internal Audit Common Body of Knowledge (CBOK)—was completed by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and Protiviti to ascertain expectations from key stakeholders regarding internal audit performance at organizations of varying operational models and sizes. The study sought input from members of audit committees all over the world about their expectations of the internal auditor’s role in the organization. We think all directors will find the results of the study applicable to their work in the coming year and beyond.

Below are six imperatives for internal auditors from the CBOK study based on feedback from audit committee members.

1. Focus more on strategic risks. According to the CBOK study, two out of three board members believe internal audit should have a more active role in evaluating the organization’s strategic risks. Study respondents indicated that internal audit should focus on strategic risks (as well as operational, financial and compliance risks) during audit projects (86 percent) and periodically evaluate and communicate key risks to the board and executive management (76 percent). Accordingly, chief audit executives (CAE) must focus their function sufficiently on the bigger picture to think more strategically when evaluating risks, proposing risk-based audit plans, and formulating audit findings. By understanding the organization’s business objectives and strategy, and identifying risks that create barriers to the organization achieving its objectives and executing its strategy successfully, the CAE increases internal audit’s value proposition.

2. Think beyond the scope. The call for internal auditors to think strategically leads to another challenge: thinking beyond the scope of the audit plan. Thinking beyond scope means, for example, that the auditor should:

  • “Connect the dots” when considering enterprisewide implications of the findings of multiple audits, particularly findings with significant business model underpinnings;
  • Broaden the focus on operations, compliance, and nonfinancial reporting issues; and
  • Watch for patterns or signs indicating a deteriorating risk culture.

By focusing more broadly on the implications of audit findings, and thinking beyond the expressed or implied boundaries set by the audit plan, internal audit is better positioned to deliver stronger, more practical, and harder-hitting recommendations aligned with what directors are seeking.

3. Add more value through consulting. In today’s era of slower economic growth, a high premium is placed on operational effectiveness and efficiency. The CBOK study respondents picked up on this point, as 73 percent of respondents recommended that internal audit advise on business process improvements. For example, consulting activities by internal audit can result in: strengthening of the lines of defense that make risk management work; more effective collaboration with other independent functions focused on managing risk and compliance; improvements in the control structure, including greater use of automated controls; and suggestions for improving and streamlining compliance. These study findings underscore the benefit of investing in consulting services that will strengthen business processes.

4. Facilitate effective, high-quality communication. Board members generally rate internal audit’s communication at a high level of confidence. For example, a large majority of directors give high scores for the quality (83 percent) and frequency (81 percent) of internal audit’s communication. That’s good news and a great foundation on which to build the board’s satisfaction with the internal auditor’s role.

5. Elevate stature and perspective. Intentionally positioning the CAE and internal audit within the organization is vitally important to their ability to meet elevated expectations. Access and perspective have always been keys to positioning. Access has typically been attained through direct reporting to the audit committee, as well as to the C-suite. But beyond these reporting lines, the study reports that two out of three board members rank the CAE’s participation in board settings beyond the traditional audit committee meetings as an effective strategy for broadening the CAE’s perspective. The board settings that are relevant in this context must be defined by directors to fit the organization’s specific needs. However the goal is defined, increased access to and more frequent interaction with the board broadens the CAE’s perspective of the organization and elevates the stature and visibility of the internal audit function within it. It also enables the CAE to establish relationships with directors, understand their views on addressing competing audit priorities, and earn the right to be viewed as a valued source of insight for the board.

6. Align with stakeholder expectations. In most organizations, not all stakeholders see eye to eye or want the same value from internal audit. This reality creates a significant challenge for CAEs tasked with building consensus among stakeholders. While directors may not expect their company’s CAE to address all of the above imperatives, they should initially and periodically assess whether internal audit is doing what matters based on previously-established imperatives. The CAE bears the brunt of the responsibility for addressing this challenge by articulating the value that a top-down, risk-based audit plan contributes to each facet of the organization, and by providing an assurance and advisory perspective that the board, executive management, and other stakeholders can understand.

Following are some suggested questions that directors may consider based on the risks inherent in the entity’s operations.

  • Does the board periodically evaluate the scope of internal audit’s activities and discuss whether modifications are needed in view of changes in company operations and the business environment? Is the board getting the insights it needs?
  • Does internal audit provide adequate attention to strategic risk issues, including barriers to the organization’s execution of the strategy?
  • Does internal audit have an appropriate mix of consulting and assurance activities?
  • Does internal audit have the stature and access necessary to maximize its effectiveness?

Jim DeLoach is managing director with Protiviti, a global consulting firm. 

The Story is in the Dash: The Art of Executive Storytelling

As a career consultant, I coach my outplacement candidates on how to effectively “tell their career story.” An important job search skill is the ability to relate a career journey in a compelling and exciting manner and make a potential employer take notice. When I first meet my candidates, I usually ask them to walk me through their resumes so I can understand their professional experiences and the trajectory of their careers.

What I normally hear is a litany of companies where they worked. It usually sounds something like “From 2000 – 2006 I worked at The ABC Company. Then, I was recruited to work for The XYZ Organization, and I was there from 2006 – 2010. Next, I went to The MNO Group from 2010 – 2014, where I was downsized. Now I am meeting with you.” When they share their stories, it’s as dry as listening to a series of professional obituaries. What I actually hear is, “I worked here and that job died. Then, I went there and that job died. Next, I went to another company. Now that job died as well.”

There is an art to executive storytelling. When done right, it becomes an exciting narrative that engrosses the listener. A career story is the story of a career journey. It’s the story of career decisions, experiences and the lessons learned from both the successes and failures. It’s about the managers who saw something and mentored and groomed someone for bigger and better things.

In short, the story is in the dash. One might have worked for a certain company from 2006 – 2010. However, the story that should be shared includes the experiences in that space. It’s a series of vignettes that explains one’s professional and personal evolution, how one grew and became the professional of today.

This is a story full of excitement, intrigue, big successes and some very important learning experiences — sometimes known as failure. The story is meaningful because it explains a person developed his/her unique combination of skills, perspectives and what makes him/her a more interesting job applicant than his/her peers.

In truth, the past is a small part of the story. The bigger story is where the candidate is going and how he/she plans to bring value to his/her next employer. The past provides credibility and makes a candidate’s claims more convincing because he/she has a strong track record to back it up. But what makes the story compelling is what he/she can do for the next employer to help grow his or her company.

Sustainability: No Longer a ‘Soft Issue’ for Boards

As shareholders and stakeholders focus more on sustainability, board members increasingly are taking responsibility for the long-term sustainability of their companies. In this BoardVision interview, NACD’s publisher and director of partner relations, Christopher Y. Clark, moderates a discussion between Kellie Huennekens, from EY’s Center for Board Matters, and Brendan LeBlanc, partner at EY’s Americas Climate Change and Sustainability Services, on why directors should prioritize sustainability in the boardroom:

  • Sustainability is no longer being viewed as a “soft issue” for board members. Rather, it’s an issue that is tied to oversight of corporate strategy.
  • Shareholders are becoming more concerned about how environmental and social issues are affecting companies.
  • There are so-called quick wins for management and boards who realize their companies should address sustainability issues.
Brendan LeBlanc Kellie Huennekens

Brendan LeBlanc, partner at EY’s Americas Climate Change and Sustainability Services (left), and Kellie Huennekens, from EY’s Center for Board Matters.

Here are some highlights from the discussions.

Christopher Y. Clark: [Has] there been increased activity and interest by directors in the governance and oversight of sustainability?

Brendan LeBlanc: I would suggest that governance and oversight of sustainability is simply governance and oversight of the corporate strategy. Companies execute their business models in the context of planetary limits and societal expectations. Sustainability is a word that goes by a lot of other synonyms: citizenship, stewardship, responsible growth, resiliency, profitability, [and] in perpetuity. All of these concepts get at the essence of sustainability, and the idea of how a company’s strategy is executed has always been a board issue.

Kellie Huennekens: It’s all about shareholders, at least from my perspective. The EY Center for Board Matters has ongoing engagement with a full range of institutional investors. We track proxy voting of the 3,000 largest companies in the U.S., and what we’re seeing and hearing from them is that sustainability topics, [like] environmental and social issues, are key concerns…gaining traction among a broader range of investors. Basically, what investors are searching for is a better understanding of how nontraditional, nonfinancial developments are impacting the companies in their portfolio, and accordingly, they want to know more about board oversight of these issues.

Clark: The perception is that this was a soft issue, and I want to hear more about EY’s work with boards on not forcing it but enhancing it so it’s no longer viewed as a soft issue.

Huennekens: There are a number of companies that appear to be redefining how boards should be looking at sustainability topics. These companies are the leaders in the space, and they’re constantly communicating with one another [and] with investors to explore how to approach sustainability topics. It’s a very difficult area, partly because it’s new and partly because the topics covered are very broad and very challenging.

LeBlanc: Boards are meant to safeguard the assets of the companies they serve. And one of the trickier but more important assets is your social license to operate, [with] an engaged workforce that comes to work…[not only for a paycheck but also] because they’re doing something that they believe in. And how companies actually understand, report, and capture this information [is] a business issue. Today, that whole process is maturing, and as boards get more engaged on what we think our social license-to-operate issues are, [we’re asking], “What are the things that really matter to our business? What do we depend on for natural resources? What are society’s expectations of us? And how are we meeting that responsibility?”

Clark: I read the appendices of NACD’s handbook, Oversight of Corporate Sustainability, and one tip that stood out to me…was: get quick wins. I was hoping that you could flesh that out for me.

LeBlanc: Quick wins for the management of the company [have] historically [included being] good at cost savings. If you do well by managing energy, [and] reduce costs, that’s fine. If you do well by managing a safe workplace, and you reduce cost and increase morale, that’s fine. The company manages risks very well if they are [also] engaging stakeholders, those who might be impacted by getting them in the tent with them early and understanding what their expectations are of the business. Those are all good, quick wins in producing a report from the company that explains the progress that they’re making….On quick wins for the board, I would strongly suggest taking a look at the [handbook’s] appendix, where we’ve put a model charter [that helps with] understanding the board. Who’s responsible for what? What’s the governance around the nonfinancial commitments that you’ve either explicitly made or are expected of you from your stakeholders?

Huennekens: As an indication of investors’ interest on sustainability topics, more specifically environmental and social issues, we’ve been seeing in recent years that shareholder-sponsored proposals to management on environmental and social topics now make up one of the largest shareholder proposal categories. It’s now about half of all the shareholder proposal topics submitted. While some boards may ask [whether or not this is] really a big deal [considering the amount of stock the shareholder who filed the proposal holds], what we’re seeing is that the broader base of investors is supporting a number of these key topics. [These topics include] greenhouse gas emissions reduction, whether to produce a sustainability report on an annual basis…, a human rights assessment, [and] supply chain management issues. [These issues] are increasingly becoming more prominent in terms of the broad range of topics boards cover, and we’re seeing average support for these proposals increase as well.

Helpful Resources:

Oversight of Corporate Sustainability

Responding to Environmental Challenges: Building Resilient and Sustainable Organizations

What Boards Should Know About the Paris Agreement

Sustainability Rising

William Young is the editorial and research assistant for the National Association of Corporate Directors.

Crickets, Divorce, Silicon Valley, and the Future of Governance

One of my favorite comments from an attendee at last year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit went something like this: “I was expecting to be informed; I wasn’t expecting to be inspired.” For a team that works year-round scouring the globe to discover and deliver to you voices that are shaping the future, that’s about as good as it gets.


This year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit is on track to be our biggest ever, and one big feature of the Summit remains the same: a diverse array of thought leaders will share paradigm-shifting insights that will challenge the way you think about leadership, give you new tools to approach your directorship practice, and perhaps inspire you in surprising ways.

Here’s a sampling of some of the most exciting sessions at Summit this year:

  • Michelle Crosby’s start-up Wevorce is not only shaking up Silicon Valley, it’s turning the historic, antagonistic model of divorce on its head. The company’s mission is to “help couples ensure their divorce is less damaging to themselves, their finances, and the people they love.” Crosby was named one of the American Bar Association’s Legal Rebels in 2014, a distinction reserved for “lawyers who are breaking new ground using technology.” “Every institution is subject to change, and the more entrepreneurs who learn to work in the system to create that change, the further we’re going to get,” Crosby said in an interview with USA Today. In an intimate fireside chat, Crosby will discuss innovation, entrepreneurship, disruption, and how the company applies the Wevorce model to talent management inside the company.
  • Howard Ross, one of the most highly rated thought leaders at last year’s Summit, is back again to share insights from his groundbreaking work on unconscious bias, diversity, leadership, and organizational change. The question directors should ask themselves, says Ross, is not “Is there bias?” Rather, directors should ask one another, “What biases do we have that keep us from making choices counter to the values that we say we believe in?” Ross will open the Diversity Symposium on Saturday and will lead an in-depth workshop on Monday focusing on board dynamics.
  • The United Nations estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face fresh water shortages, a critical concern for business and society. Whitewater rafting guide turned CEO Pat Crowley is betting that the solution to that crisis might literally be in our backyards. Crowley’s passion for the outdoors led him to work as a water resource planner, which drew his curiosity to crickets, of all things. “I heard about insects as a more environmentally friendly form of nutrition. From a water perspective, it was clearly a game-changer,” he said. Crowley founded Chapul, a company that makes cricket-based energy bars, in 2012, “to leap over this psychological hurdle of eating insects in the United States.” With explosive growth— 500 percent annually for the past two years alone—Crowley is on track to break through those barriers. On the summit mainstage on Monday, Crowley will discuss what it means to be part of building a new industry that is challenging societal norms, reshaping the competitive landscape, and may just help save the planet.
  • Phil Gilbert has been working with start-ups for the past 30 years, the most recent of which was acquired by IBM in 2010. Now Gilbert leads IBM’s design team with a focus on an empathy-centered workforce. Bringing a start-up mentality to 100-year-old company can be a challenge and almost immediately Gilbert was forced to confront a disconcerting question: “Is the entire way we’re working an anachronism?” Embracing that hard truth has been nothing short of transformational. Gilbert comes to the Summit mainstage to discuss lessons learned in this transformation. “We’re at an interesting crossroads in business. I think the way business is done and businesses work inside themselves has got to fundamentally change in the twenty-first century,” he said.
  • As managing director of famed Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Scott Kupor has been part of building brands like Airbnb, Buzzfeed, Facebook, Foursquare, Lyft, Pinterest, and Skype—companies that have become synonymous with disruption. “Things that are fringe today might become mainstream over time,” Kupor explained on Fox News back in June, describing the philosophy that underpins Andreessen Horowitz’s approach to finding the next disruptive trend. In a mainstage fireside chat Tuesday, Kupor will discuss this philosophy in context with everything from M&A activity and shareholder activism, to IPO trends and the next big innovations he sees poised to disrupt the business landscape.
  • When Chelsea Grayson took on the role of general counsel at American Apparel, she faced a daunting task: to help turn around a company that was operating in an increasingly competitive industry and was coming off of a tumultuous series of events, including high-profile sexual harassment allegations, layoffs, bankruptcy, and protests. In February, Grayson told the legal blog Above the Law, “I have been in-house for over a year now, and I have encountered just about every legal issue a general counsel might experience in an entire career.” Next month, Grayson will share her insights on governing complexity, a subject she has become adept at navigating during her tenure at American Apparel.

These are just a few snapshots of the incredible line-up of thought leaders who will join us in September. Want to learn more? View the full list of speakers and sessions at


‘Secret Sauce’ for the Nominating and Governance Committee Chair

Overseeing a company’s corporate governance process and structure, the nominating and governance (nom/gov) committee is essential to a company’s long-term success. In this BoardVision interview—moderated by NACD Director of Partner Relations and Publisher Christopher Y. Clark—Bonnie Gwin, vice chair and co-managing partner of the global CEO and Board Practice at Heidrick & Struggles, and Thomas Bakewell, CEO and board counsel at Thomas Bakewell Consulting, discuss the qualities of an effective nom/gov committee chair:

  • Sets the right mix between board culture and composition
  • Facilitates cross-committee communications
  • Performs effective board evaluations
  • Spots diverse talents in director candidates
Bonnie Gwin & Tom Bakewell

Bonnie Gwin, vice chair and co-managing partner of the global CEO and Board Practice at Heidrick & Struggles (left) and Thomas Bakewell, CEO and board counsel at Thomas Bakewell Consulting.

Here are some highlights from the discussion.

Christopher Y. Clark: Depending on what your definition of best is, why should the best director on the full board be the chair of the nom/gov committee?

Bonnie Gwin: In my opinion, it is an incredibly critical role. You’re talking about a director who is helping guide the board in not just developing a great composition for the board that is strategic and focused…, but also a director who understands the culture of the company and the board that they’re trying to build. You really need an outstanding director who understands that mix between composition and culture and can work closely with the board to get it right.

Thomas Bakewell: Bonnie is spot on in terms of composition and having the right team around the table. The other magic that you need in a terrific nom/gov chair is somebody who can draw people out, spot talent, make sure everybody gets heard, [and] really…build the team. Coming from a baseball town where we have a pretty good manager [who] wins a lot of World Series, we know the value of having a great person who can draw everybody out and get the team to work together. It’s really [about teamwork] … and using a lot of the tools that are available today. One of the trends in tools is…much more thorough and in-depth evaluations. [These are] … not just check-the-box or check-the-list [exercises] but in-depth individual board evaluations to know what’s really going on in the boardroom and among directors.

Clark: NACD [held] a combined meeting of the NACD Audit Committee Chair Advisory Council and NACD Risk Oversight Advisory Council. … It was invaluable for both sets of committee members. How do you feel about [meetings between committees] … whether it’s audit and risk [or] compensation and nom/gov? Do you think those interrelationships of committees should be enhanced or promoted?

Gwin: Generally speaking, transparent communication across all the committees of the board is essential. It’s essential for a high-functioning board. And in particular where you have, for example, [the] nominating [and] compensation [committees], there’s a lot of interplay between them and the issues they’re addressing. I think it’s important to ensure that there [are not only] good transparent lines of communication between those two committees, but frankly across the whole board.

Bakewell: The magic ingredient is how people work together, and part of that key element is how they communicate. The old approach to boards was everybody showed up the day before the board meeting [and] went to the committees. A lot of times people went to every committee [meeting]. What’s the point [now]? You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. You don’t have the resources today. So how do you have a board where everybody trusts each other and they communicate? If you’re not on the audit committee and important issues come up…, can you simply pick up the phone and reach out to the audit committee chair, or is there another process that’s very helpful for you to get the information you need?

Clark: Please give us one last piece of wisdom.

Gwin: The piece of wisdom I would share is the importance of long-term succession planning. We’ve talked about that several times, but I really think, looking at board composition [and] board dynamics… over the next four or five years…is very important.

Bakewell: I would say my secret sauce is [that when looking at director candidates] it’s not so much [looking at] … particular talents, [because] everybody can look at a resume and see what somebody has. They’re going to see if they’re a CEO, [or] they’re skilled in marketing. The real magic is [asking], “What is their true personality? Are they a ‘driver’ personality? Are they a curmudgeon?” Sometimes boards need curmudgeons. Is somebody a strategic thinker, or is their skill set not [being] a strategic thinker but taking strategy and converting it into action? What have they done in their past experience that really makes them qualified for this role?

Clark: Well I think we’ve got all the synapses popping. I wanted to thank the both of you for joining me today.

Additional Resources:

Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on the Governance Committee: Driving Board Performance

NACD Resource Center: The Nominating and Governance Committee

Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Board Evaluation: Improving Director Effectiveness