Four Things Boards Should Know About Global Markets

Companies continue to face significant global economic uncertainty. Although U.S. economic prospects have improved in recent years, structural weaknesses in other regions pose significant challenges for multinational companies. To ensure their organizations thrive in this volatile environment, boards and senior executive teams must pay close attention to regional trends and international politics and how these affect the growing interdependence of markets worldwide. During a presentation at the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, Kaushik Basu, chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank Group, identified four major market conditions that will influence the growth prospects for many businesses.

Emerging Markets speaker Kaushik Basu

  1. The shape of the post-crisis recovery continues to change. In recent years economists have been hard-pressed to forecast how global markets will behave. After the 2008 financial crisis in the United States, economists initially anticipated a V-shaped recovery, in which the market hits bottom and then recovers. As it became clear that the recession would continue, they altered their predictions, asserting that the recovery would be U-shaped instead. When the European debt crisis occurred, economists then foretold a W-shaped recovery. The lesson seems to be that economic cycles have become less predictable and no longer adhere to historical patterns. In response to this increased uncertainty, directors and management teams must now expand their strategic planning process to incorporate a range of possible economic scenarios.
  2. The economic fortunes of emerging economies are not uniform. Brazil, India, and China are often touted as emerging centers of economic power; however, . In the past year only India and China saw growth in their gross domestic products, while Brazil—which has endured corruption scandals, tax increases, and spending cuts—has experienced virtually no economic growth. When discussing potential investments in these foreign markets, boards should require management to provide forward-looking country assessments in order to responsibly evaluate the potential risk and rewards.
  3. Economies are porous. Directors need to be aware that local economies are inextricably intertwined, and that deteriorating economic conditions in one country can therefore spread quickly to other nations. For example, the ramifications of slowing growth in China are significant because so many countries are increasingly dependent on continued Chinese investments and consumption. Africa, Latin America, and Germany are likely to suffer most as major exporters to China. Conversely, India’s economic growth has recently accelerated, due in part to structural tax reforms that have created a more welcoming investment climate, resulting in a rapid surge of foreign direct investment in 2014.
  4. Increasingly disparate monetary policies among the developed nations will have global economic ramifications. Directors will be expected to understand the consequences of divergent policies—especially those of developed countries—for the world’s biggest economic blocks. For example, the Federal Reserve is debating a possible rise in interest rates after seven consecutive years of record-low borrowing costs. While a rate hike would ostensibly strengthen the U.S. dollar by encouraging investments in this country, it could also raise the prices on U.S. exports and undercut the economic viability of U.S. products in foreign markets. In the Eurozone, the European Central Bank (ECB) has in recent years maintained loose fiscal policies, increasing the supply of money flowing through international markets in hopes of facilitating economic recovery. A U.S. interest-rate hike would result in a weaker euro, which in turn could lead to a boost for Eurozone economies because buying trends would begin to favor domestic products. On the other hand, tighter U.S. fiscal policies could readily be undone by the European Central Bank injecting even more liquidity into the markets to keep euro values low and maintain the viability of Europe’s export market. Emerging markets, too, might experience a negative impact from these proposed policy changes. Because they have been borrowing money in U.S. dollars at near-zero rates, these countries will almost certainly see an increase in debt and decreased economic growth if U.S. interest rates rise.

Spotlight: NACD Board Leadership Fellow Jeannine Strandjord

NACD FellowshipMeet Jeannine Strandjord, a seasoned public company director whose board experience has spanned information technology to retail, and whose executive résumé includes the role of chief integration officer at Sprint, where she oversaw the transformation of the telecom giant during a period of radical change. She recently spoke with NACD Directorship magazine about her path from being a first-time director to becoming a boardroom leader and shared her best advice for new or aspiring directors.

Just what should newly minted or aspiring directors keep top-of-mind? “First of all, learn what you have to offer to that board,” Strandjord said. “Be sure that it’s something that adds value—not just that you’d like to be on a board. Second, if you really want to serve on a board, you better learn how to network. Meet as many other people as you can and find a great mentor who could be helpful in finding the right board for you. A wonderful mentor provided much of the reading material and later helped recruit me to his board, and I’ve acquired other mentors along the way through networking.”

Strandjord currently raises the bar for boardroom excellence at Euronet Worldwide, MGP Ingredients, American Century Mutual Funds, J.E. Dunn Construction, and the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation. To advance her boardroom education and enhance her director skills, she decided to pursue the NACD Board Leadership Fellowship. “I believe I owe it to my boards to continue my education,” she said. “Continuing education is extremely important for all board members. You can’t be as effective in any endeavor unless you keep up your skill sets, because things are changing too quickly.”

NACD Fellowship, the gold standard for director credentials, is a comprehensive program of study developed to educate directors about perennial and emerging boardroom issues and best practices. Completion of this rigorous program demonstrates a director’s serious commitment to exemplary board leadership. “NACD brings the most value in terms of the education that they provide—and I’ve been to programs at the New York Stock Exchange and the Investment Council Institute,” Strandjord said. “NACD’s program is terrific, and I really believe in it.”

Read the full interview with Jeannine Strandjord in the September/October 2015 issue of NACD Directorship magazine, where she also talks about the biggest disruptors she faced at Sprint, her experience as the first and only woman on a board, and how the decision to pursue NACD Fellowship has shaped her board service.

Future issues of NACD Directorship will introduce you to other outstanding NACD Board Leadership Fellows. To learn more about the program and how you can attain the NACD Fellowship credential, click here.

Dawn Mahler and Jesse Rhodes contributed to this piece.

Cyber Experts Offer Six Tips for Director Oversight

“Putting a Boardroom Lens on Cyber,” one of the final panels of the 2015 Global Board Leaders’ Summit, continued themes heard throughout Summit sessions. The panel focused on how to ask management the right questions about the state of their enterprise’s cyber security and how to assess the strength of their preparedness to manage this risk.

Cyber Panel

The panel was packed with leading technology experts: Nicholas M. Donofrio, director of NACD, Advanced Micro Devices, BNY Mellon, Delphi Automotive and Liberty Mutual, and former executive vice president of innovation and technology, IBM; Alfred Grasso, president and CEO, The MITRE Corp.; Christopher Hetner, cybersecurity lead, Technology Controls Program, Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission; and Kimberley S. Stevenson, director, Cloudera Inc.,and CIO, Intel Corp. Bill E. McCracken, director of NACD and MDU Resources Group and former CEO of CA Technologies, moderated the discussion.

Below is a summary of the high points from that discussion.

  1. Recognize that cyber criminals are constantly changing methods and targets. When it comes to security breaches, “The bad people are getting better, faster, and you have to assume, therefore, that you have to move quicker,” Donofrio said. For example, cyber criminals increasingly exploit human error by using social engineering—especially with “spear phishing” emails. These emails look like legitimate business from trusted sources, yet contain dangerous malware. One employee opening such an email could compromise an entire network’s security.
  2. Scrutinize whether management really knows where key data assets reside. It’s essential to gain the confidence that management knows the location and how “crown jewel” data assets in often highly distributed IT environments are being protected. Management needs to also demonstrate an understanding of the rationale for access rights of both employees and contractors. The fine print in third-party contracts could jeopardize data security, as cloud storage companies sometimes have “quality control” clauses granting access to your data.
  3. Ensure that general management is held accountable for effective cyber-risk management. Cybersecurity is no longer an IT issue, but a significant business risk as technology is now a critical component of most business processes. As a result, general managers must share formal accountability with IT for the strength of cybersecurity. They must foster a risk-aware culture. If, for instance, the IT department sends dummy malicious emails to test open or click rates in the network, a problem would be detected if the rate goes up. “We track the number of employees who click on malicious emails,” Grasso said. “It’s less than two percent, but if it rises, we’ll move quickly and change our training policies.”
  4. Make sure your leadership is tapping into information-sharing initiatives. Many new initiatives have emerged to increase transparency about cyber-risks, including the sharing of information about specific incidents with law enforcement aimed to better prepare organizations for new threats. From industry-to-industry resources such as the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center and cross-sector initiatives like New England’s Advanced Cyber Security Center to government-supported groups including the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, resources abound and panelists urged full use.
  5. Demand that technology leadership avoid jargon and communicate complex concepts in easy-to-grasp language. “We have our own vocabulary as IT professionals, and we have a hard time translating that into everyday language,” Stevenson said. Technology leadership must be careful to clearly communicate concepts to board members whose first imperative is to understand risks. Technology management should craft language that non-expert directors can readily grasp.
  6. Beware the consequences of your own oversight approach. Directors must carefully craft the questions they ask management when examining cyber risks. Donofrio recommended that board members focus carefully on the questions they ask of the C-suite to avoid sending the wrong message: for example, boards that focus exclusively on the costs associated with cybersecurity could undermine much-needed investments by management in better defenses.We as board members can mess this thing up,” Donofrio said. Continued technological literacy is integral to asking the right questions, understanding experts’ briefings, and appreciating the full impact of cyber-risks across the organization.

Dig deeper into leading practices by reviewing the Director’s Handbook Series on Cyber Risk Oversight and watching the panel’s full discussion.

A Former White House CIO Discusses Data Hygiene and Cybersecurity Strategies

Consumers in the digital marketplace rarely think twice about allowing companies access to their personal information, and the companies that are amassing this data are enjoying the unprecedented business opportunities that such access entails. This exchange of information does, however, come with substantial liability risks; that information can easily fall into the wrong hands. This feature of the e-commerce landscape is causing both consumers and companies to ask: Is privacy dead in the Information Age? To explore this question, NACD Directorship Editor in Chief Judy Warner sat down with former White House Chief Information Officer and founder of consulting company Fortalice Theresa Payton during a Monday evening session at the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit.

Theresa Payton at 2015 Global Board Leaders' Summit

In short, privacy isn’t dead, but our concept of privacy is undergoing a transformation. Payton said that as business leaders and consumers, we need to have serious conversations about what the new—and correct—lines of privacy are. “We own some responsibilities as business leaders and government officials,” she said. “Data is hackable and breaches are inevitable. Don’t aid and abet hackers.”

It turns out that companies are inadvertently aiding and abetting hackers. First, some organizations fall victim to their own, outdated view of building cyber defenses: Set up as big a firewall as you can around the company’s data assets; install anti-malware and antivirus software—done. This is a losing defensive strategy; it fails to take into account the mechanics of how and why these major breaches continue to happen.

According to Payton, companies with poor data hygiene are the most susceptible to cyberattacks. When companies kept analog files, they would shred records when storage space was exhausted or when data reached a certain age. In a digital environment, storage space is cheap and seemingly limitless, meaning that data could—and probably will—live on servers for years. As time goes on and a company reorganizes, data is forgotten, creating prime points of entry for hackers. Adopting a data-“shredding” strategy is imperative.

In addition, the tools needed to hack into a system have become both affordable and readily available. Now anyone can be a hacker—and those who have chosen this path grow more adept at their craft every day. Taken altogether, this is a recipe for potential disaster.

Payton outlined best practices for maintaining optimal data hygiene:

  • Don’t keep all of your data in one place. For data you need to retain, “segment it to save it.” In other words, divide that information among multiple digital locations so that if one location is compromised, a hacker hasn’t gained access to the entirety of the data the company holds.
  • Create rules around when you no longer need data and set a schedule for “shredding” it.
  • “Shred” any data that you don’t need. Keep only data related to the attributes of consumer behaviors and get rid of the specifics (e.g., names and social security numbers). Doing so will reduce your risk of being held accountable when a breach happens.

Furthermore, she stressed that directors should be sure to ask certain questions as they work with management to hone the company’s cybersecurity strategies:

  • Have we identified our top critical assets—those that if held for ransom, lost, or divulged, would destroy us as a company?
  • Who has access to those assets? How do we grant access?
  • Have we drilled for a cyber breach disaster?
  • Do we have a liability plan that will cover the board should critical assets be breached?

Advice to Board Members From Batman’s Producer: Look East

Michael Uslan has been many things: a lawyer, a professor, an executive producer, and—most recently—a global media mogul; but he identifies most closely with the moniker that became the title of his 2011 memoir: The Boy Who Loved Batman. During an interview at the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, Uslan reflected on his experience in media—ranging from Hollywood as a case study on how to think about competition to the danger of losing sight of the story to the rise of China as an indispensable partner in long-term strategic growth. In the process, he shared valuable insights that apply across industries.

Michael Uslan at Global Board Leaders' Summit

A self-described “comic-book geek” even before he could read, by the time Uslan graduated from high school, he had amassed a collection of more than 30,000 issues. “They were stacked floor to ceiling in our garage,” he recalls. “My dad never could get a car in there.” While Uslan would read almost any superhero rag within reach, he developed an early and enduring love for the caped crusader. That love drove him, at age 28, to buy the rights to the Batman franchise. He was able to purchase them for a song, even as the president of DC Comics tried to talk Uslan out of the deal, telling him that Batman was “as dead as a dodo.” Uslan was undeterred. He believed in the potential of showing a darker, more human side of Batman, to say nothing of the revenue the franchise could generate in ancillary toy, comic book, video game, and other product sales.

Armed with what he saw as a self-evident blockbuster idea, Uslan made the rounds of the Hollywood studios. He was rejected at every turn. “I was told I was crazy. They told me it was the worst idea they had ever heard.” In fact, it took 10 years to get the first film, 1989’s Batman, greenlighted; but that break gave Uslan the chance to launch, almost single-handedly, a franchise that has achieved No. 1 box-office rankings and grossed billions of dollars worldwide.

Missed Opportunities

Uslan’s experience is reminiscent of other cases in which visionary concepts were initially pooh-poohed by power brokers and industry leaders who couldn’t believe that customers would respond to something different from the status quo. Consider these two examples, cited by speakers at last year’s NACD annual meeting: John Backus, co-founder and managing partner for New Atlantic Ventures, described his company’s failure to foresee the transformative power of the World Wide Web: “I ran an Internet banking company. We were focused on the phone in the home. We missed the Internet. We missed the Internet because we had our blinders on.” Scott Kupor, managing director at Andreessen Horowitz, summed up how his company missed the boat on AirBnB: “When we first saw it, we thought, ‘This is crazy.’ We made the cardinal mistake in venture capital that I hope we never make again, which is we thought about [the proposal] in the context of our own frame of mind and what we thought was appropriate…. [W]e viewed it through the lens of our current biases.”

Digital Disruption Fuels the Rise of Techtainment

Hollywood is notoriously insular. A colleague who is both a corporate director and a veteran of the studio system once observed, “They have a model that locks others out, but the problem when you lock others out is that you lock yourself in.” Uslan noted that Hollywood is making fewer and fewer movies. As revenue models contract to a handful of familiar formulas, it becomes harder to make groundbreaking films like 1989’s Batman and the hits that followed it. None other than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas famously predicted the implosion of the U.S. film industry in a 2013 lecture at USC’s film school, citing as its principal cause the big studios’ collective fear of straying from the tried and true.

At the same time, Hollywood is facing increased competition from indie upstarts, much of it attributable to the studios themselves for underestimating the importance of mobile technology and innovative delivery systems for their products. The fate of distribution outlets like Blockbuster is already the stuff of b-school case-study legend, while major cable networks and big studios are fighting to stay relevant in a creative space that is now being rapidly colonized by newcomers like Amazon Studios, Netflix, and Hulu.

“It’s a new world,” Uslan observed, “and it’s changing so fast.… Netflix, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft—these are the names that are becoming more and more prominent; as you look to the future, they may be the names that compete with or even supplant the names of the studios and networks we know today. Add to that rapid changes in technology [that enable filmmakers] to get their products directly to the individual consumers—whether they want to see it on a big screen, on their wristwatch, in their glasses, or maybe one day projected on the moon.”

Uslan also cautioned against becoming so enamored with a product that a company loses sight of its overarching value proposition. He cited both the decline in box-office revenues and in the target age of audience members, which has dipped to 25 years old. Couple that with the aforementioned fear of innovation, and Uslan sees a clear connection. “I always say there are 10 great rules to making a great movie,” he said: “No. 1, story; No. 2, story; 3, story; 4, story; 5, characters; 6, characters; 7, characters; 8, story; 9, story; 10, story. And as long as they remember that, we’re great. If instead they become enamored of these toys, these special effects, and just want to top the person who came before them, then you wind up with shoot-’em-up–blow-’em-ups that are unsatisfying to anyone over the age of 18.” Substitute the phrases “value proposition” and “corporate mission” for the words character and story in Uslan’s rules, and you have a prescient lesson for every company.

Beyond Borders: The New Hollywood

Discussion of disruption wasn’t limited to technology. Uslan’s message for the director audience: “China, China, and China.” The Asian continent is home to 1.5 billion new media consumers, and by 2018, China will surpass the U.S. as the largest film market in the world. When that happens, decision-making will move from Hollywood to Beijing and Shanghai, generating seismic aftershocks in the way that media is created and consumed. It comes as no surprise then that Uslan is looking to that region of the world for much of his future business. Last month he inked a large deal with one of China’s leading production companies, Huace, and just this week announced a deal with Huayi Brothers Media to launch a film and TV franchise based on the “Thunder Agents” comic book series. “The sleeping giant has awakened,” Uslan says of China and cautions that success in the region hinges on building both relationships and true cultural understanding.

“We have spent the past two years going to China, having a presence there, developing relationships, nurturing friendships, building trust—investing two years before we sat down to make deals—and that I think has been one of the most important aspects of what we’re doing and how we’re approaching it,” Uslan observed. “We are looking for true partners; we want full, 50/50 partnership; we want you sitting at the table with us; we want you engaged with us; and we want you to make us understand what is authentic to China, what is culturally sensitive to China, so that it’s not just our Westerner’s imposition,” he continued.

When asked about the Chinese consumer base, Uslan shared perhaps his biggest surprise to date—the success of a decidedly American superhero movie. “I have been absolutely amazed…. Consider this in the last year: the movie Captain America played well in China. Captain America! Dressed in a red, white, and blue American flag, solving everyone’s problems—culturally that was amazing to me and a real eye opener.… The Chinese are open to American culture and world culture, and we must be open to theirs as well,” he said. “That is the only way this is going to work.”

Uslan shared similar observations about working with Chinese executives. “What I love about the business culture in China is that it’s very close to ours,” he said, “I worked for a number of years in Japan, and I have to tell you that in all the meetings I had in Japan, there was never one situation where there was a female executive at any of the meetings I attended. In China, it’s probably 50 percent, and it’s a very comfortable feeling working with them; and they are open to learning and sharing on that level. Our relationship has been one truly built on friendship and, hopefully, trust going forward.”

Uslan summed up his observations with a challenge to the audience—stay curious, move outside your comfort zones, and be willing to re-imagine what’s possible: “Things are changing so fast now—if you don’t do that, the risk of your becoming irrelevant is very high.”

Plug Into Your Strengths

Take a minute and think about a recent experience when you were at your best. Close your eyes and remember the experience in detail – see yourself in it. What are three words to describe how you felt? Write them down. Having asked this question to many people, there seem to be a handful of common words that come up: energized, happy, hopeful, optimistic, creative, excited, successful, engaged, just to name a few. The words themselves are full of vitality, and when clients say them, there is a sparkle in their eyes.   

Putting your attention on specific experiences and noticing how you felt is a powerful way to uncover what it looks and feels like when you’re at your best, and gives you information about the activities/skills that bring this out. This is about uncovering your natural strengths. Why is this important for individuals in career transition? Tapping into your strengths is critical to maximizing your performance – people do their best work when they’re energized. Furthermore, we are much more engaging and persuasive when there is life behind our words. Sharing your strengths with people you meet is critical to your job search. Whether it’s in a networking conversation or an interview, the more energized you feel about your work and skills, the more of an impact you are sure to make.

We all have skills, tools, abilities that we’ve learned, and it’s important to know what those are. But it’s also critical to separate what we do well, from what we LOVE to do. You can be very good at something that sucks the life out of you. When you are in a career transition, it is a good time to take stock of your skills and experience, and clarify what strengths you want to bring with you as you move forward. It goes without saying, given that you are seeking employment, that your strengths need to align with what an organization is looking for; however, start first with yourself and then look at where the alignment is. Why start with you? Because that’s where the energy is.

Identify a handful of ‘peak’ work experiences – projects, tasks, situations, where you were at your best. Take each one apart looking for what energized you and what skills you used. See if you can find 3-4 different strengths from the collection of experiences that capture you at your best and what you love to do. For example – solving complex problems, leading teams, developing innovative solutions, knowledge sharing, etc.

While it may not always be the case, it’s fair to assume that what you love to do goes hand in hand with what you do well. We know that operating from our strengths improves engagement and performance. Look then at specific organizations and roles of interest, and see what they are looking for. Look for the alignment. See what language they use. Don’t be afraid to adopt their language as long as it fits with what you know to be your strengths.

The more you do to identify your core strengths and embody them, the easier it will be to weed out roles that aren’t a fit, and to passionately and effectively sell yourself for roles that are a fit.  You can’t be good at everything, so use your energy as a guide to uncover your core strengths. And then share those with your network. It will make a difference, after all, energy is contagious! 

Josh Klein on How Technology is Transforming Commerce

The word hacker carries many connotations, most of them negative. But is it possible that hacking can be a force for good? During his keynote speech at the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, technologist, author, and self-described hacker Josh Klein offered a fast-paced dive into the misconceptions that directors and executives may be perpetuating without even recognizing their error.

Josh Klein

“Disruptive trends in technology, culture, and business are converging,” Klein observed before exploring four areas in which this convergence is creating unprecedented opportunities.

  1. Code. In 2006, the cost to develop a website was exorbitant by any standard. Today, thanks to the multitude of free web-development tools now on the market, the cost is next to nothing. In Klein’s words, “It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to validate your business concept.” This fact alone will grow the pool of competition exponentially, because anyone who knows enough code to use these tools and has a marketable business plan can start a company. Anyone from legitimate start-up entrepreneurs to criminal masterminds can code a site, which means that companies must anticipate and plan for competition of varying legality and ethical standing.
  2. Culture. “Tech doesn’t spring from the ether,” Klein pointed out. “It emerges from the attitudes and desires of users.” Information can be shared and spread almost instantaneously, increasing the likelihood that a company will at some point receive undesirable attention. According to Klein, technology creates a meritocracy via democratic exposure of reputation. But instead of trying to hide negative feedback, companies should get ahead of the problem and own it as best they can. He cited AirBnB as one example of how digital technologies have created marketplace meritocracies. Responding to an incident in which an AirBnB guest caused significant damage to a host’s home, the company rolled out a million-dollar host guarantee policy. This move both acknowledged the problems with the company’s old business processes and affirmed its commitment to improving those systems and protecting AirBnB hosts.
  3. Competition. With the rise in sources of competition, businesses that rest on their laurels and become complacent about their success are putting themselves in a dangerous position. Looking out over the audience, Klein underscored the obvious: “We’re all sitting here, and the innovation may be happening someplace else.”
  4. Future Context. To many of us it seems that everyone is connected by the Internet, but only about one-third of the world’s population is online. Klein observed that the remaining two-thirds may be illiterate and may not have bank accounts; they do, however, participate in the black market, which is currently valued at $10 trillion and accounts for $1 in every $7 exchanged, making it the second largest market on the planet. Companies must anticipate how these demographic shifts will create new business demands and transform the face of e-commerce.

Klein ended by entreating his audience not to panic but instead to begin experimenting, learning, evolving, and to do this all as quickly as possible. “Do it now, because if you’re not, someone else is.”