“To be successful as a board member, you really have to love what you’re doing” – Dr. Carole Ackermann
Interview with Dr. Carole Ackermann, IDP 8 2015, Chair, École hôtelière de Lausanne
In October 2020, INSEAD Directors Network (IDN) announced the four winners of the 2020 Inaugural IDN Awards for prestigious board positions.
The winners, which were selected from the 230 mandates, shared via the quarterly IDN Board Position Announcements, were selected based on the size and and importance of the organisations they represented, their global relationships and the position at the board, in combination with pursuit of INSEAD’s mission ‘Force for Good’. Four winners were selected, all of whom have an outstanding track record and have demonstrated the highest levels of integrity.
Dr. Carole Ackermann was one of the winners of the not-for-profit category. We recently had the opportunity to ask Carole about her illustrious board career and her advice for aspiring directors.
You have had a successful career working with a range of different organisations and with exposure to several disciplines. What made you decide to take on board directorships?
Passion for all kinds of innovation and change, whether technological, organizational, culture or people – that’s driving me. I am a curious person; I like to be challenged and I love to work with people and in teams. As a board member and Sparring Partner for Management, I have the privilege to share my experience in different fields and help companies to embrace today’s world of technical, economic, and social complexity and ambiguity.
What are some of the key topics which your boards are focusing on in 2021?
Even though Covid-19 has changed the way we work together, the board still needs to dig deep into the companies matters, ask the tough questions, and help the CEO and executive board to find the “best” solutions and adequate measures.
Depending on the industry, the focus these days is more on costs, on organizational matters, or on innovation to catch up with new customer’s needs. Certainly, sustainability and digitization are important topics also in 2021.
Issues (Matters) I personally focus on are staying the strategic course with innovation, agility, and customer orientation combined with a strong, people-oriented corporate culture.
What areas do you focus on when you undertake due diligence on potential new board roles?
Currently, I am more than happy with my portfolio and I am not looking for new board assignments.
But looking back it’s the question – what can I contribute and what can I learn – this give and take balance. This, besides the obvious parameters such as the company’s reputation, its culture, its potential, its major challenges, its corporate governance, and finally the industry sector. As in any other job, to be successful as a board member, you really have to love what you’re doing.
But even if you did your due diligence, there is no such thing as the risk-free option. It is always about being attentive and making sure that you stay curious about new developments.
What are the areas which you believe that aspiring directors should focus on when starting their board career?
The first thing is getting to know the company and your new colleagues. Then it’s about listening and understanding what’s going on.
For sure, a new director needs a certain knowledge in the new area – that is important for the company and ideally, this is supported by emotional intelligence, experience and interest in the company and its people.
But rather than focusing on a special subject and trying to change everything from day one, I would use the privilege of being new to listen and watch first as from the best seat in the opera.