Interview with Gbenga Oyebode, IDP6 2014, Trustee Ford Foundation

To be effective, new directors will require deep curiosity and an aptitude for analyzing a variety of information” – Gbenga Oyebode

In October 2020, INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) announced the four winners of the Inaugural IDN Awards 2020 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 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.

Gbenga Oyebode was one of the winners of the not-for-profit category.  We recently had the opportunity to ask Gbenga about his illustrious board career and his advice for aspiring directors.

Could you share with us how you obtained your first board role?  How have you built your board portfolio, both in your home country and overseas?  How have you decided on the types of organisations, industries and geographies where you would like to take up board roles?

My first board role presented itself in course of my legal practice. I served as legal adviser to a company in ownership transition and was eventually invited to join the board of the newly privatised company. I have never set out to build a particular type of board portfolio; instead the boards I have been involved with reflect my career as a lawyer, proclivity for investing, and are usually relevant to my passions and the change which I wish to see in the world (e.g. social justice, art, music).

I want to believe that organisations that invite me to serve on their boards recognise that I bring not only leadership and sound business judgment after 40 years of building my legal practice, but also investment expertise, a unique perspective and a global view given the multidimensional nature of my interests and relationships. In determining whether to accept a board role I lookout for alignment with the values of the organisation in terms of ethics, corporate governance and social responsibility and also consider my capacity to make the required commitment.

I have been lucky to include in my board portfolio a variety of companies including Access Bank Plc (one of the largest banks in Sub Saharan Africa), MTN Nigeria (the largest telecoms company in Africa), Nestle Nigeria PLC and many other global organisations.

Your board portfolio includes a number of not-for-profit boards.  What have been some of the focus areas which your not-for-profit boards have been focusing on in the past year?

The not-for-profit boards where I serve reflect the causes I am passionate about, such as social justice, education, philanthropy, music and the arts. For example, Ford Foundation aims to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.   Teach for Nigeria, (were as I serve as Chairman) in partnership with Teach for All, is dedicated to ending educational inequity in Nigeria by building a movement of outstanding teachers and young professionals who are committed to expanding educational opportunity for all children in Nigeria. African Philanthropy Forum creates a platform for emerging African philanthropists to channel giving to strategic causes in Africa. Carnegie Hall, Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Jazz at Lincoln Center reflect my passion for the arts and music.

In the last year, most not for profit boards, like other profit making organisations have been focused on navigating the impact of COVID 19 on their sustainability and ability to execute their objectives. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the poor, vulnerable and marginalised has brought into sharper prominence the mission and objectives of many not for profit organisations, which seek to reduce poverty, provide equal opportunity and support vulnerable groups.

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, what are the skillsets and qualities of potential board members that you look out for?

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, I look out for the leadership experience, integrity, commitment, global view, business judgment, collegiality, and discretion. I believe that these are critical attributes required to succeed on any board.  In today’s world, gender and geographical diversity are also sine qua non for effective boards.

What is your advice to new directors on how they can best stay up to speed on governance and business trends?

The world is constantly changing and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will be with us for a long a time. To be effective, new directors should never stop learning, embrace change and leverage the power of technology. Staying up to speed with constantly evolving trends in this ‘new normal’ requires deep curiosity and an aptitude for analysing a variety of information. This new era of virtual meetings, work from home, greater work-life integration and efficiency are here to stay and will be reflected in our board practices as we adopt more environmental, sustainable and transparent governance models going forward.

 

By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director.

 

INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors

Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1,500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.

 

INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (“ICGC”)

Established in 2010, the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (ICGC) has been actively engaged in making a distinctive contribution to the knowledge and practice of corporate governance. The ICGC harnesses faculty expertise across multiple disciplines to teach and research on the challenges of boards of directors in an international context and to foster a global dialogue on governance issues with the ultimate goal to develop boards for high-performance governance. Visit ICGC website: https://www.insead.edu/centres/corporate-governance

Modern Chair Practices: What makes an effective board chair?

By Karen Loon, IDP-C and IDN Board Member

Board chairs will continue to play an important role in engaging, enabling, and encouraging their boards and companies.

Effective chairs play a critical role during times of change and uncertainty. 

Whilst the recent pandemic has impacted how boards operate, it has had a significant impact on the role of board chairs, how chairs work, and what makes them effective, according to Stanislav Shekshnia, Senior Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD and Director of Leading from the Chair Programme and Helen Pitcher OBE, INSEAD Directors Network (‘IDN”) President who recently shared their perspectives on emerging trends in board chairs’ practices in an exclusive webinar for IDN members.

Attendees had the opportunity to get a preview of the key findings from ongoing research on chairs’ practices in Europe across 15 countries, 200 chairs and 300 shareholders, directors and CEOs including during the pandemic.

The research, with some contributions from the IDN[i], will be released by Professor Shekshnia in the upcoming second edition of his book, Leading a Board: Chair Practices Across Europe.  The webinar was facilitated by Liselotte Engstam IDP-C, with support from Hagen Schweinitz IDP-C, both IDN board members.

Over the past few years, the environment in which boards operate in has changed and became more challenging.  Companies are now subject to more public scrutiny, need to be more transparent, accountable and do more reporting.  Boards have been busier than ever, particularly since the start of the pandemic.  

Effective chairs lead their boards through Engaging, Enabling and Encouraging

Professor Shekshnia’s research concluded that effective chairs have continued to lead their boards by providing the 3Es of chair leadership – Engaging, Enabling, and Encouraging their boards, consistent with his prior research.

The role of chairs however has changed during the pandemic.  “What we found (was) that during the pandemic, chairs became more emotionally involved with their boards, (and) they spent more time doing their jobs”, said Professor Shekshnia.

Additionally, leading chairs are innovative in the way they lead their boards.

Finally, board work has become more relevant during the crisis, with only 1.2% of survey participants saying their board is irrelevant.

Leading practices of chairs which have emerged in the past year include:

Engaging

  • Chairs have become more caring – spending more time with each director; having more frequent contact; paying attention to mental and physical health; and having more personalised engagement.
  • Boards are engaging more over long-distance using technology such as Zoom, phone calls, Group chats and polls. Most hope to use face-to-face interactions when possible.

Enabling

  • Changing agenda items – new agenda items include COVID-19; employee, customers’ and suppliers’ health and safety; CEO health and fitness; and boards’ and individual directors’ resilience. Boards are also paying more attention to sustainability, succession planning, employee well-being, and social corporate responsibility.
  • Agenda setting – Leading chairs involve their directors more in setting agendas, using technology to set them. They also adjust agendas more frequently during meetings.
  • New formatsBoards are inviting experts to meetings, creating advisory boards and mixed board-management groups, and bringing in non-voting members to assist boards where there are skill gaps.
  • Innovation in managing board discussions online – Boards are experimenting with different online formats such as “camera on, mike off” mode, groups in Zoom, polling directors during the meeting, undertaking express evaluations at the end of each board meeting, and even turning off directors’ mikes!

Encouraging

  • Greater care and empathy – Leading chairs are supporting their boards, management and organisations with greater care and empathy, with less feedback and more support. They champion board education by acting as a “Chief Learning Officer” with their boards, and immerse themselves into new subjects like COVID.  Popular ideas used in lieu of in-person events include tea parties and drinks before and after virtual board meetings.

Virtual meetings have become a proven instrument for most chairs in Europe and will continue to be used going forward.

In the future, boards are likely to use a mix of virtual and face to face meetings, with big debates such as strategy being saved for face-to-face sessions, more operational questions for virtual meetings, and other more routine information sharing undertaken outside of the board room.  Helen Pitcher further added that more virtual meetings have had a positive impact on the environment, because of reduced travel.

An evolving idea is the changing attitude towards risk management.  Boards now have greater recognition that they need to move from classifying risks to organisational adaptability and resilience.

“Most of the board’s looked at risk in a sort of set standard way.  We identified the most important risks. We tried to come up with (a) strategy to deal with every specific risk. And we monitored the risks ranking them in accordance with their probability … Now most of the boards have (an) understanding that in addition to this, we also need to see how resilient our organisation is; how flexible we are.” – Professor Stanislav Shekshnia.

Boards are likely to focus more on the health and safety of employees, customers, suppliers, board members and the CEO in the future.  Empathy and mentoring are expected to be used more as performance measurement tools, as metrics have become less relevant.

What makes an effective chair?

Being a chair requires the chair to “balance” different attributes.  It is not about having one attribute or another, but about being ambivalent (or plus and minus) at the same time.  The opposite pairs are:

  • Authority and humility
  • Commitment and detachment
  • Incisiveness and patience
  • Helicopter view and company knowledge
  • Hard and soft skills

Professor Shekshnia concluded that the impact of the board chair on board effectiveness has always been significant, however in 2020 became critical because of the high change and uncertainty that we lived through last year.  The board chair’s role and impact will continue to be critical in 2021.

The changing role of the chair – Experiences of chairing boards during the pandemic

Helen Pitcher OBE shared her personal experiences from chairing boards across a range of organisations during the pandemic, noting that the pandemic has had a significant impact on how boards work.

“This is a once in a generational opportunity to change ways of working.  We’ll never again be able to say the way we used to do it, or we tried that, and it didn’t work because we are having to rethink everything that we do, and how we do it”, said Helen.

“Good chairs were already doing a lot of the things that needed to happen and were able to gear up quickly to support their boards and their organisations through the crisis.” – Helen Pitcher OBE. 

Some of the areas that chairs have been focusing on are:

Impacts on the transformational agenda during the pandemic

Shifting goals and outcomes

Health and safety, mental health and well-being, and what our goals and outcomes should be have become more important for boards and their chairs.

For some boards, the pandemic has been an opportunity for them to look at how to build their businesses and move them forward.  However, other organisations have been in crisis; their boards are meeting far more frequently, which demands a lot of the chair’s time.

“All chairs are having to work far, far more in their boards and on their boards, and to keep the communication flow going”, Helen remarked.

On developing relationships, “it’s become even more important for chairs to hold pre-board sessions, post-board sessions with all the board, and indeed with other key stakeholders to see how things are going”.

Finding opportunities for informal interactions, such as “board gin and tonic” events with no business agenda to find out how people are have been helpful.

Communication and messaging

“Being able to continue to communicate, particularly at a time of pandemic and fatigue is really, really important” – Helen Pitcher OBE. 

Chairs and board members should be prepared to have sessions with people across their organisations.  “You can never overcommunicate… having clarity of message and making sure we’re keeping people up to date is absolutely, absolutely crucial” Helen stressed, adding that chairs and board members need to listen even harder in these times.

Transformational change with assurance

Many employees are anxious about the future, for example the impact that new technology will have on them, or about moving offices and what the impact would look like.

“It’s even more critical that the board is supporting the executives to have the right conversations within their organisations, and to have deep conversations, both formal and informal.” – Helen Pitcher OBE.

She recommended that chairs and board members take “time to listen to people to talk about their concerns…. so that as much of the uncertainty as you could possibly take away is taken away”.

The immediate role of the chair in the crisis

  • Supporting executives – Board chairs have a key role to encourage their organisations, acting as a sounding board for executives, and to mentor and coach them, bringing their previous experience to bear.
  • Strategic horizon – Leading boards are also spending a lot of time looking at the future of their organisations, giving their people hope that there is a brighter future for them. “We need to constantly be scanning the horizon to see what we can learn from others.  The board’s learning individually and collectively is very important, because that keeps them fit for purpose for moving forward”.

The strategic role of the chair in the crisis

Boards have a responsibility to ensure that decisions made are sensible for the emergent reputation of their businesses.  How boards and chairs respond during the crisis will be remembered internally and externally going forward.  “Managing that reputation is hugely important, not only because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it’s sound business sense”.

Other strategic areas where chairs play a key role include inclusion and diversity, supporting exhausted executives, and managing executive remuneration.

In concluding, Helen highlighted the important role of chairs to maintain the transformation narrative in the crisis:

“Things are changing, but we will not go back to the old way of being. We will always now focus, even more strongly on to things like risk management, health and safety, how we reward our people – we absolutely owe it to our organisations as boards to do all of that.

We really also need to make sure we are being reflective about what have we learned from this crisis that we can really take forward. 

How can we be more flexible and more agile as a business in order to ensure that all our stakeholders benefit from this, and have the time to think, what is good … and what needs to change.” – Helen Pitcher OBE.

 

IDN’s next webinar on Governance at Family Boards will be held on 8 March 2021.

 

INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors

Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1,500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.

INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (“ICGC”)

Established in 2010, the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (ICGC) has been actively engaged in making a distinctive contribution to the knowledge and practice of corporate governance. The ICGC harnesses faculty expertise across multiple disciplines to teach and research on the challenges of boards of directors in an international context and to foster a global dialogue on governance issues with the ultimate goal to develop boards for high-performance governance. Visit ICGC website: https://www.insead.edu/centres/corporate-governance

 

[i] IDN collaborates in many ways with ICGC. ICGC shares academic insights with the network, and provides opportunities for joint research. IDN shares experiences at several of ICGCs programs and events, and shares INSEAD insights with their boards and at many events. For the referenced chair practices research, led by Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, IDN President Helen Pitcher OBE has contributed with significant insights to both the topic and network, and IDN Board Member Liselotte Engstam has engaged for two years in the research performing the research on Swedish chair’s and board work, as well as contributed to the Nordic insights and co-authored the forthcoming book by writing one of the chapters.

 

Why every aspiring director should consider a mentor

IDN’s INsights Director Mentoring Programme pairs aspiring INSEAD alumni directors who are early in their board careers with some of INSEAD’s most senior alumni and influential business leaders.  Here they share the lessons that go both ways.

By Karen Loon IDP-C, IDN Board Member

The IDN INsights Director Mentoring Programme (the “Programme”) is a structured six-month programme offered by the INSEAD Director Network (“IDN”) that is aimed at IDN members who are early in their board careers and are seeking support from a highly experienced mentor based on a specific set of goals.  These goals will be related to their current board roles and/or may be designed to further develop their board career.  The Programme, facilitated by a professional mentor and an experienced board director encompasses one-on-one mentoring by an experienced mentor, peer learning with fellow mentees, as well as optional single mentoring sessions on a specific topic.

Mentor and mentee

Naji Majdalani considers himself extremely fortunate to have been mentored by Sreekumar Puthen Thermedam.

Sreekumar Puthen Thermedam

Non-Executive Director, Mentor, Advisor, IDP-C based in Singapore

 

 

 

 

I decided to become a mentor as I have been fortunate to gain good experience with well-respected organisations and also with some very credible professionals who are industry leaders in their own rights.

One of my ambitions in life always has been to contribute back to society.  I have found that mentoring is a wonderful way to share my knowledge, learning, experience, commitment, drive with professionals and to support in their development. INSEAD is a respectful organisation where both mentors and mentees share their knowledge – in fact, the mentor equally learns and develops his skills also.  Mentoring also forced me to update myself on many aspects of business requirements as a result of the ever-changing dynamics.

When we started our mentoring relationship, Naji sent me his CV and clearly stated his goals. We then had a face-to-face introductory session. I found Naji to be genuine, honest, committed and has a lot of passion and drive to excel.

“Being a mentor has been a wonderful experience and gives me a great feeling of sharing and contribution”.

In our discussion over what we would cover over the 6 months, I clearly understood the challenges and expectations of Naji, and I programmed the session accordingly. Care was taken to ensure there was clear reflection after every session and application of learning. We also spent time sharing each other’s experiences and how we could address specific support to Naji. The normal session was supposed to be for 1 hour, but we invariably far exceeded the timing since our objective was value add with flexibility on timing.

After the initial understanding of the objectives and goals, we addressed a wide range of areas over the 6 months covering a broad range of areas such as types of organisations and how they impacted leadership styles, governance styles and board structures; the future of company boards, and the skills required; CEO success factors and succession; strategy; as well as governance and management best practices in family businesses. In between, we spent time on meditation, pranayama, and yoga to ensure mental calmness and balancing.

Being a mentor has personally helped me in progressing in my life as a part of my continuous learning. It also gave me a feel of joy and satisfaction that I could impart my skills and knowledge to develop next generation leaders.

The only unfortunate part is that we could not meet face to face (other than Zoom) and share a cup of coffee.  Now that the programme has formally ended, I plan to interact with Naji at least once in two months over email or phone till such time when we have an opportunity to meet up in person when time allows.  I have given my commitment to Naji to be available for his support during his journey forward. I am looking forward to continuing my informal interaction with Naji and understand his progress his life.

Naji has been a great mentee and in fact I must say our learning has been mutual. Naji has got a wealth of experience and is a very committed and passionate young professional with a strong will to succeed.

Naji Majdalani

CEO, Wings of Lebanon, MBA’07 based in Beirut

 

 

 

 

I decided to become a mentee as 2020 was a year of reflection and survival for me, and I needed to reach out to individuals with experience and knowledge to bounce off ideas, learn more about the board position and be able to discuss new topics which would give me a new and fresh “mindset”.

Meeting Sreekumar was a true pleasure and a fantastic learning experience. His approach is very subtle, calm yet structured, substantial and generous with personal and professional experience which I believe was the necessary dose of the right ingredients to make him a super mentor.

Sreekumar asked me to prepare my goals and objectives for the INsights programme which I did and shared back. He then laid-out during a pre-start session the plan for the next 3 months with a tentative 6-month plan which we would review as we progressed over time.

Over the 6 months, we spoke about the future of company boards, skills required to be a successful and effective board member, family board setup along with the family council and the necessary structure to make it work. We also looked at best practices for owners/board members within a family business and the relationship with the non-family CEO within the company. Finally, we reviewed scorecards to improve management best practices. During the sessions we always spoke on a personal level and even had a yoga session!

“Sreekumar had great insights from his previous experiences which were very helpful, and I leveraged some of the learnings to get through”.

Being a mentee during this critical period had a positive impact on me personally and professionally as I was able to learn about family boards and try to implement the learnings in my family business, specifically the mechanics and structure of family council, board, etc. and we often spoke about the challenges I faced related to the family setup, culture, and reluctance to change. The learning experience was very enjoyable because Sreekumar made it interesting and fun and it was also something I could relate to in my day-to-day life. It also helped me get through the difficult period when I had to suspend the operations of my airline and let go of 55 employees. Sreekumar had great insights from his previous experiences which were very helpful, and I leveraged some of the learnings to get through.

I consider Sreekumar a friend and a mentor and I will make sure to stay in touch going forward and I hope to meet him in person in the near future to share that cup of coffee!

My advice is to go into the mentoring programme wanting to learn and discover new perspectives. It is also important to take it seriously and be committed to the sessions and the work. Ensuring the mentee and mentor are aligned on the outcome and expectations is crucial to avoid losing steam over the period and having the mentee feel he is working towards a personal target.

 

To find out more about the IDN Insights Director Mentoring Programme, read more here.

 

INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors

Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication, and self-improvement. IDN has 1500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.

 

How can IDN’s mentoring programme help your board career

How can IDN’s INsights 2021 Director Mentoring Programme support your director journey?

By Karen Loon IDP-C, IDN Board Member

Starting out on a board career is not easy, even for the most seasoned C-suite executives.  In fact, many people would argue that being a board director is not an extension of your career, but an entirely new one!

To support our INSEAD Directors’ Network (“IDN”) members, our INsights Director Mentoring Programme (‘the “Programme”) which is now in its third year supports IDN members to achieve their specific goals.

This unique programme encompasses one-on-one mentoring by an experienced mentor, peer learning with fellow mentees, as well as optional single mentoring sessions on a specific topic.

We recently asked Helen Wiseman, IDN Board Member, professional mentor and an experienced board director who facilitates the programme to share more.

Can you share a bit about the Programme?

The INsights Director Mentoring Programme is a structured six-month programme offered by IDN that is aimed at members of the IDN who are early in their board careers and who are seeking support from a highly experienced mentor based on a specific set of goals. These goals will be related to their current board roles and/or may be designed to further develop their board career.

Whilst in an ideal world, mentors and mentees come from the same geography, our mentors and mentees “meet” at a distance in keeping with INSEAD’s global positioning. What is key that the mentee can access mentoring support that will help them achieve their goals for the Programme.

The Programme structure is designed to ensure that mentees get the maximum out of the Programme and are not left to “drift”. The Programme is also in line with best practice mentoring programmes, whilst being delivered remotely.

Our mentors, who are experienced board directors volunteer their time and expertise in a way that maximises the value of their contribution and respects their time.  They have the opportunity to expand their networks and get exposure to a potential talent pool.

The role of the Programme Facilitator is to ensure that the programme is on-track through a series of monthly facilitated group sessions (“INsights Peer Mentee Calls”).

What is the time commitment of the Programme?

The INsights 2021 Mentoring Programme will be offered online.  It comprises:

  • Mentee and mentor applications and onboarding
  • Six monthly INsights Peer Mentee Calls (via Zoom)
  • Programme exit – Personal Development Programme, Survey/Feedback/testimonials
  • Programme follow-up, gather 2021 mentee/mentor referrals – “Pay it forward.”

A unique feature of the Programme is that mentees are part of a cohort of peer mentees who go through the programme together and share their insights and learnings with each other on monthly (facilitated) basis.  Subject to preserving confidentiality of mentees and mentors, the mentees get the benefit of a much wider set of insights compared with one-on-one mentoring.

What are some of the benefits to mentees?

Our mentees from the 2020 Programme have shared that they have benefited immensely from the programme in a broad range of areas including:

  • Opportunity to network with similar minded professionals, enhance personal brand and director style
  • Gaining fresh perspective, new ideas and different ways of thinking
  • Providing feedback on practical challenges in the area of board dynamics
  • Knowledge sharing

One of our mentees has shared that “Normally it takes years to come up the NED learning curve…and a few mistakes along the way. My mentor saved me a year or two easily”.

“Board roles can be lonely: you can’t always turn to the other board members to discuss your ambitions, hopes, challenges and doubts. Who provides you with the necessary diversity in perspective? This IDN programme answers that question, with a mentor, and with a community of peers from all over the world” IDN 2020 INsights Director Mentoring Programme mentee

Can you share a bit more about the profile of the mentors?  Why should I volunteer as a mentor for the Programme?

We draw upon our pool of highly experienced IDN members to be mentors.  Some of them are willing to be a one-on-one mentor for the programme duration and some are happy to be called upon for single-session mentoring based on their specific expertise or experiences. This ensures that there is a wide pool of mentors and who are able to share a broad range of experiences with mentees.

In addition to broadening their networks, many of our mentors have shared that they have learnt a lot as mentors, and that they have found the experience of supporting the lifelong learning enjoyable.

“I always find the mentoring process incredibly rewarding and enlightening. It’s wonderful to feel that I am contributing to someone’s development and there are myriad opportunities to see my own development needs mirrored in the conversations that we have” – IDN 2020 INsights Director Mentoring Programme mentor

I am interested in the joining Programme as a mentor or mentee.  What are the next steps?

Our application process for the IDN INsights 2021 Director Mentoring Programme will open shortly.  Potential mentees should note that selection is based, inter alia, on clarity of their goals and commitment to completing the programme – including joining monthly Peer Mentee calls.

INSEAD Directors Network, IDN – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors.
Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.

Interview with Dr. Carole Ackermann, 2020 IDN Award winner

“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.

 

INSEAD Directors Network, IDN – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors.
Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.
About INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre.
Established in 2010, the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (ICGC) has been actively engaged in making a distinctive contribution to the knowledge and practice of corporate governance. The ICGC harnesses faculty expertise across multiple disciplines to teach and research on the challenges of boards of directors in an international context and to foster a global dialogue on governance issues with the ultimate goal to develop boards for high-performance governance. Visit ICGC website: https://www.insead.edu/centres/corporate-governance

Distinction-cum-baggage: The board director’s track record

By Pamela Ravasio, IDP-C and IDN Board Member

A recent Bloomberg article found the following as they analysed the past and present professional affiliations of more than 600 directors and executives of the world’s 20 largest banks: Only few individuals had experience in renewable or sustainable industries. Far more had ties to polluting industries: At least 73 individuals even have at one time or another held a position with one or more of the biggest corporate emitters of greenhouse gases, including 16 connected to oil or refining companies.

More specifically: Of the four (4) banks where the boards directors offered some expertise in renewables or sustainability, every single one had significant links to ‘greener’ companies – notably in electric & utilities. The opposite held true for the remaining 16 of the 20 analysed boards.

In more succinct words: the study found that board expertise and prior affiliation of board directors correlated very well with the extent of investments into ‘emitting’ or ‘renewable’ energy companies.

Ironically, it is precisely the directors’ prior track record and experience, one of the very reasons why they got (s)elected onto the board, that could jeopardize their board’s forward decisions. Because – as the Bloomberg study showed – there are very, very few directors or even senior executives, with sufficient experience and track record in either renewables or sustainability. No matter their industry background.

…there are very, very few directors or even senior executives, with sufficient experience and track record in either renewables or sustainability. No matter their industry background.

To that point: there are even much fewer, if any, board directors in circulation that have a track record on how to marry the prosperity of a (their) company with business models that go above and beyond the traditional ‘growth model’, to just name one example. Hence, there is a tendency in relying on their past winning strategies to tackle the challenges in the wait for us to experience – globally as well as within individual businesses. This is like taking to the skies of the 21st century with technology from the era prior to the industrial revolution.

Track record bias: what is it, and why does it matter?

Track record bias is the unintentional bias directors introduce onto the board precisely through the very genuine, authentic and well-earned achievements of their prior career experiences.

Example: The former country manager of a large Aluminium firm with an excellent reputation for engagement with indigenous peoples and H&S joins the board of a major synthetic polymers company.

  • Pros: The new board director is very familiar with extractive industries, their environmental profile, the challenges around labour conditions and the global nature of such a low-margin business.
  • Cons: It may be tough for this new board director to consider viable alternative technologies based on renewable and/or recycled materials of origins, and the respective differences in client relationships, partnership models and global sales and logistics approaches.

Track record bias is something every director brings to the table once joining a board. In itself it is neither negative nor positive. In fact, consciously managed (key word: board thought diversity) it can add tremendous value by directing the board’s discussions into new, and so far unfamiliar terrain and in this way contribute to the resiliency efforts underway.

However, unsurprisingly the opposite it true if a board is not put together with clear priority given to thought diversity, as can be seen in the results of the Bloomberg research mentioned above.

And there is a somewhat simplistic reason for those results: Most board directors are or have been reasonably successful CEOs and CFOs, or else high-flying executives, of large(r) companies. Often in industries that are traditionally considered ‘adjacent’ to the company on whose board they are sitting.

Successful they may have been. But until very, very recently their role would not have required them to understand the implications of the Paris Climate Agreement, the SDGs, or the scientific consensus around climate adaptation for example. For most, such insights were allocated to the job descriptions of their sustainability speciality staff, or possibly the communications team, who in turn would have been required to pitch the traditional business case for any initiatives they saw necessary.

Board Diversity and Complementarity: The Origin of ESG[1] success and capability

In other words: not only do today’s board members by and large have very little practical experience when it comes to renewables, sustainability, or economic models that do not rely on pure and simple GDP growth. But they also have often built track records in industries that since decades are shown (and known) to be among the largest emitters, and thereby at the root of the current climatic challenges.

Therefore, unless such board directors are aware and accepting of the baggage they bring to a board table, and are willing to question the modus operandi of their industries of origin, their industry track record will only lead to more of the ‘old same’. And in this way merely perpetuate and replicate the issues found in precisely those emitting industries.

Once more: this is not to diminish such directors genuine track record acquired through hard work.

It is to point out that their track record on its own is incomplete. Their board is in needs of a complementary skill and knowledge set for proactive decision taking in the decades to come.

[1] ESG / Sustainability is one area where board diversity is of utmost relevance because the world we shortly will be living in will be unrecognisably different from the one we live in now. This is not to say that other subjects – digitalisation for example – do not require it. They do. The difference is fundamental however: ESG / Sustainability requires a fundamental different economic modus operandi made possible by new, so far unknown business models. Digitalisation in contrast will certainly result in new business models, but may not necessarily affect the fundaments of the economic system as such.

Getting Board Ready

By Mary Francia IDP-C, IDN Americas Ambassador

As part of the Leadership Development Series for the INSEAD Alumni in North America, Mary Francia has been delivering webinars designed to help position leaders for C-Suite and Board positions.

This paper is loosely derived from her presentation about how boards function, how boards are changing to meet the emerging demands of the 2020s, and how prospective board members can best land their first director positions.

Part 1: About Corporate Governance

Types of boards

There are different types of boards—seed/early stage, later stage, private, public, not-for-profit, and advisory—and each has different goals, operating procedures, challenges, and expectations for their board members. A startup or early-stage company, for example, typically expects its board members to contribute knowledge—things like how to turn an emergent technology into a business plan, how to scale upwards, or how to court investors. Public boards, meanwhile, expect directors to be stewards of the company’s long-term strategy, advisors to the CEO and executive team, monitors of company performance, and public faces for the company.

When looking for your first board position, it’s important to be familiar with these differences. You also need to decide what kind of board you’re interested in serving on, and what type of board will be best served by your presence on it.

The mandate

The chief goal of the corporate director is to create and protect value for the shareholders; directors do this by guiding strategy, monitoring the financials of the company, managing human capital (especially leadership), and overseeing risk.

In executing this mandate, board members face three main challenges.

  1. Information: Boards have to be on guard against “window dressing”—i.e., information that is impartially curated and filtered in ways that veil the true health of the company and the viability of its strategy. This often means that directors have to go out of their way to be knowledgable about the company’s performance and fact-check the information they receive.
  2. Group dynamics: The board is not your typical leadership team, and working together is important, but it’s not always easy.
  3. Time management: The average corporate director spends 240 hours a year on board work—that’s six forty-hour weeks, excluding travel. And in times of crisis, that 6-week-a-year commitment can turn into a full-time role. Far too many new directors underestimate the amount of time they will have to devote to the job, so it’s important, before you begin looking for a director role, to honestly calculate the feasibility of this commitment.

Fiduciary duties

Boards have three primary duties against which their goal of long-term stewardship and resilience is measured:

  1. The duty of care (fiduciary and legal responsibility).It sounds like common sense, but directors have a legal obligation to care about their company’s health and to act upon that care. The board of Blue Bell Creameries, for example, faced legal action when—in the wake of a listeria contamination that ended up killing three people—it was demonstrated that the board had failed to recommend or implement any system that would monitor the safety of the company’s product and production methods.
  2. The duty of loyalty.As is implied above, directors need to be loyal to the company, not to themselves. In other words, directors shouldn’t take advantage of the information available to them because of their role as a board member. Board members can face jail time for offenses such as insider trading.
  3. The duty of candor. Directors are duty-bound to make full disclosures of pertinent information to other directors, management, and shareholders—regardless of how unpopular or personally inconvenient that information might be.

Part 2: Getting Board Ready

What boards want—the behavioral traits of a good director

  • Good directors are balanced judges with strategic clarity. Because CEOs average about five years in their positions but directors generally serve longer, the board gives the company stability of oversight, helping it weather executive transitions and retain continuity of purpose. One aspect of this, and one of the board’s most important jobs, is judging the leadership team’s fitness to steer the company.
  • Good directors are skeptics. They are uncomfortable following impulses or gut reactions. They want to see the data and develop a fluent grasp of all the options before they make up their mind.
  • Good directors are collaborators. The board as an institution relies on its members to correct each other’s blind spots and those of the executives they oversee—and good directors, directors who value collaboration, thrive in this context.
  • Good directors are socially savvy.They are adept at measuring personalities and know how to deliver information to different kinds of people. Like politicians, they need to be able to structure their advice around the emotional and intellectual needs of the people to whom it is addressed.

What boards want—skillsets

For decades, financial expertise, executive experience, and prior board experience were the most desired skillset traits on boards. Recently, however, responding to widened complexity, the speed of change, technological disruption, and a new suite of business risks, the primary expertise profile has expanded significantly to include, among other things, expertise in international politics, sustainability, national security, strategic development, and information technology. This has opened whole new sectors of the workforce to board positions at the highest level.

Certain prerequisites to board service remain in place, however, and all prospective board members should have experience working closely with a board, and/or a developed understanding of corporate governance principles. This is where mentorships and formal director education programs are invaluable.

Seven steps for getting board ready

  1. Know your motivations.By knowing why you want to join a board, you can better identify what kind of board role you’re best suited and what types of companies and boards that you should consider.
  2. Identify your proposition. This is harder than it sounds, and it often involves doing some serious self-evaluation. On the positive side, you need to identify both what value you can bring to a board—what specific skills and behavioral traits make you stand out from other prospective board members. But you also need to build a clear picture of the skills, experiences, and knowledge that you don’t yet have—then go about filling in those holes, either by taking classes or changing roles or jobs. Looking for firms that offer leadership development and succession planning programs can be a huge benefit for prospective board members.
  3. Know where you’re needed.This, too, is harder than it sounds, because director expertise is often relevant outside of the specific industry from which it comes. Finance experts, for example, are highly sought out in non-financial fields—as are technology experts, supply chain experts, and others. Sometimes your expertise may be in high demand in spaces you haven’t considered.
  4. Write a board CV or bio and tailor it to each board.Just as you might slightly (and truthfully) adjust the emphasis of your resume depending on what job you’re applying for, you need to adapt your CV to highlight the specific skills, experiences, and traits that will be appreciated by boards. In addition to your skills, your CV should outline your motivations, the value you expect to bring to a board, and the specific kind of role you expect to play on the board in question.
  5. Control your image and reputation. In searching for your first board, you’re trying to project a persona. You can influence your online persona by publishing articles, appearing in interviews, and, conversely, by ensuring that you come across as calm, mature, and balanced in all online appearances.
  6. Make your interests known.The best way to get on a board is by networking, so it’s important to tell your acquaintances—especially those who currently sit on boards—that you’re interested in a board position. At the very least, these current directors can offer you guidance or act as references. In the best-case scenario, they may be able to introduce you and help bring you onto their board when a vacancy comes up.
  7. Network responsibly. When self-marketing, it’s essential to put yourself out there while not seeming pushy. You don’t want to appear self-serving or monomaniacal. Attend events, engage with people, and expand your network—these actions will get you seen over time.

Part 3: New Board Challenges

Risks—direct and indirect, short-term and long-term

Boards have a duty to consider risk and risk mitigation from two perspectives: the current cost of mitigation, and the future cost of failing to mitigate. We can see this paradigm in the way companies are currently responding—or not—to climate change, which has a number of significant implications around the world. Given that five of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 global risks for 2020 are environmental in nature, corporate boards can no longer rationalize unsustainable business practices with their duty of care. Today’s board members need to find ways to minimize their company’s contribution to climate change while offsetting their exposure to its fallout.

New Competencies

As mentioned in Part 2, boards are looking for a far more comprehensive range of competencies and experience than they did several decades ago. Public boards especially are now finding it necessary to devote board-level expertise to a number of major categories formerly considered outside the mandate and responsibility of business. These include:

  • Environmental expertise: an expert who can realistically gauge the company’s impact on and susceptibility to the environment.
  • Social expertise: an expert committed to thinking about the short- and long-term implications of the company’s actions on stakeholders.
  • Geopolitical expertise: an expert—probably with experience in academia and/or government—who has the tools to monitor, gauge, and steer strategy around geopolitical fluctuations.

To help manage this diversifying array of risks and responsibilities, some companies are creating adjacent advisory boards whose members help provide subject-specific guidance to directors and executives. For prospective directors, getting a position on an advisory board is a good way to get the corporate governance experience required for more traditional board positions.

Conclusion

It is the job of corporate directors to successfully guide their companies through a business landscape now defined by its exponential rate of technological disintermediation, rising levels of environmental and health risks, and rampant geopolitical uncertainties. These three factors are fundamentally changing what it takes to be a board member, what mixtures of expertise are relevant, and how a board’s composition is directly related to its effectiveness. These changes have significant implications for demographics like women and people of color, who were traditionally excluded from the boardroom but whose presence has now been demonstrated to deliver superior performance and enhance shareholder value. Organizations that fail to enlist this broader range of director expertise and diversity are likely to face a variety of consequences—some short-term, others long-term, some reputational in nature, others existential.

Mary Francia IDP-C is the IDN Americas Ambassador.