Archive for the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category

In Conversation with Dona Young and Carolyn Miles

October 12th, 2014 | By

The differences between nonprofit and corporate governance are few and far between when the nonprofit in question has a budget of almost $700 million and operations in more than 120 different countries. But when you are a nonprofit of this size, what should the board’s expectations of management be—and vice versa? Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, and Dona Young, who is a director on the Save the Children board, spoke with NACD Senior Advisor Jeffrey M. Cunningham about how directors can navigate the perils and opportunities of operating around the globe while fostering a top-notch organizational culture.

One of the problems of working in the nonprofit space is controversial topics—for example, immigration, an issue that came to a head with the recent influx of children crossing the U.S. border. For Miles, Save the Children didn’t adopt the attitude of choosing sides, but rather, they chose children. With that mindset, the organization was able to push beyond the immigration debate and focus on the issue of taking care of kids and ensuring their basic human rights. It’s a position that drew criticism but doing otherwise would have been a disservice to the company’s mission.

Both Miles and Young drove home the importance of bringing into the boardroom what’s going on in the field. Young emphasized the need of having a CEO who is continuously communicative with the board. Miles explained a practice she has used of bringing people who are working in the field to attend boardroom meetings and explain their needs to directors. Those lines of communication better inform the board and is a boon to helping the board helping the company accomplish its mission.

Miles also explained how Save the Children’s directors venture out to experience the work that their organization is doing, what she believes is a critical practice. Save the Children’s directors have been to the places that are the toughest—Afghanistan, Liberia, and Iraq. On a recent trip to Liberia, Miles was confronted with about 4,000 cases of Ebola in Liberia, which has created about 2,000 orphans. As a result, Save the Children wanted to consider sending aid, even though the issue at hand was out of the company’s traditional scope.

“We vet the issues together as a board,” Young said. “At the core of our mission, we have to assume risk.” She offered the following process of evaluating resources to ensure that the company can address a certain area of risk.

  • Identify each component of that risk.
  • Identify how each component is to be addressed.
  • Evaluate if the board has the skill sets to attack the issue at hand.

These are tactics that are as relevant for Save the Children as they are for a company such as IBM. Although the traditional scope of Save the Children’s activity did not lie within epidemic disease control, they did, however, know a lot of the pieces of how to assist (e.g., setting up hospital), and the company was able to respond to the Ebola crisis in the ways that it could and in a fashion that was true to its core mission.

Miles also discussed the importance of metrics. From her perspective, it is critical for nonprofits to focus on metrics and not just the “greater good of the cause.” If a company is able to produce palpable results, people who bankroll the organization look to their contributions not as a donation, but as an investment. Young added the importance of the board’s role as a steward of those funds, and the need for discipline and process—if that is not in place, there’s no way company is achieving its goals.

Through the Boardroom Lens

July 25th, 2014 | By

Directors attending the recent NACD Directorship 2020® event in Denver, Colorado engaged in group discussions about how boards can anticipate and effectively respond to environmental and competitive disruptors in the marketplace.

The half-day symposium at the Ritz-Carlton on July 15 was the second of three NACD Directorship 2020 events this year addressing seven disruptive forces and their implications for the boardroom. Summaries of the Denver speakers’ main points are available here.

Following each speaker, directors developed key takeaways for boards. Those takeaways fell within the parameters of the five elements of effective board leadership defined at last year’s NACD Directorship 2020 forums: strategic board leadership and processes, boardroom dynamics and culture, information and awareness, board composition, and goals and metrics.

Environmental Disruptor Takeaways

Strategic Board Leadership and Processes

  • Crisis response plan. Ensure that the company has a contingency plan in place that takes into account a potential environmental crisis. The plan should include how the company will respond to disruptions in the supply chain and production cycle, as well as to employees, customers, and investors.

Boardroom Dynamics and Culture

  • Culture. Boardroom culture should reflect that directors are ready and willing to be held accountable for environmental or climatological issues that arise for the company.

Information and Awareness

  • Engagement. The company should have an established communications plan to use in response to requests from shareholders and stakeholders regarding environmental matters.

Goals and Metrics

  • Green metrics. Becoming a sustainability-focused company requires adopting a long-term commitment to the cause. The board can communicate that commitment by establishing environment-related performance metrics that align with the corporate strategy.

Competitive Disruptor Takeaways

Strategic Board Leadership and Processes

  • Board agenda. Set aside time on the board agenda to discuss forward-looking strategy, so that the board’s focus is not limited to reviewing the company’s past performance.

Boardroom Dynamics and Culture

  • Culture. Fostering innovation requires risk. The culture throughout the organization should support failure and risk taking within the company’s tolerances. Also invite outside experts—or “white space” teams—to help trigger new, innovative thoughts.

Board Composition

  • Composition. Board composition should reflect a diversity of thought and experience. Regardless of background, directors should be willing to ask probing questions and stay aware of marketplace trends.

Goals and metrics

  • Understanding the marketplace. Management should be able to answer who future competitors might be and what trends might gain traction.

The Environmental and Competitive Disruptors That Lie Ahead

July 23rd, 2014 | By

More than 100 directors gathered at The Ritz-Carlton, Denver on July 15 to hear expert speakers put a boardroom lens on the competitive and environmental forces that are having a far-reaching impact on companies across industries.

The half-day symposium was the second of three NACD Directorship 2020®events this year. The forums are addressing seven disruptive forces (competition, demographics, economics, environment, geopolitics, innovation, and technology)—the major trends and transitions expected to drive significant change for companies and industries in the near future—and the implications for directors.

Environmental Disruptors

Linda J. Fisher, vice president of safety, health, and environment and chief sustainability officer at DuPont, called attention to five key sustainability trends—population growth, water supply, climate change, resource scarcity, and “circular economies”—that will have significant influence on markets, regulators, and investors.

Population growth. The earth’s population already has surpassed seven billion and is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. Population growth will lead to increased demand for food and other goods, while supply may be limited. This could lead to price hikes, increased regulation, and shortages.

Water supply. Water will become limited somewhere within businesses’ value chains, potentially affecting—among other things—transportation of goods and power production. Data from General Electric Co. show that 66 percent of the U.S.’ water-reliant power production in 2012 resided in areas experiencing water stress. In December 2012 and January 2013, low levels in Mississippi waterways resulted in more than $6 billion in commodity losses when barges carrying goods were unable to pass through the river, according to waterways groups.

Climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that they are 95 percent sure that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming. Carbon dioxide is at an unprecedented level not seen for the last 800,000 years, and ice sheets and glaciers have been melting over the past 20 years.

Resource scarcity. Focus also should be placed on resource efficiency, concentrating mostly on improving building performance and food waste reduction.

Circular economies. Also gaining traction is the trend of circular economies in which products are designed so they can be used, deconstructed, and have the remaining materials captured for reuse or recycle.

And while companies are accustomed to the government regulating environmental issues, concerned consumers now are playing a regulatory role. These consumers increasingly are business savvy, understanding the degree to which companies rely on their reputations and brands. Activist consumers can call negative attention to a company’s brand until they see the change for which they have advocated.

These increased demands mean that companies should stay abreast of environmental and sustainability issues. Directors can ask management the following questions to ensure the company is forward-thinking about sustainability:

  1. Climate change. What is the company doing to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and consider adaptation to climate changes within its operations, its supply chain, and consumers’ use of their products?
  2. Resource efficiency. How is the consideration of the efficient use of resources being embedded into the company’s innovation and operational strategy?
  3. Supply chain resiliency. How is the company managing its supply chain to reduce risk and assure resiliency? What is the process for assessing, prioritizing, and managing for potential risks that could threaten their ability to deliver products/services?
  4. Circular economy. How is the company planning for products’ end of life? Or, if the company does not directly sell to consumers, how are the materials that the company provides aiding in the eventual disassemble/recycling/take back of the final product?
  5. Transparency. How prepared is the company for increased sustainability expectations around transparency from investors, customers, retailers, NGOs, and others?

Competitive Disruptors

Adam Hartung, managing partner at strategy consultancy Spark Partners, CEO of Soparfilm Energy Corp., board member of 6 Dimensions, and an NACD Fellow, shared his thoughts and concerns about the impact of competitive disruptors and how boards should help set the competitive edge at their companies.

People often think about bankruptcy filings as being the sign of business failure, but Hartung proposed that business failure begins when a company loses its relevancy.

Hartung said the biggest risk to companies’ competitiveness is getting stuck maintaining the status quo. The secret of being successful in today’s marketplace is to overcome the “lock-in” to past successes.

Boards can encourage company management to take four steps to stay competitive:

  1. Focus on trends and potential future competitors, rather than on companies that have been competitors in the past.
  2. Shift direction away from current solutions and customers’ desires and instead steer more toward marketplace needs and competitors.
  3. Ask how your company can disrupt the marketplace—not just how it can do things better, cheaper, and faster.
  4. Allow for white space innovation, in which creative thinkers can develop business or product ideas that are outside the status quo. White space innovation can lead to ideas that will set the competitive curve in your industry.

Following each speaker’s presentation, attendee directors developed key takeaways for boards. Those responses may be found in follow-up blog post Through the Boardroom Lens.