Posts Tagged ‘risk governance’

How Boards Can Proactively Oversee Strategy and Risk

May 15th, 2014 | By

The 2013-2014 NACD Public Company Governance Survey found that strategic planning and oversight ranked as the number one issue for directors. While risk oversight came in at number 3, Paula Cholmondeley—who serves on the boards of Terex and Dentsply International Inc.—finds it curious that risk doesn’t follow strategy as the number 2 priority because these issues are part and parcel of each other.

During a May 6 panel discussion at the C-Suite to Board Seat program at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., Cholmondeley and fellow panelist Greg Pratt offered their perspectives on the board’s role in overseeing strategy and risk. Cholmondeley emphasized that strategic thinking is where directors add the most value to a company. Furthermore, boardroom discussions surrounding strategy should be viewed on an ongoing basis—not as a single event. Chairman of Carpenter Technology Group and director of Tredegar Corp., Pratt went on to  compare strategy to a GPS system:  A tool that tells you where you are, where you want to go, and the possible ways to reach that destination. According to Pratt, directors have a responsibility to use strategic discussions and planning to decide which route is best for the business.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR OVERSEEING STRATEGY

1. Educate yourself—and others. This is especially important for directors serving on boards in industries in which they do not have prior experience. Reading industry publications, attending relevant conferences, and getting exposure to as many sources of industry information possible can help directors enrich board discussions. Similarly, directors should ensure that the strategic goals are well-known throughout the company. This could include requesting that the CEO meet with staff so that goals are communicated to the lower levels of the company.

2. Set reasonable benchmarks. Directors should consider the critical assumptions underpinning the strategic plan. For example, how much progress is the company expected to make in the course of a month? Evaluate whether those benchmarks are reasonable for your company by consulting regional or national industry sources as well as third-party sources.

3. Monitor the course and evolve the strategy. The board should consistently review corporate performance with respect to the strategy, and alter course when necessary. Boardroom culture should support open discussions with the c-suite—and management should feel free to report to the board areas where the strategy may or may not be working. As a company reacts to different economic environments, the board needs to be able to evaluate which initiatives worked, which initiative work over a period of time because they are key to your business.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR MANAGING RISK

As stated in the 2009 Report on the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Risk Governance: Balancing Risk and Reward, “Every business model, business strategy, and business decision involves risk.” Risk may bring doubt, but it is the board’s role to work with management to find a balance between the costs and benefits of a strategic plan.

1. Get the committees involved. While ultimate responsibility for governing risk lies at the board level, the board can look to committees for support. In publically-traded companies, the audit committee has traditionally assumed the responsibility of risk oversight.  A growing trend, however, is to delegate specific risks to various standing committees. The board can also create new committees that manage the emerging facets of risk, such as keeping the board abreast of new sources of competition.

2. Work with management to assess risk. Open communication between management and the board is critical, especially because the C-suite is likely to be the first to see that a strategy is not working. Directors should learn how risk discussions take place within the various departments and business lines, and establish multiple avenues through which directors can work with management.

3. Be aware of the risks around the corner. The board should constantly review potential non-traditional sources of competition, for example, Amazon’s move to enter the dental distribution market.  Likewise, a company should work to make itself obsolete—best itself at its own game before the competition—and then create a strategy that will again put the company on the cutting edge of its industry.

NACD will continue to discuss these issues throughout 2014. Our Directorship 2020 events explore the disruptive forces that create new challenges in the boardroom and our forthcoming 2014 Blue Ribbon Commission Report will address the board’s role in recalibrating strategy. The topic will also be discussed at the next C-Suite to Board Seat in Beverly Hills, CA.

Risk Assessment: Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst

July 15th, 2011 | By

Organizations face risk on multiple levels and from an enormous range of factors. And being seen as a “high-risk” company certainly impacts valuation. Of the many concerns for risk managers today, two of the biggest are global economic uncertainty and information technology.

For boards concerned with how different economic forces will impact the corporations they oversee, today’s environment provides plenty of challenges and opportunities. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that as the Federal Reserve’s latest economic stimulus initiative (QE2) comes to a close, investors are keeping a close eye on their portfolios and shying away from riskier assets. According to a recent Bloomberg article, after his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama made it clear that U.S. economic growth is still at risk from the precarious economic situation in Europe.

Cyber attacks that lead to data theft threaten not only the valuable information a company might possess, but the trust and confidence of its investors as well. Just ask Sony, Epsilon and RSA Securities, who all recently suffered data breaches.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently stated that publicly traded companies should disclose the threats and potential impacts of cyber attacks. The SEC guidance came in response to a letter sent by Senator Rockefeller, who noted that “it is essential that corporate leaders know their responsibility for managing and disclosing security risk.”

Because of these new oversight and risk management demands and higher stakes for corporate boards, NACD is offering two separate sessions discussing risk assessment and management at this year’s NACD Board Leadership Conference in Washington, DC from October 2-4.

The Reshaping the Risk Agenda session features expert speakers who will explore possible blind spots in risk assessment and the implementation of early warning systems, as well as the importance of scenario planning. A major focus of the panel’s discussion will be the board’s role in overseeing risk versus avoiding risk in the current economic environment.”

This year’s conference also offers a Risk Board Committee Forum where professionals from the leading global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman will discuss methods for improving oversight processes and examine the links between strategy and risk. A special focus of this forum discussion will include the board’s role in overseeing IT risk.

NACD understands that the best way to mitigate risk is through education and learning from people who have already been on the front lines battling these issues—and winning. That is why we want you to be there to share your experience and hear from your peers.

To register for the NACD Board Leadership Conference, go to nacdonline.org/conference. Early-bird discounts are in effect until July 31.  Additionally, for directors and executives from NASDAQ-listed companies to save 10 percent on registration prices, please enter coupon code OMXSAVE. To register or ask questions in person, please email registration@NACDonline.org  or call 202-572-2088.

Hu, Valukas, and Markopolos on Corporate Governance

November 10th, 2010 | By

As the country emerges from the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, directors, executives and other corporate governance experts gathered to honor the 100 most influential players in the boardroom and analyze recent mistakes and how they can be avoided at the NACD Directorship 100 Forum held Monday and Tuesday in New York City. The 100 honorees were commended at a dinner Monday night in a keynote address by Henry Hu, director of the SEC’s Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation.

Hu presented his “decoupling” concept, and explained how it relates to boards’ current challenges, especially as directors face the new Dodd-Frank Act. He pointed to the Act as the “most comprehensive change in generations… representing a new era for corporations and boards that introduces new challenges and new opportunities. It is important to get the balance between corporate governance and financial innovation right.”

The Forum’s second day featured Anton Valukas, court-appointed examiner in the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, explaining the actions that the Lehman board could have taken to better prepare for the company’s failure. While Valukas does not believe that failure was preventable, he did explain that, had the board asked more important questions, the fall would have had less severe of an impact on the U.S. economy. 
“In this case,” said Valukas, “one word would have made the difference: transparency.” (read Valukas’ full report here)

Also featured was Harry Markopolos, author of No One Would Listen, which details his ten-year-long investigation of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the largest in history.  Markopolos took a firm tone with the directors of the room, imploring them to “use your experts and don’t take numbers from management, for the sake of your shareholders and stakeholders. That’s your job.”