More Thoughts on Company Culture

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Following Ken Daly’s talk with Continental Airlines director and NACD board member Karen Hastie Williams at NACD’s Director Professionalism® course in Laguna Beach, CA, I have been thinking more about company culture and the board’s role in shaping it. The power of culture to make or break an organization is something recognized by many NACD members, and I have been lucky to learn from some of their reflections on this topic over this crisis-ridden summer for big business in America.

NACD member Jim Brady, who is the chair of four public company audit committees, recently shared his views on how board members can both read and contribute to a company’s culture in an NACD Boardroom Excellence webinar on “Tone at the Top.”  Jim talked about the importance of respect and listening and observing body language, both when a director is considering joining a board, and when he or she seeks to influence the culture of the C-suite.

In the same webinar, Mike Pocalyko, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and investment banker who now serves on the boards of Herley Industries and TheramuneX Pharmaceuticals (as chairman), joined Jim Brady to talk about transparency, board accountability, and thoughtful risk management and strategy development—important board responsibilities that, in turn, shape the culture and performance of the company.

Balancing business opportunity with risk management and a wider stewardship responsibility is something that many NACD members grapple with every day in their board work. Directors at PICO Holdings—corporate board members of NACD—govern a company that owns water rights in much of the Western U.S. Speaking to PICO board member Richard Ruppert over lunch one day when he attended our Scottsdale, AZ, Director Professionalism course, I was moved by how he spoke of the need to balance profit with concern for the land and the people making a living on it and from it. “‘Don’t be greedy,’ that’s our motto” he said. (BTW, the issue of the global water shortage, and how it may affect your company’s strategy will be examined in a session called “Enabling the Future” at this year’s conference — don’t miss it.

Also at the conference, Dr. Reatha Clark King, a former Exxon board member and a current director of NACD, will be among those examining corporate culture and its role in rebuilding public trust. Given the trials this summer for one of Exxon’s competitors, BP, her words will be well worth hearing.

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