Category: Director Education

Q & A With the Mastermind Behind 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit

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The 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit is less than a month away. Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to sit down with my colleague Erin Essenmacher, the mastermind behind our annual conference, to get the inside scoop on this year’s big event as the final touches are being added.

Q: The 2015 Global Board Leaders’ Summit is coming up in just over three weeks. In one sentence, can you describe what this event is and why directors should attend?

A: The Global Board Leaders’ Summit—NACD’s annual conference—is the largest, most comprehensive director forum in the world, bringing together 1,200 of the world’s top directors, innovators, thought leaders, and governance experts for peer exchanges and thoughtful discussions on the most significant issues impacting the boardroom today.

Q: What are some of those issues, and how will they be incorporated into this year’s format?

A: When it comes to shaping the curriculum and choosing the focuses for our events, we consult our members directly to understand what challenges they are facing on their boards and what keeps them up at night. This year, some of the top-of-mind issues for most directors we speak with are M&A, shareholder activism, cyber governance, competitive disruption, and enterprise risk. In response, we’ve created customized learning tracks at Summit, where directors can tailor their conference experience around these issues and many more.

Q: What can attendees expect at this year’s Summit? What’s new or different, and which popular elements are you carrying over from last year’s event?

A: Innovation and leadership are key themes of the 2015 Summit, and they have influenced how we’ve reinvented our signature programming, which incorporates many new features:

  • A new state-of-the-art venue in downtown DC
  • A pre-conference Diversity Symposium on “next” practices that align board composition to globalization, disruptive technology, innovation, and other twenty-first-century challenges
  • Innovation Nation—a space where attendees can view demos, ask questions, and get hands-on with the trends and technologies that are transforming every industry
  • Small Takes on Big Ideas—short talks from groundbreaking CEOs and other leaders about the technologies and innovations that are changing the way we will live, work, compete, and do business.
  • Topic-specific learning tracks geared to key committee, company type, and industry
  • More opportunities for networking and peer exchange in small group roundtables focused by topic, committee, and industry
  • More Board Committee Forums and expanded power-breakfast offerings
  • Access to a complete digital record of session content on the NACD website after the Summit

Q: What topics will this year’s event emphasize, and how will speakers explore those topics?

A: In addition to programming on cybersecurity and corporate risk—two hot-button issues—we’re doing a deep dive into boardroom diversity, with a half-day Diversity Symposium kicking off this year’s Summit. We’re also applying a boardroom lens to aspects of technology, globalization, big data, shareholder activism, leading through disruption, value creation, CEO succession planning, mergers & acquisitions, disclosure and liability, compensation, and much more.

To get a better sense of just how much ground we’ll cover at Summit, I encourage interested parties to check out the descriptions of our 75+ sessions in the complete Summit agenda.

Q: What are the most compelling reasons for directors to attend?

A: To learn. To network. To be inspired. To get concrete takeaways that they can use in their boardrooms to leverage strategic advantage and manage enterprise risks. And above all to advance exemplary board leadership.

Prepare to gain new connections, insights, and information. Prepare to be inspired.

2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit | Beyond Borders. Leadership Evolved.
September 26–29, Washington, DC
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Identify the Enemies of Effectiveness and Think Like an Activist: 5 Insights From a Philadelphia Master Class

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At the National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD’s) Master Class program in Philadelphia June 3-4, nearly 50 experienced directors engaged with corporate leaders on the key elements that will shape the boardroom in the coming decade.

NACD’s Master Class takes place over two days and comprises eight modules presented as panels, keynote speeches, and intensive breakout sessions. Modules are highly interactive and are led by veteran directors, leading business executives, and corporate governance experts. Each Master Class is organized around a specific theme.

In Philadelphia, discussions centered on ensuring effective boardroom dynamics and strengthening the board’s role in strategic planning, cybersecurity, and mitigating global risks. Below are five takeaways that emerged in Philadelphia.

  1. Search out the enemies of effectiveness. Vague expectations, absence of process, inadequate delegation of authority, and individual sabotage can individually or collectively compromise board effectiveness. Independent chairs and lead directors should be attentive to poor board dynamics, which often have root causes that can easily be addressed. Boards can also help counter dysfunction by establishing a foundation of shared principles that will guide the board’s decision-making, agenda-setting, discussion management, and self-assessment.
  1. Analyze the causes of gradual deterioration in performance. Management often rationalizes small performance drops by pointing to macro-economic trends or solvable business execution problems. Boards should consider adopting a forward-looking posture in order to understand the long-term impact of disruptors on business performance. They can do this by engaging with management in frequent discussions about the assumptions that undergird the company’s strategy and the “what-if” events that could invalidate those assumptions.
  1. Think like an activist shareholder. Activists usually know the industry and sometimes even the company better than the board does. To avoid being ambushed by well-informed activists, boards should learn from the consultants and investment banks that serve their company, industry, customers, and competitors. They must also challenge management’s conventional wisdom about the firm’s current performance and future direction.
  1. Clearly delineate the roles of the board and management in developing and executing strategy. Boards can offer more value by engaging “early and often” in the strategy development process, by pressure-testing management assumptions, and by selecting the appropriate metrics to assess strategy success or failure. When seeking a more active role, boards must collaborate with management on defining the boundary between directing strategy and managing it. Addressing this tension over where the lines should be drawn is a critical challenge that will demand ongoing attention from the CEO and the lead director.
  1. Anticipate the consequences of global disruptors. In a hyper-connected global marketplace, economic and political shifts in distant corners of the world can instantaneously impact company performance through supply-chain disruptions, foreign-exchange volatility, and regulatory activism. Boards can increase their understanding of emerging cross-border interdependencies and evaluate whether management is sufficiently agile to respond when conditions change.

Boardroom Diversity: There is Work to Be Done

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In all my years as a director, I have found that boards with the most gumption, versatility, and innovative force share one common attribute: diversity.

When we embrace diversity—of gender, race, culture, or perspective—we stretch our minds and transcend the limits of our own experience. These actions empower us to think, and to lead, “beyond borders.”

Diversity has become a global business imperative, and I am delighted by the work being done by my friends and esteemed colleagues at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to promote all types of diversity in the boardroom.

The 2015 Global Board Leaders’ Summit will open with NACD’s first-ever Diversity Symposium, which will take place on September 26 from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Discussion at the Symposium will focus on the following topics:

  • Unconscious Bias — Less than 15 percent of American men are over 6-feet tall, yet almost 60 percent of CEOs are taller than 6 feet. Unconscious biases like the one implied by this pair of statistics can significantly influence how we think and make decisions. Leaving such biases at the door can create space for new talent and innovative ideas.
  • Case Study: The Rooney Rule — The 2003 Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head-coaching and other top-level positions, and over the past 12 years its implementation has dramatically increased diversity on NFL coaching and front-office staffs. How might this rule inspire new practices in the boardroom?
  • Meet the 21st-Century Board — In order to compete globally, companies will need to recruit a new breed of director. Who are the directors that will form this boardroom vanguard? What skills do they possess? And where can they be found?
  • The Diverse Board: Moving From Interest to Action — With findings in the Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on The Diverse Board as their starting point, seasoned directors and experts will discuss specific, actionable steps you can take to optimize the composition of your board.

The business world is not the same as it was 30, 10, or even 5 years ago. Today’s boardroom is a reflection of the changes that have occurred in the marketplace and in society at large. Much progress has been made in incorporating new perspectives and heterogeneous backgrounds into the sphere of corporate directorship, but we have much work yet to do.

Join me and NACD in going “beyond borders” and championing the ideals that will change the boardroom, our companies, and the global economy for the better.

Prepare to gain unexpected connections, insights, and inspiration.

2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit | Beyond Borders. Leadership Evolved.
September 26–29, Washington DC

For more information about the NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, visit