Paul S. Williams is a partner in the Chicago office of Major, Lindsey & Africa, the nation’s leading executive legal search firm, andis a member of the board of directors for three public companies: Bob Evans Farms, Compass Minerals, and Essendant. He recently was named president of the NACD Chicago Chapter, and has served as the lead independent director of State Auto Financial Corp. The NACD team recently sat down with Williams to discuss his insights on board diversity and to ask him how to make the most of the 2017 Global Board Leaders’ Summit.
NACD: You are a fierce advocate for greater diversity in the boardroom. Could you tell us why diversity at the highest level of a company is so important?
Williams: As a director, I feel a sense of obligation to make sure that I am helping to pave the way for diversity on boards. Unfortunately, there have not been many people of color that have served on public company boards. I think when you step back and think of the credibility of these boards—the credibility of corporate boards with the rest of the business world and the rest of society—it’s incumbent upon us to demonstrate that diversity within companies should start with the board.
When I say that I am a staunch advocate of diversity, I don’t want to limit it to ethnic diversity. I feel strongly about gender diversity, as well as diversity of ethnicity and sexual orientation. I truly believe these boards need to be diverse in all aspects.
Boards also need to be diverse experientially. Directors can’t all be people with similar backgrounds and ways of looking at critical business issues. It’s important that the discussions in our respective boardrooms include truly diverse views.
NACD: What kind of impact do you think a diverse board has on company culture?
Williams: I think it has a tremendous impact. When a management team sees a diverse board talking the talk and walking the walk, it sends a message that the board has taken to heart the importance of diversity. As a board, we don’t want to be hypocritical. Boards without diversity undermine the management team’s ability to bring about change.
A diverse board definitely impacts corporate culture in a number of ways, starting with the commitment to diversity within the company. There’s a sense of appreciation for people who bring different perspectives. It sets a tone of progressiveness and the mandate of being open to different ideas.
Diversity as a concept is somewhat intangible. Compared with financial results, it’s harder to measure. Yet I believe a company can’t have impressive financial results without an underlying culture that is productive and effective.
How can directors learn more about the importance of diversity?
Last year I attended NACD’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit. It was uplifting to be able to go to Summit and meet a number of other diverse directors. I knew that I would be assuming leadership of the NACD Chicago Chapter and thought it would be great to meet other chapter leaders. I had heard rave reviews about the programs and I wasn’t disappointed.
The sheer number of attendees at Summit is impressive. There is such a diversity of experience and expertise at Summit. It gave me an opportunity to meet people from around the country to network with and discuss the challenges boards are facing in terms of board diversity and other challenges.
What advice would give to someone attending Summit for the first time?
Get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. It can be tempting for people who are more introverted to stay with the people they know. Sit at a table with folks you have never met, or who are from a different part of the country, or who sit on boards that are in different industries.
Have a game plan in advance, especially in terms of programs you plan to attend. It’s important to know which programs you want to focus on.
Most importantly, have fun! Really allow yourself to enjoy the things that come up in the spur of the moment, whether it’s talking to someone that you didn’t anticipate meeting, or going up to one of the speakers after a program and asking a follow-up question.
Click here to learn more about diversity-specific programming offered at the 2017 Global Board Leaders’ Summit.
Champions of business women have been honored each year since 2001 by the prominent civil rights organization Legal Momentum with its Aiming High award. Lisa Garcia Quiroz, senior vice president, president of the Time Warner Foundation, and chief diversity officer of Time Warner, is one of three honorees this year.
Lisa Garcia Quiroz
The seventeenth annual Legal Momentum Aiming High Awards will be presented at a luncheon on June 15 in New York City.
In addition to Garcia Quiroz, this year’s award recipients are:
Stephanie Drescher, global head, business development & investor relationship management, Apollo Global Management
Brad S. Karp, chair, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and winner of the Man of Distinction honor
Few people in the workforce can claim that they have worked for the greater part of their careers helping to advance women in their workplace. Garcia Quiroz counts herself among the privileged few. When asked about the role that the women in her working life played in her own career development, she said that she owed much of her success to women who reached back to pull her up along with them.
Before moving to Time Warner’s corporate offices and taking on this new position, she served as the founding publisher of People en Español, a position she earned after proving herself as the founding publisher of Time for Kids.
Through her work at Time Warner, she has always placed a priority on amplifying diverse story tellers’ voices. NACD is honored to amplify her voice and to celebrate her leadership along with Legal Momentum. In a recent interview, Garcia Quiroz reflected on her role within a company of storytellers.
What is your approach to setting diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility strategies at Time Warner?
I will tell you that all of the initiatives that I work on at Time Warner have a definitive thread going through them—this idea of diversity and inclusion (D&I)—but for me, I felt it was really important to root it in the business of the company.
I don’t take that commitment lightly. I don’t mean what’s the business case for diversity and share that with my colleagues. No. I first ask, what does diversity mean for a media company? What are the most important outcomes that can come out of a robust diversity effort at a media company? Then, how can we be sure to integrate those principles into the core of this company? Our company is a company of storytellers. We create content. Bearing that in mind, what I did was develop a diversity portfolio that set goals that were very much in line with a company that had its success inextricably linked to talent.
How has being a woman shaped your opportunities to lead through your career? How have mentors helped you along the way?
I would say that most of my significant opportunities were as a result of a woman reaching back and pulling me up with her. For example, Ann Moore was the legendary head of People magazine and went on to become the CEO of Time Inc. Ann was an incredible mentor of mine. She’s still a terrific friend and was the person that gave me the opportunity to be publisher of People en Español. What’s significant about that is that, honestly, I got that job probably five to seven years earlier than I should have, but she believed in me and gave me the type of support and mentoring that I needed to ensure that I was successful in that role. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.
Everybody has big moments in his or her career. I think choosing to do Time for Kids and getting the funding for it was a way of getting noticed in a place where perhaps you wouldn’t be noticed as quickly being a young woman of color.
When I came here to corporate, I worked for another terrific woman named Pat Fili-Krushel, who was also a fantastic boss. It’s unusual—in 27 years I’ve worked mostly for women. When I was growing up at the company, that typically wouldn’t have been the case.
You were on the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which funds national service programs such as AmeriCorps*VISTA and SeniorCorps, from 2010–2015. You also served as chair for nearly three years. What motivated you to serve on this particular board?
I was struck by the chance to give people—young and old—the opportunity to serve in communities that they had never known about before. Consider sending someone from New York to the rural south for a year of service at a nonprofit, or sending a young woman from Alexandria, Virginia, to East Los Angeles, or to southern Texas. This is an important opportunity for Americans to really develop a sense of empathy, community, and understanding for what it means to be American. When we live in our little enclaves, it’s very hard to get a sense of that, even in a place like New York City.
A lot of young men and women have a similar experience in the military because they’re serving alongside people that come from all sorts of different locations. [Ret. U.S.] Army General Stanley A. McChrystal talks a lot about the fact that in the military you bring people together from all walks of life to experience and grow with others you may have never encountered otherwise. He points out that now, as our military shrinks, we should be doubling down on other forms of public service as a way to create a sense of greater understanding and appreciation for this country. He has asked whether there is a way of making national service almost mandatory. While this program has enjoyed bi-partisan support in the past, the programs funded by the CNCS are now under threat. Perhaps we should be thinking about how to create more opportunities for young people instead of diminishing them.
Directors spend the bulk of their time every quarter reviewing financial results and receive updates on enterprise risk. However, very little time is spent reviewing talent development and succession planning. Compensation committee agendas and metrics tend to be dominated by executive compensation discussions, and relatively little focus is given to measuring and tracking talent development and retention across the leadership suite.
From Left: Steve Newton, Barbara Duganier, Eileen Campbell, and Doug Foshee
Panelists at a recent event hosted by NACD Texas TriCities’ Chapter, all leaders in the field of executive management and human resources (HR), discussed board-level talent oversight. Barbara Duganier, director, Buckeye Partners, served as moderator of a panel including Eileen Campbell, former vice president of human resources for Marathon Oil; Doug Foshee, former chair and CEO of El Paso Corp.; and Steve Newton, partner, Russell Reynolds Associates. The conversation confronted the fact that while the vast majority of CEOs are promoted from within, boards spend very little time on executive leadership development—and even less time on talent development beyond the chief executive.
The development of executive HR talent in an organization seems often to be left to chance. Whether it’s because the CEO and board don’t place critical importance on the position, or the HR leader views their role less as a strategic asset and more as compensation or benefits cost center, development of HR talent—and others in the executive pipeline—deserves more board-level attention.
Below are several challenges that were discussed, as well as some solutions to developing talent and value from your company’s HR leadership.
Challenge 1:People think they’re good at recognizing talent, but biases and lack of process might lead to missing out on promising people. Ask any executive to identify high potential employees, and they can always name a few promising people. However, because the ability to recognize a talented person is considered a soft skill, it doesn’t get measured or tracked on a regular basis. Interestingly, most people will identify people in their own image—just younger. Therefore, if the leadership team is not diverse, promising people may go overlooked that do not meet preconceived notions of what leadership looks like.
A Solution: Measure and track. HR leadership and the board should insist on tracking talent development-specific metrics with the same level of importance as financial metrics. Measuring also allows boards and executives to notice unconscious biases in recruitment and talent development.
Challenge 2: People are protective of their highest performers. Lateral moves and broadening development positions are imperative in order to assess and build talent across the organization. But as Campbell pointed out, managers are often reluctant to recommend their highest performers to other divisions.
A Solution: Once people are identified as high-potential employees, they should be considered “group resources” rather than belonging to a department or division. By operating across departments, leaders outside of the individual’s direct supervisors can take part in nurturing the long-term development of employees’ talents.
Challenge 3: People are reluctant to put high performers in certain roles due to a fear of failure that could result in career derailment. As a result, sometimes leaders are not “tested” outside their comfort zone, and can remain unproven until they’ve ascended to the role of CEO.
A Solution: Develop a program similar to General Electric Co.’s “popcorn stand,” a concept shared by Doug Foshee. This concept provides a future leader with significant responsibility outside his or her comfort zone in a part of the business where commercial impact on the overall organization is less relevant. In smaller organizations, these could be roles that require managing through ambiguity or necessitating cross-functional skills. In larger organizations, these could be special projects or small profit and loss businesses whose bottom line is minimal or negligible.
Challenge 4: Boards are not comfortable addressing CEO succession if they have just named a new CEO. Steve Newton remarked that given the average tenure of a CEO is four to five years, it’s never too soon to begin assessing readiness of internal candidates if you believe they have gaps between current and desired capabilities.
A Solution: Identify a wide candidate slate within an organization early in a CEO’s tenure and begin developmental plans to grow a leadership team that has both breadth and depth of understanding.