Category: Risk Management

Straighten Up and Fly Right: IT Risk Governance for Non-Techie Directors

Published by

 

Virginia Gambale

Jet Blue Director Virginia Gambale heard the news about the airline’s fed-up flight attendant—the one who exited the plane via the emergency slide, cursing passengers as he touched down on the tarmac—well before some of the company’s senior executives. Social media savvy Virginia uses a web tool to track all mention of companies on whose boards she sits, and as soon as someone tweeted news of the incident, she was on it.

 Virginia, a former CIO with Merrill Lynch and Bankers Trust, shared the story at NACD’s Director Professionalism®—The Master Class, held this week in Clearwater, FL. She was one of a number of dedicated NACD members honing her board leadership skills and using peer expertise to identify and explore innovative solutions to persistent and emerging challenges.

Virginia urged her peers with non-IT backgrounds to become more involved in oversight of the company’s technology strategy. “Ask questions,” she said. “If people tell you that deadlines are being missed, that delivery of services isn’t possible, or that it’s just too complicated to get something done, then you don’t have the right strategy and you may need to change your CIO. Ask the CIO to talk about allocation of resources and find out how the dollars are spent between maintenance and innovation. You can make the same judgments as you would on any other area of the business.”

 “Ask ‘What is our model for technology leadership?’” advises Virginia, and ask to be walked through the governance model and strategy for partners and communications with customers. “Read the company culture: Is IT a partner or service provider? How closely integrated is it with your lines of business? What, why and where are you outsourcing, and what effect is that having on your risk? Virtual roads and highways need to be maintained, but you can outsource a lot of this and pay only for what you use,” she said.

Virginia urges boards to make sure they have at least one person charged with asking these and other questions. “It can be helpful to have a technology and operations
sub-committee sitting under audit or risk,” she recommends, especially if the company needs to find a new CIO. Failing this, the board should consider hiring an outside consultant.

“Security breaches, brand tarnish, information leaks or, at worst, a death can do your company real harm,” said the director who joined the Jet Blue board around the time of the Valentine’s Day “Ice Incident.” And, she added, “You can’t risk disintermediation—the business boneyard is filled with companies where the strategists at board and C-suite level failed to ask the right questions and fooled themselves for too long.”

“Today, every man, woman and child has access to instant information,” she reminded the group. “Use social media intelligently—it can supply you with useful information about what your customers think. And remember, if a mind created it, a mind can break it. Be mindful of the need for ongoing vigilance and sound practice in information security.”

Other directors sharing their expertise with peers attending NACD’s Master Class included Office Depot Compensation Rear Admiral (Retired) Chairman Marty Evans, Winn Dixie Director Charlie Garcia, who discussed the implications of America’s growing Hispanic population for board composition, and Major General (Retired) Hawthorne “Peet” Proctor, who spoke about the characteristics of exemplary board leadership.

To learn more about NACD’s Director Professionalism-The Master Class in 2011, click here. Already attended the Master Class? Contact fellowships@NACDonline.org to find out how you can become a 2011 NACD Board Leadership Fellow.

Hu, Valukas, and Markopolos on Corporate Governance

Published 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.”

Time to Tone Up—Do You Need a Personal Trainer for the Social Media Age?

Published by

“Technology leaves companies naked and it’s time to buff up,” says Phil Cowcill, facilitating a session at an e-learning conference I am attending this week in San Francisco.

WeightlifterHe believes all boards and companies should embark on a workout schedule and, if necessary, hire a personal trainer so they look good under the scrutiny of stakeholders using social media. “You can’t keep technology out of the room,” Cowcill says, “so use it to learn what your stakeholders really think, feel and see.”

Your skin, in addition to being toned and oiled, needs to be thick, says Cowcill, for sometimes your stakeholders will say and do things that you feel threaten the company, but if you learn to think of them as partners rather than threats— NACD Webinar people with whom you have collaborative dialogue—then you will gain more value than you will by playing defensively.

We discuss the recent decision by Gap, Inc. to withdraw their new logo in response to customer feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Was Gap really committed to the logo or did they just float it on Facebook to test the response?
  • What have they gained in column inches and from appearing to be responsive to their customers?
  • What have they learned that will inform new product launches and strategic initiatives?

However you address the questions above, your answers will demonstrate the need for new thinking around stakeholder—including shareowner—engagement. How good does your board’s body look in the social media age? Leave your comments below.