I had the pleasure to speak with Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, after her opening remarks today at the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals annual conference in Chicago.
Mellody is a very passionate, smart and disciplined leader, and many of her suggestions can add distinct value to all directors, boards and senior executives. Her knowledge nuggets are gleaned from her current board leadership experience at Estee Lauder, Starbucks and DreamWorks Animation—among others.
Here’s a quick summary of Mellody’s key points:
- Keep slides to maximum of three pages – not three inches thick!
- If an executive or presenter wants to provide more information in the board book, fine—but don’t “re-read” to the board what’s in the board book. That’s insulting and a massive time suck!
- Whenever presenting material to the board, start with “the headline is…” Net: Stick to the key takeaways and implications, and allow for an interactive knowledge exchange between the board members and participants.
- There are no categorically right or wrong approaches to corporate governance. Mellody is a fan of the NACD Key Agreed Principles, and she suggests that boards take a principles-based approach to providing board leadership oversight of their company. For example, many ask her if co-CEO/Chairman roles do, or do not, make an impact on an investment decision. Short answer: No. There is no right or wrong way, as a categorical decision, to run a company or board. Whatever is best for the company, in the long run, do it and move on.
- Lastly, “The Cake.” The executive session is the best part of board meetings. This is where and when the real meaningful dialogue occurs. When asked if the executive session should occur before or after the board meeting: after. Listen and discuss during the formal board sessions, and then opine based on information and insights.
It should be noted that Ariel Investments takes a long-term view when making investment decisions— typically three-five years minimum, and Ariel Investments has held positions for over a decade. If all boards, directors and shareowners (i.e., not traders and share flippers) take a similar approach to evaluating and running their businesses, perhaps capitalism can prove merit once again.