NACD elected Dr. Karen Horn as its board chair last week during its board of directors’ meeting. She succeeds Dr. Reatha Clark King, who had held the position of board chair since 2013 and will now serve as chair emerita.
“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Horn as our next NACD board chair,” King said. “She brings to the position several distinguished leadership experiences in business, board governance, and associations. Her demonstrated commitment to board excellence will enable her to work with NACD’s board, management, members, and many partners to further advance board leadership and excellence.”
As NACD’s incoming chair, Horn has high ambitions for NACD’s future. “As shareholders, regulators, and stakeholders hold directors to an increasingly higher standard, NACD will continue to play an important role in shaping and upholding exemplary board-governance standards,” said Horn. “I am honored to be NACD’s chair and I look forward to supporting NACD’s mission to help our members lead with confidence in the boardroom.”
Previously Horn was a director of Eli Lilly and Co., where she was lead director and chaired the compensation committee; of Norfolk Southern Corp., where she chaired the audit committee; and of T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds.
She is a senior managing director of Brock Capital Group. Horn also has been the global head of Marsh Private Client Services, the head of international banking at Bankers Trust, and the sixth president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland—the first female president in the Federal Reserve System’s history.
The 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit officially opened Sunday evening with the bang of drums and the bagpipes of the St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C., a local Scottish heritage association. Their performance was followed by an interactive video experience that challenged the audience to question the borders of the screen. Each of these sensory experiences underlined the theme of the year, Beyond Borders: Leadership Evolved. The opening night keynote speakers–NACD Chair Dr. Reatha Clark King, and philosopher and author, Kwame Anthony Appiah–explored how directors should weather the evolution of the boardroom.
King is a fan of challenges. A seasoned director herself who values the good businesses can do in the world, King centered her message on all the work that boards have done to better the world around us—and the work left to do. “We have been successfully adjusting the trajectory of governance systems and have made improvements, but we still have much to do,” said King. “The board’s agenda gets longer. We offer no encouragement that the agenda will get shorter. Instead we prepare ourselves for the greater demand.”
One of the demands King identified was the need for directors to hold fervently to core beliefs. One among the many she cited was accountability: “I am a student of the word ‘accountability,’ and it looms large in my mind for directors to understand and embrace it.” King asked the audience to also embrace leadership in challenging times in spite of the many chances to falter. Among the recommended ways to lead with strength through governance challenges were the concepts of embracing broader perspectives, finding the courage to do what’s right, and to be brave enough to change if needed.
King’s suggestions for leadership to the audience of more than 1,200 were strengthened by Kwame Anthony Appiah’s discussion on honor. Appiah is author of The Honor Code, a best-selling book that examines four points in history where honor outweighed other forces to catalyze social change for the greater good. Appiah distilled his observations on honor into applications for the boardroom and professional practice as a whole.
At the core of his message was that honor will trump money, regulation, and even the coercion of law to guide a person’s moral compass and that only honor holds up in the face of the greatest ethical challenges that inevitably arise.
Following their inspiring message of peace and love, Dr. Reatha Clark King, chairman of the National Association of Directors, thanked the World Children’s Choir, for “reminding us who holds the future.” She remarked that the numbers at the NACD Board Leadership Conference continue to grow, “tracing diverse participation in every way.”
Dr. King focused her remarks on the idea of the future saying that we are “watching entirely new landscapes rushing to us at lightning speed.” She took William Gibson’s quote: “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet” and applied it to the audience by stating that “the future is here and having a direct affect on our companies and boardrooms every day.”
Dr. King observed: “New times call for updated challenges for board leadership” and recommended five areas of focus for the updated agenda:
World class excellence in board governance functions: Emphasize the basics. If we don’t take care of the basic functions we won’t have time to take care of the next compelling need.
Innovation: Enable value creation to benefit shareholders, investors, customers, communities, and other stakeholders.
Harness the transformational effects of new discoveries: Mitigate the risks and potentially harmful effects from these discoveries.
Understand and embrace a broad view of our companies’ contributions to society: We need to shift away from being “place-bound” thinkers to being “global” thinkers.
Communicate and keep the public’s trust: The challenge is to communicate clearly with stakeholders.
Warren Bennis has said: “Lleadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” and Dr. King pointed out that a major challenge for directors is, “to lead when the rate of change is accelerating rapidly.” She continued by noting that the concept of change is not new; to keep businesses fresh there must always be change. Now, however, simply keeping up with the pace of change is not enough, it is a matter of wholesale reinvention. She mentioned a number of companies and ideas embracing change such as Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, Airbnb, Coursera, Bitcoin, and Square that exemplify the idea—“revolution is relevance.”
Dr King concluded by observing that we cannot wait for the future; the future is here now. There are four things that directors must do in order to ensure their organization’s relevance: