Home > Leadership Reimagined > Episode 47: David Chun

Episode 47: David Chun

Data Solutions for Better Corporate Governance

Janice Ellig, CEO and founder of Ellig Group, sits down with real leaders in this series of game-changing conversations, bespoke to fellow champions of change. Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and commitment to gender parity, equity, inclusion, and diversity.

We are honored to present this month’s episode of Leadership Reimagined, “Data Solutions for Better Corporate Governance” with David Chun, Founder and CEO of Equilar, one of the most trusted names in the corporate governance community, providing corporate leadership data solutions. In 2000, David Chun saw a need to “make the world a smaller place by connecting people” and went on to found his company, which is used by 70% of Fortune 500 companies today.
David Chun Podcast Cover
Recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Players in Corporate Governance” by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), recipient of the Disruptor Award by 2020 Women on Boards and listed among the Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business, David is a true game-changer. An avid board contributor, founding member of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA), and advisor to multiple organizations, including Ellig Group.

It is our privilege to share this episode of Leadership Reimagined “Data Solutions for Better Corporate Governance” with David Chun!

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SHOW NOTES: DAVID CHUN

David Chun on his career trajectory

Yeah, so I guess I’ll start pretty much at the beginning. I grew up in New Jersey, right outside of New York. We were an immigrant family from Korea. Our ticket out of Korea was my dad’s ability to go get a scholarship at Fairleigh Dickinson University to get his MBA there. And so I did my undergrad at the University of Virginia, worked in strategy consulting at Bain in Boston, had a short stint at a software company, then got my MBA, then spent six years on Wall Street with Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette – a great firm that longer exists as they were acquired by Credit Suisse. That was probably the most influential experience in terms of what got me to where I am today for a whole host of reasons. I think it started with learning to understand the data. As an investment banker for six years, I spent a lot of time going through SEC filings and I began to recognize the wealth of data that was there. And that’s what inspired me to go out and start Equilar in the spring of 2000 to mine this data. And somehow we stumbled into this whole corporate governance area as Enron and Arthur Andersen were going out of business. I would point to that as the start of the modern era of corporate governance. As we all know, Sarbanes-Oxley came out of that, and there was a lot of focus on executive compensation, and that’s where it all started.

We have carved out an interesting niche in working with corporate America. The institutional investor community, the media, academics. Compensation, for a whole host of reasons, is an important part of the corporate governance dynamic. And that’s what really started Equilar. From there, we’ve been able to continue to grow Equilar and build other solutions. As you know, Janice, you’ve been an amazing champion for diversity. So while collecting the compensation data, we built a people database, and now we have a digital solution. And working with the Women’s Forum of New York, as you know, you and Maggie Wilderotter and others have done an amazing job of honoring companies who are doing the right thing, who are very thoughtful and intentional about it. And I am honored and blessed that I’m in a position where we are today to work with people like you.

David Chun on Equilar’s early years as a startup

In one word, it was tough. Let me explain why I left in March of 2000. Nasdaq had just broken through 5000. I’m out here in Silicon Valley. It’s the land of milk and honey. And then quickly, within a couple of weeks, the market started to soften, and then, frankly, crater. So we had raised a small amount of capital, about a million dollars through friends and family, but with the intention of going out and raising additional capital. But that market completely shut down. So for the first couple of years, we had to be very creative and entrepreneurial, and somehow, we pulled a rabbit out of a hat. We were able to find an interesting niche around compensation. And our first break, actually, was with Reuters. I distinctly remember this email exchange with the reporter Tim McLaughlin. He was covering Tyco and needed to know what the CFO at the time, Mark Swartz, made in 2001. And we were able to provide that information to him. That helped put us on the map.
To put this in perspective, those first three years, I was not taking any salary at all. Zero. And going from investment banking to a startup that wasn’t making any money. I had this conversation with my accountant. He said, “I’ve never had anybody in your situation that went from the bracket you were in last year to qualifying for an Earned Income Tax Credit the next year.” It was a very humbling experience because there were many, many days where I would wake up thinking, “am I crazy? What am I doing here?” But I also recognized that there was the opportunity, there were some green shoots that made me realize they wouldn’t be calling us back or engaging with us if they didn’t think what we were doing was meaningful. So thankfully, we were able to get to a point where we were a sustainable business and were generating enough revenue to cover our costs and eventually to be able to take a salary coming out of it. But yeah, those first couple of years were very challenging.
But much of what I do is driven by supporting my wife, who’s extraordinary. In 2010 Holy Trinity Brompton introduced us to IJM – International Justice Mission – and the plight of the world in terms of slavery, in terms of human trafficking. My wife is on the boards of Restore and Freedom from Fistula, and these are important to us as a couple. My role in these is supporting her so that she can do the leading in those areas.

Another important thing to note here is that corporations and corporate leaders are increasingly caring that the companies that they lead have a soul, have character, have a sense of values and a commitment to giving back. So, for instance, I chair Reference Point. Scott Goeden is the CEO there. It’s a terrific, very successful management consulting firm that specializes in the financial services sector. Scott commits a huge amount of time and energy to Africa New Day, looking at the incredible humanitarian crisis in the Congo. And it’s not a matter of just sending money overseas. He goes on site, he puts himself at risk. He spends considerable time there. That’s part of leading from the front, demonstrating to the staff that you care and in that sense, inspiring others.

David Chun on the power of Equilar’s database

When we started collecting the data, literally in spring of 2001, we got the compensation data, but we were also tracking, obviously, what executive and board members were receiving. And we made a very conscious decision from day one when a Tim Cook shows up at Apple and then a Tim Cook shows up at Nike, we wanted to make sure that we captured it in a way where it was the same Tim Cook. So it was a little extra effort to do that. But what that has allowed us to do is to build out the foundation of a pretty exciting executive board relationship database. And so while collecting the data, let’s say Tim Cook at Apple, and let’s say 2005 or 2010, we were also identifying who else was with Tim Cook at Apple during those years. We built out a database of about a million and a half executives and board members, individuals that they’ve interacted with, where they’ve overlapped. There are some very exciting applications for that. One is clearly around recruiting. We’re excited when companies say they cannot find candidates. My response is, “if you have 10 seconds, we can quickly go in and show you – here are the candidates.” But even better, they’re not only getting a list of profiles who could potentially fit the criteria, they’re seeing how they’re connected to those individuals. How they could potentially get to these individuals through a warm introduction through their trusted network. How they can identify people in their network. It can also serve as a reference for you when trying to do some background checking on individuals. So that’s a pretty unique aspect of what we’ve built out.

The first use cases were around executive and board recruiting. But frankly, the bigger opportunity is helping on the sales and business development side. So in addition to working with B2B sales organizations or working with private equity firms and others, I like to say we’re solving that last mile. “We’re trying to get to this individual or person or company. Who in our network knows this person? How do we get to that individual?” And inevitably, with what we’ve built out, with our data and our full tech stack, we can integrate email, activity data, and other signals to help people connect to individuals and companies, and frankly, accelerate business. And that’s something we’re very excited about.To put this in perspective, those first three years, I was not taking any salary at all. Zero. And going from investment banking to a startup that wasn’t making any money. I had this conversation with my accountant. He said, “I’ve never had anybody in your situation that went from the bracket you were in last year to qualifying for an Earned Income Tax Credit the next year.” It was a very humbling experience because there were many, many days where I would wake up thinking, “am I crazy? What am I doing here?” But I also recognized that there was the opportunity, there were some green shoots that made me realize they wouldn’t be calling us back or engaging with us if they didn’t think what we were doing was meaningful. So thankfully, we were able to get to a point where we were a sustainable business and were generating enough revenue to cover our costs and eventually to be able to take a salary coming out of it. But yeah, those first couple of years were very challenging.
But much of what I do is driven by supporting my wife, who’s extraordinary. In 2010 Holy Trinity Brompton introduced us to IJM – International Justice Mission – and the plight of the world in terms of slavery, in terms of human trafficking. My wife is on the boards of Restore and Freedom from Fistula, and these are important to us as a couple. My role in these is supporting her so that she can do the leading in those areas.

Another important thing to note here is that corporations and corporate leaders are increasingly caring that the companies that they lead have a soul, have character, have a sense of values and a commitment to giving back. So, for instance, I chair Reference Point. Scott Goeden is the CEO there. It’s a terrific, very successful management consulting firm that specializes in the financial services sector. Scott commits a huge amount of time and energy to Africa New Day, looking at the incredible humanitarian crisis in the Congo. And it’s not a matter of just sending money overseas. He goes on site, he puts himself at risk. He spends considerable time there. That’s part of leading from the front, demonstrating to the staff that you care and in that sense, inspiring others.

David Chun on the evolution of professional networking

My family came from Korea in 1968; we were the first ones in our family to be in the United States. So we didn’t have any cousins, we didn’t have any uncles or aunts. My parents didn’t have any friends. I think back to them and wonder, “oh my God, how did they do this?” And then fast forward 55 years later, and I’m on this podcast with you, and I look at the other people you’ve had on the podcast here, like Alex Gorsky, Julie Sweet, and the list goes on. I feel like I’m in that Talking Heads song – “how did I get here?” And so much of it has been people along the journey that have paid it forward for me, opened up doors, been very generous with their time and their resources to help connect me with others. I’ve done that in the analog world, but what we’ve built is a way to do it digitally: taking all the data that’s out there and recognizing that someone who I’m really good friends with or just had coffee with actually knows somebody that we’re trying to get to. And that’s something that we’re very excited about.

David Chun on changing corporate governance practices

Without question, boards are taken a lot more seriously. You pull SEC filings from 2000, and here’s one example. The CEO of Broadcom, I think, was Greg Reyes. And if you pull up the proxy from 2000, and if you look at the option grants he was getting that year, it was like the actual value of the grants were $400 or $500 million. There were three separate grants, and each grant was because the stock price would continue to go down, and they kept on granting more equity. You don’t see that anymore. And sadly for that individual, as some of you may recall, he ended up going to jail for backdating issues. So, without question, boards are taking their responsibilities so much more seriously than they did when I first started Equilar. And on the diversity front, you get calls, I’m sure, saying, “we’d like to have a diverse candidate.” And I’m often asked, “hey, we’re looking for somebody who can meet this criterion.” And I’m doing my best. I’m fortunate enough that through our work with you and others in building out the Equilar diversity network, we’re working with 50 different diverse organizations to help advance more diversity. I’ve been fortunate enough that we happen to interact with a lot of diverse candidates along the way. So I think whether it’s compensation, diversity, or any of a whole host of ESG related matters, without question, boards are taking it much more seriously and asking for the data and looking for resources.

David Chun on diversity in the CEO pipeline

Let’s start with the CEO. Most CEOs, they’ve come through as General Manager of the Unit, Chief Revenue Officer, something that’s more growth-oriented. And as we all know, most CEOs will have a board seat. So I think it’s critical: we’ve made tremendous progress so far, but I think there’s also an opportunity to look at how to get more women with P&L responsibilities that are focused on the growth of the business. Because that’s ultimately the more likely the path into a CEO role.

David Chun on CEO succession pitfalls

CEO succession planning is the unpleasant conversation about what would happen if the CEO were to get hit by a bus or get into an accident – who are the candidates in the pipeline? Well, that is the number one responsibility of the board. Because if you think about the governance issues that companies have had over time, it’s often driven by not having the right CEO in the role. So the succession plan is absolutely crucial.The “organ rejection rate” of CEOs brought in from outside is very high – typically close to half of outside CEOs don’t even make it past a year or two. An issue we’ve looked at that’s related to this is the pay of CEOs for an internal promotion versus an external hire. In an internal promotion, when the person who’s right below the CEO gets promoted to CEO, they’re very happy to get promoted. Obviously they’ll get a raise as part of it, but it’s typically a relatively modest increase from before. The minute you need to go outside, that changes. And so you bring in an outside CEO. And for better or for worse, their salary information is now publicly available. And so if you think about all the folks internally who did not get that role, and then they see the pay package of somebody brought in from the outside, then you see the board scrambling to retain the key executive talent that knows how to run the business. So you have this ripple effect of what ends up happening if that CEO succession decision isn’t handled properly.

David Chun on exciting developments at Equilar

I’m always a big fan of challenging people and helping them grow into the role. And so it’s been exciting to see people grow their careers here and taking on increased responsibility, seeing people like the research team getting published and quoted in major media publications.

David Chun on Equilar’s partnership with Intapp

Recruiting is an important part of what we’re doing with our database. But another big use case for the dataset is around business development. Getting back to solving that last mile, how do we connect to an executive or board member? Within Intapp, they have a product called DealCloud. And DealCloud is the leading CRM for private equity. So if you talk to some of your private equity clients and you ask them, how are we tracking deals? More often than not, it will be DealCloud. And if you think about a CRM – even if you’re using Salesforce, and we do also have a Salesforce app – the biggest challenge around any CRM is that it’s only as good as the data that goes into it. And if you think about a CRM, the data, that’s the fuel, that’s the gasoline for the engine. And if you put dirty gasoline in an engine, it’s not going to run. And the challenge is that when, for example, you have someone who’s the CEO of a company, but they’re also on the board of another company, 99% of CRMs that are out there today, will treat those as separate records. As if we have one Julie Sweet here, and another Julie Sweet over there, though it’s actually the same person in real life. What we do is we unify all that and that’s what we’re doing with DealCloud and with Salesforce and others. That allows the users of these tools to effectively figure out, okay, how do we take advantage of our network? Who do we know in our ecosystem to be able to connect to an individual, to be able to recruit somebody, to be able to form a partnership with somebody? And so that’s what we’re excited about: using our data to really help accelerate business.

David Chun on the future of the boardroom

There’s going to be a greater appetite for data, and there’s going to be, frankly, greater pressure on boards in terms of performance and accountability. Look at the rise of activists over the last 15-20 years – they’re not going away. And we’re seeing everything around ESG, around diversity, around pay equity. At some point – honestly, I don’t know – does the board become almost a full-time job? The list of things that are being added to their plate, it’s not getting shorter. I think that the expectations will just continue to increase. Boards will continue to get more diverse. In our latest gender diversity index, what we did see was that about a year ago, new board appointments were about 50-50, women versus men. It has since actually inched down a bit, so it’s about 40-60 now, women versus men. So it appears that the momentum that had picked up over the last couple of years has slightly turned in the other direction. Whether that continues in that direction or comes back, we’ll see. But we’ve seen some promising things. For example, SB 826 was blocked here in California, but there’s now talk about getting that back in place; Senator Jackson and others are working on that. So I think boards will get more diverse. It’s just a question how quickly that rate of change will occur.

David Chun’s parting advice for board members

I would say the board journey is a continuing, evolving process. You need to stay on top of the latest developments. We had, just a couple of months ago, the focus on the new pay-versus-performance guidelines. So you just need to continue to learn and take advantage of resources that are out there. I think one thing that’s happened with boards is that their work has become more a compliance exercise and less a strategic exercise. So I think it’s important that boards take a step back and recognize, “Okay. The reason we’re on this board is not only to handle the regulatory issues and requirements, but more importantly, to help. Make sure we carve out enough time to focus on the strategic issues.” Whether to grow the company as an independent entity. Whether M&A is part of that. Whether they should be selling out to somebody else and to not getting too wrapped up in the compliance aspects.
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Tonie Leatherberry was at Deloitte for nearly three decades where she was the principal architect of The Board Leadership Forum and the NextGen CEO Academy, each of which has had a meaningful impact, ultimately placing more than 70 Black leaders into executive-level and board roles. As Chair Emeritus of the Executive Leadership Council, she created the Chairman’s Council of Academic Achievement to address achievement gaps for students of color in America’s educational systems, and as President of the Deloitte Foundation, the mission was to drive initiatives to develop future leaders through education. She is a passionate leader who has devoted much of her professional life to creating opportunities for women and people of color. Tonie is Lead director for Direct Digital Holdings, and a Board Director at Zoetis Inc. and American Family Insurance.

Cindie Jamison was elected Chair of the Darden Restaurants Board (NYSE: DRI) in September 2023, having served as a Director since October 2014 as part of a complete Board replacement slate through Starboard Value’s proxy fight. Since 2013, she has also served on the Office Depot Board (NASDAQ: ODP) where she Chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Compensation Committee. In May 2015, she joined the Big Lots, Inc (NYSE: BIG) Board, and became Chair in May 2022. In May 2023 Cindie stepped down from the Tractor Supply Company Board (NASDAQ:TSCO), a position she has held since 2002, where she was Chairman of the Board, after serving as Lead Director, and Chair of the Audit, Compensation & Corporate Governance Committees. Cindie joined the Board of Save the Children in February 2024.

David Chun, Founder and CEO, Equilar, Inc., has led Equilar since its inception to become one of the most trusted names in the corporate governance community. David has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Players in Corporate Governance” by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Disruptor Award by 2020 Women on Boards and Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business. David speaks publicly on corporate governance and board diversity matters, including events hosted by The Conference Board, Deloitte, EY, HR Policy Association, KPMG, NACD, NASDAQ, NYSE, The Society for Corporate Governance and Stanford’s Directors’ College. Prior to founding Equilar, David was a Vice President in the Investment Banking Division of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, a global investment bank that has since merged with Credit Suisse. Before DLJ, David was a management consultant with Bain & Company and also Kenan Systems, a telecom software developer acquired by Lucent Technologies. David serves on the boards of the Commonwealth Club of California, PGA Reach, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). He is on Nasdaq’s Center for Board Excellence Advisory Board and Catalyst’s Women on Board Advisory Council. David is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Past Chair of the SF Bay Chapter, a founding member of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and a former board member of the Wharton Center for Entrepreneurship and the Asian Pacific Fund Community Foundation of San Francisco.

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Priscilla Sims Brown serves as President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, a full-service bank, lender and investment manager with a century-long commitment to advancing positive social change. Amalgamated Financial Corp., the holding company for the Bank, is the first publicly traded (NASDAQ: AMAL) financial institution to be a public benefit corporation. Priscilla guides Amalgamated Bank in championing social responsibility through values-based banking, customer-centric services, and mission focused lending, serving individuals and organizations, including climate groups, foundations, labor unions, advocacy groups, political campaigns, and other socially responsible businesses, who care that their deposits are put to work for good. Priscilla is also dedicated to addressing environmental and social justice issues at Amalgamated Bank. More than 60% of the Bank’s lending and select balance sheet investments are high-impact through affordable housing, nonprofits, and climate solutions. Named one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2023 by American Banker, Priscilla has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, PBS, and CNBC Changemakers, among others.

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Myra Biblowit is the President Emeritus of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the nation’s highest-rated breast cancer research organization with a mission focused exclusively on funding the world’s most promising research. Myra took the helm as BCRF President in 2001 and, after 22 years, retired in April 2023. During Myra’s tenure, BCRF funding enabled breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, metastasis, and survivorship. Myra was widely recognized for leading one of the most impactful, financially efficient, and transparent nonprofits in the United States. Prior, Myra was Vice Dean for External Affairs at NYU Medical Center where she headed the Development, Alumni Relations and Public Relations departments. Previously she led the capital campaign as Senior Vice President of the American Museum of Natural History. Earlier, Myra served as Executive Vice President of the Central Park Conservancy. Myra is a member of the Board of Directors of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the Housewares Charity Foundation and the Historic House Trust of New York City. She is a member of the New York Women’s Forum, the Yellow for Pink National Council, Extraordinary Women on Boards and serves on the Advisory Board of Project Hope for Ovarian Cancer Research & Education.

Truett Tate is Chairman of a number of Boards, including Reference Point, TLC Lions, Thinkably and the recently retired Chairman of QBE, NA. Truett Tate is also Director of the DEVClever board. Truett has a long and esteemed global executive history including most recently as CEO of ANZ USA, Europe, Japan, Korea and the Middle East. Immediately prior, he was Group Executive (and Board member) at Lloyds Banking Group, responsible for Wholesale & International Banking (Including Global Wealth and International Retail) across the United Kingdom, the Americas and worldwide and prior spending 27 years at Citigroup where he held a variety of senior roles including corporate banking business across each of its regional geographies. Truett’s long board history includes Virgin Group, Ten Group, the BITC, BAB Inc along with many other charitable and academic organizations. A speaker, guest lecturer, philanthropist and professional coach/mentor, Truett has seemingly bottomless energy and passionate interest in a safer, more just, more humane and more sustainable world.

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Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com