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Leadership Reimagined: Best of 2022

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Every month, Ellig Group CEO Janice Ellig interviews game-changing business and thought leaders on her podcast, Leadership Reimagined. As 2022 comes to a close, here are some of our favorite insights from this year’s guests.

OneTen CEO Maurice Jones on the Pitfalls of Re-credentialing Jobs

One of our teammates who works in HR at one of our companies said to me, “Look: when I hire somebody who has a four-year degree and they don’t work out, people will say, ‘look, not everybody works out. We know that. We know we’re taking a chance.’ But when I hire someone who doesn’t have a four-year degree and they don’t work out, then people respond, ‘what were you thinking? Of course they weren’t going to work out.’” It’s that kind of mentality that we’re trying to change here. We can re-credential as many jobs as there are stars in the sky. But unless and until people really believe in the merit of skills-first approaches, then we’re going to have people default to the reliance that they’ve had on the proxy of a credential to tell them something. Actually, when you effectively look at it, the credential really isn’t used in a lot of cases to tell you whether someone can do the job or not. It’s more often used just to weed people out. The biggest challenge I think we have across the board is a mindset shift.

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet on the ideal qualities of a leader

Our number one quality is, “Are they going to be learners?” And we ask a very simple question. If it’s to a college kid, we say, “[Other than in school,] what have you learned in the last six months?” And we don’t care if the answer is, “I learned how to make paella, I learned to ski,” or, “I got a new certificate in another kind of technology.” The point is we believe that learning agility is absolutely critical for our workforce today. If you think about the pandemic, in the first six months after the pandemic, we trained a hundred thousand people in skills that were in much more demand. So, cloud exploded. The need for collaboration tools like Teams exploded, and we needed more people who could work with clients on those skills.

At any given time, we are asking and needing our people to be skilled. We spend a billion dollars a year on training and development. Therefore I believe that’s important, not just for an Accenture… We’re all about change and we’re constantly learning new things for our clients. I think that’s true in all clients today because the life expectancy of skills is much shorter today. So something like 30% of skills in 2017 in the Fortune 500 companies are no longer relevant today. And so you really need a workforce that is able to learn and has a thirst for learning. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated, as you can see from the way we do it, in terms of getting at, “Am I hiring someone who’s a learner?”

Alphabet Board Director Robin Washington on her first board position

My first board experience came from my audit chair when I was the Chief Accounting Officer at PeopleSoft, and they were looking to add diversity on the board. I joined my first board before I even became a CFO. And it was a sponsor that I had who thought I could bring something to the table as well as learn. And I’m forever grateful for that experience because it gave me insight into the boardroom while I was still developing my financial career. I say often that I think I became a better CFO because of that exposure in the boardroom and understanding how the board looked at issues that the CFO had responsibility for and thinking about strategy in general. 

As I became a CFO, I was on two smaller boards. Both of the companies were sold. And as I came up to speed and got comfortable with what I was doing in my CFO role at Gilead, I put the desire to be on a Fortune 500 board on my list of goals and objectives, and I talked to my audit chair and our CEO and COO about it, and they were supportive. That was the first, and the rest were through relationships or through developing that expertise.

One thing I’ve learned through my board experience is, yes, I may have the financial expertise, but more importantly, I think good board members are broader than just that. So I’ve really tried to be selective in the boards that I choose to serve on. My criteria being that I can add value in a multitude of ways, not just as a financial expert; and that I have a genuine interest in the business models, goals, objectives, and mission that we’re undertaking.

Cien+ and CulturIntel CEO Lili Gil Valletta defines “Cultural Intelligence” and discusses diversity as a business imperative

Cultural intelligence is summed up by three verbs: be aware, understand, and apply cultural competence and inclusive data. A lot of people are aware, because of diversity and implicit bias training, which does a good job of raising awareness. But if you don’t graduate from awareness to understanding what that means for you and your organization – and certainly if you don’t apply that understanding in meaningful ways –  it’s just an academic exercise. Unfortunately, in many cases, diversity tends to be thought of as a form of altruism. Or, to borrow the language of a very good article from Harvard Business Review, as  “vanity metrics” or “compliance theater”. 

I prefer to view diversity very pragmatically. Is it the right thing to do? Sure. But more importantly, it’s the smart thing to do for shareholder value and for keeping your company viable and competitive. Why? Because women make 80% of purchasing decisions, and if you’re losing them at a higher rate than other professionals and still have gaps in leadership, you may be creating a huge blind spot in your understanding of the people doing the purchasing. 

At the same time, the demographics of our country are shifting. By the year 2040, we will be a minority-majority nation. Those minorities – Black, Hispanic, et cetera – are the segments with the fastest growth rates in terms of population and purchasing power. You need a strategy that accounts for what that means for your business, and I’m not talking about your dashboard of how many people you have of a certain background. I mean, how those changes affect your actual investment decisions, new product development, market strategies and so on. Then you’ll be missing out on what’s driving all growth and represents almost 50% of the American population. In my TED Talk, I challenge the conventional wisdom of how and why we prioritize diversity. It cannot just be a token altruistic mission, or a single public statement.

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Casey’s CEO Darren Rebelez on DEI in executive search

Gender parity is important to me because it just makes sense. Going back to my approach with leadership and teams, I think having groups of diverse people just leads to better outcomes. I think that’s been well documented. In terms of specific advice for other CEOs or boards, I don’t think it’s any more complicated than knowing what it is you’re looking for, for board candidates in particular, upfront before you start looking at candidates. I think sometimes our boards tend to look at the candidate first and then try to backfit that individual into what they might need. But if you look at the qualifications first, that leads you to a certain slate. You have to insist on a diverse slate of candidates, and not just a slate to check a box, but a diverse slate of qualified candidates. Sometimes that’s a little bit more work to do. But I have yet to find a situation in which we’ve demanded a diverse slate of qualified candidates and not gotten one. At that point, it’s just a matter of picking the best candidate for the job. In my experience, when you start with a diverse slate, you end up with diverse people being best candidates a good portion of the time. Keep doing that, and you’ll end up with gender parity and ethnic diversity on your board. 

Verizon Board Director and former MetricStream CEO Shellye Archambeau on letting go of responsibility

Before my husband, Scotty, decided to be a stay-at-home dad, we had nannies, and I managed the nannies kind of like I managed my job. I was the primary person. Scotty directed, too, but I took it on as my primary responsibility. So when he started staying home, I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I was kind of treating him like the nanny, saying every morning, “okay, Scotty, don’t forget to do such and such and so and so like this, and don’t forget, Kethlyn needs this. I didn’t realize that I was, in essence, micromanaging him. Finally, he just said “listen, either I’m doing the job the way I want to do it, or I’m not doing it,” which is perfectly fair. It taught me that when you’re not responsible, you need to let go. It was a broader life lesson, because a lot of times we take on help, meaning we get people to help us and support us, but we keep the ultimate responsibility. What we need to do is make bandwidth, both in mindshare and in terms of what we can do physically. We actually need to let go of responsibility. And I did learn that. Later on, Scotty had responsibility for laundry. I never asked him when he was going to do it. I didn’t do anything. It got done or it didn’t get done. If it didn’t get done, then I’d go out and buy a pair of underwear. But I didn’t micromanage, because as soon as you take responsibility, even if they’re doing it, it’s still on your plate, and it still takes up mindshare. 

Equilar Founder/CEO 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.

UPS CEO Carol Tomé on carbon neutrality by 2050

We in the shipping and supply chain industry are greenhouse gas hogs. We drive a lot of vehicles, we fly a lot of planes. In fact, we emit over 35 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses every year. Our commitment at UPS is that by 2050 we will be carbon neutral. In other words, we will reduce our carbon emissions or we will deploy carbon offsets that help us reach that goal. We’ve already started. We have, for example, a rolling laboratory of vehicles that are powered by alternative fuels. For example, electric vehicles or vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. We have started to change how we power our buildings by using renewable energy. The two data centers that power our network are now powered by renewable energy. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of powering 5,000 homes. We believe reducing our emissions is not only good for business, but also good for the planet. 

The most difficult hurdle is sustainable aviation fuel. We fly about 600 planes every day, and there is not enough sustainable aviation fuel available in the market today. So we’re working with the airline industry and alternative fuels manufacturers to find a solution. This isn’t just a problem for UPS, it’s a problem for anybody who’s flying a plane. One really exciting prospect is the work we’re doing with a company called Beta Technologies to procure electric vertical takeoff and landing (EVTOL) aircraft. We’ll take delivery of that aircraft in 2024. It’s a cargo plane powered by a battery. It doesn’t carry a lot of cargo, and it certainly can’t fly across the ocean, but it could be a feeder aircraft. So if you think about small feeder aircraft that are flying around, helping us move packages around the country, we could replace all those with this electric aircraft. We’re super excited about that. 

Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims Brown on gun control

We already use merchant category codes (MCCs) to detect illegal activity that’s occurring in other areas, whether it be mortgage fraud, trafficking, etc. We can detect purchase and transfer patterns that do not look right, and when we see such activity, we can alert authorities through something called a Suspicious Activity Report. We don’t have that ability with guns because there’s no merchant category code for gun stores. Without the code, we can’t gather the data from gun stores that we would need to create algorithms to detect likely illegal activity. 

Amalgamated asked for a merchant code to be assigned to guns. We were denied. We appealed. We were denied again, and we were not given the opportunity to appeal. So, unfortunately, that meant we had to go public a little bit with this. Now we are in the midst of conversations with the International Standard Organization, which has accepted the idea that we should have an appeal and we should know by August whether or not MCCs will be granted. 

An MCC for guns would give us the ability to detect things called straw purchases. This is where an illegal gun is purchased by someone who can legally buy guns. They buy it on their credit card, but they’re buying it for the purpose of handing it over to someone else who could not legally buy it. From a bank’s perspective, what we see is a credit card purchase by a legal gun owner, followed by the same amount of money being added into the purchaser’s account. When we see this kind of activity, we alert authorities, who then investigate to determine whether or not a straw purchase has occurred. Straw purchases have just been made formally illegal by new legislation, but they’re hard to detect without access to the kind of data financial institutions have for other products. 

The bottom line is that financial institutions have a responsibility to make sure that our systems are not being used for nefarious purposes. Given the right information, we have the ability to detect that. And because this is important to us at Amalgamated Bank, we’re fighting to obtain that information.

Bombas CEO Dave Heath on retaining talent

Early on we said we were going to be fully transparent on everything going on in the business, whether that’s financial performance, whether we’re going to raise capital, whether we’re hiring new people, whatever we’re doing, we wanted to bring every employee along for the ride. And then we also treated people like human beings and realized that people’s lives outside the office were oftentimes more important than their lives inside the office. And it’s a really big, fundamental shift, I think, when you can see your employees as human beings and realize that their pets get sick, they have breakups, they have floods in their apartments. None of these are things that they want to go through. But if you say, “I’m going to create a little bit of space for you to be able to deal with the challenges that life naturally throws at us,” the amount of gratitude and loyalty that you get back is profound. And I always said, if you want to attract the top talent, top talent always has an option to go work anywhere because they’re the best. The best people always have places to work. And I decided it’s my duty as the CEO and the employer of this company to do whatever I can to make these people as happy as possible. That’s just a general philosophy that we’ve adopted, and I think that’s translated into why we continue to attract and retain the best people.

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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