PODCAST: What does it take to make it in the boardroom?
Pull up a chair and hear from widely experienced senior business leaders. This week Janice Ellig discusses – What Does Good Boardroom Leadership Look Like?
Boardroom Bound shares tactics and strategies to help aspiring and existing board members bring their best selves to the boardroom. From corporate governance skills to business, strategic and financial acumen, this podcast will help you think about who you are and how you operate so that you can build a successful career in leadership.
Show Notes: Boardroom Bound Interviews Janice Ellig
JANICE ELLIG ON DIVERSITY IN BOARD SEARCHES
We’re a women-owned firm, and our diversity stats are exceptional, but at the end of the day, our clients come to us because our results are phenomenal as well. They know that we are going to give them great slates of great candidates. Nobody’s ever unqualified. They’re always qualified. So we get the believers. Our clients know that they will be more innovative and they also know that their employees, their consumers, their communities and their shareholders will be looking at them in terms of who is at the top of the house, in the boardroom, and in the C-suite. And they will be the employer of choice. The consumers will go to them, their communities will value them more and their shareholders will obviously benefit. So this is the four legs of the stool. And so when you get companies where CEOs know it’s the right thing to do, it becomes a business imperative. And then when one CEO sees the other CEO doing it and they’re benefiting from it they follow each other. And I think the press also has been out there more as of late saying you don’t want to be seen as the laggard. You don’t want to be seen as the one who is not forging ahead. And there’s so many studies out there. McKinsey, Peterson Institute, Catalyst, Deloitte, they’re all showing that greater diversity, more innovative companies, better financial performance, better reputation, employers of choice. The correlation is so strong that companies know that that’s the right thing to do and once they get there, they don’t even give it a second thought. So the boards I speak to, the CEOs that I have interviewed will say it’s just a matter of business now. We don’t even think of it twice. When we have openings, we demand a diverse slate from our search partners or whomever we’re working with.
JANICE ELLIG ON THE ORIGIN OF THE WOMEN’S FORUM OF NEW YORK BREAKFAST OF CORPORATE CHAMPIONS
When I was President of the Women’s Forum of New York in 2011, and I said, okay, I’ll take this on, but I want to do something that’s going to make a difference. I started thinking about how we could encourage more companies to get more women into top-level corporate leadership. I asked Ilene Lang, who was then President & CEO of Catalyst, how the numbers were looking for women on boards and in the C-suite. Long story short, the numbers were not great. I said, “okay, you do your Catalyst dinner where you honor some companies. What if we did the same thing for Fortune 1000 and S&P 500 companies whose boards meet certain gender composition benchmarks?” At that time, the average board was roughly 16%, so I said, “let’s honor those who are at 20% and above.” That was the bar for our first Breakfast of Corporate Champions in 2011, and we decided we’d make it a biennial event and raise that bar each time. This year will be our fifth biennial sold-out event, and we will honor 325 companies that are 30% or more. What’s really wonderful is that the number of invitees has gone up even though we raised the bar for entry, which is not what we expected. So we’re definitely seeing progress, but we still have far to go to reach the 50% parity mark.
The event works because companies like to be honored, and when they make the list, they get to put out press releases about being honored by the Women’s Forum of New York. We convene over 600 executives at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. And we have panels which will include Michael Corbat of Citigroup, Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy, who just stepped down and promoted a woman to replace him. We have Larry Merlo, then CEO of CVS. We have Maggie Wilderotter, we have Meg Whitman, Pat Russo, Brian Moynihan… we get a wonderful line up of CEOs, and we have great network moderators. They convene, they talk about the business imperative. They sponsor women for boards. There’s no other event that gets over 600 executives together to speak about this business imperative. So we’re very pleased about this.
JANICE ELLIG ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SPONSORSHIP IN FOSTERING WOMEN’S CAREERS
CEOs need to sponsor women that they know and have seen in the boardroom setting. They need to put them into various databases that are out there. One is the Women’s Forum database, where it’s free of charge. Committee chairs can tap into it; they just have to go to our database. Search firms have a role to play as well. But I think more importantly, CEOs need to pick up the phone and call each other and say, “Charlie, I’ve got a great woman who’s my chief auditor, highly qualified. She’s the head of one of my business units; she runs a $2 billion division.” Or, “She’s my CMO, she’s chief digital officer,” et cetera. The CEOs need to pick up the phone and make sure that the woman’s name is known to others. I always say that it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
JANICE ELLIG ON WAYS WOMEN CAN IMPROVE THEIR CANDIDACY FOR BOARD POSITIONS
I do monthly calls with women who want to get on the board, and the first thing I tell them is to join the NACD [National Association of Corporate Directors]. They have wonderful lunches and breakfasts, where you can rub elbows with people who are on boards. That’s a great way of getting educated.
Another big thing is to improve your external visibility. Publish, speak, be a thought leader, look at your media presence. Do you have a YouTube presence? Make sure it’s good. Your LinkedIn presence, I think it’s important for that to be a positive one. Get involved in large not-for-profits. I say large because oftentimes you’ll be rubbing elbows again with influential people who can be helpful to you. It also shows that you are civically giving back. And I think that’s a major piece of who you are as a person. You can also be on private equity boards or private company boards. Let people know about your networks, your professional associations, your colleges, or universities.
The next question to ask yourself is, “what is your brand? What do you stand for? What are you an expert on?” You can’t be an expert in everything, but make sure that you are known for something, whether it be cybersecurity, finance, marketing. Have an impressive bio – don’t make people work to see what you’re all about. People who are already on boards can really be very helpful to you in terms of helping you sell yourself and position yourself.
JANICE ELLIG ON NETWORKING AT NOT-FOR-PROFITS
Size does matter because you have to look at who’s on the board and see if there are people who can be helpful to you. The not-for-profit’s mission has to resonate with you just like a for-profit does. Never go on a board that doesn’t fit – if minerals and mining is not a corporate board you want to be on, don’t go on it. You have to enjoy the people, the product and the services, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with the individuals and with that company, whether it be a for-profit or a not-for-profit. If you find the right not-for-profit, it can introduce you to some very helpful, influential people who can help you get on a for-profit board down the road. Plus it shows you’re giving back to the community. It says something about you as a person. I never discount that. In fact, I look for people who are giving back. To give back is a privilege.
JANICE ELLIG ON THE ORIGINS OF HER LEADERSHIP REIMAGINED PODCAST
I wanted to talk to leaders who were leading their companies in new and different ways. I have one coming up about the medical profession, how they’re looking at delivering medical services in a different way. The one I just did was about insurance and making insurance exciting. And in finance, how to level the playing field for how women can invest and have a retirement. Just really looking at life differently and making the planet better. I just finished reading The Moment of Lift, and I’d love to interview Melinda Gates. This planet needs new leadership, and I’m so interested in speaking to individuals who are reimagining what this world is going to be like down the road.
I decided to do the podcast because I wanted to make myself and my firm more relevant, by talking to individuals who are really reimagining their own organizations and companies in both the for-profit and not-for-profit spaces. We all learn by speaking with others.
JANICE ELLIG ON HOW BOARDROOMS WILL CHANGE IN THE FUTURE
I think boardrooms are going to have to have even longer conversations because the jobs of tomorrow aren’t even known yet. Robotics and AI are going to change so many jobs. So boardroom directors need to ask, “what are we going to be doing strategically? Where are we going to be going?” Some companies that are on the S&P 500 today are not even going to be there tomorrow. You don’t want to be the company that’s going to be gone, so whom will you have to merge with? How will you have to change? To succeed, these conversations will require even more diversity in the boardroom. Different age groups, different backgrounds, people totally out of the sector. Maybe you’re not in the insurance arena at all. You’re really in media. You come from a totally different background, so you can have a totally different conversation. I think the boardrooms are going to become these assortments of superstars from different sectors, and it’s going to be a whole new dynamic going on.
I remember boardroom meetings in the past where everybody went to Harvard, everybody had a finance background, everybody kind of agreed with one another, and we just went forward, and we bought that company. And it’s not going to be like that. It just isn’t going to happen.
JANICE ELLIG ON OVERBOARDING
Overboarding is going to be a thing of the past. You cannot do it. Boards are going to be filled with new names, new backgrounds, and younger people on fewer boards. Something like 30% of board directors are over 70 years of age now. I think you need multigenerational boards. With the rapid advancement of technology, it won’t be feasible to have a preponderance of people in one age group.