15. Dede Orraca-Cecil on what it takes to build a company board and find great company leadership

November 1, 2020

Dede Orraca-Cecil is a member of Egon Zehnder, an international executive search and leadership advisory firm, where she leads efforts in almost every aspect of what a company or organization needs in leadership and governance. She talks about identifying company leadership and board building – what it takes and how the conversation has changed.

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Links

https://www.linkedin.com/in/dede-orraca-cecil/

https://www.egonzehnder.com/office/boston/consultant/dede-orraca-cecil

Quotes

“How have recent events, including the death of George Floyd and everything that’s followed, impacted how diversity and inclusion is viewed on for-profit boards?”

I would say it has had a material impact. I think going into this we have had this conversation about diversity on boards over the last few years – it is not a new one.  We’ve seen slow progress with an initial focus on gender.  But what we’re seeing now is a shift where there is more comfort or directness in engaging on discussions around racial and ethnic diversity and it’s not just the boardroom.

I think what we’ve seen since May is really a more openness and in fact, more of an expectation coming from the client around running inclusive processes. People feel more comfortable or more empowered to say: “we need to do something about the representation on our board and in our organizations and we need your help and support in doing that.”

So, the client is driving a lot of these discussions asking: “How do we focus on this? What can we do differently?  How do we think about our pipeline for our board? How do we think about board readiness?  These are conversations that maybe before we might’ve been introducing or leading with and now we have a lot of clients who are beating us to the punch and asking that before we even get to it. 

Big Ideas/Thoughts

Building a High-Performing Board

You’re looking for a more colorful tapestry of experiences on a board. You want to understand not just a person’s capacity, but you really understand what is it that this board is trying to solve for and what are the certain skills that will help accomplish those goals.

We’re in a time where, when we say “culture fit” that can sometimes set people off on a path where you’re worried about creating a homogenous environment, so I want to just clarify.  We’re not trying to create a board where “culture” means we all act the same, we all speak the same.  In fact, what we’re looking for is actually different, the underlying kind of rules engagement.  How do we communicate? How do we show up? How do we create a space where you get that right level of critical thinking, creative abrasion, if you will?  You want a space where people can bring themselves fully to the board, in a way that also doesn’t create sharp elbows or knock others out from being able to contribute their voice.

Board searches and board work operate on a different cycle. In the best-case scenarios, you start looking for your directors with enough time and window to bring somebody on board. Not only just to find the right director candidates, but to actually spend enough time with the board itself, to get a feel for how they engage and interact.

Off-boarding board members

Nobody wants to be the bad cop. Nobody wants to off-board, especially in a scenario where they are preexisting relationships, where you’ve gotten to know person over time and then I think that’s fine. A little tongue in cheek, but that’s probably why we have a some of the work that we have. It’s much easier to hire an outsider to come in and help facilitate that process than to be the ones that tell your fellow director and off board someone.

If you think about it, the board is one big team, and you really want to establish a sense of how effectively they are working together as a team.  It used to be that some people would call this board assessment, the spirit of it is “how do we make sure that we’re the most high performing board that we can be.”  Often in those discussions or in those kinds of, engagements, it gives, the board chair a way to look across the team to see where new kind of capabilities could come in and, and where maybe some contributions are not as valuable.

“Why would a company pay six figures to find a board member? You know most boards believe that through their own networks, they can identify and recruit board members.  How do you answer that question? What’s the value proposition?”

We’ve seen an era where bad performance at the company level cannot just take down a company, but an entire industry, it makes you take a step back to think about the roles and responsibilities of boards. That has led to a shift in the nature and seriousness around board composition and responsibility and duties.  What competencies do we want to look for? What skill sets are we looking for? And how can we actually create more diverse and inclusive representation on the board as well?  These are areas that are complex and it’s hard to necessarily just rely on your own network.  Going to a firm like ours or the others, allows you to tackle those efforts with reinforcements.

Diversity Pipeline

“Raza and I have had conversations that for a while people used the lack of pipeline as maybe an excuse for not actually being as aggressive in diversity as they might otherwise be and in the conversations we’ve had in the last couple of months, it feels like that just isn’t going to fly anymore. That’s really, it’s really just not a valid, like no one buys that excuse anymore.”

You can’t say, well, I don’t know where they are.  Or they don’t exist, you know, we do exist. We are here and people’s willingness to rely on some of that old complacency isn’t there really anymore and the across the ecosystem.  Each of us is being challenged around norms that we used to assume or accept. One of those things being the pipeline. What does that mean and how does that shift the work?

It can shift the work in a few different ways. When some says they can’t find somebody I ask  – is it true that you can’t find anybody?  Well, it depends on what the spec is. It depends on what we’re looking for and how we’re defining a director’s experiences in each event.  If you were to say, well, we only want a sitting CEO of a Fortune 50, well, of course that pipeline going to look very different. Do you then rely on that very specific spec and say, well, we tried, but the pipeline is different? Or do you think about what’s underlying that request?  What are the true needs of the board. 

Is it important to have a Fortune 50 CEO? Or are you actually looking for something else in that executive to contribute to the board. If we go there, we can actually move the spec a bit further and give ourselves room actually build a more robust and diverse pipeline.

What are the new models of leadership that you’re exploring, what does that refer to?

If you look at how the world has changed, we’ve seen greater convergence around sectors.  Often if you’re leading a large institution, you’re thinking about your employees, you’re thinking about your consumers, but you’re also thinking about governments and you are thinking about civil society. When you’re looking at new models of leadership, it’s how do you actually engage across those things? How fluid are you as a senior executive moving from the public to the private, how facile are you in terms of engaging with heads of state and not just your consumer base.

Then there’s that other piece that we alluded to earlier, which is this notion of moving beyond thinking about shareholder value and really this concept of stakeholder capitalism. What does that require of a leader? How adaptive are you?  How are you looking at the individual?

Transcript

Joe: [00:00:00]  Hi and welcome to On Boards: a Deep Look at Driving Business Success. I’m Joe Ayoub and I’m here with my cohost Raza Shaikh. On Boards is about boards of directors and advisors and all aspects of board governance. Twice a month this is the place to learn about one of the most critically important aspects of any company or organization, its board of directors or advisors.

Raza: [00:00:31] Joe and I speak with a wide range of guests and talk about what makes great boards great or makes a board unsuccessful, what it takes to be a valuable member and how to make your board one of the most valuable assets for your company.

 Joe: [00:00:46] Our guest today is Dede Orraca-Cecil.  Dede is a member of Egon Zehnder, an international executive search and leadership advisory firm, where she leads efforts in almost every aspect of what a company [00:01:00] or organization needs in leadership and governance. That includes executive search and recruitment, board recruitment, board and management appraisals and effectiveness, and diversity in the boardroom and C-suite.

Raza: [00:01:15] Dede has a distinguished background and experience including as a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s First Mover fellowship program, serves as a trusted advisor to CEOs, boards, and senior executives across industry sectors for both public private, and also for nonprofits. Dede works on a wide range of leadership performance and talent projects, including talent acquisition and assessment, leadership and organizational agility.

Joe: [00:01:47] Welcome Dede. It’s great to have you as a guest today on On Boards.

Dede: [00:01:51] Thank you guys for having me. I’m excited.

Joe: [00:01:54] I met you for the first time several years ago, as you may remember, on a [00:02:00] board search for an organization and I’m just curious, how much of your time is on board search along with the other things that you do? How does your time divide these days?

Dede: [00:02:11] I would say personally I spend maybe a quarter to a third of my time on board work which can include both the recruitment piece, but also our advisory. So, it may not just be recruiting a director. We may work on succession. We work on effectiveness. So there are a host of things.  As a firm, I would say, we are quite active in the board room.  I think the number is over 3,600 or 3,700 in board consulting engagements in the last five years.

Joe: [00:02:41] So when you are working on a board recruitment, looking to fill one or more board seats, how big a factor is overall board composition in the process and how do you go about doing that assessment?

Dede: [00:02:55] I would say it board composition is a big part and so when we’re planning for recruitment, a [00:03:00] lot of times you want to both, it’s a balance between coming in with a point of view, but also spending enough time and really, understanding kind of where the board is, where we’re meeting the board today and so often what happens is when we go into a discussion, we’ve done maybe an initial analysis around the current board composition, and we’re looking at a number of factors . So, it’s not just who’s on the board, but we’re looking at a matrix of experiences, of tenure, of capacity in addition to kind of industries and functions that people have played in their executive life. We do like to come and really think about kind of the entirety of the composition before we start that conversation.

Joe: [00:03:41] How many skills, attributes or other factors are included in the board matrix when it’s fully put together?

Dede: [00:03:52] A lot. 

Joe: [00:03:53] Yeah,

Dede: [00:03:54] It’s, it’s actually over time, it’s getting wider. It used to be that perhaps you were [00:04:00] looking at a board and you were really trying to solve for their domain expertise, right. Or you were looking for kind of, years or service on other, on other boards. Or, quite frankly, maybe you were looking for kind of past CEOs or GMs, right

Over time, however that equation or that kind of matrix has become bigger and more enriched.  You’re looking for, I’d say a more colorful tapestry of experiences on a board. You want to understand not just a, person’s going to capacity to take one on, but you really understand well, I don’t understand what, what is it in particular that this board is trying to solve for and what are certain skills? Whether it’s somebody coming, let’s say with a cybersecurity background, or somebody who has operated in highly regulated environments for the bulk of it, or maybe you’re looking at somebody who’s had experiences with companies at various stages, companies that are small going public, or companies going through turnarounds. While we come first with our own set of  kind of [00:05:00] factors or make matrices, that matrix can sometimes get blown out as you have a conversation at the board around really, what are we trying to solve for here with this director.

Joe: [00:05:11] And do you talk to everyone on the board? Just the nom/gov committee? How does that usually play out?

That can often depend on the board, right? Some of that is also an early indication and reflection of the board culture as well.  While traditionally or historically a lot of our direct engagement will be with the nom/gov, you have some boards where you end up actually doing a lot of  stakeholder engagement conversations with the entire board. It’s not uncommon that we’ve had those and really what that does is well, like we, you want to empower the nom gov committee, you also want to ensure that it really is truly/in alignment around what you’re looking for and talking with the directors across the board also gives you, or gives us as the partner, a sense of also what the board [00:06:00] culture is like. What is the atmosphere that a director will be walking into and of how do they work together?  Kind of more is more, can be more sometimes when you’re having those conversations.

And part of understanding board culture, I’m guessing, is to enable you to determine fit for a board member. The fact that someone may have the right skills and expertise or whatever it is you’re looking for, isn’t the whole picture it’s gotta be: does this person fit with the team so to speak?

Dede: [00:06:28] Yeah. We’re in a time where, when we say “culture fit”or “fit”, that can sometimes set people off om a path where you’re worried about, well, if you ever really creating homogenous environment, so there’s some shyness around that phrase. I want to just clarify.  We’re not trying to have it a board where the quote, unquote culture means we all act the same, we all speak the same, you know, all have this, right. In fact, what we’re looking at is actually different. It’s almost, what are the underlying kind of rules engagement? How [00:07:00] do we communicate? How do we show up? How do we create a space where you get that right level of critical thinking, creative abrasion, if you will, you want a space where people can bring themselves fully to the board, in a way that also doesn’t create sharp elbows or kind of knock others out from being able to contribute their voice.

They’re really trying to understand how does this board communicat e?  What’s the style of communication, what works well and what will allow, additional voices to be heard.

Joe: [00:07:25] So that seems to be, probably one of the most challenging aspects of what you do. How do you, how do you get your arms around that?

Dede: [00:07:33] Yeah, you spend a lot of time.  Board searches and board work operates on a different cycle. In the best case scenarios you start looking for your directors with enough time and window to bring somebody on board. That’s not like I’m getting a call today and we need a director tomorrow or, you know, by the next meeting.  You want to give yourself enough time and space. Not only just to find the right director candidates, but to actually spend enough [00:08:00] time with the board myself, to get a feel for how they engage and interact.  It used to be that we would have a lot of time with directors in person, obviously that’s changed. It has changed in COVID, but we have still found ways to actually spend time with directors and the CEO over zooms. There’s the one on one engagement where you get to understand and get to know a director, but also , sometimes we have small group settings and conversations where we can also stand back and see how the directors are interacting with each other and you get a sense for, okay, this group has a lot of playful banter. This group is pretty much, they get right to it.

Joe: [00:08:35] Have boards been reluctant to bring on new members, whom they’ve never met in person, they’ve never actually sat down with them and looked them in the eye, so to speak?

Dede: [00:08:46] I would say the process  if I look at what have we seen?  We haven’t seen a downgrade if you will, of the work. Part of that has to do with maybe just calendar consistency and kind of processes that [00:09:00] are evergreen, regardless of what’s happening in the world around us. The opportunities to bring directors hasn’t shifted and also the ability to still engage through video conference.  Even creative ways of building relations and some of the intimate connection.  Sp whereas you might have had dinners, sometimes you find some clients or invite virtual dinners or can we have virtual coffee. Off cycle time with one another and in some ways, because you’re kind of both stumbling through this awkward and having a coffee or dinner over zoom together, you kind of formed some bonds that you wouldn’t have necessarily formed.

Joe: [00:09:36] Interesting. You can actually bond over the awkwardness is interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dede: [00:09:43] in some instances now that they’re socially distance kind of, w

alks and things that can be done. Those are other things that we’ve explored in terms of getting,

Joe: [00:09:51] Yeah, that’s right. I’ve done a couple of walks with people on that actually was a very effective one-on-one technique, but [00:10:00] it is, contrary to zoom. It’s the most time consuming way to do it. Cause you’re really with, at least in my case, one person at a time. Yeah.

So one other thing about boards, you know, one of the biggest challenges even for the best run is offboarding.  And, I know that a lot of times, you know, unless there is a really strong chair or really strong CEO, whatever it might be, bringing a third party in that knows the board is the way boards get at this. And I’m assuming that is something you guys do.  Tell me about how you approach that?

Dede: [00:10:33] Well, one, I just kind of want to I’m nodding, can’t see it because it’s the podcast, but I’m nodding with you profusely because it is a challenge.

Nobody wants to be the bad cop. Nobody wants to off-board especially in a scenario where perhaps they’re pre-existing relationships where you’ve just gotten to know person over time. And then I think that’s fine, a little tongue in cheek, but that’s probably why we have a lot of the work that we have.

It’s much easier to hire an outsider to come in and help [00:11:00] facilitate that than to be the ones that tell your fellow director  or to off board someone. But I guess the question is how do we do it? And what are some of the tools, right.  If there isn’t a it’s predetermined, if this isn’t coming because of a term or what have you, there are different ways.  Sometimes really we’re looking at, in general, we’ve been asked to kind of come in and look at just kind of how the board is functioning.  If you think about it, the board is one big team, and you really want to establish a sense of how effectively are we working together as a team.  Used to be that some people would call this board assessment, or really the spirit of it is how do we make sure that we’re the most high performing board that we can, and often in those discussions or  in those kinds of, engagements, it gives, the board chair a way to kind of look across the team to see where new kind of capabilities could come in and, and where maybe some contributions are not as valuable.

Joe: [00:11:56] Do you use self assessment as one of the tools during this [00:12:00] board effectiveness review?

Dede: [00:12:01] Self assessment is a tool. It is a tool that can be helpful and effective along with kind of one on one interactions as well as discussions with the board chair. All of which are helpful.

Joe: [00:12:17] So one of the, questions that comes up.  In fact, we were on a panel together a few years ago, as you may remember and someone asked with a slightly incredulous tone, but not in any way critical, why a company would pay six figures to find a board member? You know, most boards believe that through their own networks, they can identify and recruit board members. How do you answer that question? What’s the value proposition?

Dede: [00:12:45] Well, first take about the climate today versus years ago. If you think about today, I don’t think it’s a strange thing to say that a lot of boards and organizations are under increased scrutiny. It used to be that you might be on a board [00:13:00] and you were wary of  overreaching. You’re not operating, you’re taking this step back providing some retreats, strategic guidance and then you had your, your dinners and your lunches and that was it. Right.  But what we’ve seen over the last few years is that  there’s room for boards to be more engaged and active.

It used to be that, you know, couldn’t really do any harm, but here, when we’ve seen an era where kind of performance and things at the company level can not just take down a company, but an entire industry, it makes you take a step back to think about the roles and responsibilities of those boards. That level of, I’d say more of a shift, in the nature and seriousness around board composition and responsibility and duties. As I think, encouraged, or kind of sparked, boards to think differently around how do we look for directors?  What competencies do we want to look for? What skill sets are we looking for? And, how can we actually create more diverse and inclusive representation on the board as well? But these are areas that really, it’s hard to necessarily just rely on your own [00:14:00] network.  Going to a firm like ours or the others, allows you to tackle that, those efforts with a few reinforcements.

Joe: [00:14:09] Well, speaking of diversity, there’s been progress albeit slow, for several years and diversifying board membership with respect to gender and people of color. How have recent events, including the death of George Floyd and everything that’s followed, impacted how diversity and inclusion is viewed on for-profit boards?

Dede: [00:14:30] I would say it has had a noticeable or material impact. I think going into this we have, I’ve had, again, that benefit over the last few years, this conversation or notion of diversity on boards is not a new one. It may be one where we’ve seen slow progress with an initial focus on gender but what we’re seeing is a shift in is maybe more comfort or directness and engaging on discussions around, [00:15:00] racial and ethnic diversity and it’s not just the boardroom, if we’re going to be honest.

I think what we’ve seen since may is really a more openness and in fact, kind of more of an expectation coming from the client around running inclusive processes. People feel maybe more comfortable or feel more empowered to say, we need to do something about the representation on our board and in our organizations, and we need your help and support in doing that. So I would say it’s noticeabl y different where the client is driving a lot of these discussions often saying, how do we focus on this? What can we do differently? How do we think about our pipeline for our board? How do we think about board readiness? And these are conversations that maybe before we might’ve been introducing or kind of leading with and now we have a lot of clients who are kind of beating us to the punch and asking that before we even get to it. 

Joe: [00:15:48] Raza and I have had conversations from that have a sense that for a while, people used the lack of pipeline as maybe an excuse for not actually being as aggressive in [00:16:00] diversity as they might otherwise be. And in the conversations we’ve had in the last couple of months, it feels like that just isn’t going to fly anymore. That’s really, it’s really just not a valid, like no one buys that excuse anymore.

Dede: [00:16:14] You can’t say, well, I don’t know where they are. Or they don’t exist, you know, we do exist. We are here and maybe people’s kind of willingness to rely on some of that old complacency isn’t there really anymore and the across the ecosystem , each of us is being challenged certain norms that we used to kind of assume or accept. One of those things being the pipeline.

What does that mean and how does that shift the work? It can shift the work in a few different ways. So when we say, is it true that you can’t find anybody? Well, it depends on what the spec is. It depends on what we’re looking for and how we’re defining a director’s experiences in each event. If you were to say, well, we only want a [00:17:00] sitting CEO of a Fortune 50. Well, of course that pipeline going to look very different. Fact of the matter is while we are getting better, there are so many things that kind of have been created over time through systems that the numbers just aren’t there. Do you then rely on that spec and say, well, we tried, but the pipeline is different. Or do you think about what’s under, what’s underlying that requests, right?

Joe: [00:17:23] Right.

Dede: [00:17:23] Is it important to have a Fortune 50 CEO? Or are you actually  looking for something else in that executive to contribute to the board. If we go there, we can actually move the spec a bit further and give ourselves room to actually build what seems like a more robust and diverse pipeline.

Joe: [00:17:41] Right.

Raza: [00:17:42] Dede, tell us about your work that Egon-Zehnder does for executive searches. What type of searches do you do? What companies, what sectors?

Dede: [00:17:52] Everything.

We’re a big firm. We have nearly 70 offices over 40 countries [00:18:00] and so that gives you a sense of just kind of the global nature of our work.  At least geographic distribution but also we work across every major industry. We are a firm that focuses on every industry. We focus not just on the Fortune 500.  We work with small companies.  We work with PE backed companies, VC backed companies and of course, as I think you might’ve mentioned earlier, we work across sectors. We work with the social sector. We often work with governmental institutions. There is a lot of variety in the work that we offer. Probably the common thread or common theme to the work is that we are looking at leadership.

Raza: [00:18:35] And Dede how has the landscape for CEO searches changed or has it changed over the past year?

 Dede: [00:18:42] The role of the CEO and the responsibilities of the CEO, while many aspects or attributes remain, there are going to new pressures and new considerations. If anything, that’s probably been heightened or highlighted or amplified since we found ourselves in this pandemic. [00:19:00]

What you find is that it’s not enough to have just kind of the right’s CV. It’s not enough to have the right kind of set of experiences. We’re spending a lot more time looking at how you lead.  We’re spending a lot more time looking at the authenticity and leadership. Particularly in those, enterprises where they’re truly consumer driven, a lot of the expectations around  who’s leading the institutions that they work for, is driven by the consumer. Consumer wants to know, what do you stand for? What do you believe in and not just what are you delivering every quarter?

I would say in some regards the nature of the assessment and time spent really with CEO candidates , it’s growing. It’s more and more, a big component, as well as really thinking about what it means to lead in times of kind of stasis and in times of change in times of crisis.

All of that has come to the forefront even more so in the last six months.

[00:20:00] Raza: [00:19:59] Sounds like people need to find wartime CEOs versus the peace time CEOs these days.

Dede: [00:20:06] One way to think of it is that you want leaders who can lead from the front and from behind. It’s that there are going to be times when actually you do need a leader to lead from the front, and there are times where you’re creating the space.

Raza: [00:20:17] In terms of sectors has healthcare, consumer and technology intersection being, playing a little more for you, for the kind of searches that you do or that’s roughly equal to any of the sectors that you’re dealing with?

Dede: [00:20:32] More and more personally, I’ve been trying to actually explore  that intersection.

As we’ve  seen the broader healthcare industry take this shift more towards patient centered approaches, consumer centered approaches and citizen centered approaches. What that’s calling for is different skill sets.  It’s no longer just looking at purely life sciences or purely health technology. Now that we’re seeing this intersection of  consumer and health and technology, we’re [00:21:00] looking for leaders who have been in a digital space, the leaders who have that strong consumer orientation.

Raza: [00:21:05] Like connecting the dots and overlap of various areas brings more to the table than expertise in a single area.

Dede: [00:21:14] Yeah. But if you think of that kind of, that systems way of thinking  where you’re actually bringing to bear  insights from various segments and an ecosystem into a company, those the more agility in the leadership.

Joe: [00:21:25] One of the things you said when we were talking earlier, is that in a lot of ways it’s not a search business anymore, like more of a recruitment business, is that a reflection on the fact that the leaders you’re looking for a more multidimensional and there are just less of them? Or is it something else?

Dede: [00:21:44] Clients and firms have lots of ways of identifying and finding names. Those high performers stand out. Maybe as the demand and specificity around excellence and leadership continues to increase and perhaps, maybe the pool of [00:22:00] those who are at the top of that remains the same or shrinks, it’s now how you get access to you and bring those few on board, right, before a client or a company, a piece around the recruitment process, what is going to be compelling and different about your opportunity, then every other company that is looking for transformation and every other company that is facing the brink of disruption and wants a leader to come in.

I think that piece around not searching for, but trying to also attract  talent into companies  is something that’s not lost. You see that a lot in, in healthcare and environment.  If you look at select chief medical officers and chief scientific officers, where you have very, very, popular candidates and ideas, because they’ve had a track record for excellence. trackers. How are you going to attract them to your company?

Raza: [00:22:47] So it’s the passive candidates that everybody’s after?

Dede: [00:22:50] Yes. Yes.

Joe: [00:22:52] Do you help prepare the search committee so that they’re, in recruitment mode?

Dede: [00:22:58] Well, yes. You still want to balance [00:23:00] recruitment and assessment, because you still want to make sure that you’r hitting the spec directly, but yeah, time for really trying to determine and assess whether or not a person is fit for the role and then there’s a period where you’ve know and crossed over, and yes, we do try to kind of give  coaching here and there , so…

Joe: [00:23:18] you gotta do both.

Dede: [00:23:20] You gotta do both. Sometimes the science sells itself. Sometimes you need more.

Joe: [00:23:25] Yeah, you know, on your bio, it says that you act as a trusted advisor to CEOs, boards and senior executives in exploring new models of leadership. What are the new models of leadership that you’re exploring, what does that refer to?

Dede: [00:23:41] A few different things and some of this is informed by just more of a systems based way of thinking about it.

If you look at how the world has changed,  we’ve seen greater convergence around sectors. Earlier we were talking for example, about consumer health and if you think about where the world is turning, no longer would you [00:24:00] go to your office as a CEO and just sit there.  Often if you’re leading  a large institution, you’re thinking about your employees, you’re thinking about your consumers, but you’re also thinking about governments, and you are thinking about civil society. When you’re looking at new models of leadership, it’s not, how do you actually engage across those things? How fluid are you as a senior executive moving from the public to the private, how facile are you in terms of engaging with heads of state and not just, your consumer base.

Then there’s that other piece that we alluded to earlier, which is this notion of moving beyond thinking about shareholder value and really this concept of stakeholder capitalism. What does that require of a leader? How adaptive are you? Are you looking at the individual? The lines have blurred a bit. They blurred in terms of sector, they’ve blurred in terms of segment, they’ve learned in terms of your home life and your work life. All of that has now become a lot more integrated. We’re looking at that. 

Joe: [00:24:54] Is the notion of stakeholder capitalism really taking hold [00:25:00] in much of the work that you’re doing these days.  Is that pigeonholed in a few places or is it you’re seeing it everywhere?

Dede: [00:25:07] It’s always been part of the conversation. If anything, maybe with the BRT, with the Business Round Table, maybe that just crystallized it and gave people reason and rationale to talk about it in a more acute fashion.  It codified it maybe for the rest of us, but it’s always been I think part of this. Now probably what’s different is that we actually have the mass or institutional support to talk about it in a way with greater commitments.

Joe: [00:25:36] Do you think it’s partly because that notion is potentially impacting the bottom line? So leaders or certainly shareholders see that it is just more than just delivering value to the  owners. It’s, the employees its your supply chain – it’s everything,

Dede: [00:25:56] It’s everything.

 If you think about particularly those companies that [00:26:00] are heavily consumer oriented. We talked about this earlier, where, your consumer doesn’t just want to know, they don’t just want the products, they want to know how the product is made. They want to know the communities that were impacted and making it. And, in fact, some of that can also drive  greater, better consumption when people feel as though, okay, how was this sourced? How much is made and how much of that flows back into the community? What concessions were made in the creation of this product? Those are questions that are now being asked front center. And similarly to your point. Your employee base, people now spend so much time at work, people have choice. They have choice in where they go. They don’t feel stuck. They don’t feel as though they need to stay in any company for 10, 20 years. When you have choice, why do you decide to stay at a company? Is it just because of the product? A lot of times, no.

It’s about what does the company stand for? What do we create? How do we lead? How do we show up in the world? People use that as part of it’s an extension of their identity. All of these actually bring some of [00:27:00] what we maybe didn’t focus on up to the surface more. There was how we attract talent, how we retain talent and similar in what we do with our consumers.

Raza: [00:27:09] Dede, what advice do you have for aspiring board members?  You know, other than being CEO of a wildly successful company, what are the things you look for in potential board member candidates?  And what advice would you give them to be prepared to be a good candidate

Dede: [00:27:25] a good question. I would say probably the things that we look for and what makes for a good board member is probably also makes for really strong team contributor. If you want a board member who has something unique to offer to the group, and that can come from your experiences, from judgment. Think about what your unique contribution is going to be.

Raza: [00:27:46] And do you also recommend folks go through education for becoming board members at various avenues, from NACD to Private Directors Association and be a little more prepared. Does [00:28:00] that help or it’s their experiences that count and that, you know, you can teach them how to be a good board member later?

Dede: [00:28:07] No, no, I think all of those things actually are great resources. Especially if you’re joining a board for the first time, you’re exposure has been in a very different setup. Your exposure to the board may have been just as an executive or maybe your exposure is through a nonprofit avenue.

Actually I would say those resources, whether it’s the courses NACD, or you have board boot camps, even things that the firms offer helpful, because what it does is it puts you into the right mindset of the director. Not the executive or the operator. Appreciating the difference in your responsibilities, the different in the nature of what you will or will not sign on. The relationship with the CEO, all of that’s different from the board. And so I think all of those reinforce them.

Raza: [00:28:50] Well said.

Dede, you are part of the First Movers Fellowship program at the Aspen Institute. Tell us a little about that program.

[00:29:00] Dede: [00:28:59] The Aspen Institute has been around for quite some time and has a number of fellows. The First Movers Fellowship actually is a fellowship that was created over a decade ago, as part of the Aspen Institute’s business and society group and really with the focus on, in the for profit sector, identifying leaders who are intrapreneurs in their companies, the underlying principle being, how can you drive change within your company, through your day job that will, both drive commercial value but also societal impact. The fellowship was created in support of that notion that we can actually drive that from within and how can you as a fellow be a first mover in your company

Raza: [00:29:42] And how has your experience been?

Dede: [00:29:45] I found the community and the fellowships would be fantastic. They just announced a new class, really you’re in a fellowship with executives in companies like Levi’s or IDEO or Facebook and Google, or what have you. Then what [00:30:00] everybody brings to it is this kind of desire to actually drive change and impact. You have a room full of change agents who are finding ways to drive that change through institutions that have big platforms, it’s energizing and decades upon decades all of this work will actually drive greater societal benefit through the work that everybody’s doing.

Raza: [00:30:20] Wonderful.

Joe: [00:30:21] I love that word intrapreneur-  tell us what it means?

Dede: [00:30:25] Intrapreneurs: how do you actually work within the existing infrastructure of a company or organization to make something new and different happen and innovative.

You can’t do that just sitting in front of your desk or sitting in front of your computer. The intrapreneur =is thinking about ways to collaborate across their organization, working outside of their groups or functions to pull people in. An intrapreneurs is trying to find a new way of working or maybe a new thing to deliver and what that person has to do is actually bring together I’d say I used that word before tapestry, but bring together that right [00:31:00] mix of individuals, within the company to help drive that. The hard part, if you’re in it, when you’re an entrepreneur, you, right. I mean, granted, you’re looking for funding and there are different ways, but it’s kind of you and you have that freedom to be the founder of what you want to found.

Right. When you’re an intrapreneur, you’re trying to drive that innovation, but you’re doing so within pre-existing structures. Right. So how do you actually work and bump up against the structures to drive a new way of working

Joe: [00:31:28] Great concept? Really love it.

So when, Raza introduced you, he described your background distinguished and, I think that is more than just accurate, but one of my favorite stories about you is from a long time ago, I think in high school and it was in connection with being dropped off at a lacrosse summer camp that turned out to be an all boys camp and my memory is that you stuck it out which just completely [00:32:00] blows my mind as the, as the father of a daughter, that you were had the guts to do that. Can you tell us about that?

Dede: [00:32:06] Sure. Maybe I should couch this in that I’m not originall from the United States. I’m from Ghana. Lacrosse is not a big sport or at least it was then, so I say that because I don’t think my family is certainly my parents didn’t really know that much about it. but I was playing it and I wanted to go to a camp to get better. I wanted to make the varsity team. I was using my summer to get even better. And, my mom signed me up for a camp and   maybe my name is kind of gender neutral. I don’t know. Or it’s different enough that people didn’t know and so when I got there, I was dropped off and one by one, I realized everybody else who was getting dropped off, it was a boy and I’m sitting there with all of my stuff and each person getting dropped off and it didn’t, it just, something’s not right here.

And eventually we realized, with the heads of the camp, what had happened, but here I was with all my equipment ready to go [00:33:00] and to their credit rather than say, okay, this isn’t going to work.  Actually said, you have this choice, right. You can stay and stay with us and we’ll train you and we’ll coach you, but you’re going to do it our way –  and I did and the thing that the fact of the matter is, I actually probably, I left that place a better goalie. I did make the varsity team and it was just kind of getting past the initial kind of awkwardness when you were a teenager and then focusing on the task at hand.

Joe: [00:33:28] You know, I love it both because it reflects your attitude, but also the attitude of the people at the camp. Instead of panicking or throwing their arms up, looked at it as you did as an opportunity, and that I’m sure clearly it was a great experience for you, but actually it probably turned out to be a pretty good experience for them as well.

Dede: [00:33:49] I’m sure they – it’s definitely memorable.  Its funny, I never even thought about it, but in a day and age now, when we talk a lot about inclusion and belonging here’s kind of an extreme version of, you [00:34:00] know, you’ve come right. And you’re going to join us. Right.  We won’t bend and break and what have you, we’ll make this work.

Joe: [00:34:07] Yeah, no, it’s you’re right. It was a precursor to what everyone is thinking about now, but it happened by mistake and everyone adapted to it. It’s just, it’s great.

Dede, It’s been great speaking with you. Thanks for joining us today. I hope you and your family will continue to be well and stay safe.  

Dede: [00:34:23] Thank you for having me.

 Joe: [00:34:24] And thank you all for listening today to onboards with our special guest Dede Orraca-Cecil. Please stay safe and take care of yourselves, your families and your communities as best you can  .

Raza you take care too. I hope you and your family continue to be well.

Raza: [00:34:43] Yes, you we’re all staying safe. Thank you. And I hope you and your family are as well.

Joe: [00:34:49] Thanks.

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