Month: January 2022

34. Boardroom Bound with host Alexander Lowry

Alexander Lowry is a professor at Gordon College in Wenham Massachusetts where he is the Executive Director of the Master’s in Financial Analysis program and the creator, voice and driving force behind “Boardroom Bound”  – a weekly podcast about boards of directors, how to become a board member, how to excel at the job and the important impact that boards have on business and our society. 

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Links

Alexander Lowry Bio

Gordon College Masters of Science in Financial Analysis

Recommended Books

Authored by Boardroom Bound Guests

Governance in the Digital Age/Dottie Schillinger

Dare to Serve/ Cheryl Batchelder

Be Board Ready and Behind Boardroom Doors/ Betsy Atkins

Boards That Lead/ Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem

Authored by On Boards Guests

Family Business Handbook – How to Build and Sustain a Successful Enduring Enterprise/Rob Lachenauer and Josh Baron

The Board Members Guide to Risk/David Koenig

High Performance Boards/Didier Cossin

Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business/Matt Blumberg

Our Common Ground: Insights From Four Years of Listening to American Voters/Diane Hessan

Quotes

Boards are one of the most important things in the business world and people weren’t talking about – that’s what led me to start Boardroom Bound.

If someone says, “Help me get a board seat,” that’s like saying, “Help me get a job.” I don’t know what to do with that. What industry you want to work in? What size of company? Is it compensated, non-compensated, public versus private? There are all these sorts of things you have to help me figure out to know what you should do, and it only then that  I can even begin to start giving you guidance. It’s as if I went to you guys and said, “Guys, help me get a job,” you’d say, “What does it mean?”

Even after you have given some thought to getting a board seat, I would test you a little bit. All right, so tell me what’s most important. Is it the compensation?” And some people would say, yes. I appreciate their honesty, but that’s not a good driver for it. “But okay, if it is the compensation, what do you think you’re going to make in what are you trying to do?” “Well, I want to be on the board of JP Morgan and make $250,000 a year.” I’m like, “Hmm. What kind of size company did you work in?”

”I worked at a bunch of startups.” “Well, that’s probably not realistic. Let’s take what you came up with and let’s talk about reality. You’re probably not going to be on a board with a company cap size bigger than where you’ve worked before.

If, for example, you have only worked in private companies, then you should focus on that. There are lots of different opportunities there. I would take exactly what you said, Joe, let’s dive into it a little bit more, make sure we’re all coming from the same page, and then you can come up with a game plan to do it.

Once you’ve got that, okay, networking is going to be a big part of it. For some people that’s a dirty word. It doesn’t need to be a dirty word. How big is your network today? Do you know people who are on boards? Do you know people that service boards like accountants and consultants and lawyers that can be helpful for you? And then how much time will you spend every week? Are you going to spend an hour a day? Are you going to spend an hour a week? Now, a lot of that’s going to predict how long it’s going to take for you and how successful you will ultimately be.

Big Ideas/Thoughts

Being a Board Member is a job

Joe  Some people don’t understand that a board seat is a job. Some people think it’s kind of a nice thing to do when you retire or in your “spare time” but in fact, it’s a job and you need to take it as seriously as you would any other job.

Accepting a board seat

I think most first-time board members will usually jump at the chance to be on any board, and that is not a great idea.  Someone has worked really hard to land a paid board seat. That was their dream, that was their goal, and they made it happen. You’re super excited, this is amazing, right?  Well, it doesn’t mean you should take it. Think about this as like you’re applying for a job. Just because you get a job offer doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fit. Is this a place where you’re setting yourself up for success? Can you do this? Do you want to do this? Boards are very different from each other.

Some boards rubber stamp what the CEO comes up with. Is that the kind of board you want to be on? If so, great. Know that other boards are very collaborative, very open, very discussion oriented, very much about coming up with a strategy that helps the organization. Is that the type of board you’re going to fit in with? Is that the kind of the space you want to be in?

Due Diligence before accepting a board seat

An example of doing due diligence: A guest was offered her first board seat, and she had worked really hard to get it. She was excited about it, it was a public company, it checked all the boxes, but she didn’t feel comfortable. She went through the interview process but had that little person on her shoulder telling me “there’s a danger here, Will Robinson” – think about this.” 

Here’s what happened: She offered:  “Let me sign some NDA so I can sit in one meeting. I won’t vote. I’m just sitting in the back. I want to observe. I need to observe.” And they thought she was the right person, so they agreed to this. I don’t know why. She actually saw a fistfight break out during the meeting. She’s like, “I knew this was not the place for me.”

That’s an extreme version of due diligence.  The point is you want to be on the right board for you because you will do well. And if you do well, that will lead to other boards because the people you’re sitting and working with will inevitably also be connected to other boards and they’ll know, “Oh my gosh, Johnny over here was phenomenal. I should think of another opportunity.” But if you stink it up in the boardroom, you’re not going to get another one.

Bo proactive about onboarding

Alexander

Isn’t it terribly ironic that companies spend all of this time and energy and money trying to bring someone on, but don’t didn’t treat a bioard members the way they treat any normal employee who they hire.

Joe

Yes, ironic that people, boards, organizations spend so much time recruiting and then they drop the ball with onboarding and fail to get full value out of this person.

Alexander

If you think about this whole onboarding process, show up at your desk, all the stuff is laying there and you come to a certain training and meet all the people. Often, in the boardroom, it’s, “Well, you know what you’re doing. We’ll just throw you in, come to the next meeting and you’ll be great.” That’s not setting anybody up for success.

If your company is not taking it upon themselves to do a proper onboarding process, make sure that you are doing it to set yourself up for success. 

Transcript:

Joe: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to On Boards, a deep dive at what drives business success. Hi, I’m Joe Ayoub, and I’m here with my co-host, Raza Shaikh. On boards is about boards of directors and advisors and all aspects of 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, as well as the important issues that are facing boards, company leadership and stakeholders.

Raza: Joe and I speak with a wide range of guests and we talk about what makes a board successful or unsuccessful, what it takes to be an effective board member, what challenges boards are facing and how they’re assessing those challenges, and how to make your board one of the most valuable assets of your organization.

Joe: Our guest today is Alexander Lowry. Alexander is a professor at Gordon College in [00:01:00]Wenham Massachusetts where he is the executive director of the Masters in Financial Analysis Program, and he is the creator, voice and driving force behind Boardroom Bound, a weekly podcast about boards of directors, how to become a board member, how to excel at the job and the important impact that boards have on business and our society.

Raza: He’s also a nationally-respected governance expert, sometimes referred to as the “conscience of the board” due to his ability to bring a unique perspective impacting the boardroom. He was named by Private Company Director Magazine as one of its 2020 directors to watch. Previously, Alexander was a deputy COO at JP Morgan and a management consultant at PA Consulting Group.

Joe: Welcome, Alexander, thank you so much for joining us today on On Boards.

Alexander: Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be with you today. I’m a governance [00:02:00] geek. I love having conversations like this.

Joe: Well, the three of us will enjoy this conversation, maybe no one else, but that’s okay.

We both have been guests on your podcast and we really enjoy it. It might be interesting to just talk a little bit about how you went from being a management consultant and then a private banker at JP Morgan to a college professor and a podcast entrepreneur.

Alexander: If I told you I had a plan, it all worked out perfectly. I went to a great liberal arts undergrad, and from there, I think that management consulting was not the perfect start. You can research, you can write, communicate, you can present, and suddenly you’re sitting with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies when you’re 22 years old, traveling the world. It was pretty awesome.

But after doing that for about a dozen years, I wanted to try something different. I wanted to go to Wall Street, so I used my Wharton MBA to move across to JP Morgan. I was there for about four and a half years. in some pretty senior roles, having a great time during a crisis, it was nuts, it was really fun, and when I look back at that time, there was a key moment where my now wife, who was my then fiancee, who was a wonderful kind patient woman- I married [00:03:00] way above my station guys and she said, -“I don’t think you doing an a hundred hours a week and a bank is going to do a lot for us.”

I thought that’s a fair challenge, right? So, we’re thinking about we should get married, we should start a family, and if we want to have 2.5 cars and 3.2 dogsand the house and all that sort of stuff, we weren’t going to do that in Manhatten.

This opportunity came up at Gordon College. And to be honest, this was not the first thing I was looking for. This is enemy territory I’m New York sports fan, like there were a lot of red flags here, but coming up here, starting a Master’s program, I also lead career services for the school now, it gave me a lot of opportunities and that’s where the podcast came about.

It’s my fault that the podcast started, I will admit that. We have a professional radio recording studio and I walked by it one day, it was dark, and I asked our chief marketing officer, “Why don’t we use it?” He said, “Oh, the students use it all night every night.” I said, “It’s like terrible real estate. Why would you not use it during the day?” He goes, “You’re right. You should start a podcast.”

You guys know this, there’s over a million podcasts. We must’ve been the only school in the world without one, so I thought, “Okay, let’s start a podcast.” Well, nobody needs another podcast about how to get into undergrad or grad school or how to land a job. There are lots of [00:04:00] those, and you guys will love this, at the time, there was like one or two other podcasts in the boardroom. This is like one of the most important things in the business world that people weren’t talking about. I thought this would be what we should do.

Joe: Well, a couple of things. First of all, the red flag about your unfortunate alliance with New York sports teams, not withstanding, great to have you here.

Alexander: It’s instinct, so you don’t have to hold it against me.

Joe: But I would say this, no good deed goes unpunished, so you took that empty studio and turned it into something really, really impactful. Talk a little bit about some of the goals that you wanted to achieve and what has been happening with that.

Alexander: Well, my ideal is always finding synergies wherever you can. I think about the institution as a whole, because Gordon owns the podcast, we were using their studio, how do I raise the profile for Gordon in a very smart way? And I’m just a simple business guy. I think about that sort of world, and Gordon needed to do more. If I put my career services hat on as well, how do I open doors more or how may I make people aware of the great students we have here, open doors for internships and jobs?

Well, you guys have seen the same [00:05:00] thing. When you offer someone to come onto your podcast and to talk about themselves, to some extent, it gets past gatekeepers. You can go direct to them, to CEOs, to chairmans of the board, people that otherwise you would never be able to get to. It’s amazing how often they’d say yes.

I get to bring this person on, have a lot of fun having a phenomenal conversation with them and have some fun to chit-chat before and after you build a relationship, and maybe it also works that it helps our students grow and develop. But I now have executives that had never heard of Gordon before, never would have otherwise knowing about our school, we bring them in to talk at different parts, in different classes, and we’re engaging them in different ways. It’s been great for everybody overall. It has certainly raise the visibility of Gordon College, and to think that now, I have like a top podcast. Depending on who I have on a given week, it’s like number one in Ukraine. or number two in Australia, it’s just sort of funny to think like, “Okay, Gordon’s name is out there in different places in the world.”

Joe: Number one in Ukraine, that is something to be proud of!

Alexander: I spoke at the Ukrainian Corporate Governance Association or something like that, it just like popped up on the charts.

Joe: Wow. Okay. We got to work on our Ukrainian audience, [00:06:00] Raza.

I know one of the things that you do talk about is people who ask the basic first question, ” I want to be on a board. What do I do?” Let’s talk a little bit how you approach that because I know it’s a multi-layered answer.

Alexander: That is really the focus of my board podcast, and a lot of them are very different. Mine is really about howdo you become a member of a board and be really good at it. That’s the perspective we take. We’ll have special episodes flipped about how a board as a whole can be really good, but in general, it’s wherever you are in that spectrum.

I get people that are already sitting board directors who go, “Great, I want to do this as a portfolio.” I get people that just landed their first board seats who’d said, “What the heck did I get myself into? How do I do this well? I get people in the C-suite going, “I’m ready to be in a board and let’s make this happen.” People who are about to get in the C-suite going, “I’m looking a little bit ahead. I know I want to do this and start planting the seeds.” And people who are much further away from that are going, “I think I’ve heard about this. This might be really good. What do I begin to do? How do I plan it online?”

You have all those perspectives. But what you just said, Joe, I just got an email [00:07:00] the other day from a retired senior executive on Wall Street who said, “I’m retired now and now I want to get a whole bunch of paid board seats. Help me.” And I regularly get that a lot.

I likened it to the conversations I have in career services. I’m sure you guys skip this. Like if someone says, “Help me get a board seat,” I’m going to go, but that’s like saying, “Help me get a job.” I don’t know what to do with that. What industry you want to work in? What size of companies? Is it compensated, non-compensated, public versus private? There are all these sorts of things. You have to help me figure out what you want to do, and it only from then can I even begin to start giving you guidance, because otherwise I don’t know what to do with that.” if I went to you guys and say, “Guys, help me get a job,” I’d go like, “What does it mean?”

Joe: Yeah. Let’s start with this, the first thing you have to sort through, as you said is what do you want? Why do you want to do it? And what do you want to accomplish? So, there’s some thinking that needs to be done before someone joins a board, and right now focus really on paid positions. I’m thinking about private and public boards. Once someone has thought that through and they’re prepared to commit to do the [00:08:00] work of a board member, and I think you and I and Raza have talked about this, it’s a job.

Some people don’t understand that from the outset. Some people think it’s kind of a nice thing to do when you’re retired, but in fact, it’s a job, and you need to take it as seriously as you would any other job.

But once you have all that, if someone then comes to you and says, “Okay. I’d like to be on a private company board, I have expertise in risk management. I know I’m an A-plus financial acumen person. I’d like to be in a certain industry,” then what do you tell them? What’s the next step for someone who’s given it that thought and really has considered what they want to do?

Alexander: I don’t want to gloss over that Joe because it’s really important. If someone has done their homework, they understand. I can tell that they’ve already thought about their elevator pitch. They probably have some of the documentation. I mean, there are the key things you’ve got to have your board bio. You got to have your board resume, your LinkedIn profile, all that stuff is got to be ready because if you start doing the networking and someone says, “Oh, my gosh, you’d be great for company XYZ that I know. [00:09:00] Send me your materials, you’re not going to say, “I’ll get back to you in a week with those.” You want to be ready to go. In the same way, that thinking that you just talked about has to be followed by the action, and that’s the first start.

I would actually use this, “When you came with me, Joe, with that great pitch, I would test you a little bit. All right, so tell me what’s the most important. Was it the compensation?” And some people say, yes, I appreciate their honesty, but that’s not a good driver for it. “But okay, if it is the compensation, what do you think you’re going to make in what are you trying to do?” “Well, I want to be on the board of JP Morgan and make 250,000 a year.” I’m like, “Hmm. What kind of size company did you work in?” I worked at a bunch of startups.” “Well, that’s probably not realistic. Let’s take what you came up with and let’s talk about reality. You’re probably not going to be in a cap size bigger than where you worked before.

And that’s okay. You might have only worked in private companies. Well, then you should focus on that. There are lots of different opportunities there. I would take exactly what you said, Joe, let’s dive into it a little bit more, make sure we’re all coming from the same page, and then you can come up with a game plan to do it.

Once you’ve got that, okay, networking is going to be a big part of it. For some people that’s a dirty word. It doesn’t need to be a dirty word. How big is your network today? Do you know people who are on boards? Do you know people that [00:10:00] service boards like accountants and consultants and lawyers that can be helpful for you? And then how much time will you spend every week? Are you going to spend an hour a day? Are you going to spend an hour a week? Now, a lot of that’s going to predict how long it’s going to take for you and how successful ultimately you will be.

Joe: A lot of what you’re saying, in fact, all of what you’re saying, sounds like the kind of really good advice that you would give anyone looking for a new job. For example, yeah, your board bio or your board CV or whatever it is you prepare, it’s something different than you would have if you’re applying for a job, as you said, at JP Morgan or PA Consulting, you really have to be focused on it.

Again, I think a lot of people in the first instance don’t totally understand that. They just maybe assume that it’s, “Oh, one of these things I’ve had such great business experience. Of course, I’ll be on boards,” but it really is very focused. I love the way you kind of just went through that.

One of the things that I remember talking about is advice that you give about doing due diligence before you accept [00:11:00] the first board seat, because obviously, if you do well, then you’re going to feel better about yourself and you probably get on the board, and some of that has to do with what board did you join, and I think most first-time board members will usually jump at the chance to be on any board, and that is not a great idea. Why don’t you talk about why that is?

Alexander: Let’s be really clear. Someone has worked really hard to land a paid board seat. That was their dream, that was their goal, and they made it happen. You’re super excited. Like this is amazing, right? Well, it doesn’t mean you should take it. Think about this as like you’re applying for a job. Just because you get a job offer doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fit. I don’t mean the negotiations like culturally, for example, like, is this a place where you’re setting yourself up for success? Can you do this? Do you want to do this?

A board is the same way. Boards are very different from each other. Some boards think about like, let’s go some extreme examples, some of the ones that have been in the news, like some boards are rubber stamping what the CEO comes up with. Is that the kind of board you want to be on? If so, great. Know that other boards are [00:12:00] very collaborative, very open, very discussion oriented, very much about coming up with a strategy that helps the organization. Is that the type of board you’re going to fit in with? Is that the kind of the space you want to be in?

Some boards are kind of cutthroat, like every one of them has so much value that they want to add they’re kind of stepping on each other and everyone’s making sure they’re getting all their points. Others very much hold back. It’s like, “Let’s make sure we’re sharing our valuable air time.” It’s like a baseball game, you only get to bat three, maybe four times a game. That’s the amount of time you get to talk on your board meeting of the day. You need to know what that feels like.

How about the organization? Is the C-suite team collaborative? Are they engaged? Are they working well? Is there a history of the CEO not getting on with their employees or their lawsuits? Like you really have to know what sort of organization you’re stepping into and the value that you bring to it as well.

One extreme example, we had someone on my show who admitted to me, she said, “There’s board that I got offered my first board seat on, and I worked really hard to get that. I was excited about it. It was a public company, I checked all the boxes, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I went through the interview process and I had that little person on my shoulder telling me there’s a danger here, Will Robinson, think about this.”

Actually, I’d never heard anyone successfully did this, where she got them, “Let me sign some [00:13:00] NDA so I can sit in one meeting. I won’t vote. I’m just sitting in the back. I want to observe. I need to observe.” And they thought she was the right person so they agreed to this. I don’t know why. She actually saw a fistfight breaking out in the meeting. She’s like, “I knew this was not the place for me.”

I’ve never heard of that before, but that’s like an extreme version of due diligence. The point is you want to be on the right board for you because you will do well. And if you do well, that will lead to other boards because the people you’re sitting and working with will inevitably be also be connected to other boards and they’ll know, “Oh my gosh, Johnny over here was phenomenal. I should think of another opportunity.” But if you stink it up in the boardroom, you’re not going to get another one.

Joe: From the board side, identifying and recruiting the right person is an important first step, but it is only the first step. The next step is really onboarding this new valuable board member that you’ve spent so much time finding, and yet I think you and I have talked about this, many boards are terrible at onboarding. What advice do you give about onboarding, [00:14:00] either to the individual board member or when you talk to people who are on the boards that you interact with? What kind of advice do you give them about that?

Alexander: Isn’t it terribly ironic? You spend all of this time and energy and money trying to bring someone on. Now, I get during COVID for some boards, it was extreme, it was much harder. But even before COVID, there are lots of boards that didn’t treat it the way they treat normal employees who get hired.

If you think about this whole onboarding process, show up at your desk, all the stuff is laying there and you come to a certain training and meet all the people, in the boardrooms, it’s like, “Well, you know what you’re doing? We’ll just throw you in, come to the next meeting and you’ll be great.” That’s not setting anybody up for success.

If you are joining a board that acts like that, well, then you need to act differently to set yourself up for success. You should insist on meeting with every member of the board, even if it’s just via Zoom. You want to meet with the company secretary, every member of the C-suite, and you want to know what’s going on and understand it.

The company secretary, by the way, is your best friend. That’s the person you want to be building a relationship. They’ll be helpful. By the way, they are the ones who set the schedule for the boards. If you’ve got some future commitments, like other boards, you need to whisper in their ears before they set the dates, because it’s [00:15:00] embarrassing if they have to change them later on your behalf, so you need to make relationships with all these people.

Ideally, you’d have met many of them during the interview process. Some boards do it differently than others. And if you haven’t, you need those relationships. Now, every board is a little different because of COVID now. Some are still entirely virtual, some are meeting some in-person, some virtual, and if you can get together during the in-person stuff and during the dinners start to have conversations to build relationship, that’s really important. But if your company is not taking it upon themselves to do a proper onboarding process, make sure that you are doing it to set yourself up for success.

Joe: Yeah, you just have to be proactive. And by the way, this is not COVID driven. This existed before COVID. It will exist if or when COVID goes away. I think it’s part of the viewing the board seat process as not really a new job. What you said, I think, is exactly right, “Oh, well, he was a super smart guy at blank, or she was fantastic as CEO of this company.” Yes, great. That’s why you recruited [00:16:00] them, but that doesn’t translate directly, especially in the first instance, at being a great board member. And I have to agree with you ironic that people, boards, organizations spend so much time recruiting and then they kind of drop off and drop the ball in really getting value out of this person.

Now, the best board members are going to shine anyway. It may take them longer. They’ll be proactive. They’ll ask the right questions. They’ll get there. But boards should be meeting them right there and onboarding them the way they do, as you said, any employee.

Raza: Alexander, you bring a lot of wonderful guests on your Boardroom Bound podcast. What are the top topics that are relevant today in the boardroom?

Alexander: We’ve seen it pivot just a little bit due to COVID and we can talk about that. But if I say even before COVID, the ones that were big then that are still big now, I think will be big forever. Some of those are risk management. We can do a deeper dive into that. [00:17:00] That’s never going away, never should go away. And if you’re in a board that hasn’t really focused on it and they didn’t realize it during COVID, that should be towards the top of your list forever.

For me, supply chain has become very big in the last two years. People have realized, if they didn’t already, that’s a critical thing.

We’re seeing chief HR officers actually getting appointed to boards now, which is a wonderful thing. If we didn’t appreciate our people before, we certainly want to appreciate them now when they’re so hard to find and retain, and that’s a wonderful value to bring to the board.

ESG was huge and growing before it’s taken off exponentially now with COVID, and ESG is so hard to describe because every board handles it differently. It might be in a different committee. Different industries think about it in different ways, and everybody can agree on what the letters are in a word, but how to go about doing it is changing so quickly as well, which is really fun for me. I would say those are some of the big ones that come off a lot with my guests.

Raza: Alexander, the next thing we wanted to do was it appears that the guests that have come on your Boardroom Bound podcast and our On Boards podcast have written many wonderful books. I wanted to go [00:18:00] through a list to plug in the great books that guests at our collective podcasts have written. Would you mind starting with a few and then I’ll add a few from the guests on our podcast.

Alexander: Sure. I’ll start with one related to COVID. I mentioned Dottie Schillinger before who was on our show in terms of diligence podcast. So they wrote a book called Governance in the Digital Age, and actually the timing was perfect as it came out just at the beginning of COVID. Their business has gone exponentially through the roof as more companies realized, “Wow, we need to be much more digital about how we do things in a boardroom and think about the board portal, the materials that are coming out.”

Their books has been really interesting, and I think I got her in the show maybe twice now, and what they do over there is really interesting.

Raza: The one that I’ll mentioned first is called Family Business Handbook; How to Build and Sustain a Successful Enduring Enterprise. It’s written by our wonderful guests, Rob Lachenauer and Josh Baron, published by Harvard Business Review. It’s a great book for family businesses and how to make them into an [00:19:00] enduring enterprise.

Joe: Yeah. And one that I’m going to talk about or want to mention is the Board Members Guide to Risk. We talk about how important risk is, and that is written by one of our former guests, David Koenig, who’s the founder of the DCRO, the Directors and Chief Risk Officers group. What he has done is, both in the book and through the DCRO, elevate the conversation about risk. And as we talked about earlier, it’s not just identifying, are we in danger of having something bad happen? Part of it is thinking about the notion of positive risk-taking, maybe we’re not taking enough risk, and that’s part of a more sophisticated analysis of what risk really means.

No question that COVID brought the whole concept of risk, which was always there and always important, but now it’s at the very top of mind. This is a great book for people that are interested in that.

Raza: Alexander, do you have another one?

Alexander: Yeah, I’ve got a couple more. I’ll talk about Sheryl Batchelder who has a book called Dare to [00:20:00] Serve, what she wrote when she was the CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen who engineered that turnaround, and she also brings in the perspective of a significant board member. She’s been on the boards of so many different ones, True Value, Pier One. US Foods, advisory board for Procter and Gamble, Chick-fil-A, so she’s got tons and tons of experience, and she brings all that together in her book. She was also a lot of fun. It was Episode 29 that she’s in.

Raza: The next one that I’ll mention is called High Performance Boards by our guest, Didier Cossin, and he calls himself the “board doctor.” This is a book that’s full of tools and processes for how boards can become much more effective. It’s just a great book, very practical, a handbook for helping boards become more effective.

Joe: I’m going to throw in Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg, Matt and his book are, I think, phenomenal, and his book really reflects how he is operating the new company he started called [00:21:00] Bolster, and it’s a really thoughtful look at how to build the right kind of board for a startup, and it’s, I think, a very thoughtful approach.

Alexander: Another one that I would put out there, actually two, by Betsy Atkins, and she is, if my memory serves correctly, the second most tenured female board member in American history, and she’s got a couple of great books. One is called, Be Board Ready, and the other is Behind Boardroom Doors. You can imagine the two different perspectives on it. She was very early in my show. I think she was Episode number 30, so she didn’t share much of her background.

Joe: Wow. The last one I want to talk about is by our guest, Diane Hessan called Our Common Ground: Insights From Four Years of Listening to American Voters. It’s not about the boardroom, but it is a phenomenal book.

Alexander: One more I’d like to throw in that is near and dear to my heart would be by Mike Useem. He is my favorite professor back when I was at Wharton getting my MBA and he taught leadership, and his book is called Boards That Lead, and it’s a bestseller written with Ram Charan. If you know him, he’s another boardroom expert as [00:22:00] well. It was a lot of fun for me to have Mike on my show, I think it was Episode 113, and really, it’s just sort of almost brought me back in the classroom, listening to his expertise again.

Joe: Just for all our listeners, all of these books will be listed on our website with links to the books, so you can check them out. Now, favorite episodes, favorite guests, who have you liked? Whom you had the most fun with?

Raza: Or things that really stuck or really important, new and impactful.***

Alexander: There are a couple that come to mind that stick out forever, so I would say one of the fun ones for me was Peter Gleason, the CEO of NACD. It was a great fun to have him on the show. He just knows everything there is about boards. And I remember when I was prepping with his team, they’re like, “Okay, well, tell us the tough questions you’re going ask him.” I’m like, “No, I’m not going to ask him. I just want him to share his expertise with us.” It was great fun.

That ties in with another favorite episode of mine, I went to their annual summit. I recorded a live episode there, so that was with Tom Leopard and I’ll call it a bonus owed. It was my first bonus episode. I think it was around number 40 or something like that, and Tom is unbelievably [00:23:00]seasoned not only in the boardroom and having led several companies in the C-suite, but also he was the mayor of Dallas and he ran for Congress. He’s just a super nice guy as well, and he just knows everything about the board, so that was a lot of fun to do that live at NACD summit. When I saw Peter, I came up to him. He said, “I remember you. I remember you. We did that podcast together. Okay. This was not so bad.”

Another fun one that I would also recommend for all of the people listening to this, if you’re on that boardroom journey, trying to think how do I get better, Mark Pfister, our Episode 20 markup, is another boardroom expert. He does a lot of training around this. I tried a double episode, so Mark had so much content to give. I gave him two. We used to do a half hour. I gave him an hour and we still tried to pack everything he did. If you’re trying to figure out how do I pull altogether my materials, how do I interview, how do I do due diligence, Mark covers basically everything on that Episode 20, so that’s great fun. If you want to hear more, he does his sort of speeches all throughout the country and throughout the year as well.

Joe: Interesting. Earlier this season we had a guy named Marcus Peacock on. He’s the COO of the Business Roundtable and [00:24:00] just talking with him about the Business Roundtable, about the statement they put out four or five years ago now, but also about who their board is, consisting only of CEOs of some of the most well-known companies in the United States and how seriously they take their job. It was really, really interesting to look at and think about what CEOs want on the boards on which they serve, and really it was a good insight into what really is important when those folks are in the room together.

Raza: And Joe, for me, our most recent episode with our guest, Lisa Shalett was a jump out as well. She and her co-founder have gathered this great group called Extraordinary Women On Boards, EWOB, and we just had a tremendous conversation.

Joe: Yeah, I agree. I encourage people to check out Extraordinary Women On Boards, 500-plus women around the country and around the world [00:25:00] all on boards working together to be excellent board members and to really dive into the issues that will make their boards better. I agree. Good one, Raza. Excellent.

Raza: Alexander, to offer you the final word, what are your plans for the coming year for the Boardroom Bound Podcast? Are you evolving it in certain ways and taking a new direction?

Alexander: I’m listening to my audience’s feedback and trying to do things more intentionally for them. I’ve just, in the past, been able to have some of the most amazing people on the board, like Julie Daum, the world’s leading board headhunter, and be able to have conversations.

I’m trying to be a little bit more thematic now, so for example, the month of February, I want to have three leading voices of Black people in the boardroom to be able to use my platform to share with them. I use the three annual, I call it, military-type dates of Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Veterans Day to have semi-retired four-star generals who’ve gone from a battlefield to the boardroom, so doing more thematic things like that to use my platform, whether it’s promoting diversity, equity and inclusion or different ways, or we did some things for [00:26:00] Hispanic Heritage Month last year, we’re going to be a lot more thoughtful about how I align my guests with the calendar this year.

Joe: So, full speed ahead for ’22?

Alexander: I’m going to keep up with the weekly episodes. I’ve really enjoyed doing that. I love that you guys do two a month and you do these deep dives, which is wonderful. I know from some people, my audience, I regularly get this like, “I’m about to binge on more of your podcasts. Please keep it up.” I try to keep up with the weekly episodes as much as we can.

Joe: Well, that is great to hear. That’s really excellent.

Alexander, it’s been great speaking with you today. Thanks for joining us on On Boards, and thank you all for listening to On Boards with our special guest, Alexander Lowry.

Raza: We have a request for our listeners. Please take a moment to rate and review On Boards Podcast on Apple Podcast app if you enjoyed listening to it. It really helps others discover our podcast. Also, you can visit our website, onboardspodcast.com. That’s onboardspodcast.com. We’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Joe: Please stay [00:27:00] safe and take care of yourselves, your families, and your communities as best you can. And Raza, you take care as well.

Raza: You too, Joe.

Joe: Thanks..

33. Extraordinary Women on Boards: a force in advancing diversity and excellence on boards

After a fascinating career at Goldman Sachs, Lisa Shalett “retired” in 2015 – and two years later started what has become Extraordinary Women on Boards, EWOB, a peer-to-peer community of hundreds of women directors from the US and around the world, focused on advancing board excellence, modernizing governance and increasing board diversity.

In this episode Lisa talks about how Extraordinary Women on Boards started, how its membership exploded and how it has become an extraordinary force in advancing diversity and excellence on boards.

Thanks for listening!

We love our listeners! Drop us a line or give us guest suggestions here.

Links

Extraordinary Women on Boards (ewobnetwork.com)

Lisa DeCarlo

Lisa Shalett Bio 

Quotes

When I look back on my somewhat eclectic career, twenty years of which were at Goldman Sachs, there were a lot of things that I did that ended up preparing me for what has become Extraordinary Women on Boards…it’s funny how my background danced in and out of risk-related topics and content-related topics and suddenly here I am spending a lot of time on those issues.

How Extraordinary Women on Boards came about

Extraordinary Women on Boards was unplanned, and after a career of paying attention to pain points and wish lists and identifying opportunities that largely comes from covering really important and smart clients, I found myself in a situation where having “left the building,” so to speak, wandering the streets of New York, I was meeting a number of women who were at the same life stage that I was then at: having stepped away from an accomplished career and trying to put together, I think what we call portfolio careers or portfolio lives.

I was very lucky to, quite unintentionally, end up on two boards, a public and a VC-backed board, and the women that I was meeting were also starting to serve on boards as part of their portfolios, and I found it quite amusing that the most interesting thing that these women would relate to in my background was that we were all on boards and we were all starting our board careers.

That led to 15 coffees in a row on the topic of boards, and in particular, a few needs and pain points that just kept emerging that led me to believe that I should bring this group of women who were all board directors together to meet each other.

What I was hearing during was as follows; number one, women board directors wanted to meet more women who were already on boards. Often they were the only woman on their board at that time. That was in 2016, not that long ago, and the first meeting of what became Extraordinary Women on Boards, even though intended as a one-off event was in the beginning of 2017.

These women wanted to talk about their board work. It’s not enough to have to claw your way into the board room, you want to be excellent in the boardroom. You want your board to be excellent. And there was something so inspiring about women who wanted to talk with other women board directors in order to just crush it in the boardroom.

One of the other things that I was hearing was that despite there being many excellent forums, there was often a situation in which women felt talked over. There’s been a lot of research about how that sometimes can happen, no offense to men, but sometimes that happens, and therefore these forums weren’t really allowing a dialogue in the way that these women wanted.

 

Impact of the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, and anyone in this audience serving on any kind of board and certainly I’m sure the two of you remember vividly, it became a serious firehose experience. There was chaos. Boards were meeting 24/7. There were risks that folks were aware of, but that suddenly were all happening at the same time, and no one had really thought about the convergence of all those risks. And then there were completely new risks and issues on the table that no one had ever really discussed before, and so there was a tremendous need to get together and have discussions and really curate those discussions.

I remember one of the things from those days was there was suddenly so much information available. Your board was meeting all the time. You wanted to stay on top of everything. You only had kind of a tunnel vision of what your board was focused on, so it seemed like a compelling opportunity to bring people together, to compare notes, to get a horizontal view, and focus on all of these new risks.

It’s funny, I’ve sat in the same room, for now it feels like two years, and met through Zoom hundreds of truly extraordinary women, and we all would get together and have fantastic discussions. The goal was to leave the Zoom even smarter, go back to your boards and be even more influential, bring really good insights and figure out what the emerging best practices were going to be.

What Extraordinary Women on Boards Offers

We offer educational sessions that are really interactive, engaging Zoom sessions on important topics for board directors, and they’re not topics that are discussed everywhere in the same way. We really try to come up with an interesting angle, always yielding, per my Goldman training, “actionable insights,” and what are the questions that you can bring back to your boardroom.

We also curate a newsletter every week, which really scans the environment quite eclectically for articles that ought to be relevant for board directors and why. We have meet-and-greets so that people can still meet each other in Zoom, and we came up with a great format.

We also try to find our members board opportunities because one of the pain points that we’ve heard emerge is that, despite what you’re told- which is once you get on your first board, it’s easy to get on subsequent boards  – that is just not true. We love when people looking for diverse candidates reach out to tap our community of experienced directors.

Creating an environment to really learn

I mean, my gosh, you’ve had a successful career, but sometimes in the context of board work, especially if you’re new to boards, there are some super basic questions. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask those questions. Everybody has those questions. And so creating an environment where there’s immediate respect, you feel included, you feel welcomed, and there’s an assumption that we’re all going to learn from each other, I think that’s what helps the magic to happen.

One of the things that happens with Extraordinary Women on Boards is that we feel as if there are these really smart questions that need to be asked. There’s new information or best practices in this world of emerging best practices that the boardrooms need to hear. You can then go back to your boardroom and feel confident that you’ve got an insight that maybe the rest of the board might not have.

Big Ideas/Thoughts

I often think there’s so much effort put into finding a board director and not enough effort put into onboarding, as you mentioned. There needs to be much more intentionality around that because that’s going to make or break the success of that board director. And especially when they’re diverse, you want them to be successful, but to make someone feel like an only and just say, “Great, here’s your seat,” is not enough. Boards have cultures, and it’s so interesting to think about the dynamics in the room — so how are you setting the board up for success by bringing on any new member? It’s incredibly important.

It’s so interesting because when someone joins a board as a new board director they might be a very experienced board member on other boards, but they have joined a new board and there’s this weird dance that happens where someone doesn’t want to be so presumptuous as to immediately start asking questions, even though they might be incredibly thoughtful.  There’s a whole “beginner’s mind” thing that you don’t want to ruin the newness of somebody’s observations. You want to solicit it. So few times do boards solicit that from new board directors, “What are your impressions? How do you think about that?” There’s such an opportunity for feedback that’s missed – what a waste!

Transcript:

Joe: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to On Boards, a deep dive at what drives business success.

Hi, I’m Joe Ayoub, and I’m here with my co-host, Raza Shaikh. On Boards is about boards of directors and advisors and all aspects of 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, as well as the important issues that are facing boards, company leadership and stakeholders.

Raza: Joe and I speak with a wide range of guests and talk about what makes a board successful or unsuccessful, what it takes to be an effective board member, what challenges boards are facing and how they’re assessing those challenges, and how to make your board one of the most valuable assets of your company.

Joe: Our guest today is Lisa Shalett. Lisa is an accomplished senior executive, [00:01:00] corporate advisor, and independent board director with a remarkable breadth of leadership and operational experience over a 25-plus-year career, including 13 years as a Goldman Sachs’ partner. She has served on the board of every type of company; public, private equity-backed, venture capital-backed, family-owned, and nonprofit, and brings a deep understanding of stakeholder priorities and long-term value creation to the boards on which she serves.

Raza: Lisa retired from Goldman in 2015, and two years later founded Extraordinary Women on Boards, EWOB, a peer-to-peer community of hundreds of women directors from the US and around the world, focused on advancing board excellence, modernizing governance and increasing board diversity.

Joe: Lisa chairs the board of Generation W, a nonprofit organization that empowers women and girls. She is a distinguished scholar at Duke [00:02:00] University’s Coach K/Fuqua Center on leadership and ethics, a senior fellow of the McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character at West Point, and she continues to advise growth companies and support high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. Welcome Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today on On Boards.

Lisa: Thank you so much for having me. I love this podcast, and I’m glad to be here.

Joe: Thank you. As I was reading your introduction, I was thinking, “How, does she have time to do all of this?” But I think if you give a little background of your life before Extraordinary Women on Boards, perhaps that’ll give folks a little context.

Lisa: It’s funny when I look backwards on my somewhat eclectic career, twenty years of which were at Goldman Sachs, there were a lot of things that I did that ended up preparing me for what has become Extraordinary Women on Boards, and so I spent the beginning of a career that I never expected to be on Wall Street in the [00:03:00] equities division at Goldman Sachs. I have a Japan background way back from when I was in high school and won a scholarship to live with a Japanese family subsequently learning Japanese, becoming fluent in Japanese and ending up in the right place at the right time as far as the Japanese economy taking over the world. Lo and behold, there was this job I discovered called Japanese equity sales that I did for a number of years. That’s what brought me into Wall Street and started my career at Goldman.

I worked in New York on the Japan desk there covering institutional investors who were looking to invest in Japan, finding it difficult to navigate. I tried to be a good Sherpa. I moved to Tokyo and ran the Japanese business for Sachs for a few years. I came back. I ended up in a merchandising role running the morning call in the fire hose of all that was coming out of Goldman Sachs’ research, how do you funnel that into the most important points for all of the salespeople, the traders, the [00:04:00]sales traders of such an important, interesting role as it related to content.

I was plucked out of the equities division and dropped into the chief operating officer role of global compliance and then stretched to legal and audit right at a time when pre-financial crisis, the world was blowing up in terms of the financial system. When Bear Stearns and Lehman went under, everyone, including Goldman, became a bank holding company, and I had a front row seat and frankly was working with some of the most brilliant risk geniuses in the world, and that experience still has shaped me and shaped my board work today.

Then after four and a half years of that, I raised my hand looking for my next thing and ended up in the executive office at Goldman Sachs running Goldman’s brand and ended up, at that time, being a brand that soon became known as the poster child for all that was evil on Wall Street. This was the financial crisis and it was a brand case study for the ages at a time [00:05:00] when digital and social channels were first emerging, and it really changed the nature of communication, advertising, marketing, et cetera. So, it’s funny how my background danced in and out of risk- related topics and content-related topics and suddenly here I am spending a lot of time on those issues.

Joe: It sounds like an incredible ride at Goldman. But when we talked recently, and I asked you how Extraordinary Women on Boards came about, I think what you said is it found you, which I found to be a really interesting way to think about it. We’d love to hear how it came about.

Lisa: Sure. It was unplanned, and after a career of paying attention to pain points and wishlists and identifying opportunities that largely comes from covering really important and smart clients, I found myself in a situation where having “left the building,” [00:06:00] so to speak, wandering the streets of New York, I was meeting a number of women who were at the same life stage that I was then at; having stepped away from an accomplished career and trying to put together, I think what we call life portfolio careers. Rather than doing one intense full-time role, you’re still spending a lot of time to your earlier point, but just doing a bunch of different things, and upon leaving Goldman and becoming eligible to serve on a board. I was very lucky to quite unintentionally end up on two boards, a public and a VC-backed board, and the women that I was meeting were also starting to serve on boards as part of their portfolios, and I found it quite amusing that with the background that I just told you, which wasn’t a typical background at all, that the most interesting thing that these women would relate to in my background was that we were all on boards and we were all starting our board careers.

That [00:07:00] led to 15 coffees in a row on the topic of boards, and in particular, just a few needs and pain points that just kept emerging that led me to believe that I should bring this group of women I had just met who were all board directors together to meet each other.

What I was hearing during was as follows; number one, women wanted to meet more women board directors. Often they were the only woman on their board at that time. That was in 2016, not that long ago, and the first meeting of what became Extraordinary Women on Boards, even though intended as a one-off event was in the beginning of 2017.

But women wanted to meet other women on boards. Women wanted to talk about their board work. It’s not enough to have to claw your way into the board room, you want to be excellent in the boardroom. You want your board to be excellent. And there was something so inspiring about women who wanted to talk with other women board directors in order [00:08:00] to just crush it in the boardroom.

One of the other things that I was hearing was that despite there being many excellent forums, there was often a situation in which you felt as a woman talked over. There’s been a lot of research about how that sometimes can happen, no offense to men, but sometimes that happens, and therefore these forums weren’t really allowing a dialogue in the way that these women wanted.

Joe: Why don’t we talk about how you connected with Lisa DeCarlo who’s the co-founder of Extraordinary Women on Boards?

Lisa: My co-founder Lisa DeCarlo is awesome. Thankfully she joined me in 2020 in August when this had become already a 24/7 thing for me. I found myself a startup founder, so I reconnected with Lisa. I had met Lisa in a very interesting way, a way that’s very relevant to Extraordinary Women on Boards.

Lisa, who also had had a very long and successful career in financial [00:09:00] services, very much kind of a builder and innovator inside of organizations having stepped out now to be an entrepreneur, one of the things that she had co-founded was this incredible program called The Decade Game, and I was very lucky to be able to attend one of The Decade Game workshops in November of 2019 right before the pandemic moved everything to virtual, so this was in-person, focused on helping women think about their lives in decades and really develop goals, and it was so aligned to how I was already thinking about my portfolio life. This is the brainchild of Carolyn Buck Luce who really created this notion of The Decade Game. We had already connected about this life stage, and when we came together, I had a community that was focused on boards, but also overlapped with the life stage. Lisa and I were still completely obsessed and passionate about transitions, about women in these transitions and this [00:10:00] point of kind of re-imagining retirement and we decided to go all in on the community of boards and try to combine those interests as best we can. It’s been so much fun to work with her.

Joe: Yeah, none of this sounds like retirement to me, by the way, but it sounds like something else, but I understand that’s the word that sometimes people use when they stop their primary career, but the portfolio careers that you’re describing, if anything, are more involving.

Let’s talk a little bit about that first meeting of what turned out to be Extraordinary Women on Boards, and then what happened when COVID hit, because I think what you’ve told us is that it kind of exploded after that, which is interesting.

Lisa: I got 15 women together that I had met in my coffee wanderings, and I didn’t just want to bring them together in a social environment because one of the things that I saw in common is that we all were interested in learning and sharing our collective wisdom, and [00:11:00] so I happened to be introduced by a friend to someone that your audience may know, Dave Chun, who is the founder and CEO of Equilar, and at that time he was doing some really cutting edge work with CalPERS and CalSTRS on board diversity. When we met and he told me that, I said, “Well, how much of this have you discussed with women board directors who are going to be very interested?” He said, “Honestly, my head’s been down. I haven’t even had a chance.” So, I said, “Okay, you’re going to buy lunch in a private room the next time you’re in New York. I will fill it with these 15 women who want to meet anyway, who will be very interested in what you have to say, and you will be able to have an amazing opportunity to get feedback.” He says, “I’m in.” So, that became this one-off gathering.

It was intended to be at the end of it like, “Okay, here’s everyone’s email addresses, let’s stay in touch.” Now, we know each other, and within 48 hours, every single woman who was in that room reached out to me and said, “You’re going to keep doing this,” and a side hustle was born. From that point on, every five or six weeks, I would find a law firm to host us. I would [00:12:00] gather this group together, and inevitably, as I found interesting topics to talk about, we did fireside chats and various things, women would want to bring other women who similar to them were already on at least one public or private for-profit board, and the group grew to a hundred just by word of mouth, nothing else, right before the pandemic.

Joe: When the pandemic hit, what happened?

Lisa: Well, when the pandemic hit, and anyone in this audience serving on any kind of board and certainly I’m sure the two of you remember vividly, like it became a serious firehose experience. There was chaos. Boards were meeting 24/7. There were risks that folks were aware of, but that were all happening at the same time, and no one had really thought about the convergence of all those risks. There were completely new things on the table that no one had ever really discussed before, and so there was a tremendous need to [00:13:00] get together and have discussions and really curate those discussions.

I remember one of the things from those days was there was suddenly so much information available. Your board was meeting all the time. You wanted to stay on top of everything. You only had kind of a tunnel vision of what your board was focused on so it seemed like a compelling opportunity to bring people together, to compare notes, to get a horizontal view, and kind of focus on all of these new risks.

We flipped to Zoom. Zoom was a lot easier than planning a physical event, and it was just me at that point. I just did more of them, and people kept showing up. The fact that they kept showing up encouraged me to keep doing more of them, and with the geographical constraints removed in terms of referrals, the group quickly grew to hundreds of women who were on boards and wanted to be a part of this, referred by other members.

It’s funny, I sat in the same [00:14:00] room, for now it feels like two years, and met through Zoom hundreds of truly extraordinary women, and we all would get together and have fantastic discussions, and the goal was leave the Zoom even smarter, go back to your boards and be even more influential, bring really good insights and figure out what the emerging best practices were going to be.

Joe: Yeah. Like a lot of things, as you pointed out, Zoom really had quite an impact on boards and a lot of other business endeavors. One of the things you mentioned, geographical diversity, I mean, for you and for this kind of organization where you want to share ideas and really talk about best practice and people’s experience, being able to include a broad range of people around the country, and I know in other countries as well, must have really given it some real energy going forward.

Lisa: There was a lot of energy in the Zoom. There still is [00:15:00] to this day. When you think about it, we represent hundreds of boards, and in addition, the community itself has such a wealth of experience and expertise that sometimes we wonder why we bother finding an outside speaker because there’s usually an expert in the Zoom, so to speak and the community has been really wonderful that way.

I’ll share one other observation about this hybrid world we live in. We actually tiptoed back into doing live events, and we did an event in New York right before Thanksgiving that was focused on crypto because one of the things that we want to do is make sure that we stay relevant and cutting edge, and it was in-person, like in the old days. It was a panel discussion, there was a small audience, and we tried to do very engaging conversations where we learned not only from the speaker, but from the members asking questions. It was so hard to do in person the same way you can do in a [00:16:00] Zoom. In a Zoom, it’s much more egalitarian and it’s much more inclusive because you see who’s asking a question, and sometimes my line of sight in the room prevented me from seeing who was raising their hand. You know the questions in advance because people are putting them into the chat so you can segue and manage a conversation much more thoughtfully than the mind reading or the surprise of who’s raising their hand and what they’re going to say can derail a conversation. And then some people are much more comfortable asking questions in a Zoom than in person, and so I’ve been reflecting on that ever since as to how we navigate going forward.

Joe: It is funny that we all refer to 2019, barely two and a half years ago, as the “old days,” because so much really has changed in a lot of what we do.

Raza: It has.

Lisa, , what is it today? What activities are you doing? How do you help members, and what is the shape of conversation for EWOB today?

Lisa: Sure. What we [00:17:00] offer are these, I’ll call them educational sessions. They’re really interactive, engaging Zoom sessions on important topics for board directors, and they’re not topics that are discussed everywhere in the same way. We really try to come up with an interesting angle, always yielding, per my Goldman training, actionable insights, and what are the questions that you can bring back to your boardroom. We’ve gotten good feedback on that. Curation is still a very important part of it. The firehose of both being out of the flow because you’ve left your organization that used to provide you with a lot of information, but bombarded by flow because we live in this firehose world.

We curate a newsletter every week, which really scans the environment quite eclectically for articles that ought to be relevant for board directors and why, and so we try to cultivate that. We have meet-and-greets so that people could still meet each other in Zoom, and we came up with a great format for that.

We also try to find our members board [00:18:00] opportunities because one of the pain points that we’ve heard emerge is that, despite what you’re told, which is once you get on your first board, it’s easy to get on subsequent boards, that is just not true, and so Lisa and I have become very scrappy trying to find opportunities, and in doing so, kind of help create more flow, more transparency, more access for our members, experienced board directors, and more opportunity to say, “Hey, this is what this board is looking for. Here’s why I think I’m a fit.”

In doing so, we have really helped a lot of our members get on more boards, and we’ve helped the world seemingly understand that, “Yes, there are diverse, experienced board directors. We have a whole community of that. Please come tap our community, and we’d love to help you find a great fit.” So, those are some of the things that we do, and we are very entrepreneurial about it and keep innovating.

Raza: That’s such a great community that you’ve gathered, Lisa, and to your point, I think the excuse of “we can no longer” is [00:19:00] no longer valid that we can’t find qualified women to be on boards. That’s really, really old.

Talk a little bit about that supportive environment that you wanted to bring where women can be comfortable having conversations that maybe they otherwise don’t. How has EWOB created that environment?

Lisa: Well, I just would say women are used to being in all kinds of rooms, boardrooms, meeting rooms where they’re not the majority represented in the room, so it’s not about being uncomfortable per se, it’s just about really, how are we going to have a very productive, thoughtful, and actionable conversation given that we all seem to share the very nerdy goal of excellence? We want to tap into the wisdom in the room, as I said, and also just want to learn together, and by not being talked over by being able to feel as if you can be an incredibly accomplished executive.

I mean, my gosh, you’ve had a [00:20:00] successful career, but sometimes in the context of board work, especially if you’re new to boards, it’s like having super basic questions. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask those questions. Everybody has those questions. And so creating an environment where there’s immediate respect, you feel included, you feel welcomed, and there’s an assumption that we’re all going to learn from each other, I think that’s what helps the magic to happen.

Joe: I was going to say being a board member is a different job, so even if you’ve had a career and you’re now moving into the boardroom, being a board member on an active company that is going to challenge you is a different kind of job, so it’s not surprising that whoever you are, it takes some work to kind of be as good, maybe as a board member, as you were in your other job.

I’d just say for the companies bringing new board members on, women, men, or whoever it is, onboarding is just as important as identifying and recruiting the people that you’re bringing onto your board. Because if you don’t do that right, then you’re [00:21:00] really not going to get kind of value from really, really potentially great board members that you otherwise would.

It sounds like you’re doing with Extraordinary Women on Boards, some of that work outside of the boardroom, which I think is terrific. It’s a great idea.

Lisa: Yeah, I think often there’s so much effort put into finding a board director and not enough effort put into the onboarding, as you mentioned. There needs to be much more intentionality around that because that’s going to make or break the success of that board director. And especially when they’re diverse, you want them to be successful, but to make someone feel like an only and just say, “Great, here’s your seat,” is not enough. Boards have cultures, and it’s so interesting to think about the dynamics in the room, so how are you setting the board up for success by bringing on any new member? It’s incredibly important.

The other thing that I think surprises me is just that there’s not yet mandatory director education. It seems very much board by board, and so you [00:22:00] might be a very experienced board director, but that doesn’t mean that your information is as relevant as it used to be when you joined that board. It doesn’t mean that you’re as cutting edge. It really depends on your own discipline, and so I think that more can be done in that arena as well.

Joe: I had no question about that. I think just to your point, companies put so much time into identifying and recruiting even one board member and then drop the ball because, as you put it, it’s not just bringing that new member on and making sure he or she really has the best possible chance at succeeding greatly, it’s also creating the board culture. Because if that isn’t working ,then the whole culture changes. It is at least as important as the actual bringing on the board member, you have to make it work. It’s like bringing a new member of a team. If that team is working right, then even though the parts may be all really, really high-end, it may not be a great team, so to really [00:23:00] to work on it.

Again, what you’re doing, I think you didn’t do it intentionally, but instinctively, you’ve found something that is so important to developing good board members and helping make high-performing boards.

Lisa: It’s so interesting though, because when someone joins a board as a new board director, they might be a very experienced board member on other boards but they joined a new board, there’s this weird dance that happens where someone doesn’t want to be so presumptuous as to immediately start asking questions, even though they might be incredibly thoughtful, and there’s a whole beginner’s mind thing that you don’t want to ruin the newness of somebody’s observations. You want to solicit it. So few times do boards solicit that from new board directors, “What are your impressions? How do you think about that?”

There’s such an opportunity for feedback that’s missed out, and then that board director, just out of respect and deference to the rest of room culturally, might sit [00:24:00] there for like six months and either be told that they’re not supposed to ask questions. They’re just supposed to listen. They’re a new board director or wonder whether it’s appropriate for them to ask new questions and what a waste, what a waste.

One of the things that happens with Extraordinary Women on Boards is that we kind of can feel as if there are these really smart questions that need to be asked. There’s new information or best practices in this world of emerging best practices that the boardrooms need to hear. You can go back to your boardroom and feel confident that you’ve got an insight that maybe the rest of the board might not have and get over the hurdle that one might feel.

I’m not saying women feel this any more than men, but get over the hurdle that maybe as a newer board director, you might feel when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to speak or if you’re going to bring something that the board will find relevant. There’s just a lot of wasted opportunity there.

Joe: No [00:25:00] question, and one of the things you said is just so right on the money, which is it’s a wasted opportunity to hear a fresh perspective. The idea that a new board member should just listen for a while. Well, yeah, of course, to some degree that’s true, but this is an opportunity to hear something that you have missed, and if you’ve spent the time to recruit this board member, why not take advantage of it right at the beginning. There’s just no reason for that.

Lisa: Yeah. I also think that being amongst other board directors, like maybe you’d serve on a few different boards, so maybe you have a wider perspective than just one board, maybe you’re on three or four boards, but even so in this environment, my gosh, what will the best practices be? To be able to get together and have the perspective of hundreds of boards, really enables you to add value in a new way, and hopefully, members of Extraordinary Women on Boards are adding even more value to their boardrooms. That’s what we hope.

Raza: Lisa, at Extraordinary Women [00:26:00] on Boards, what are the topics and conversations today?

Lisa: Sure. I don’t know that any of these topics will be particularly surprising to anyone who’s in your audience. These keep coming up over and over again. We like to look at sources of outside pressure because that is dialing up big time. Especially in the ESG world, there are so many different ways to scrutinize data to call out companies in a way that represents risk in new ways, and also to identify opportunities to figure out how to do things really well.

It’s very interesting to look at the different stakeholders and their voices and think about from the boardroom what that means and what new risks are. The other things that we look at, not surprisingly, the whole hybrid work arrangement, how we think about talent, how the board should care about retention, about leadership, about wellness and mental health, topics related to trust.

[00:27:00] Especially in technology, what are the ethics of algorithms of AI? How do we think about that? How do we tie things into compensation and reward? I mean, sometimes the topics are around committees because the scope of committees has changed as talent has become such an important issue as, do you have a separate ESG committee? These kinds of things that are kind of at the forefront of how boards should think about operating well is interesting.

Sometimes we talk about how to get on boards or public and private and what the difference is. We talk about how to have leadership within the boardroom, and we just had a session on the audit chair’s perspective. We talk a lot about various ways to see around corners. We had a fantastic session on cyber where we didn’t just talk about like, “Well, here’s what cyber is.” You’re left with a framework. You’re left with smart questions that just [00:28:00] aren’t being asked enough. That’s what we try to do.

Joe: One of the things that you’ve mentioned a few times is risk identification and talking about risk, and I wanted to mention that one of our favorite guests in the past was David Koenig who started the DCRO. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but I try to let everyone know about them because he has started an organization that trains people to be qualified risk directors and in the world we’re living in, especially as we’ve gone through COVID, and to really focus on risk that maybe wasn’t as acute as it was prior to that, but I think it’s just a fabulous thing to keep in mind. Do you know DCRO?

Lisa: I’ve heard of it, but haven’t had the pleasure of talking with anyone from that organization yet, but I’ve heard of it from some of our members as well.

Joe: Well, we’ll connect you

Lisa: Oh, fantastic. Thank you.

Joe: You would have a great conversation with David, that’s for sure.

Raza: Lisa, what boards are you currently serving on?

Lisa: [00:29:00] I’m currently serving on four boards ,and that might sound like a lot, especially given what I’ve just told you, but they’re all different boards, and I personally find that really intellectually stimulating. I’m on one publicly-listed board, which is PennyMac Financial Services, so the ticker is PFSI; AccuWeather, which is a well-known brand, but actually a family-owned company; Bully Pulpit Interactive, which is a cutting-edge digital company that’s PE-backed; and my most recent board is Empower Partners, which is a VC fund where I’m the independent board director and it was founded by some powerhouse women in Japan who many of whom I know from my Goldman days who started the first women-founded VC fund in Japan and also the first fund focused on ESG so very aligned with interests of mine.

Raza: Oh, that’s tremendous. Not to get into any specific [00:30:00] issues, but the combination of the boards that you were on, are they facing similar type of issues that you are talking at EWOB about?

Lisa: As a board director myself, I think that sitting in the boardroom is the perspective that we try to bring to the conversations that we have. If we’re not relevant, then why bother? But there are definitely issues that are cutting across all of these boards that I sit on for sure, and then there are things that not surprisingly are just specific to the boards, but I find that there’s a lot of convergence around the same kinds of topics and that makes the discovery of emerging best practices more important.

Raza: Yeah, it’s current, it’s fresh. You’re seeing the same things, and that’s what you were bringing to your audience. Lisa, how can people connect to Extraordinary Women on Boards, and how can they become members of your organization?

Lisa: Sure. We have a website it’s ewobnetwork.com, and there’s a way to community with us through that. We, as I [00:31:00] said, are a peer-to-peer community for women already on at least one public or private for-profit board. That is a requirement of all members. Sometimes that creates a really difficult situation when an extraordinary woman who is not yet on a board reaches out to us, we try to be helpful, but we also try to stay focused, and so we’re trying to think about how to potentially serve that group as well, but I think reaching out through our website is a great way to do that.

Joe: Fantastic. We will encourage people to do it, and we’ll post that on our website as well.

Lisa, it’s been a great conversation today. Thank you so much for joining us, and thank you all for listening to On Boards with our special guest, Lisa Shalett.

Lisa: Thank you so much.

Raza: We have a request for our listeners. Please take a moment to rate and review On Boards Podcast on your Apple Podcast app if you enjoyed listening to it. It really helps others discover our podcast. Also, you can visit our [00:32:00] website at onboardspodcast.com. That’s onboardspodcast.com. We’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Joe: Please stay safe and take care of yourselves, your families and your communities as best you can. Raza, you take care too.

Raza: You too, Joe.

Joe: Thanks.

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