Marcus Peacock is the Chief Operating Officer of the Business Roundtable, an association of Chief Executive Officers of America’s leading companies. In this episode we discuss the Business Roundtable, its highly publicized Statement of Corporate Purpose (August 2019) and what it’s like to administer the BRT board of directors, composed of more than 20 CEOs of large US companies.
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The purpose of the Business Roundtable is to promote policies that will result in a growing and thriving economy for everybody in the United States. We ar e made up of the CEOs of large US companies. So, if you think of a large US company, their CEO is probably a member.
The CEOs are the members – not their companies – and we help them develop and formulate policies that we think will meet the mission of the organization, and then we help them advocate those policies at the federal level – with the administration or on Capitol Hill.
The BRT is an issues organization, not a partisan one. We don’t give campaign money. We don’t have a PAC, but there are issues that our members care a lot about that, we think, if our policies are adopted, it’ll help the economy grow and people find jobs and help out the general welfare.
The BRT Statement of Corporate Purpose (8.8.19)
See full text below and here.
Just so people know, it states that a company, and particularly the CEO of the company, has a commitment not only to the shareholders of that company, but to the customers, the employees, the suppliers, and the communities in which that company works. Of course, there’s more detail in the statement.
In 2018, some of our members were receiving criticism from both the left and the right of the political spectrum based on a stereotype of businesses where it’s all about maximizing short-term value, even if that hurt suppliers or communities or employees, and they felt “that’s not the way we do business” and “we need to do something more than just push back when we see these people making these assertions.”
The statement sets a standard that is very much about long-term value, and I think some of the criticism we received may miss that point. You’re not going to have, in the long-term, a thriving organization that doesn’t treat its customers, employers, suppliers, and communities well. All those things are necessary.
Criticism of the Statement from the Wall Street Journal
JA: I wanted to ask about criticism that you’ve got from the Wall Street Journal and the pushback that you’ve received.
MP: They were saying, “No, this is about your shareholders. They are the people who are taking the risk. They’re putting the investment in. This isn’t about these other stakeholders who may have completely different objective functions.”
And our response to the Wall Street Journal is “well, so you’re against the long-term. You make commitments to these other stakeholders because you’re trying to build this long-term value. If you’re not interested in long-term value, then, yeah, go ahead and screw your suppliers, you get out of them what you can today, but pretty much from now on, they may be broken down and gone. That’s a good way to get short-term value, it’s not a good way to build up a company for the long term.”
Momentum Behind Change in Corporate Perspective
JA: I believe some of the momentum is driven because institutional investors who look at the failure to focus on the long term as a risk, and as long as there’s that risk, that creates a problem for the company.
MP: It does mean that, particularly for a signatory, people should be able to go to them and go, “How are you implementing [this]? How are you living up to the words that you signed on to?” And the fact is, they are.
Impact of Statement on BRT
Some CEOs who had not been members in the past have now come to us since the statement was put out and said, “We would like to join BRT.” In some cases, I know the statement made a difference.
And some of the increased interest in BRT comes directly from actions our members took during the pandemic and also in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Our members have taken actions which people see demonstrate that they’re living by the words that they’d signed on to.
Managing a Board of 20 Top CEOs
JA: I’d like to talk about your role as COO – one of your jobs is to manage the BRT board. Managing a board is always a challenging job but managing a board of 20-plus CEOs of the biggest companies in the US must be, let’s say, particularly interesting. Tell us what that’s like.
MP: Well, I’ve learned more from them than they learned from me. But for me, because they know what they’re doing, in some ways it’s somewhat easy, although their expectations are high.
The biggest job for me is to make sure that every minute of their time related to the board of directors is something that is of value to them – – including allowing them time to talk to each other, in a social way, which is something they do value because they don’t often get to hang out with each other
Also, to make sure they’re not dealing with anything that’s too trivial, and that they’re given the information that they need so they can have an informed discussion and come to a decision that’s going to be right for them.
JA: Well, I think that’s the perfect confluence of all the things that you want for great governance: a group of people who are really good at what they do, who have high expectations, who want to use their time well, and from what you’re telling us, willing to work hard at the job. They’re not just showing up and show me a PowerPoint, they’re really digging in and asking tough questions.
Every board, that’s the challenge. You have high expectations for the board, but that means that whoever’s organizing it – the chair, senior management, whoever, really needs to give a lot of thought to how are we going to take best advantage of this very valuable time of our board members.
Girl Scouts National Board of Directors
I have two daughters, they were girl scouts. My wife was their troop leader. My wife was a gold award girl scout. Her mother was there, too. I was a volunteer. It’s just a great organization. They have a great mission. Their mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place. I mean, how can you beat that? I feel privileged to be on that board.
I think that they have done a tremendous job. I’m forgetting the exact number, but I did read that a very large percentage of the women fortune 1000 CEOs were girl scouts at one point in their lives and in fact, a significant number of the members of Congress and senators who are women were girl scouts.
Joe: 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 organization.
Joe: Our guest today is Marcus Peacock. Marcus is the Chief Operating Officer of the Business Roundtable, an association of Chief Executive Officers [00:01:00] of America’s leading companies. Among his duties as COO is to manage the Business Roundtable’s board of directors, which consists of more than 20 CEOs of those leading companies.
Raza: Marcus has held a number of high-level posts in the US government, including being the deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, and the associate director for Natural Resources, Energy and Science at the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB. Marcus also served as a staff director on committees in both the US House and the Senate.
Joe: In addition, Marcus has served on a number of boards of nonprofit organizations and currently serves as the director on the board of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Welcome, Marcus, it’s great to have you here today.
Marcus: Well, Joe and Raza, thank you for letting me part of the broad range of guests that you have on your show. I look forward to it.
Raza: Marcus, please give us a [00:02:00] brief overview of the Business Roundtable, its purpose, and how it conducts its business.
Marcus: The purpose of the Business Roundtable is to promote policies that will result in a growing and thriving economy for everybody in the United States. And as you indicated, we are made up of the CEOs of large US companies. So, if you thought of a large US company, their CEO is probably a member.
We have over 230 members right now, and they are the actual members. It’s not the companies that are members, but it’s the individual CEOs, which makes us a bit different. And it’s also, of course, across industry, so we have CEOs of companies that do everything from run retail shops to making tractors, so it’s an unusual in that respect.
So, the CEOs are the members and we help them develop and formulate policies that we think will meet the mission of the organization, and then we also help them advocate those policies at the federal level, so with the administration or on Capitol Hill.
Raza: Marcus, because this [00:03:00] advocacy is for the CEOs and represents a pretty significant swath of the US economy, how do you keep it apolitical or bipartisan?
Marcus: Yeah, that’s a great question. So we are an issues organization, not a partisan one, and frankly, I’m surprised the number of CEOs who don’t necessarily have a political affiliation, they would prefer, many of them, to just stay out of Washington.
But there are particular issues that their interested in. So we’re not Republican, we’re not Democratic. We don’t give campaign money. We don’t have a PAC, but there are issues that our members care a lot about that, that we think if our policies are adopted, it’ll help the economy grow and people find jobs and help out the general welfare.
I’ll take the Trump administration as an example. We supported many of the Trump administration policies on tax and regulation, for instance, but we were very critical of policies that they advanced on immigration or trade. And that can confuse some people in Washington because they’re used to dealing with probably more partisan organizations. But I think a lot of members of [00:04:00] Congress and eventually administrations do understand where we’re coming from, and and we find that what best serves our mission is to make sure that we don’t become partisan.
Joe: Marcus, the Business Roundtable issued a landmark statement regarding corporate purpose in August, 2019. Could you tell us a little bit about how this came about? What was the process to having it issued?
Marcus: Yeah. So the statement on the purpose of a corporation, which as you mentioned, came out in August of 2019. First of all, I encourage people to actually go read it. It’s only 300 words long. It’s gotten a lot of coverage, but some people read out of it things they don’t like, or for whatever reason, they don’t want to see, they read into it things that aren’t there, so it’s good to go back to the original document.
And just so people know, it states that a company, and particularly the CEO of company, has a commitment not only the shareholders of that company, but to the customers, the employees, the suppliers, [00:05:00] and the communities in which that company works, and there’s, of course, more detail in the statement.
But in 2018, some of our members noticed that they were receiving criticism from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, people that we respect, and that criticism was based on a stereotype of businesses where it’s all about maximizing short-term value, even if that hurt suppliers or communities or employees, and they felt that’s not the way we do business and we need to do something more than just push back when we see these individuals making these assertion.
And so, actually But in 2018, some of our members noticed that they were receiving criticism from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, people that we respect, and that criticism was based on a stereotype of businesses where it’s all about maximizing short-term value, even if that [00:06:00] hurt suppliers or communities or employees, and they felt that’s not the way we do business and we need to do something more than just push back when we see these individuals making these assertion.
it received much more coverage than I think at least I expected and. I think was effective in gathering people’s attention and better understanding at least what the CEOs of BRT felt the purpose of a corporation was and correcting the image that some people were developing out there.
Now, that said, there were definitely people on the right and people on the left, who at the time, and still criticize the statement of a purpose of a corporation, either on the right, because they consider it a statement which is from a group of woke CEOs that shouldn’t be meddling in issues that they’re getting into, and on the left, because, well, they don’t necessarily mind what it says, but they think it’s whitewashing, that they don’t really mean what they say. And all I’d say is go back to the original [00:07:00] document and compare it to what CEOs are actually doing, and I think it does stand up well.
Joe: We’ll get into that, but I will say that if you’re getting criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, that’s a good sign.
Marcus: Yeah. Well, Raza mentioned I’ve worked at EPA, that was sort of a test at EPA. If we were being criticized on both sides, we were probably around the right spot.
Joe: So, the term “stakeholder capitalism,” I don’t think appears in the statement, but a lot of people, when they refer to that statement, use that term, because it is a broad look at all stakeholders who have an interest, and so I find that interesting. But what I read when I see this is that it’s focused on long-term success of a company, and that isn’t really a shift, but the statement feels like it was a moment when US business really was prepared to say something a little different than [00:08:00] maybe most people thought was going on.
Marcus: And I think for some of our CEOs, they felt there had been an evolution which had gone unnoticed, and so you could say there was a watershed here where suddenly people said, “Oh, it has changed.” Whereas for the CEOs, that was a slower change.
But there are probably BRT CEOs, and certainly CEOs that are not members of BRT that do not necessarily behave this way, do not think about the long-term shareholder value, and I think our CEOs felt that this not only maybe express what many of them were already doing, but was a model and a standard that other CEOs could look to or be held accountable to.
So, I think that’s another beneficial aspect of other than just being descriptive. It does set a standard. And as you point out, Joe, it is very much triggered about long-term value, and I think some of the criticism we received may miss that point. I mean, you’re not going to have, in the long-term, a thriving organization that doesn’t treat its customers, employers, suppliers, and [00:09:00]communities well. All those things are necessary.
Joe: Well, it seems like part of the momentum is driven because institutional investors, for example, look at the failure to focus on the long term as a risk, and as long as that’s a risk, which makes perfect sense to me, by the way, then that creates a problem for the company. So, if you’re not doing this, the people who are investing in you may not be so interested in investing anymore, and that seems like something that really would move the needle.
Marcus: Yeah. Well, I mean, I go back to the CEOs themselves. The CEOs I know and their boards are all focused on long-term value. They understand the risk of thinking in short-termism and that’s not what they’re interested in. They’ve made a conscious choice to avoid that.
There are CEOs who have explicitly made decisions that they know may, in the short term, drop their share value, but they are betting, at least the examples I’m aware of, it has turned out that it has increased it in the long term. It’s [00:10:00] made them more resilient, or after sort of the initial reaction has taken place, shareholders and others realize, “Oh, this has strengthened the company.”
Joe: So, I suppose the statement must be of help to companies and company boards where a CEO is doing that. And maybe there might have been trepidation in the past, but having the Business Roundtable come out and say, “This is what we believe might have helped companies where that momentum needed a little push.”
Marcus: Yeah, that was not the main purpose for doing it, but I think we came to realize that was a definite benefit. We’ve been approached after it was released. We have been approached by many people who I think would like to define what it means, and many of them already had defined in their heads and sort of imposed their definition.
I mean, we’ve had one senator who essentially wrote us and said, “Well, now you must support my bill that does X, Y, Z.” So, that’s their definition. But regardless of the specifics, it does mean that, particularly for a signatory, someone should be [00:11:00] able to go to them and go, “How are you implementing? How are you living up to the words that you signed on to?”
And another thing I know of our members is they do not put their signature on anything lightly, and in this case, that is particularly true.
Raza: So, Marcus, now about almost two years into the statement, what reaction is BRT getting on the statement and from whom?
Marcus: Well, that’s a great question, Raza, because it has been different depending on who you look at? First and foremost for us is the CEOs who were not members of BRT for whatever reason and often it’s just because of time, we do have in-person meetings at least pre-COVID and now post-COVID, if we can get there, there’ll be in person again, but they are required to show up to some of those meetings. So there’s a time commitment there.
But some of those CEOs who had not been members in the past have now come to us since the statement was put out and said, “We would like to join BRT.” In some cases, I know the statement made a difference. In others, I [00:12:00] guess it did, and then probably other things.
So, I think among the cadre of CEOs, it’s been something they’ve seen as desirable and beneficial, both those CEOs within BRT, as well as those who were not members. We live in Washington, DC. I think we’ve seen, as I mentioned before, reactions on the left and right, which at first were skeptical. I’m not sure we’ve diffused all the skepticism, but I have seen a softening just among columnists who write, particularly in the print media, as well as some of the political people on the Hill who said, “Well, show me”. And some of that comes directly from actions our members took during the pandemic and also in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Our members have taken actions, which people see demonstrate that they’re living by the words that they’d signed on to.
Joe: Maybe we should talk about a few of the things that did come out of it. You mentioned in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, what are some of the things that happened that really did catch your attention and help [00:13:00] create more momentum?
Marcus: BRT has developed a slate of racial equity and justice proposals. But one of the first is actually on policing and police reform, and I think immediate reaction from some to that was why does the CEOs are they getting involved in police reform? That’s got nothing to do with business, which actually is not true.
I mean, we have some members. Well, I just mentioned one member, not by name, but for instance, they have a fleet of trucks and they noted that more than half of their drivers are black and they’re driving around all the time, interacting with the police on a somewhat frequent basis for whatever reason, and so this very much mattered to the employees of that organization, as well as other corporations have a similar story to tell.
But we also felt that a lot of employees care about what their company is doing in their communities and how they’re trying to make their communities better, and police reform, in particular, is an area that can benefit the communities within the United States, as well as the [00:14:00] employees.
And so, each issue is different, but this was an area where we thought BRT’s voice could be helpful, and eventually, help in terms of bringing more more people into the workforce and helping the diversity of the workforce, which again, serves our mission.
So, we have put together police reform for principles. We’re strong advocates of a bipartisan solution, which Senator Scott and Bass in the House, I think Senator Booker are all trying to work on right now, and we’re hoping to be able to push that through, but that’s an example of some of the actions we took afterward, which people have noticed is something that perhaps BRT wouldn’t have gotten involved in the past.
Joe: I wanted to ask about criticism that you’ve got from the Wall Street Journal and that the pushback that you’ve heard is: “so you’re not in favor of the long term.”
Marcus: Well, actually, it’s the other way round, Joe. They were saying, “No, this is about you shareholders. They are the people who are taking the risk. They’re putting the investment in. This isn’t about these other stakeholders who may have completely [00:15:00] different objective functions.”
And really our response to the Wall Street Journal is well, so you’re against the long-term because you make commitments to these other stakeholders because you’re trying to build this long-term value. If you’re not interested in long-term value, then, yeah, go ahead and screw your suppliers, you get out of what you can today, but pretty much from now, they may be broken down and gone. But that’s a good way to get short-term value, it’s not a good way to build up a company for the long term.
Joe: It seems like a very compelling argument. CEOs are not usually interested in statements of principle, but it sounds like this statement of corporate purpose really caught the attention of CEOs around the country. So, one of the things I wanted to ask you about is the impact it’s had on the Business Roundtable, but you started to talk about it earlier.
What are the numbers like? What has the response been? What has it meant to the Business Roundtable since that statement was made two years ago?
Marcus: Yeah, well, like many associations in Washington, DC when the pandemic started and became obvious this was going to be [00:16:00] a serious problem, we went back to our budget and I think that we planned on something like 15% reduction in membership and since then it’s increased by more than 15%, but it went completely the other way.
And again, I think the statement on the purpose of a corporation had something to do with that. But I also think there were other changes that were brought into place around the same time, because I think the statement was an outgrowth of a number of changes, which took place at Business Roundtable.
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase came in as a new chair. In 2017, and both he and the board worked on a number of changes including taking a look at our membership, and we put in for the first time membership guidelines. We’re a small organization, still we’re under 50 people, which is small for a cross-industry association in DC, but we were less than 30 people at the time, and there was a heavy reliance on consultants, and the board said, [00:17:00] “What we’d like to see is you bring in more expertise in house.”
So, we did that, and I think that gave us the heft and the expertise to do things like put together the statement, for instance, and craft that in-house and make sure the CEOs were happy with that. I’m not sure what would have happened just relying on consultants.
And there was a lot of other work like that. We’re organized in ten different policy committees, and I think, particularly, the change in in-house expertise made all of those committees stronger and probably able to do more work and more work in depth.
I think all of those things have attracted CEOs to Business Roundtable, such that in the end, after a few years, they see us we’re on the sort of outside looking in, saw the difference, and those CEOs who joined became recruiters for us, not because we necessarily asked them to, but because they would talk to their colleagues and go, “I’ve been at BRT for a year now and they’re doing some good stuff over there.”
Joe: I like the fact that the statement of corporate [00:18:00] purpose, it doesn’t reside in a committee, it’s kind of owned by the board. And in this case, since the board is all CEOs, that means the CEOs own the statement, and that’s pretty impressive, I think.
Marcus: Yeah. And that’s the way it has to be, but the ten committees, they’re all on the issue areas you would think a CEO would be interested in, tax, trade. We have an energy and environment committee, workforce and corporate governance.
But when we put the statement together, there was a conversation among the CEOs regarding how are we going to make sure people are aware of this, how do we measure it? And they decided if we continue to behave or make it obvious we’re behaving in line with the commitments we’ve made, be demonstrative, and if we think about how CEOs’ brains work, they’re very operational and so that’s what they’ve done.
I think if anybody looks, I mean, there are literally dozens of examples on our website of this, but if you look at how they’re actually performing and how they performed within the [00:19:00] last year and a half, they feel they are demonstrating it on a daily basis. And again, their colleagues see that happening, and I think are, again, drawn to the organization as they see these people are living by the words that they’ve committed to.
Joe: Can you give us a couple of examples of some of the things that really have impressed you?
Marcus: Yeah. Well, COVID was just really impressive. I guess I’ll start with it because I was given the task of helping organize that. But almost right out of the box, I mean, people have forgotten how important personal protective equipment was, the masks and the gloves and all that, particularly for caregivers in hospitals, but also first responders. We immediately stood up a method for companies to either produce or give/donate, whether it was money or actual PPE, to hospitals, first responders, teachers, and millions of masks and other pieces of equipment were donated to communities.
And it was often the communities in which they work, which makes some sense. I mean, Salesforce, for instance was tremendous. It wasn’t [00:20:00] just Salesforce, Bank of America, Hanesbrands actually started using, I don’t know if it was their underwear lines or whatever, and making masks that met the standards and donating those or providing them at cost. But a lot of hospitals, UCSF Hospital in San Francisco leaps to mind, they were completely outfitted by Salesforce who’s right there in San Francisco, but there are many other examples of donations that took place.
In fact, in some cases, a lot of those donations also went to hotspots overseas. We’ve just finished a tremendous effort in India. As you know, India just went crazy two or three months ago now, and our members organized sending ventilators, oxygen tanks, a lot of emergency supplies, hospital tents to India to help set up and provide relief there.
So COVID is a bit of one whole step, and I can’t leave COVID without saying what the pharmaceutical companies have done in both the development, production and the distribution of the vaccine, it’s just phenomenal.
So my favorite area is education and workforce. Right now, we [00:21:00] have an effort called the “multiple pathways initiative,” and this is exciting because what we found is there are a lot of people in the United States who can’t get jobs because they don’t have a particular credential, even though they may have the skills, and corporations over time, particularly just because they tend to be bureaucratic, for instance, have over credentialed job descriptions. So it says only those with a bachelor’s degree, a four-year college may apply or you need this particular certificate.
So, we have over 80 companies now that have committed to going through a set of actions, which will base hiring decisions on skills, not credentials. So if you can demonstrate you have the skills, whether it’s welding or accounting or whatever it may be. If you’ve got the skillset, they will hire you. So they’re decredentialing, for instance, position descriptions. They’re providing a transparent pathway for how you would advance in the company or where will you go into the company, and they are also producing training [00:22:00] modules, so that if somebody reaches their level of competency and their skillset, which they can prove, then it’s like, “Okay, you take this training module and pass out of that, here’s where you can go next in the company to advance.”
I think this is really opening up a lot of hiring and advancement for people across the country. And what you see also in that respect is, our companies are making commitments to hiring particular individuals. I know AT&T set a goal, not that long ago, of hiring 10,000 new employees from low- and moderate-income communities. I think they’re halfway to that. They’ve also signed onto the initiative. Walmart, I believe achieved its goal of hiring 250,000 veterans.
You see these commitments being made by the companies and it fits right into this commitment regarding employees and communities, which they’ve made in the statement of corporate purpose. So, that the education area is great.
Climate change is another one where we’ve just seen a spate of commitments. Recently, a lot of companies are making commitments to go to net zero by [00:23:00] a particular year or a certain reduction in greenhouse gases. And beyond that, the companies are doing a lot. Amazon has a $2 billion commitment in grants in venture capital to small companies, entrepreneurial companies that are sustainable in nature so that they either are net zero or even perhaps a negative greenhouse gas emissions.
So, there’s a lot of activities across the board. Again, I encourage people to go to the website. There are just dozens examples of what our members are doing and it’s added to almost every day, I think.
Joe: Well, the commitment to doing things for climate change has caught my attention. I had not connected it with the Business Roundtable. So, one of my questions is, how are you communicating that the Business Roundtable has a role in this? How are you getting that word out as opposed to, I heard Tim Cook saying what they’re going to do?
Marcus: So, Business Roundtable, actually, I think it was 2007, we were the first business association to acknowledge that climate change was a problem and needed to be addressed by business. The policy, which I think we released, think it was [00:24:00] last January, and this is George Oliver, who’s the CEO of Johnson Controls, who leads our energy and environment committee.
So we have a climate change policy. For instance, it supports a pricing on carbon and other efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the economy. And again, you can go to our website and read that, but we have some specific principles regarding climate change and how to handle it.
Joe: But are you trying to communicate the connection between what these companies who are members or what the CEOs who are members are doing in the Roundtable?
Marcus: No, none other than collecting those examples as examples of how our members are living by the statement of corporate purpose, but we don’t necessarily connect them to any provision we have in our particular climate change policy, for instance.
We may have members who don’t agree with all the policies we put out, but our members are free to go, and, obviously, advocate for policies on their own, but as a general matter, we do represent the majority of our members.
Raza: Marcus, it sounds like the statement itself has[00:25:00] dovetailed nicely and has boosted the conversation around the ESG goals for companies. Is that how it’s been seen at the Business Roundtable as well?
Marcus: Yeah, I think very much so. In fact, many of the examples that I think we’ve already posted have come from annual ESG reports of the companies, because a lot of our members have ESG metrics that they have put out and that they track and then annually report on.
Again, we’ve encouraged companies to have metrics and to be transparent and report on them. I think our CEOs want to be held accountable for the commitments they’ve made, both in general through the statement of corporate purpose, but also specifically, commitments they’ve made themselves.
We have been approached by many organizations and by other advocates who would like us to adopt a standard set of metrics, and we’ve talked about that, but when you’re dealing with everything from Ralph Lauren to Chevron, you can’t really come up with one set of metrics that’s going to fit everybody.
We do have some of [00:26:00] our members who have worked on a universal set of metrics, and we don’t oppose that. That’s fine. And I think they’re trying to get other companies to sign onto that, but at this point, for us, each of our companies has to decide what’s right for them.
Raza: Marcus, you briefly alluded to the other committees and other work that Business Roundtable does. I want to make sure that gets covered, and the statement has been tremendous, but what are the other areas that Business Roundtable advocates, particularly focuses or does its work?
Marcus: Yeah, thank you, Raza. Because right now, our number one priority is to try and get the bipartisan infrastructure package. It’s not legislation as of today, but we are spending millions of dollars on advertising, both across social media platforms, radio, television, I think print media as well and hopefully getting that bipartisan package passed.
So, infrastructure is our number one priority right now. We have a lot of concerns about another surge of COVID, so we have what’s called the [00:27:00] #MoveTheNeedle campaign that we’ve also been putting money into the Ad Council. We’re working with the Ad Council on that.
We’re looking very closely at that because the members are not happy with the progress that’s been made on vaccination, so we’re trying to look at what may be effective to get that kind of the last large group of holdouts, but how do you get them?
And that fits in the statement as well. So, for instance, many companies, AT&T as an example, they put up vaccination stations, not just in their facilities where their employees are, but in the communities in which they operate. So, they weren’t just offering it to AT&T employees, they were trying to make it as convenient as possible for their communities to get vaccinated, and there were other companies who did that.
So there’s COVID that were very concerned about. Tax, we and others, a reconciliation package being discussed, which will have changes in tax. We support a user pays for infrastructure, a user-pays approach, but there some tax proposals, which we may or may not like, or there are some things I think that the President has proposed that we don’t want, so we’re going to keep an eye on that, [00:28:00] but those are our priorities.
And then racial equity and justice, I mentioned police reform before and there are other reforms there that we’re very interested in that we think will help bring more people into the workforce.
Joe: I was going to say, I would think that the infrastructure, being bipartisan is a great fit for the board at the Roundtable because you’re non-partisan and the support from a bipartisan group of business leaders must really help create some momentum in Congress, I would think.
Marcus: Well, we like to think our voice is heard. Again, I mentioned we’re a small group, but we’d like to pick we’re small but mighty. But an important aspect of supporting bipartisanship is CEOs love more certainty than more uncertainty, and when bipartisan proposals pass and become law, they’re much less likely to be changed in the future.
Marcus: And that’s different for partisan changes in law. And so just from looking at it from a stability [00:29:00] standpoint, bipartisanship is something we very much support.
Joe: Well, I think you’ve kind of summarized why bipartisan politics is so much more effective in the long term than anything else, because you really want something that’s going to be predictable, dependable for the future, and without bipartisanship, it’s hard to know.
Marcus: Yeah. We are at risk of having policy whiplash. I think if Democrats control everything and if the Republicans control everything, then really in the long run, that’s not going to help anybody.
Joe: Not at all. So let me talk about your role as COO, and one of the jobs is to manage this board. So, managing a board is always a challenging job, but managing a board of 20-plus CEOs of the biggest companies in the United States must be, let’s say particularly interesting.
Tell us what that’s like.
Marcus: Well, I learned more from them than they learned from me. I mean, there’s more experience in any one of them that I’ve ever had on managing a board. But for me, because they know what they’re doing, in [00:30:00] some ways it’s somewhat easy. On the other hand, their expectations are high.
So, there’s a lot of things I’m not good at, but I’m a trained industrial engineer, that’s what my original training was, and I actually worked in a printing plant doing that, but they love efficiency. I mean, I think it’s just in most of their DNA, and I love efficiency as well. So ,my one job is to make those meetings as efficient and effective as possible, and attention to details is also just very important to them. So, the biggest job for me is to make sure that every minute of their time is something that is a value to them, whether it’s allowing them time to just talk to each other in a social way, which is something they do value because they don’t often get to hang out with each other.
Well, I had one new CEO approached me at one point, this was a couple of years ago, and said to me, “I never thought that there were a bunch of other people that have the same problems I have.” This was a CEO that didn’t belong to any associations, really. So, they really liked that time together.
But also when they are doing business, that the questions that they [00:31:00] need to answer, first of all, are questions they do need to answer, they’re not dealing with anything that’s too trivial. And secondly, that they’re given the information that they need to be able to have an informed discussion and come to a decision that’s going to be right for them.
Anybody who’s had to run a board, that can sound easy, but particularly, for a really smart group of people who are very well read, it can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge I really enjoy meeting.
Joe: Well, I think it’s the perfect confluence of all the things that you want for great governance, a group of people who are really good at what they do, who have high expectations, who want to use their time well, and from what you’re telling us, a willing to work hard at the job. They’re not just showing up and show me a PowerPoint, they’re really digging in and asking tough questions.
Marcus: Well, Joe, that is a great observation because A lot of boards are, particularly nonprofits or nonprofit, don’t have a small executive committee. We don’t have that. Ours is a working [00:32:00]board because CEOs, if they’re going to get engaged in something, they’re going to get engaged in it. They don’t join something just to have a name on a list. So, we couldn’t be much larger than we are because they’re very engaged and they all want to be part of the discussion, the decision, which is a terrific problem to have.
I’ll just also say, my boss, Josh Bolton, who is best known as the chief of staff to President George W. Bush. I worked with Josh on the White House Campus, and I think I’ve never thought about it this way, but a lot of people that work in the White House, their job is to make sure the time of the President is used in the most efficient way possible, and that skill set is exactly kind of what I tap into when I’m managing this board.
Joe: Yeah. Well, you know what, I bet your board really appreciates that.
Joe: Every board, that’s the struggle. You have high expectations for the board, but that means that whoever’s organizing, the chair, senior management, whoever, really needs to give a [00:33:00] lot of thought to how are we going to take best advantage of this very valuable time of our board members? And so I totally get it.
Marcus: Thinking about it, we have quarterly board meetings. We start thinking about the next board meeting the day after the previous board meeting, because that’s really what you have to do.
Joe: That’s not surprising. With the group you have, that makes perfect sense to me.
Marcus: Yeah. And I got to say, another thing that surprises people is how nice this group of people is. Yeah. There’s always some folks who may be grumpy or whatever, but I think part of why they are, where are they are, is because how they treat people, and there is a humility there and an openness that you can have a conversation with them and change their minds if you can bring them better information.
Joe: that is great to hear.
Raza: I guess you’re also on the board of the Girl Scouts of the USA organization. What got you to join that board? And can you talk about the experience with that organization and what are the [00:34:00] key issues facing that board?
Marcus: Yeah, Yeah, that’s good, Raza.
Given my day job, I have my finger on like one other board, one board, and the Girl Scouts came along. I have two daughters, they were girl scouts. My wife was their troop leader. My wife was a gold award girl scout. Her mother was there, too. I was a volunteer. It’s just a great organization. They have a great mission. Their mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place. I mean, how can you beat that?
I feel privileged to be on that board.
They, like other nonprofit organizations, have been hit by COVID, like a lot of other organizations grappling with that, but also a board is a great place to be If you’re interested in constantly improving an organization. Because really the purpose to me of a board is to be thinking about how to make that organization thrive, how to make sure it’s meeting its mission, not just tomorrow, but next year and the year after that and the year after that. And if you’re standing [00:35:00] still, you will get run over.
So, to think about how do we keep achieving that mission of serving girls In the long term, because things are evolving out there. It’s a fascinating challenge, and with a great organization, that I think we’ll be able to meet that challenge, but it’s going to have to keep changing.
Raza: I think that they have done a tremendous job. I’m forgetting the exact number, but I did read that a very large percentage of the women fortune 1000 CEOs were girl scouts at one point in their lives.
Marcus: Yes, that’s right. And in fact, I should have the numbers off the top of my head, a significant number of the members of Congress and senators who are women were girl scouts. One of the great assets of the Girl Scouts is the alumni network, and so if there’s questions about how you tap into that and use that, but you also have to keep thinking, what do girls of today, what do they care about? What do they want? What’s going to motivate them. And it’s not necessarily what the girls of tomorrow are motivated by. So, [00:36:00] that gets back to keeping it fresh and keeping changing.
Raza: And whenever I read about Girl Scouts, what comes to my mind is the Girl Scout cookies and the tremendous amount of fundraising that it does. How does that work out for the Girl Scout organization?
Marcus: Well, it is an iconic aspect of the Girl Scouts. I’m a similar person, by the way. Most people love coconut. But again, I think the the purpose of being on a board is to constantly be thinking about the strategy
of the organization and how it can be made better. And cookie sales is another thing I think we always have to think about as an iconic aspect of the girl Scouts. It is the major way in which councils are funded. But cookies are not necessarily the healthiest thing. So, we’ve started to produce gluten-free cookies and other types of cookies, but are there other ways to raise funding that doesn’t necessarily involve selling cookies door to door? So, it’s worth thinking about.
Joe: Yeah, there is a risk management aspect to [00:37:00] that because people might stop eating cookies, but I hope you don’t stop selling them.
Marcus: I don’t think that’ll ever happen. How do we diversify our revenue? How about that?
Joe: Exactly. If you think about any organization, that’s the key. You don’t want to be reliant on any one product, obviously.
Marcus: Yeah. And that to me is a sign of a good board that’s constantly kind of pushing the edge and asking questions to stay ahead of the curve rather than being reactive to changes.
Joe: Marcus. It’s been great speaking with you today. Thanks for joining us.
Marcus: pleasure. It was good to talk to you, Joe, and to Raza.
Joe: And thank you all for listening to On Boards with our special guest, Marcus Peacock. To our listeners, we have a request. If you enjoy our podcast, please take a moment to review and rate it on Apple iTunes. It really helps others find and discover this podcast.
Raza: The easiest way also is to go to our website, OnBoardsPodcast.com. All the episodes are available there. And if you have questions [00:38:00] or comments or suggestions for us, we would love to hear from you.
Joe: Please stay safe. Take care of yourselves, your families, and your communities as best you can. Raza, you take care too.
Raza: You too, Joe.
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