In this interview, we speak with Kelly Snipes, Manager of Corporate Governance & Senior Paralegal for Ingevity. Snipes is also one of Diligent’s Modern Governance 100 recipients.
Ingevity is a producer and provider of specialty chemicals that operates globally. In this Q&A, Kelly Snipes explores the the important relationship between governance, transparency, and corporate culture. Snipes gave us some insight on what makes that relationship successful in an era of digital disruption.
Q: Cyber threats. Social media. Shareholder activism. Globalization. In what ways have corporate governance frameworks failed to keep pace in the digital age? What challenges and opportunities do these developments pose to you in your role?
Kelly Snipes: We are fortunate to have a highly skilled IT department that regularly and robustly provides reports on cyber threats to our board. Further, our board has expressed interest in remaining current on shareholder activism, and we have brought in outside counsel several times to keep us all abreast of developments on that front, including how we can be proactively prepared, and/or set ourselves apart from it.
If there is a challenge, it’s social media. There is a generation gap when it comes to understanding the impact of social media on the business, on professional responsibilities, and on the whole. The younger generations rely on social media platforms to be validated, and there is often less emphasis on building long-term loyalty and protecting company information. It’s a tricky and slippery slope to navigate. As a governance manager, I have to remind all audiences, especially management, that the tone is set and delivered from the top down.
Q: At a recent Diligent event, legendary corporate lawyer Rodge Cohen said: “Don’t confuse information with transparency.” How does this quote resonate with — or relate to the challenges of being a governance professional today?
KS: At Ingevity, we are fortunate to have a leadership team that has a very candid, human way of delivering information to our employees and to our board—this is especially true for our CEO. He often travels to our plant sites around the globe, meets with employees one on one, and provides insight at their level. Responding to employee feedback from in a Fall 2018 culture survey, we’ve worked closely with our Communications team and company leadership to develop more tools for delivering information in a transparent way to employees so that they feel more connected to the business performance and can see/feel their added value. The feedback on and participation level in this initiative has been a tremendous success. When it comes to transparency with our board, we consistently keep them in mind when making business decisions every day. There are a number of checks and balances to ensure we’ve not lost sensitivity.
Q: Many recent corporate crises in today’s news cycle can be tied back to flaws in corporate culture. What do you believe is the board’s role in monitoring (and even influencing) company culture? What role does a manager of corporate governance play?
KS: Culture is my middle name at Ingevity. It’s an additional role I’ve taken on—and not as a Corporate Governance Manager. I was asked to join a council, which we refer to as “The IngeviWay,” to shape culture and drive engagement by promoting the mission statement and purpose of our company. I now serve as the co-chair. The council is made up of 30 representatives from across our businesses and locations globally, and we have conference calls/meetings every two weeks. Our representatives each have a “culture team” behind them to help with delivery of the initiatives. We are constantly working on creative involvement, making sure the pulse of company employees is healthy and that they are receptive. My corporate governance role has been impacted by my chair position on the council, only because it has exposed me to parts of the business that I otherwise would not necessarily touch or have an opportunity to learn about. I’ve visited our plants, delivered training sessions, and have been able to work with both our leadership and the board to expose them to honest employee feedback we receive. We encourage every employee to bring their head, heart, and hands to work every day—and to bring it back home as well. It’s the only way to build a culture of authenticity, loyalty, and trust.
Q: If you could dream up any tool (no matter how far-fetched) to make your job easier, what would it be?
KS: Board dates/conflicts seem to arise often. We need a tool that helps us assess availability of our directors so that we can assess everyone’s availability at a glance. That way, when a conflict arises for one director, we are not emailing all of them to propose new dates/times for meetings. It would be a fantastic tool to help with planning or rescheduling meeting dates, and I’d include our leadership team as well.
Q: What’s the future of your role? (i.e., What will a manager of corporate governance / senior paralegal be doing in 5 or 10 years?)
KS: I hope to grow my role into Corporate Secretary. I love what I do. I love who I work for and with. I enjoy my interactions on a daily basis. It’s challenging and rewarding. Everyone really plays a role in corporate governance; there are so many policies to manage and keep up to date that it requires a lot of organization and communication across company departments. I intend to retain those aspects, and hopefully grow them into a bigger position within the company. In the meantime, our current Corporate Secretary/General Counsel is an excellent source of knowledge and she has given me tremendous perspective; she’s helping me develop a foundation and build a platform up to my next role.