Part 6 of “Ask A Director: What Lessons Have Boards Learned from COVID-19?”

Image: Diligent Institute Ask a Director Series - What Responses to COVID-19 Made Directors Most Proud

What Response to COVID-19 Makes Directors Proudest of Their Organizations?

Diligent Institute conducted extensive interviews with over two dozen experienced directors from different sectors, geographies, and backgrounds on how modern governance practices and behaviors are changing in response to the pandemic and its impact, which boardroom changes might be permanent, and directors’ most important lessons learned. This segment provides a compilation of director responses to questions about the pandemic and what it means for modern governance going forward, specifically relating to pandemic responses they were particularly proud of. Read the full report here.

In a time where it is easy to focus on fault and failure, we again asked directors about corporate responses that made them proud of their organizations. Responses, unsurprisingly, were centered around their fellow directors, their management teams, and their employees and customers.

Panelists:

  • Anna Catalano: Willis Towers Watson, Kraton Corporation, HollyFrontier Corporation, Frontdoor, Inc., and Appvion
  • Doris Honold: Credit Suisse International
  • Barbara Kurshan: APEI and Tulane University College of Engineering and Science
  • Ted Senko: Autoliv, Inc.
  • Donna Wells: Mitek Systems (MITK), Apex Technologies (APXT), Betterment and Happy Money
  • Dawn Zier: Hain Celestial Group (Nasdaq: HAIN) and Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE)

Appreciating Fellow Leaders

Many directors touched on how proud they were of their fellow directors or their management teams for leading their companies through the crisis and being willing to put in incredible amounts of time and effort to effectively manage pandemic responses.   

“I’m heartened by the caliber of people that I get a chance to sit in boardrooms with. These are people who are measured, deliberate, and who make really great decisions. They weigh a lot of complex variables, are measured and balanced, open to listening, and focused on what is best for the company and its stakeholders. Directors have been generous with their time and willing to roll up their sleeves and stay incredibly involved and attentive. That level of honesty and generosity is fantastic. It’s a privilege to sit in a boardroom with these people.” -Anna Catalano

“Conversations initiated by management have been very productive: management is using the board as strategic advisors, and the board is doing their job around governance. We’ve learned we don’t need to be in person for every single conversation, and I hope we don’t let formality get in the way of valuable, transparent and frequent conversations. In the future, I’d love to see a hybrid model where we get together several times a year, but we also have these more dynamic conversations in between. The new way boards are engaging has actually been more meaningful, more helpful to management, and more rewarding for board members who feel that they are being more constructive while keeping the proper separation between management and oversight.” -Dawn Zier

“Every one of my companies managed to go virtual within a matter of days. The effort and flexibility that took impressed me greatly; I’ve never been prouder to be associated with the board of my companies. There were many moments that illustrated how dedicated our teams are and represented silver linings in an otherwise awful situation. I think we’ve learned that we are more nimble, flexible, and capable than we gave ourselves credit for. The leadership teams I work with have absolutely risen to the challenge.” -Donna Wells

Taking Care of Employees and Customers

Directors listed the safety of their employees and customers as paramount, and were proud of the way they were able to keep their employees and other stakeholders as healthy and happy as possible, working remotely under the circumstances and bringing them back into the office safely.

“Our on-ground nursing school, Hondros College of Nursing, a member of the APEI community along with APUS, was able to seamlessly pivot to a virtual environment without sacrificing service to students – even shipping computer equipment if needed to help the team get the job done. We serve a population that, in many cases, are first generation college students. We strongly believe that these students need to be able to stay on track toward improving their lives and their communities.” -Barbara Kurshan 

“I’m most proud of the response to COVID-19 with respect to our staff. We have shown incredible flexibility. For example, nobody has to come back to the office unless they feel comfortable. We have also given our employees support with respect to equipment. We were very accommodating to employees, given the situation. Throughout the pandemic, our decisions were made with a single premise in mind: what is the right thing to do for our employees?” -Doris Honold

“Focusing on the health and safety of our employees has been paramount. We had slight advanced notice because we have five facilities in China. So we had a board call and figured it would get outside of China very quickly. Our management team developed a 250-page playbook to get back to work, which was produced within about 10 days of our first closure in China. When the governments started to say we could reopen, this was what we used. We shared it with our vendors to ensure their employees were safe as well. We had a board call last week, and it was reported that an employee from Mexico said that work is the place he feels the safest throughout the day during the pandemic.” -Ted Senko

>>Continue to Part 7 of 7: What Are Your Biggest Takeaways from the Pandemic, and How Would You Advise Other Directors?

>>Return to Part 5: How Has COVID-19 Changed the Future of Risk Management and Strategic Planning?

>>Return to Diligent Institute.