Behind every effective board is a healthy relationship with the CEO. While the nature of that relationship can differ from one board to the next, the most important thing is alignment. Does the board know the CEO’s philosophy (i.e., how he or she plans to use the board as a resource)?
Cindy Baier, a former board member and current CEO of Brookdale Senior Living, offers her perspective from both sides of the table. What did she learn about an effective CEO-board relationship in her time as a board member? How did she carry that experience into her role as CEO?
In [my CEO] interview process…I talked a lot about the culture and about the relationship that I wanted with the board. For me, the board is a [collection] of fabulous resources that have unique perspectives about the business that we’re in. So I wanted to pull the board close and get them to help with key aspects of the turnaround strategy where they had unique expertise.
— Cindy Baier, President & CEO, Brookdale Senior Living
Baier assumed the CEO role at a time when Brookdale was going through a strategic shift. In this episode, Baier explained that she leaned on the board heavily through that transformation and put into place several practices that continue today; these include a weekly CEO recap and one-on-one calls with board members prior to board meetings.
“We leverage different board members directly and differently,” explains Baier. “We have a board member who is a former CFO, who helps us with our earnings materials including scripts…We have another board member who comes from a sales and marketing background, so we test ideas with her [related] to promotions.”
The key, Baier said, is to keep the board close, yet strategic, so that they can help her team make good decisions; this is a lesson she learned in her time as a board member.
“I learned about that relationship—making sure that you’re doing governance without getting involved in the detailed operations…,” explained Baier. “I also learned that if you don’t connect with the board more frequently than the board meetings, it’s very hard [for them] to stay current and be fully connected with what’s happening in the company.”