Photo of surgical masks

Biggest Director Takeaways from COVID-19

| Kira Ciccarelli

No matter how bad the crisis, companies have an opportunity to learn from their responses and improve. Directors are already thinking about the next crisis, what they can take away from COVID-19, and what it means for their company and long-term strategy going forward.

Take a Moment to Evaluate

Before directors can adapt their strategies and responses, they first advise a moment of reflection.

“Take stock in how pandemic management has gone. Talk about how you managed it, take a post audit. This type of crisis will not be a onetime occurrence. Learn from what happened and take a look at what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you would change. This will help mitigate risks down the road.” -Anna Catalano

“Even in the midst of the pandemic and social unrest, we have an opportunity as boards to regroup and rethink. What are the most important things that we need to focus on? Knowing that management is trying to keep things running, use this time to think about becoming more agile, accountable, and understanding the scope of risks and rate of change surrounding those risks. We actually added some extra time to our board meetings to spend more time with each other. We carved out times for our deep-dive sessions. At every meeting, we allocate an hour to talk about strategy and the future. We have been working as a board to look into best practice and checking in with Diligent Insights, KPMG, NACD, and other sources of high-quality research.” -Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez

Focus on Fundamentals

In the midst of a crisis that can make the business environment seem unrecognizable from day to day, directors believe in the value of adapting established governance fundamentals to the new normal.

“You have to focus on the fundamentals. Do you have the right management team and relationship with them? Do you have transparency? Focus on the management team, focus on proactive strategy, stay focused on the business. You should have a team that understands the risk management process. Take stock of your situation and look for ways to stay flexible and take advantage of the silver linings of COVID-19 with long-term strategy in mind.” -Ted Senko

“Our biggest find was switching from best practice to best thinking. We had to return to fundamentals. We used to refer to best practices whenever we ran into a challenge, but now we have pivoted toward best thinking when problem-solving. We are also going to change the way we look at the skills our board has and what skills our board still needs. We need to make sure we are developed correctly.” -Mohamed Radwan

Be Proactive

Directors urge vigilance and thinking about what comes next instead of resting on one’s laurels for successfully navigating the pandemic.

“We stayed out front. We were talking about it in early January, so we were able to get out in front of it. Everyone else started talking about it in March. By virtue of our industry, we were aligned with the medical community, skilled nursing, and hospitals that we were on top of the pandemic. Taking advantage of communication channels and building the necessary relationships were important for us.” -Jim Treadway

“The skills corporate leaders need for the next business cycle following the disruptions of COVID-19 may not be the same as the recent past. Boards should carefully consider whether among the C-suite and the directors, the right skills, commitment, and passion are present to lead the next phase of transformation, as winning companies will not look the same as they did in 2019.” -Roy Dunbar

Use the Opportunity for Transformational Change to Your Company’s Advantage

The pandemic presents a watershed moment for many companies. Directors advise that boards should accept and embrace opportunities for systemic change and use moments like these to explore new avenues for value creation.

“I think the pandemic has opened everyone’s mind to change. People always want change, but when it’s time to change, everyone’s afraid and they go back to their old ways of doing things. This pandemic has helped raise awareness of the need for necessary change. It has helped some of the boards I’m on make quicker decisions and explore new avenues to doing business and creating relationships and strategic partnerships that they otherwise would not have thought of. It’s the role of the board to generate that level of awareness, and challenge management to do things differently and support them.” -Danièle Bergeron

“You have to be willing to let management take some risks and try something different. The world changed. If you try to stay entrenched in old ways of thinking, it probably won’t work. Nimbleness is a mindset. For the most part, I saw people jumping on board with good thinking. You can’t get entrenched, and you’ve got to keep an open mind. Make sure you have diverse sets of skills and backgrounds around the table. Meet frequently on issues. Things can’t wait during a pandemic, and they still can’t.” -Lea Ray

“We accelerated our move to a cloud platform, which has caused us to change how we apply our engineering and R&D resources. The pandemic gave us the courage to make a big strategic change to the company, at considerable risk, but we felt there would never be a better time to do it. It was the right decision for the long term.” -Sam Weiss


Return to Part 5: Corporate Responses to COVID-19 That Made Directors Proud

Meet the Panelists

Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez joined the Recology Board in January 2014 and has served as Chair of the Innovation Committee. She is currently Chair of the Governance Committee and a member of the Risk Oversight Committee. She is a strategic and ethical leader with deep expertise in innovation strategy, ESG, DEI, value/resource recovery and environmental ethics. After nine years as President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez founded Seam Innovation in 2013, a strategic advising practice serving boundary spanning leaders committed to doing well and doing good in the world. Deborah has chaired and served on numerous national social sector boards including Pacific School of Religion, Independent Sector, Goodwill Industries International, East Bay Community Foundation, Cordes Foundation, the Harwood Institute, and SF AIDS Foundation.

Danièle Bergeron is President and associate of La Société des Leaders de Marques. She has also been President and CEO of Mayrand Ltd, a food trade specialist operating in Montreal and part of the AOF-Alimplus-Mayrand Group. Previously, she held various executive positions at recognized Quebec-based retailers including Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Sail Plein Air Inc. and President of Mobilia. A seasoned director, she serves on the boards of Colabor, Prompt Innovation and Patrick Morin. Ms. Bergeron holds an Executive M.B.A. from McGill - HEC and is a certified Corporate Director.

Anna C. Catalano has over 30 years of corporate experience and manages a diverse board portfolio, serving as member of the Board of Directors for Willis Towers Watson, Kraton Corporation, HollyFrontier Corporation, Frontdoor, Inc., and Appvion. In the not-for-profit sector, she is a Board Director for the Houston Grand Opera, President of the National Association of Corporate Directors Texas TriCities Chapter, a Co-Founder of The World Innovation Network, and a former national Board Member of the Alzheimer’s Association. Ms. Catalano is an expert on the topics of global business, board governance, strategic branding, and an outspoken champion of women in business.

Roy Dunbar is the founder of private renewable-energy and property development companies. Dunbar served as CEO and chair of Network Solutions between 2008 and 2010, and was president of Global Technology and Operations at Mastercard, and prior to that, Chief Information Officer at Eli Lilly where he worked for 14 years. Information Week named him CIO of the year in 2003. Dunbar was named to the NACD Directorship 100 in 2015 and is a NACD Board Leadership Fellow. Dunbar has served on several public company Boards and is presently a Director of Johnson Controls International PLC and SiteOne Landscape Supply. Inc.

Dr. Mohamed Radwan is the Managing Director and Board Member of Platinum Partners, a Corporate Governance Consultant with IFC (International Finance Cooperation) - World Bank, an Adjunct Faculty with American University in Cairo, and a NED on leading organizations in the MEA region.

Lea M Ray is a Chartered Professional Accountant, ICD.D certified director and a seasoned board member. Lea has served in multiple board leadership roles including Chairman, Vicechairman, Lead Director and Audit Committee Chair on a variety of publicly-listed, public sector and non-profit entities. She is a former executive, Vice-President Corporate Finance, of Warner Bros. Entertainment Canada Inc. and former member of the Professional Conduct Committee of the Chartered Professional Accountants (Ontario).

Ted Senko is an experienced Board member and audit committee leader with strong corporate governance skills, including ESG, compliance and enterprise risk management. He currently is a member of the Board of Directors of Autoliv, Inc., a Fortune 500 Company, serving as Audit Committee Chairman. Ted qualifies as an “audit committee financial expert” under SEC rules and serves on the National Association of Corporate Directors Fortune 500 Advisory Council on Risk Oversight. During an extensive career at KPMG, LLP Ted successfully led several global consulting businesses, developing significant business strategy and operations experience.

Jim Treadway is a founding member of Seattle’s Lodging Roundtable and the Yountville Business Roundtable. He is a past Chairman of the Board of IndeCorp, now known as the Preferred Hotel Group. He currently serves on the board of The Tug McGraw Foundation, which supports and promotes brain health. Hotelier, consultant, and advisor, Jim Treadway most recently served as general manager of the renowned Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley, California, one of Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Hotels & Resorts? properties. Previously vice chairman of Benchmark and founder and chairman of MTM Luxury Lodging, which Benchmark purchased in 2011, he is well known and respected in the hospitality industry for his 23 years with Westin Hotels and Resorts, at which he rose to the position of president of the North American Division.

Sam Weiss (AB, Harvard College; MS, Columbia University Business School, FAICD) is Chairman of Altium Limited is a highly experienced Company Chairman. He has been instrumental in the growth and leadership of Altium Limited over the past ten years as the Company has generated shareholder value through superior technology and strategy, capital and financial controls, and strong corporate governance. His experience in global markets has helped the Company to become the market leader in electronics design for Printed Circuit Boards. Sam has more than twenty years of Boardroom experience gained at both listed and unlisted companies as well as with leading arts and social services organizations. Sam has lived and worked in Asia, the United States, Europe as well as Australia with executive roles in large multi-national corporations.

About the Author

Kira Ciccarelli

Kira Ciccarelli

Lead Researcher of Diligent Institute

Kira Ciccarelli is the Lead Researcher at the Diligent Institute. Diligent Institute is the modern governance think tank and research arm of Diligent Corporation, the leading provider in board collaboration software. In her role, Kira works to conduct and provide high-level modern governance research to inform director decision-making and identify best practices. Before joining Diligent, Kira worked in a variety of data-driven research roles, including analyzing global aid funds to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and compiling a meta-analysis of political experimental findings for the Analyst Institute. She holds a BA in Public Policy from the College of William & Mary.