Corporate Responses to COVID-19 That Made Directors Proud

| Kira Ciccarelli

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.

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

 

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

 

Read Part 6: Biggest Director Takeaways from COVID-19

Return to Part 4: How COVID-19 Changed Risk Management and Strategic Planning 

Meet the Panelists

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.

Doris Honold’s career spans more than 25 years in financial services across Chief Risk Officer and Chief Operating Officer roles in Frankfurt, Tokyo, Singapore and London. Until last year, Doris was Standard Chartered’s Group Chief Operating Officer and a member of its executive committee. She currently serves as a non-executive director of Credit Suisse International, chairing its board risk committee, and is a Trustee of the Climate Bond Initiative. Doris is also an advisor to a number of pre-IPO fin-tech companies. She is currently a Fellow of Harvard Universities Advanced Leadership Program.

Dr. Barbara (Bobbi) Kurshan has honed her vision of “what can be” using technology while supporting the growth of new education companies and developing innovative software products. She currently serves as a Senior Fellow and Innovation Advisor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania where she builds and advises education innovation ecosystems for researchers, teaches, investors and entrepreneurs. She currently serves on the Board of several companies including APEI, Tulane University College of Engineering and Science, and many education technology companies. She is the author of several books, articles and regularly blogs for Forbes.com.

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.

Donna Wells has a decade of corporate governance experience and currently serves on two public boards: Mitek Systems (MITK) and Apex Technologies (APXT); and two private boards: Betterment and Happy Money. She previously served on the board of Boston Private Bank (BPFH). From 2010 to 2017, Donna was CEO of Mindflash Technologies, a private, enterprise software company. Prior to Mindflash, Donna led US marketing for both Fortune 500 companies, including Expedia and Intuit, and for digital disruptors such as Mint.com, where she was the founding CMO. She teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and resides in Northern California.

Dawn Zier is an independent board director and accomplished CEO best known for engineering a remarkable turnaround of the iconic brand, Nutrisystem. Throughout her career she has successfully architected and led enterprise-wide transformations propelled by innovative product and marketing breakthroughs. Dawn currently serves on the Board of Directors of Hain Celestial Group (Nasdaq: HAIN) and Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE), where she chairs the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committees, as well as Prestige Consumer Healthcare (NYSE: PBH).

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.