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“Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” Marshall McLuhan

Due diligence is behaviour designed to ensure before we put our money down that what we intend to buy and what the seller ultimately delivers are one and the same. Some would call that protecting an investment. Others would call it common sense. Personal Due Diligence calls it both.

Decisions about post-secondary education have consequences that involve life, career, family and financial stability. Too many parents believe that graduating from any institution of higher learning, university in particular, is a guarantee of well-paid, secure, predictable work. There are no such guarantees: only enhanced likelihoods. What we do know for sure is that we’re living in a post-industrial economy: yesterday’s manufacturing jobs and the ones that supported them are gone. What happened to blue-collar workers is now happening to white-collar workers. As Wikipedia puts it, “Information, knowledge, and creativity are the new raw materials of such an economy.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada: “The distinction between college and university is less important than the relevance of the discipline to the workplace, since it is relevance—along with supply and demand—that sets the market price for skilled talent.” Degrees in some disciplines are more likely to lead to work than others.

Research done in Alberta in 2005 showed that young people consult their parents in these matters more often than any other group and by a wide margin. But outdated ways of thinking, like old habits, die hard. Decisions based on wishful thinking rather than fact-based understanding of labour market and technological trends are some of the greatest risks our children face. The evidence has been accumulating since 2012 and the trend shows no sign of abating.

For now, the best defense against unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment for our children is due diligence. To quote The Economist, “[the] rise of the on-demand economy poses difficult questions for workers, companies and politicians,” and it comes with a considerable risk of displacement to which very few of us are immune. Due diligence is about minimizing the negative consequences of that risk. Or at the very least, knowing what the risks are and factoring them into the final decision to proceed with a university education. We should be making these decisions more with our eyes wide open and less with our fingers crossed.

In What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology wrote:

“Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation—be it an invention or a new idea—many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description.

“Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions. All of these dynamic processes that are entirely non-obvious comprise our ground or context. They all work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large. In a word (or four), ground comprises everything we don’t notice.

“If one thinks about it, there are far more dynamic processes occurring in the ground than comprise the actions of the figures, or things that we do notice. But when something changes, it often becomes noticeable. And noticing change is the key.

“As McLuhan reminds us, ‘Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.’”

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Technoliteracy is the New Black.

At this point, all public U.S. Corporate Boards have (or can explain why they don’t have) oneblackJPG.jpg or more qualified financial experts on board. This, of course, has been mandated for some time. The logic for having such talent has long predated the SEC and other requirements. Though by now, most boards see the logic for making sure that all their directors are financially literate, whether they sit on the Audit Committee or not. On occasion, we’ve seen this competency ignored. But how can anyone be engaged in and contribute to a board discussion on financial matters, if they are nearly clueless about what’s being discussed or presented? How can a meeting move forward if each financial matter, term, or implication has to be exhaustively explained to someone?  Or even worse, if the director sits quietly and lets the conversation work around him or her, contributing nothing, learning nothing.

Fortunately, basic financial literacy has now pretty much become more than just a standard for a board’s audit committee service. It is now expected of all corporate directors. This is evident in many candidate specs and defining corporate governance documents today. It is a sign of being up-to-date as a director in today’s business environment. And so, it ends there.

Or does it? After all, the times they are (always) achanging. It might be high time to look at another new type of literacy for board service ― technology literacy. For the sake of argument, let’s call it techno-literacy. What do I mean by “techno-literacy?” I like to refer to a popular definition that says to be technology literate one needs to be conversant (well-informed, versed, not expert) in the subject matter.

Now, not all of today’s directors are in the dark when it comes to understanding modern technologies and their real or potential impacts on corporations’ strategies. But in general, what would you estimate the average director’s knowledge to be in this area? I and many others doubt the “average” person of any age understands what is coming, where it will take us, and what it portends.

The point is that boards are NOT comprised of “average” people, and I’ve never met an “average-intelligence” corporate director. As a whole, public company directors represent and are drawn from the best and brightest of the corporate world. A number do, in fact, have a deep understanding or at least a considerable appreciation of how today’s technology can boost a company and industry, or more importantly, destroy it. Sadly, many more directors do not. Despite their “above average” intellects, they run the risk of becoming “out-of date.” So what’s the upshot? Well, it is only a short step away from being “out-of date,” to becoming irrelevant.

Some boards recognizing this, have quickly moved to “plug the dike” by adding one or two experts — some call them “digital directors”, “tech gurus,” what have you. This has come about because of all the buzz around the very real risks of cyber attacks on corporations’ finances, intellectual capital, and in many cases, infrastructure itself. The rise of social media, hyper-fast communications channels that can boost or trash a corporation’s sales, brands, and reputation, demands that boards ramp up quickly, or risk missing precious opportunities, or worse, face other dire consequences.

Having a top notch CIO and tech staff at the company and a tech expert on the board may work well in the short term. But, just like the financially illiterate director, what happens to the technologically-challenged director when more and more board discussions turn towards making key decisions such as adopting or investing in new technologies, and he or she can’t even follow the discussion? Even worse, how do they contribute to or deliberate on whether to make wholesale changes to operations, marketing, and other business strategies, because the entire industry may be going in another direction?

CEOs and board members of large and mid-cap companies shared how they agree about the need for all board members to ramp up their basic understanding of technology.

Brigadier General Dr. Dana Born, former Dean of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an airforceJPG.jpgIndependent Director at Apollo Education Group told us: “Technology is a key component of conducting board business for the organization I serve. I believe that having a baseline of technology literacy is paramount for directors to support and guide all industries today. Whereas hard copy binders may have been the preferred format in the past, I believe the timeliness, comprehensiveness and portability of information offered by today’s automated tools (laptops, tablets, iPads, etc.) improves board governance and enables directors to better support the organization they serve. Specifically, having access to accurate, real-time information in a business environment of exponentially increasing complexity enables board members and boards to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Steven Nerayoff, the CEO of Maple Ventures, a venture capital firm, and leader of a sophisticated technology consortium, is addressing the impacts of technology that go well beyond the average corporate directors’ knowledge of social media and cyber intrusions on business. He stated “fear of cyber crime, and the technological risks they can create, can paralyze the mindset of a board. History has shown that public and private corporate directors must learn how to leverage not just the risks, but the opportunities that are and will become available through advancing technology. Just look at the computer, Internet, and now the Bitcoin revolutions and the disruptive effects on the businesses of these companies and the opportunities that were there for the taking if someone on the board had understood them. The ability to think this way takes the board’s role to a new level where, at the very least, a base technology literacy will be an imperative for all directors in the near future. If not now, when?”

Knowing that you don’t know is always a good start, but accepting it as so is not. That said, how does the average director become “techno-literate?” Good question. Let’s start with, “How did you become financially literate?” You worked on it, you built your knowledge up through study and experience over time, until you got there.  It worked.

It won’t work the same way to get you to become “conversant” in modern technologies. Why? Because, even as you’ve been reading this, even newer technologies have come on the scene, and others have gone extinct. To get to where you can intelligently discuss or even just digital-darwin.jpgappreciate those technologies that will affect your company(ies), you need to catch up and stay up on what’s out there and what is realistically on the horizon.

I’m not just talking about cyber-security, cloud computing, customer relations software, and social media (to name only a few). You also need to know how the company is using various systems and technologies, and importantly, those technologies that have built the industries your company(ies) operates within. And whether you enjoy an innovative edge over your competitors, or lag behind then.

You also need to know – and should be asking this of management – how long these technologies will last or take to overcome you. You also need to embrace today’s tools enthusiastically. It’s fascinating to listen to many in the executive management ranks when they talk about their board’s lack of understanding of technology in general. Many, if not most, have given iPads or similar tools to their board members to receive board related information and materials. But getting their directors up to speed on their newly acquired “cool tools” has quite often been slow and somewhat painful. Many directors still report asking their grandchildren for help with their iPads or tablets.  My own father, a Good Photo.jpgwell-known CEO in the Optical Industry and one of the most fearless users of the technology of his time, will not touch a simple PC for fear he’ll break it. My position has always been: You break it? You can always get another! Even better, there are more “techno-geeks” than you can count who are willing – no – anxious to help you learn and overcome your fears. For many, just being able to demonstrate what they know is reward enough for them.

Having started my career in the technology field during the pre dot-com era, I’ve watched, with fascination how easily many executives are attracted to technology like a moth to a flame, and grasp how it can have an impact on their business strategy. On the other hand, I’ve also seen how many people, of various ages, can’t grasp how subtly complex the implications can be to a company’s existence.

If you’re familiar with women’s fashion, you should understand the importance of black. Black is reliable. Black is always up-to-date: It goes and works with everything. In the boardroom, financial literacy means being relevant and up-to-date. It is today’s director’s black. Being technologically literate is THE NEW BLACK.

Nancy May

Customers First, Investors Last: What were they thinking?

For years now, my colleagues and I here at BoardBench, have been saying that Wall Street has it backwards.  In the boardroom, directors have been fed, with a very large spoon, the mantra that they are beholden to the shareholder, that their purpose is to “maximize shareholder value.”  If you asked a large group of directors if this is true, you’d see a lot of bobbleheads in the room.  Many believe this is a legal requirement and in line with good business sense and good corporate governance.  Unfortunately, the concept of “shareholder primacy” is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It is also simplistic (shareholders’ wants are not homogeneous), has no legal basis anywhere (go ahead, try to prove me wrong), and, as many are now pointing out, usually damaging to companies, and the economy as a whole.

What we believe is real, and will eventually be proven again as real to the Street, is that customers, and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  When I say “again” I’m referring to Peter Drucker’s famous quote from decades ago: “the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.”  So many seem to have forgotten this, or have never even heard of it.

But the basic premise is this: if you take care of your customers, and have great employees who are well supported and appreciated for being curious and excited about what they do such that they will ensure that customers love the products and services that the company offers, the company and shareholders will reap the rewards, too.  Of course other things come into play, like managing R&D investments (with the customer in mind), operations, and supporting a corporate culture that has strong values and morals.  The basic premise may be slightly oversimplified, but it applies, and should resonate with the board.

It appears that I’m finally not standing alone on this either.  In a recent interview, Jack Ma, the world’s newest CEO darling, made two bold public statements.  He basically shunned the current thinking of the Street by stating, on national TV, that “our customers come first, ouJack.jpgr employees second, and our shareholders third.”   He continued: “We aim to be larger than Wal-Mart by 2016, or sooner.”  If – no, when – Jack succeeds, and executes flawlessly on his statement, that customers and employees take a front seat over shareholders/investors, then he’s got an excellent chance of passing Wal-Mart as the world’s largest retailer.  Note, Wal-Mart just slapped some of its employees, who have the most direct relationship with their customers, by cutting their insurance benefits. This was probably done to cut costs, but it will probably also have a long-term impact on their customer relationships, too. But, I digress.

It seems that too many directors, CEOs, and business leaders, have become obsessed with what Wall Street, its analysts, and shareholders think.  Many have learned to play these groups exceptionally well, too. Countless analysts and shareholders have been taken in by companies’ projections, quarterly earnings estimates, and highly creative financial management and reporting.  Don’t get me wrong, the importance of the exchanges and the markets cannot be downplayed, but a balance is needed.  Focusing on Main Street is just as important, if not more so.

If you follow Main Street, you know about big box discount stores. Costco Wholesale Club, founded by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman, believe in serving the customer first, and that if employees are treated properly, they will work with, and treat the customer well too.  Jim, the public face, is a “hands on guy” who is known for visiting each individual Costco store.  Jim is also outspoken about his views on Wall Street.  He’s been known to say that he puts his customers and employee needs above “pleasing shareholders.”  This philosophy must be working: Costco’s five year return is +116.73%.  If you bought the stock earlier, your return would be closer to 354%.

American Express is another company known for taking good care of its customer/members.  Personally I’ve been a fan of the company’s customer service representatives over the years, and tell them that every time I’ve called for help.  Don’t get me wrong, working at this company must be tough: when I was younger, AmEx employees were nicknamed The Dragons.  Perhaps because they were seehat2.jpgn as willing to fight for the company and their customers nearly to the end.  By the way, if you invested in American Express five years ago, your return on investment would be up 149.46%.

If you’ve worked with the general retail public, as I did during my college years, then you know just how tough this can be.  Sadly, not everyone who enters a store, calls a helpline, or dines in a restaurant is a kind and thoughtful customer.  Amazon deals with all sorts of customers from nearly every continent in the world, and I’m sure they have some interesting stories to share.  However, the company is noted for being one of the best customer service organizations in the world.  Amazon has more than one customer base, as many do: retail members, and consumers.  Jeff Bezos clearly divided the customer’s connection to Amazon into two categories: the experience and the service.  At this level, he notes that customer service is part of the full customer experience.  If it’s unpleasant, it’s a negative customer experience.  He supports the idea that a positive customer experience creates greater loyalty with Amazon.  If you’ve ever dealt with an Amazon Customer Service rep, you know that they work quickly to resolve your issue, they get the job done for you, and you are nearly always satisfied and left feeling good about your relationship with Amazon.  And, if you invested in Amazon five year ago, your return on investment is now up 236.64%.

While it’s much more pleasant to focus on the “good guys,” there are dark clouds.  Some companies are noted for their poor customer service.  Some survive because there are few alternatives: think of phone companies and cable providers, and some you can name on your own (take a look at their five-year ROIs).  However, when it comes to poor customer experience these days, I think sadly of that American icon Sears.  Whenever I bring them up these days, all I hear is: “Oh my gosh, I could tell you about the time when…”  Sears is a sad story101.jpg about the decline of a once great and loved retail giant.  Many years ago, the Sears catalog used to be called a “wish book.”  Families would anxiously wait for it to arrive in the mail.  It was nearly 5 inches thick. Moms, dads, sisters, and brothers would argue over whose turn it was to browse through and select from among the items they wanted for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and more.  Some people even bought their homes out of the Sears catalog.  But, it has lost its way, and it’s touch with its customers and has already begun its drop down that magical slide once pictured in its own catalog.  The entire company and its hopes for the future look pretty dismal: sell off of units and real estate, store closings, etc.  Sadly, if you invested in Sear’s five years ago, your return on investment would be -58.50% and it’s still falling today.

To sum up and put things into even sharper perspective, I recently spoke with the General Counsel of one of the largest, most recognized corporations in the world.  He told me, succinctly, that the biggest problem with their board is that not one director had any understanding of who their customers were and are or what they want.  I can also assume that they don’t understand their employees either.  So I will watch how this company slides in the next few years (Note: their record has been negative for some time), and report back with an update, unless, that is, they somehow figure it out and turn it around.

Do you need to focus on board improvement: composition, strategy, direction, execution, oversight?  Boards are our specialty. Give us a call.

Nancy May

Kevin O’Leary’s Best Advice

 

On July 5, 2013, I wrote “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects.” — Albert Einstein

What follows is what Kevin O’Leary, Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank and late of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, had to say on the subject in a LinkedIn Influencer post dated February 3, 2015.

Neil Morris

 


 

Best Advice: What You Want to Do Isn’t Always What You Want to Be

Feb 3, 2015

I was raised in a household that deeply valued education. When I was a teenager, my brother Shane, was making a beeline for engineering — an aspiration he had held since he was a kid. My parents were thrilled. Me, on the other hand, they were worried about.

Success was not a given for me. I liked music, taking pictures, and hanging out with my friends.

In my last year of high school, my stepdad George sat me down for the Talk About My Future. I was fidgeting, reluctant to pay attention, worried about telling him of my photography dreams. George was adamant. His singular question: What do you want to do with your life?

I told him that I didn’t want to go to university. That I was going to be a photographer.

“That’s not what I asked you. What do you want to do with your life?”

I repeated my answer with greater conviction.

“OK. That’s all well and good, Kevin, but do you have any idea what you have to do in order to be a photographer?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. Be? Do? There’s a difference? I crossed my arms and mumbled something about taking night classes, getting an agent, opening a gallery. I had no idea what I was talking about, but it sounded good.

Then he asked another crucial question.

“How much money do you think you’d need to make, every year, to be happy?”

I told him $20,000 which in the early 1970s was a lot of money.

He shrugged.

“Most photographers don’t make that much money,” he said. “They’d be lucky to pull in a few thousand a year. On the side.” He explained that the majority of my income would have to come from a job of some kind, a job I wouldn’t necessarily like doing, but one that wouldn’t interfere with what I love doing. That was the “do” part of George’s question.”

“Are you able to do that Kevin — to work at a job in order to support yourself as you try to be a photographer? That’s how it’s done, Kevin. Actors wait tables between auditions, and writers hold down steady jobs, writing in their spare time.”

What was I willing to do to make money while I honed my craft? Lay bricks? Work in retail? Clean garbage trucks? Plant trees? I’d done all those jobs. The idea of spending the rest of my life subsidizing a passion felt impossible, and because I had no postsecondary education, those were about the only jobs for which I was qualified. George wasn’t discouraging me. He was being brutally honest with me about my chances at making it. Without the drive to work at other jobs to support that passion, I had no chance of becoming a wealthy photographer.

So “to be or not to be?” isn’t the question. The question is: What are you willing to do in order to be what you want to be? It’s not enough to say you want to be a photographer, or an actress, or a writer. You have to want to do all the necessary difficult things that are required to support that goal.

Lots of people are willing to do just that. Some of them make it, both at the doing and the being… but George’s advice was that most don’t.

I simply wasn’t willing to take that risk, to perform all the tasks and jobs required to support my dream of becoming a full-time photographer. I wasn’t willing to work days as a bricklayer or at a mall, shooting and developing photos on weekends. I didn’t want to inch toward my twenties — maybe even my thirties — accumulating debt and rejection, just to build a portfolio of work or a string of shows where most or all of my photos would go unsold.

There was no shame in understanding that about myself. It was an important, life-changing discovery. It meant that I had to stay on the scholarly path, because getting off the path altogether wouldn’t take me anywhere good. I wasn’t willing to make artistic pursuits my full-time priority, and I really wouldn’t have fared well as a punk. I love money too much.

Today, thanks to George’s advice, my decision to pursue academics, and a few other fortunate events and right turns along the way, I’ve built a successful career that allows me ample time and resources for my real passion — photography.

In October 2013, I held an exhibit of my photography in Toronto, titled Kevin O’Leary: 40 Years of Photography. I sold framed prints for $6,000 each, and raised $97,000 for teen entrepreneurs. There’s no doubt in my mind that this never would have been possible if George didn’t teach me the importance of knowing that you need to know what you want to do with your life, before you decide what you want to be.

James T. Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru

 

On his third attempt, Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise passed the Kobayashi Maru holodeck “no-win” training exercise by reprogramming it. He was subsequently commended for original thinking. Whether or not this was Starfleet’s way of saying that reprogramming was an option because it was not expressly forbidden, only the film’s writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman know for sure.

Fiction or no, that part of Star Trek lore resonates in 2015, especially the part about original thinking. The 6 crew members onboard the International Space Station may be excused if they haven’t had time to contemplate how sub-US$50 crude oil will impact on them and their families. But the rest of the people on planet Earth won’t have that luxury.

For Canadians, the world started to change on July 1, 2014. On that day, the Loonie closed at 94 cents. It started changing a lot faster when the Bank of Canada lowered its interest rate to 0.75% on January 21, 2015. We’ll soon be paying a lot more for our morning orange juice, and a lot of other things, courtesy of a 78.5-cent dollar as of February 1, 2015. The interest rate could fall to 0.5% as early as March. Barclays Bank has downgraded its stock ratings for the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank and TD Bank, noting that “consumer borrowing, the main profit driver for Canada’s banks, will likely slow even more than previously expected”.

Much of the reason will be stories like Target Canada’s abrupt closing of its 133 retail outlets and the 17,600 Canadians who were let go as a result. That doesn’t include Target’s suppliers. SONY Canada is closing its retail stores. Alberta now faces the prospect of recession. Oil companies are cutting back on capital expenditures and hiring. CIBC will be laying off 500 employees because of slower than expected profit growth.

The Kobayashi Maru scenario left little room for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. For the moment, Canada looks like an oil-based, one-trick pony. Canadians will have their say about whom they blame and what should be done about it on October 19th—or sooner.

We keep hearing that a lower dollar will be good for Canadian manufacturers and exporters. But in the meantime, we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt. That will call for out-of-the box thinking by Canadians looking to become re-employed and those hoping to land that first job.

What is broken and needs to be fixed is the notion that we can or should rely on governments at any level to do our thinking and planning for us. Most have shown that they can barely think for themselves. We’re going to have to develop our own versions of Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru, because without them, not all choices having to do with postsecondary education will be the right choices. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that conventional thinking will mean that there will be more than enough good, secure, full-time work to go around.

As Jean-Luc Picard, captain of a later Enterprise, would have put it: “Make it so.”

 

Diversity in the Boardroom: Resistance is Futile

If you’re reading this, chances are you sit on at least one board.  If that board happens to be one that understands the value of diversity (and here I’m speaking of gender diversity) or has moved aggressively to get the board there, I applaud you. Your board will benefit, the company will benefit, and other boards will benefit (I’ll explain more later). If you align with board members who are still unconvinced – please consider that diversification sooner rather than later is in your best interest, the best interest of your fellow directors, and all boards. Let me present to you both the carrot and the stick:

The Carrot: Studies indicate diverse boards tend to be better
boards and lead to more stable companies.c2.jpg

There are studies with hard data from Pepperdine University, Catalyst, McKinsey and others that overwhelmingly suggest that companies with more women at the top are better off. More studies like these continue to come out and point to virtually the same things.

Recently, Credit Suisse Research Institute looked at the performance of selected companies with at least one female director over the last six years. While it noted little or no correlation with company performance between 2005 – 2007 when the economy was robust, between 2008 and 2012, the stock prices of companies with at least one woman on board yielded a 26% higher return than those with none. The assessment was that a more diverse board means less “volatility and more balance” during tough economic cycles.

A recent Thompson Reuters study, Mining the Metrics of Board Diversity, revealed how the increase in female participation on boards affects organizational performance. The study drew upon information on 4,300 global companies and over 750 data points that covered every aspect of sustainability reporting. According to the study, on average, companies with mixed boards show marginally better or similar performance measured against a benchmark index. Companies with no female board members underperformed relative to organizations with women on their boards, and had slightly higher tracking errors, indicating potentially more volatility. The study went on to suggest that the performance of companies with mixed boards matched or outperformed companies with male-only boards, stronger evidence that gender equality in the workplace makes good investment and business sense.

The value of board diversity, from directors themselves:

Michael Critelli, board member of Eaton Inc. and former Chairman and CEO of Pitney Bowes, built a strong reputation for advocating using diversity to make his company and board even better. On having one of the most diverse boards during his tenure as Chairman/CEO he said: “Boards are most likely to do their job effectively when they have diversity of life experience and insight.  Groupthink on a board is very dangerous. The advantages of diversity are only realized when a board is inclusive in its membership and when it invites and values diverse thinking relative to board responsibilities.”

Linda Rabbitt, Chairman and CEO of Rand Construction Corporation, Lead Director of Towers Watson, and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond notes: “As a woman I have had to overcome many obstacles as an entrepreneur and in the corporate environment. As a result of these experiences I see the world and business through a different lens. Having large obstacles to navigate around teaches you how to solve problems, identify opportunities and associated risks, and bring up new talent in a way different than the men who built the road before you. These skills bring a new value to the boardroom that has not been there before.”

Maggie Wilderotter, Chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications said: “Company leaders and directors, male and female, must do more to advance women in their ranks, and it is incumbent upon women to be responsible for their advancement as well. After all, doors successfully open and close when we push.” Mrs. Wilderotter added: “A recent Catalyst report shows a continuing shortage of women in America’s C-suites, Boards of Directors and as top earners. Studies show that companies with three or more women on their boards perform better financially than those with fewer members. Diversity in the board room and in the C-suite is a competitive advantage.”

The Stick: The rise of the ““Sheconomy.”

Even for those with a minimal grasp of the obvious, some things are plain. We have moved into a new economy, one overwhelmingly influenced by women. Consider these points raised in research by MassMutual, Fleishman-Hillard, the Spectrem Group, and other noteworthies:

  • Senior women over 50 control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth.
  • High net-worth women account for 39% of the country’s top wealth earners; 2.5 million of them have combined assets of $4.2 trillion.
  • Over the next decade, women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and be the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in our country’s history. Estimates range from $12 to $40 trillion.
  • Wealthy women investors in the U.S. are growing at a faster rate than that of men: over a two-year period, the ranks of wealthy women in the U.S. grew 68%. The number for men was 36%.
  • Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, including everything from autos to health care.

It’s hard to believe that many women could not apply for a credit card in their own name until 1974, when the Equal Credit Act was passed.

The point here: traditional boards cannot ignore the influence, control, and power that women hold as decision-makers, consumers, and, as investors, to go away. Or that they can have a dramatic impact on sales and have gained, through their dominant use of new media, a growing ability to advocate for or against a company’s products and services. Companies that understand and reflect this in their boardrooms will have the advantage over those who do not.

Here are some questions to ponder. With women’s dominant role in customer and financial decisions, coupled with growing transparency of company operations and board composition, plus the rise of electronic reporting and social media allowing everyone to easily see where a board is aligned or not with its customer base and markets (and this new economy), where do you want your company to be? What is the likelihood that if your board has a negative attitude toward more women in the boardroom, your company will be targeted for activist or populist actions and retaliations at a speed, and scale, never previously imagined?

Quotas are coming! Quotas are coming?

Board diversity, especially the number of women serving on boards, has become regular headline news, reflecting a growing pressure on boards to change or explain why their composition is appropriate. Legislative bodies worldwide find themselves under enormous pressure, and have started instituting changes. Outside the U.S., 16 countries have mandated some type of quota, threatening fines and, in some cases, dissolution if corporations don’t meet deadlines for achieving legislated. Formal quotas were introduced nine years ago in Norway where resident companies were required to have 40% of their board seats occupied by women by January 2008. Quota requirements are going global. This past November, Germany legislated a requirement that 30% of all non-executive board seats be occupied by women by January 1, 2016. At the close of last year, women held 14.1% of all non-executive board seats there. In our own backyard—Canada—the Province of Quebec requires that women occupy half of all board seats on state-owned institutions.

In this country, it’s important to gauge the increasing momentum behind gender diversity quotas. Currently, women hold 16.9% of the board posts in U.S. Fortune 500 Companies, have barely improved in their 16.6% performance since 2012. The numbers are even smaller among Fortune 1000 and mid-cap companies. Boards’ failure to respond to these changes will invite legislative and regulatory mandated quotas, if only to relieve the pressure regulators feel. If history is any example, the slower the pace of voluntary change, the faster the pace of imposed change. The more boards resist, the more likely change will come in ways they might not anticipate or want.

Sooner is better than later.

I’m no fan of imposed regulations in the board room. Regulations and mandates, while well-intentioned, often produce unintended effects and consequences. Quotas, with aggressive time limits can easily translate into board seats Nancy-May2.jpgoccupied by people who don’t belong. I applaud boards that see diversity positively now, and are going on to adopt, adapt, and improve. Boards that carefully consider and bring on excellent, relevant female board members improve their perspective and ability to deliberate. Diversity contributes to better board governance, because, as the number of qualified and valued women increases and becomes known, the perceived need for external actions (i.e. quotas) will start to fade. Thus, as your board grows more diverse, the pressure on other boards to do likewise will increase, even if only in a very small way.

So, “fellas,” here’s where this leaves us: this boardroom diversity “thing” isn’t going away. Diversity and equality in the boardroom is coming. How soon you face it and embrace it is up to you. Resistance is futile.

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