Directors Advised to ‘Lean In’ and Other Nuggets from NACD Summit 2021 Speakers

By Mandy Wright


Online Article

In the second Virtual NACD Summit from October 1 through October 8, NACD riveted screens across the country with appearances from organizational psychologist Adam Grant, US Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner Elad L. Roisman, Southwest Airlines chair and CEO Gary Kelly, and more. Kicking things off on October 1 with a day of exclusive programming just for NACD Directorship Certified® directors, NACD Fellows, and NACD Accelerate members, Summit continued the following week with daily general session programming powered by AIG in addition to smaller-group forums and shorter panels on specific topics such as executive compensation and the ethical oversight of digital transformation.

"The last year and a half have had exceptional ups and downs. We have seen human tragedy, racism exposed, and a divided nation. But we have also seen the triumph of the human spirit—to do better and be better, and in the case of directors, to lean in during a tumultuous time in order to fully support management," NACD president and CEO Peter R. Gleason said to the virtual audience in his opening speech on Monday, October 4. "If there is one takeaway from the past 18 months and this pandemic, it is that the time is now to make ourselves, and our boards, future ready."

In a session titled "Leading Through Economic Transformation: Trial by Fire" moderated by Anna Catalano (director at Frontdoor, HollyFrontier Corp., Kraton Corp., Willis Towers Watson, Appvion, and the NACD Corporate Directors Institute, an independent sister organization to NACD that owns the NACD Directorship Certification® program) panelists shared their firsthand experiences of managing the unexpected and prevailing against the upheaval of the last year and a half. Speakers included Orlando Ashford, executive chair at Azamara and a director at ITT, Perrigo Co., Array Technologies, State Farm, and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Co.; David Marriott, a director at Marriott International; and Carol B. Tomé, CEO of United Parcel Service.

"The role of health and health protocols is going to be here to stay," Ashford said, as a consequence of how the pandemic has permanently altered the future of business. " doubled down on health experts to advise us. Not just my company but the industry, and really all of our industries, trying to share information… because at the end of the day we want people to be able to enjoy our product, enjoy our offering, and do it in as safe a way as possible."

On Wednesday, October 6, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever from 2009 to 2019 and current vice chair of the United Nations Global Compact, and Marian Heard, president and CEO at Oxen Hill Partners and founding president and CEO at the Points of Light Foundation, took the stage to discuss how directors can make a difference in society. Speaking about sustainability generally, Polman told Heard and the audience that most companies don.t play to win—they play "not to lose." To nurture viable businesses into the future, this mindset will have to change. "The business community broadly knows what needs to be done… yet collectively, not achieving what we need to do…. We actually have to be regenerative, restorative, reparative," Polman said.

The week of programming closed with a conversation between Leo E. Strine Jr., the former chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court who is now of counsel to Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and Kim Rucker, a director at Lennox International, Celanese Corp., and Marathon Petroleum Corp. After covering topics ranging from stakeholder engagement to diversity, equity, and inclusion and then to board composition, Rucker ended the session by asking, "What do directors do after they attend this wonderful weeklong Summit? inspired, all charged up. From my perspective, it.s so important to prioritize, to partner back with your companies, and to pace yourself."

"Think about the idea that going to try to make money the right way. You don.t have to have a fancy purpose," Strine concluded. "If your products are useful and safe… if your employees have quality wages and can provide for their families and have a better life and they enjoy being at work and being part of the team… you pay your taxes in the communities in and you support the local institutions… if you do all those things and you organize yourself as a business and your board structures around that, not going to miss key risks. going to feel good about yourself. And, frankly, by focusing on that not going to get into side issues; going to focus on the main thing that is required to be a good corporate citizen."

Mandy Wright
Mandy Wright is senior editor of
Directorship magazine.