Summer Reading: Directors Tell Us What’s on Their Lists

By Mandy Wright


Online Article Corporate Governance

There is no better time than the summer months to expand your horizons or deepen your knowledge—without ever leaving a comfy chair. In June, Directorship reached out to NACD members and participants in the Book Club chat (hosted during NACD’s virtual 2020 Summit) for suggestions on what their peers should read, watch, and listen to this season. Here are some of their recommendations.

Kim Box, chair, NACD Northern California Chapter; board member, American River Bankshares, Applied Science, McGrath RentCorp

What Box is consuming: It is challenging to distill my summer reading, watching, and listening to lists because my interests are eclectic. I read to gain knowledge and I read for leisure—and I read a lot. I work to keep current on all things related to the boardroom. This summer, I am focused on cybersecurity and ESG [environmental, social, and governance]. For cybersecurity, I am reading Digital Resilience: Is Your Company Ready for the Next Cyber Threat? by Ray Rothrock and Big Breaches: Cybersecurity Lessons for Everyone by Neil Daswani and Moudy Elbayadi. For ESG, I continue to read articles, attend programs, and research trends. I also enjoy nonfiction, historical fiction, and autobiographies. In those genres, I have on my list Mutiny on the Bounty by Peter FitzSimons, Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon, and Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. I am also planning to read The Price of Tomorrow: Why Deflation Is the Key to an Abundant Future by Jeff Booth to learn a contradictory perspective on deflation and economic systems. For my leisure reading, I enjoy books on adversity and challenge. I am an outdoor adventurer, which leads me to true stories of perseverance. I plan to read The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain’s Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again by Jim Davidson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, and Blanket of Stars: Thru-Hiking the Camino de Santiago by C.W. Lockhart. I enjoy watching documentaries such as K2: Siren of the Himalayas and Free Solo.

Tracey Gray-Walker, CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association Trusts; board member, United Veterinary Care

What Gray-Walker recommends: I would recommend that we all reread Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. As we transition into the new normal, we are going to need to step back and create an enhanced vision to find a path forward for our companies, teams, and most importantly, ourselves. Even though I have just started reading Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem, I would recommend it to other board members. I believe that it is essential to stay current on what others are doing. I also recently enrolled in NACD Accelerate and completed Virtual Director Professionalism. As a director and leader, it is important to me to stay actively engaged in current board topics. One of my guiding principles is “knowledge is a differentiator.”

Byron C. Scott, board member, Accuray, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, Direct Relief; adjunct faculty, University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Population Health

What Scott recommends: The Art of Routine: Discover How Routineology Can Transform Your Life by Angel Iscovich is a great read a year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and as things improve in many parts of the world. It illustrates how all of us have routines in everything that we do both professionally and personally and how these impact the organizations and companies we are involved with. As we navigate a new normal, new routines will develop and be instrumental to organizational, professional, and personal success. I am a big fan of structure and process to help improve strategic and operational decisions. The author happens to be my former boss and mentor, which made it a must-read for me!

For those directors who relax and find inspiration for their professional lives in music, I also would recommend listening to an album by leading jazz artist Christian Scott called Axiom. It was one of the last live recordings done in March 2020 at the Blue Note in New York just before the worldwide shutdown, and was released during the pandemic. Listening to it is a reminder of the challenges of the recent past but also the excitement of progressing toward a more positive direction in 2021.

Emily C. Chiu, managing principal of strategic development, new businesses, and products, Square; board member, Barnes & Noble Education; trustee and governor, Center for Creative Leadership

What Chiu recommends: I recommend all directors read A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger. It offers an inspiring framework for asking questions in a deep, open, and imaginative way to arrive at new possibilities and better solutions. Most breakthrough innovations, including ones my team has built at Square, are unlocked by the ability to fundamentally question the status quo and use first principles thinking to reimagine what industry insiders may take as a given. The art of critical inquiry is key to not only innovation but also lifelong learning and personal growth. For those navigating the uncertainties of innovation and transformation, I’d also recommend Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr. This book does a great job of codifying the principles, mind-set, culture, and replicable practices that leaders can adopt to drive agile yet rigorous decision-making and innovation in the face of unknowns.

On a personal note, I am enjoying Song Exploder, a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, element by element, and tell the story of how they were made. On Netflix, I am loving several series. Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything is one in which science journalist Latif Nasser investigates the intricate and nonobvious ways in which we are connected to each other and the world (the episodes “Dust” and “Digits” were spectacular). Abstract: The Art of Design takes viewers inside the minds of the most innovative designers across disciplines and unpacks how design impacts every aspect of our lives. Finally, I loved Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which explains the elements of cooking in a way that enables cooks to begin to improvise based on first principles (versus just doing what recipes say). Her book is wonderful, but the show, especially during the pandemic, features delightful excursions around the world that allow viewers to live vicariously.

Mandy Wright is senior editor of Directorship magazine.