This Is the Moment to Be a Director

By Peter Gleason


Online Article Corporate Governance

Welcome to our 33rd annual NACD Summit―and thank you for joining us! We are excited to have many of our NACD Board Leadership Fellows and NACD Directorship Certified® members with us today. It is a privilege to be your membership organization―the convening association and community for more than 22,000 directors and more than 1,600 corporate boards. We sincerely hope you will find value this week—and frankly, every week—as NACD members.

The last year and a half has 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.

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.

I do not have to tell you, as directors, that the bar of expectation keeps getting higher with investors, employees, regulators, consumers, and activists holding boards to ever-more exacting standards. You are living these challenges every day, and from my vantage point, doing a helluva job.

The pandemic has significantly changed how American boardrooms operate. Governance is more intense, more frequent, and more dynamic. And the profound interconnection between businesses and the broader world in which they operate has been laid bare.

Without question, it is a daunting time to be a director. But isn’t it also the time to be a director?

We are living out a pivotal moment in history. The world is in a heightened state of play—and it is looking for companies to not only articulate a broader purpose, but also to take on society’s hard-to-tackle issues and unmet needs in unprecedented ways.

Over the next five years, we will likely see more changes in boardrooms and governance than we have seen in the last 50. This is not hyperbole. It is a certainty.

And so, it is at this very instant that boards are ripe for a new kind of constructive influence—a reimagining that can bring momentous, positive change for the organizations they govern, for the consumers and communities they serve, and for society at large. Directors today have a golden opportunity to influence the future like never before.

This is the moment to be a director and this is the moment to let NACD help lift your work to the next level.

NACD knows how important it is for your boards to cut through the noise and understand what is most critical. We are the organization that is determined to strengthen and grow the profession. We exist… for you. And unlike the single-issue programming inspired by the virtual marketplace, we are the only organization dedicated to offering comprehensive and holistic board education. We excel as the fulsome convening power that brings leading directors, regulators, influencers, and others to the table in order to confront the real challenges they face.

If truth be told, NACD is the center of governance because we have always viewed member performance as our True North.

Over the last five years, in fact, we have grown in both membership and revenue by roughly 30 percent. And it is this growth that enables us to fortify our organization so we can do more for directors—you—and for the future of governance as a whole.

NACD is tapped into just about every type and size of boardroom in America. And because of that, we have total access to the most timely and relevant governance intelligence.

In all, NACD is the voice of directors today—and we will continue to be the voice in the future. As such, we remain laser-focused on ensuring that all our members are future ready—equipped to be the very leaders that tomorrow needs.

Now, let us get specific. And let us start with a very timely and pressing topic: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). How can we move these tenets from interest—and talk—to action?

First, we must recognize that when experiences, competencies, and viewpoints within the boardroom are so similar, they generate only self-limiting discussions that fail to connect the organization to the populations it serves—and nobody wins. But when boards embrace diversity, these broadened perspectives are highly effective at tackling complex issues that require thorough analysis and ideas from multiple vantage points. It is for this very reason that diversity is a competitive advantage.

As we help prepare our members to be future ready, we are glad to see that our NACD Accelerate Program™, launched last year, has been making real progress in bringing new faces and talent to boards. NACD Accelerate provides participants from diverse backgrounds and experiences with access to educational programming, networking, and NACD Directorship Certification®, giving them a firm foundation and a leg up. Many of the 1,700 directors headed toward Certification came through the Accelerate Program.

Another great sign of progress is the response to the NACD Directorship Certification Program. In just the two years since its launch, we have more people who have either completed or are on track to complete their credentialing than we had altogether over 15 years through the NACD Fellowship Program. What’s more, I am excited about our growing partnerships with the very top executive education providers—including Columbia, Stanford, Drexel, and Wharton—to make it easier for directors who want to continue their education to do so. By serving as the fulcrum, and by bringing these institutional leaders into the NACD fold, we are able to provide an accessible venue where directors can find the very best resources for continuing education and skill building.

Now, this year, we are building on the progress of our DE&I efforts. And I am thrilled to share with you that we have just launched the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance, an institute dedicated to making certain that boards know how to ensure that all voices are heard―because when you get right down to it, board diversity will not have its intended effect if these new voices are not fully listened to. They must be included in a way that lifts up the entire board, and thereby, the entire organization. Indeed, the NACD Center for Inclusive Governance promises to serve as a vital platform from which to drive the long-overdue systemic change that will shape the American boardroom of tomorrow. I genuinely believe that this new Center will unite partners and allies around a commitment to fundamental change in boardroom composition and culture, while providing boards with the guidance and tools they need to evaluate their own level of inclusivity.

Being future ready also requires the ability to navigate climate risk and opportunities. Most notably, NACD signed on to the Climate Governance Initiative, a project run in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, as the US host chapter—the American voice for governance on this issue. Our objective is to help directors protect long-term business viability as customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders look to organizations to operate as good stewards of our planet. Business cannot succeed in the long run if supply chains are interrupted, if employees are displaced, and if the next generation of consumers loses faith in businesses as trusted guardians of our economy.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of climate fluency in the boardroom. The climate crisis is a risk multiplier. With governmental actions across the globe likely to accelerate—and stakeholder expectations undoubtedly intensifying—climate change is now a business and board imperative.

Certainly, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to point out what a tremendous asset our Chapter Network has been on this issue—always at the ready to deliver essential programming. In the last year, they have led the way in providing climate-related learning opportunities, and have put on hundreds of programs on many critical topics, directly enhancing member value. We could not reach our members as effectively without the hard work of such great volunteers.

We have learned a lot over 44 years. And one important lesson is this: when entire boards act together to build their skills, knowledge, and effective governance capabilities, the result is a high-performing board.

As we move forward, we hope to see more and more boards following this principle—taking advantage of the varied opportunities that NACD offers for whole boards to continue their education together.

So, I have just told you about where we are heading. But I still need to share with you one more very significant project―this year’s primary research on The Future of the American Boardroom. It will boldly question every aspect of governance. It will uncover how directors of the future will need to adapt. And critically, it will provide a vision for how directors can lead with purpose and passion to ensure that corporate governance profoundly—and positively—impacts tomorrow.

We are excited about the potential for this study to reimagine directorship and help shape the future of boards.

It is hard to overstate what a crucial time this is for the world—and for boards. As one of our own NACD board members recently expressed, “Yes, it is a challenging time.” But it is also the time, and I want to be in the room. Very consequential decisions are being made in boardrooms across America at this very moment. And getting it right really matters.

Certainly, the job of a director has both expanded and intensified—and honestly, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But as we have always done, NACD will serve as your telescope, surveying the horizon and doing all we can to see tomorrow coming so you can be prepared before it arrives.

There is no question in my mind that tomorrow is up to us. But the impact that we will have depends on what we do today—and how future ready we make ourselves right now.

So, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues—together, we must make this moment matter for a better tomorrow.

Thank you.

Peter Gleason
Peter R. Gleason is president and CEO of NACD.