Virtual NACD Summit Packs Purpose into High-Impact Sessions

By Mandy Wright


Online Article Corporate Governance

Purpose. In a year shrouded in—or perhaps imploded by—uncertainty, “purpose” has cleared a path forward for many companies and their boards.

The pandemic has provided cause for some business leaders to reassess where their companies’ strategies and values stand in relation to key issues such as climate change. And the director community has seen this year, more vividly than ever before, how caring for the health, wellness, and interests of workers, customers, and other stakeholders is not only the right thing to do, but what keeps the business buoyed by encouraging workers and customers to continually return. It’s become evident that when companies work together with and for the benefit of the communities and environment in which they operate, profit needn’t be far behind.

In this vein, mainstage programming at Virtual NACD Summit 2020, which kicks off this Monday, October 12, opens with author Anand Giridharadas and economist R. Glenn Hubbard speaking about capitalism and philanthropy in a talk moderated by the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett. Next, NACD president and CEO Peter R. Gleason interviews former Amb. Susan E. Rice about leadership in uncertain times; Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan engages in a rapid-fire discussion with NACD board member Daniel M. Gallagher; and, to wrap up the first day of programming, Lauren AraizaTony ColesSarah Kate Ellis, and Tina Tchen join forces to discuss social justice movements and where they fit into the board’s role.

Then, on Tuesday, Beth E. Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, joins Chip Bergh on the virtual stage of NACD Summit 2020 to talk about sustainability and profit. Land O’Lakes has 24 directors—but that’s not what makes the global agribusiness distinct. The member-owned cooperative elects directors to its board from its dairy and agricultural co-ops. Though some may scoff at such a stakeholder-focused governance structure, Land O’Lakes is number 232 in the latest Fortune 500.

Meanwhile, at Levi Strauss & Co., where Bergh is president and CEO, the first line on the company’s “Corporate Governance” web page reads: “We have mechanisms in place intended to ensure family ownership, stable governance, and a commitment to responsible commercial success.” The company’s nominating and governance committee is additionally labeled a “corporate citizenship” committee. Levi Strauss also made the Fortune 500 in 2020 and as of March 31 had a market value of nearly $5 billion.

Land O’Lakes and Levi are proof that stakeholder-focused, purposeful governance can contribute to certainty, profitability, and growth, and that paying attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues doesn’t slow businesses down.

To bookend Ford and Bergh’s session on sustainability, later that same day, medical doctor and media commentator Sanjay Gupta discusses health and safety as the pandemic persists, and Starbucks director Mellody Hobson probes Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) on his views of the current political climate and his own experience as a director on public company boards.

ESG issues and purpose will make a comeback throughout October and into November with Virtual NACD Summit 2020’s Expert Insights panels, to include sessions on environmental risk oversight; CEO succession planning; diversity, equity, and inclusion; data privacy and cybersecurity; understanding the board’s role in the ‘S’ of ESG; and human capital and talent oversight, not to mention other sessions on business transformation and restructurings; nonprofit governance; public policy and regulatory risk; shareholder activism; mergers and acquisitions; compensation hot topics; technology and innovation; and geopolitical risk.

Finally, this year’s Summit board committee forums on audit, strategy and risk, compensation, and nominating and governance, as well as leadership symposiums focused on the spheres of the private company, the small-cap company, the lead director and chair, and cybersecurity will be sure to inform board members of the latest shifts in their respective arenas given all that these past few months have thrown our way, while grounding this within familiar governance frameworks.

In this year of many firsts, massive uncertainty, but, above all, strategic pivots and a greater understanding of the link between purpose and profit, Virtual NACD Summit 2020 aims to help prepare corporate directors for what’s next.

Mandy Wright is senior editor of Directorship magazine.