Formerly with the US Institute of Peace, Rochelle Campbell, Director, Support Services Group has been with National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) for seven years. Her experience with military personnel positioned her perfectly to work with military admirals and generals, transitioning their experience into the boardroom. She initially drove the Battlefield to Boardroom Program, then segued into joining the recruiting teams, taking over the recruiting teams, and taking over the advisory team.
Thanks for your time Rochelle. How was NACD formed and how was the need for NACD recognized?
NACD is an over 40 year old best practices organization that was designed as a 501(c)(3) to provide education resources and best practices to directors. Since it was formed, it’s grown quite a bit; in part due to the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley and then Dodd-Frank, which gave impetus for the director education space to take off.
How have boards evolved over the years?
Over the last number of years, again with the pieces of legislation I mentioned, boards have gotten much more focused on duties. Sections of that legislation essentially hold directors more liable for their oversight role in corporations and help to ensure fiduciary duties are being upheld. A lot of what we've seen, how we've seen things change over the last several years, is the level of focus boards have and putting into all levels of business across all types of companies: private, public, nonprofit, variations of co-op, mutuals, even family owned. We have seen an increase in membership, in director education, and fellowship participation.
How has a director's role has become more crucial for companies?
The short answer to that is the global environment. Companies are no longer just faced with national competitors, but also how innovation, technology and the global markets are dramatically shifting. A board's role has evolved to focus on some of that technology and innovation. We now assume all companies are really technology companies. And when a board member, even in manufacturing, says, "Well, we are not," the joke is, "Well, have you told your shareholders that?"
As companies get more focused in innovative environments, they have to work harder to stay ahead of what's going on.
So what are the marks of a strong board?
I would say boards are strong when directors come prepared, when they understand the challenges of their business, when they are forward thinking, when they understand where the company is headed, when they understand innovation and what their competitors are doing in the white space in between. They understand good governance, best practices, and what their roles are as directors. Those are some of the hallmarks of a great board.
How can a board ensure that it continuously delivers value?
Over the last number of years, the ways in which boards have been working with companies on strategy has changed dramatically. the move to having global organizations, innovative companies, innovation in general, has changed the ways in which boards are interacting with the companies they serve. NACD has been discussing the idea that a board's role in strategy is critical. Historically, it was about just checking off strategy and saying yes or no, and asking a few questions. But over the last few years, we've been really getting focused on the board's role in creating strategy. It's happening more in and around strategic off-sites for boards and management. When we talk about boards really adding value, beyond what they're doing for shareholders, beyond best practices, beyond basic fiduciary duties, beyond those things, it's really about strategy.
How can a company assess the talent needed for their board and change the makeup if they need to?
There are a number of ways to do that. Companies should get specific on the kinds of skillsets that they need for their boards. The first step to that would be understanding your skillset matrix. If you haven't done one, it's a necessary step for your board to take. We're looking, not just right now for your skillsets, but what you need in three, five, sometimes 10 years, depending on your company. Then projecting out from there, ensuring that you have the right skillset at the board and committee level, and then figuring out where gaps are. In that skillset matrix, we think about things like diversity, functional roles. Do you need a CIO? Do you have a CIO? Do you need a CMO? Do you have a CMO?
Once you have that skillset, then you know what you're looking for. You'll then typically couple in an evaluation to ensure that your board is performing well and if there are any areas for improvement. We would never want an evaluation to be punitive. It's always about being productive and forward thinking, and understanding where we can help provide value inside of companies and where a board can, even when just doing a self evaluation, find value in themselves. When it comes to recruiting, there are ways to comfortably off-board in a positive manner, then do a recruitment that is specific and lines up with where the company is going, that fills those three and five-year skills gaps.
How have NACD services changed to meet the changing roles that we've been talking about? And also, what services are your most highly valued, or which are most in-demand?
Our services have changed with the changing environment, as legislation changes, as the economic environments have changed. Boards need different levels of cybersecurity training. They need different nuances of “how-to,” having never gone from strategy to implementing strategy in the board room. It’s by design, customized to meet a board’s specific needs. In terms of what companies are finding as a value add lately? I think, just in the last couple of years, from a recruitment perspective, our recruitment has changed a ton. We've gone from the traditional all-white male directors to doing a lot of niche placements in specialized industries in diversity. Our advisory services have expanded greatly to be more nuanced. We have about 40 faculty members we draw upon. We've seen a huge uptick in recent years in what we call special services, more along the lines of nuanced, issue-based services. That might be onboarding a new director, it might be helping to off-board a director, it might be helping a new CEO Chair understand how to wear both of those hats at the same time.
These issue-focused specialized services help boards because they provide nuanced help from what we call practitioners, not theorists. So, while many of our faculty members are actually somehow affiliated with universities, as adjunct professors, they are all sitting board members and all have been sitting board members, typically in most cases, for many years. In the cases where it's only been for a few years, it's because they're bringing some other very technical skillset. One example of that would be Shawn Henry from CrowdStrike, who's been in the news a lot lately. Henry's been with us for a number of years as a faculty member, he doesn't have public company director experience, but his nuanced experience as an FBI cybersecurity investigator and then leaving there and starting his own successful business, has made him a popular specialty faculty member for us.
Tell me a little bit about the NACD directorship certification.
Sure. So about eight years ago, we started something called the NACD Board Governance Fellowship and the NACD Board Leadership fellow. We understood the need for director education and credentialing.
This year we launched the NACD Certification of Professional Directorship. You can be a fellow and have attended the courses, but maybe not paid attention the whole time, like we all do sometimes. The certification is a demonstration that you actually understood the information that was given to you, you retained it, and that you're able to demonstrate that information. It is actually a rigorous test that you have to take over the course of about three hours. It's a proctored test that you can take at any of 2,500 sites across the country. .
To be eligible to take the test, you have to get there in one of two ways. Either through having enough years' experience as a public company director that you can, through tenure, be exempt from the foundation course, or if you haven't done that, take a foundation course with us. In either case, you’ll then get a study guide and access to the test. When completed and passed, you'll actually become a credentialed director.
Okay. Let me just ask, let's say that there's someone, some of our readers out there that are not a member of a board, that are not on a board. How would you suggest they groom themselves to be attractive, to get an invitation? And how would they put themselves out there without being aggressive, behaving like a hack, if you will?
Yes, that is a really long conversation and quite frankly, that's the crux of what I'll be focusing on for the hour and a half that I'm talking at the TBM event. The way that you groom yourself to become a director is to one, create a pathway, and we can talk a lot about how that looks. A pathway is ensuring that you have a diverse skillset in the executive realm. So if you've been doing one thing for a long time; if you've been a CIO, or a CTO and then take on a P&L role.
If you're beyond that and you're already in retirement, and by the way, you want to do these things simultaneously if at all possible; you need to stair step your way into a boardroom.
Think about joining a nonprofit, and then a healthy size nonprofit, and then from there you can typically go into a private company, and after some time there you can go into a public company. It really is a stair step,. You can even jump some of those steps through education. Obtaining the NACD Certification is one way to do that, and can be instrumental in that process. There are other education programs you can do throughout the US. But really beyond that, then you need to work your way up in business. There is also a lot to be gained by how we network and how we think about networking and sharing our skillset.
I tend to find that people who are technology focused don't do as good a job in communicating their value. My sessions are often heavily focused on how one can communicate their value, how you need to be able to simplify and dumb our language down in some ways to be able to help a non-technical chair from a manufacturing company who doesn't understand where you're coming from as a CIO, or a CTO, or whatever your role is, add value to that manufacturing company. It's a matter of sharing the right information with the right people, over the right period of time.
So are there C level folks that do a better job than technology-focused people? Like perhaps a chief marketing officer (CMO)?
Yes, CMOs can do a really good job, they do a better job than most I would say. CEOs also tend to do a really good job. It tends to be women who typically do not do as good a job as men in communicating their value, though we could spend a week on why that is that case. We do a lot of specialist coaching for women, actually, helping them understand how to tout their skillsets. I worked directly with Harvard Women on Boards and a lot of their alumni courses to do some education and foundation work.
You need to be able to change your language. Marketing was one thing a few years ago and now it's really about data analytics, and AI, and digital transformation. We need to move away from traditional language, and share information that is popular now, in what I'll call cocktail language, that we as humans tend to latch onto because we hear it in the news every day, because we're reading it in articles. Making that language conversion is one of the biggest challenges people tend to face whether you're a four star general in the military, or a CEO on a Fortune 500 company.
Really interesting. So tell me about the NACD NXT.
NACD NXT, in collaboration with Deloitte, was developed out of NACD’s understanding that we need to focus more on providing tools, resources, information, and helping to diversify organizations; how to become a diverse board and a diverse organization, and the culmination of what we call the NACD NXT Recognition Gala. This is about uplifting companies that are doing a really good job in that space so we can then also take from them tools and resources to share with the greater world. It's intended to be a longterm initiative to help boards have the information, resources, education, and be able to hold each other up as they work on more diversity, inclusion, and innovation.
What a great program! What haven't we talked about that you feel needs to be included?
Two things. One, I'll say that what I do as an individual here at NACD is critical because boards need to be thinking more specifically about how to uplift their board from an education perspective and how to retain new and interesting talent.
My understanding in terms of what TBM is and from a technology perspective is that not very many boards actually have technologists of any kind; not security, not information, not technology, not innovation on their board.
I think that there is a lot of value to be gained by boards thinking more holistically about these kinds of skillsets and adding more to their board from a thought diversity perspective.