Friday, November 27, 2009

The Business Case

We’ve heard a number of women in leadership advocacy groups quote or produce research studies that purport to "make the business case" for increasing the number of women on boards of directors. What exactly does it mean "to make the business case" for something?

In my book, Outstanding in their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed (Praeger/ABC-Clio: June 2009), we saw Debi Colman at Tektronix "make the business case" to spin off two parts of the company’s operations and create a new profitable venture (Merix) which she then agreed to lead as a multi-million dollar business enterprise.

Janet Clarke "made the business case" to R.R. Donnelley & Sons for the company to establish a new production entity to print and duplicate both training manuals and discs for IBM and Microsoft. She was a principal sales rep responsible for bringing the business idea into the company and taking the final products to market. It was the biggest business quarter ever for Donnelley to that point.

Other examples abound in the book and in the real world: how talented women spotted a viable business opportunity, framed the evidence supporting profitable expected returns, delivered "a compelling business case" complete with their assessment of strengths, risks, competitive challenges, market share forecasts, management, operations, and distribution pre-requisites.

Leslie Fr├ęcon builds business cases before she invests in enterprises or recommends that her partners do likewise. Judith Estrin built business cases before taking multiple ventures public. Dr. Alice Bourke Hayes built a business case before she undertook her expansion plans for the University of San Diego. Kathleen Cote built several persuasive business cases at major junctures when her corporations expanded, downsized, or prepared for a merger/acquisition. Gayle Edlund Wilson built the business case for COSMOS, the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science, emulating the business case that had been built successfully for the arts program. Dr. Andrea Rich built the business case for the expansion and cutbacks at UCLA and to bring the Los Angeles County Museum of Art back to financial solvency.

All of these exemplary women "built the business case" that they, themselves, were willing to get behind and push forward to reality through their own labors in collaboration with other talented men and women. The difference between these substantial examples and those others, the so-called "business case" advocates, is "skin in the game." The advocates include a host of journalists, academic researchers and zealots who have the luxury of going onto some other avocation after they’ve written their diatribes. They are in the business of telling others what "you oughtta do," while it is the outstanding women who are the business people actually making the business case become a business reality -- what they are willing to do.

To build a business case in favor of some action means you are willing to take an idea from inception and insight through the lonely, difficult and tumultuous process of analyzing benefits and costs, requirements and prerequisites, timeliness and risk vs. reward probabilities for different categories of participants: investors, management, employees.

Standing on the sidelines, trying to intimidate others to "make change happen, NOW" is nagging and whining. It is most certainly NOT building an effective business case.

For what purpose do we build a business case? It is a strategic road map to guide action that the initiator, herself, believes in enough to undertake herself. That means that if you want to build a business case, you also want to be a part of the construction crew -- someone willing to get her hands dirty and blistered in the undertaking because you believe there is a real payoff somewhere out there in the future.

If you’re only writing about the subject, you’re a journalist who will get paid for your inches. If you think the end result of your advocacy is "getting the message out," then you’re simply a proselytizer. To build a business is not the same as forming a church or founding a charity.

For what purpose do we write a business case? That entails the conduct of extensive research, interviews, and in-depth analysis of one specific business challenge in order to frame questions that collectively become input into the educational experience where we debate and discuss the merits and problems of alternative business actions. To write a business case study is to lay out the facts in an objective framework so that the topic can generate a fruitful dialog and a productive learning experience.

Most of the research today on the subject of women on boards has yet to rise to the standard of either of these more rigorous challenges.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Passion? Or Skill?

A young friend was job-hunting (again!) when she happened to find herself, at a family gather, in conversation with an older woman who’d risen to a relatively top level of leadership in her profession. The professional woman listened to the younger one talk about the challenges she was facing trying to find a "good job."

"What is your special skill?" the experienced woman asked the job-hunter, trying to think of possible employer prospects among her mental roll-a-dex of acquaintances. In reply, the young woman proceeded to talk about her many "passions." She loved children; being around people; cooking; and she volunteered at her local church.

You almost wanted to saint her right there. The woman prodded her to go on, trying to see if there were any skills that an employer might have written in any realistic job description. "What jobs have you had so far?" the woman asked, trying to extract some more specific experiences.

Young job-hunter had waitressed, bar-tended, delivered wine, worked at a day care center, was a candy-striper, and a telemarketer. "What did you major in at college?" the woman persisted.

Her academics were general studies -– which is exactly the knowledge she possessed. Her "special skills" seemed to be her drop dead good looks and her beaming smile. She also was a single parent of a pre-school-age child which meant she also required tremendous "flexibility" and "control" over her personal time.

The experience woman listened as the young girl added layer upon layer to her pre-conditions to productive employment, or rather barrier upon barrier to genuine competitive earning potentials. That puzzled look on the professional woman’s face said, "How do you 'mentor' someone who doesn’t want to be counseled, but who merely wants you -– or The World -– to save her from the obvious current and future consequences of her real world, questionable choices?"

Jean Paul Satre said, "You are free; choose."

But the more important existential statement is, "Once you’ve made your bed, you are the one who must sleep there."

The experienced woman had hear that admonition many times as she was growing up in the age of post-war modernism, along with many other "warnings" which that young job-hunter undoubtedly never heard:

"Why would anyone buy the cow if they can get the milk for free?"
"You need a skill you can 'fall back on' in case things don’t work out as you planned."

How ironic that the "skills" that experienced woman’s generation advised her to get included: become a teacher, or a secretary, or a nurse –- all professions where secure jobs no longer exist in the contemporary technology-driven marketplace. Women once followed those jobs in droves, creating pink-collar employment concentrations where many of experienced woman’s peers locked themselves into low-income careers.

The professional woman had worked pretty much ever since she was old enough to get an employment permit (at 14 years of age). That translated into a 50 year track record of skills development in an era when women were not expected to venture out of the home. If young job-hunting friend is 30 years old, today, that means she has approximately the same number of years ahead of her during which she can be productive, desperate or dependent.

By the time professional woman was 30 years, she too had worked as a volunteer, teacher, day care worker, waitress, motel night clerk, maid and char-woman. She’d also painted, re-tiled and renovated apartment units. And she worked as a telephone operator, transcriptionist, data-entry clerk, secretary, researcher and journalist. By the beginning of her 3rd decade, experienced woman was finishing a business school degree because she finally figured out that being skilled in something "real" like economics, finance, accounting, or management afforded a better platform from which to stand tall and accomplish something of substance in the years remaining.

Somewhere along the way, professional woman also read a very scary story, titled Looking for Mr. Goodbar -– the tale of a young girl who went bar-hopping to find fun, good times and Good Time Charlie with whom she could laugh and whatever. She found him. But it didn’t turn out as she expected.

Being a little scared can be a good thing if it diverts you toward a path of greater self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Having those little hairs on the back of your neck rise up and tingle in the face of genuine risk and uncertainty is a life-saving gift. But, the more important lesson is what you do, how you act, what you choose, once the alarm bells go off.

Suzie Orman, in the October 24. 2009 event documented in A Woman’s Nation, said "Until women accept the need to make themselves a priority, they will continue to struggle to find their way in the new world order." (p. 232)

So, here we see young job-seeker talking with experienced woman, the former hoping that the latter will "mentor" her to a vision of success. Experienced woman knows that the most important choice is how you strive to be worthy of being mentored, how you build the skills and competencies on which you can rely over that long term future which is your own life and career. How does she tell her young friend that "Passion, alone, is simply not enough?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lessons from Britain

The 2009 Female FTSE 100 research by Cranfield School of Management
(See report: here.)

Some of the few positive quotes from the report:

"There are now 2,281 women (up from 1,877 last year) on the corporate boards and executive committees/senior teams of all the FTSE listings, hence there is a huge and growing pipeline of female talent available to the FTSE 100 boards."

"The percentage of new female appointments to FTSE 100 boards has risen from last year’s 10.7% to 14.7% this year."

"Second we have added a supplement to our report of 100 “Women to Watch”, giving sketches of senior women we feel should be seriously considered for boardroom appointments."

Additional facts: the share of women on boards increased to 12.%, even though the total number of board seats at the FTSE 100 declined by 46 directors in the past year alone.

And, over the past 10 years, the number of women directors at FTSE 100 firms increased by 52, while the total number of director seats declined by (71) and the number of male-occupied seats declined by (123).

My Proxy

Charles Schwab recently asked me for my advice on trustees for his Schwab Funds. I told him I liked what I saw, but only because I’d done my homework on the trustees presented in the prospectus for those funds.

There are nine trustees of Schwab Funds, one of whom is a woman with very impressive financial credentials. At the end of the shareholder proxy statement are 15 pages listing all of the individual funds these nine trustees administer. I noticed that most of the trustees were responsible for 66 "portfolios in the fund complex," while the one woman was responsible for 79. The proxy listed the principal occupation of the trustees during the past 5 years and other directorships they hold. Fortunately, for me, I’d researched the one woman director and knew a great deal more about her highly accomplished career in corporate and academic finance.

I also reviewed the "corporate governance information" included in the proxy voting packet. Schwab Fund has four board committees: an Audit and Compliance Committee; an Investment Oversight Committee; a Marketing, Distribution, and Shareholder Servicing Committee; and a Governance Committee. The woman trustee sits on the Audit and Compliance as well as the Governance Committee. I was interested in the charter for the committee responsible for all things "governance."

Governance includes oversight and recommendations regarding the Board’s:

    Compensation practices
    Retirement policies
    Term limits
    Insurance programs
    Annual self-evaluation
    Effectiveness and allocation of assignments and functions of the Board.
    Composition of committees
    Oversight and selection of the Trusts’ legal counsel and independent legal counsel to the Independent Trustees
    Review of legal counsel reports regarding potential conflicts of interest
    Training of trustees
    Nomination and selection of trustee candidates

The proxy details how the Governance Committee evaluates and selects new trustee candidates.

Minimum qualifications:

    1. An ability to work together with other trustees with full and open discussion and debate as an effective group.

    2. Current knowledge and experience in the Trusts’ business or operations; or contacts in the community in which the Trusts’ does business and in the industries relevant to the Trusts’ business; or substantial business, financial or industry-related experience.

    3. A willingness and ability to devote adequate time to the Trusts’ business.

Additional qualities and skills considered:

    1. Relationships that may affect the independence of the trustee or conflicts of interest that may affect the trustees’ ability to discharge his or her duties.

    2. Diversity of experience and background, including the need for financial, business, academic, public or other expertise on the Board or Board committees.

    3. The fit of the individual’s skills and experience with those of the other trustees and potential trustees in comparison to the needs of the Trusts.

I noticed that there was no specific gender mandate -- for the selection of "a skirt." Diversity of experience and background was the only specific mention in this arena.

The proxy notes that should shareholders submit a candidate for consideration, the Governance Committee would evaluate that candidate using the same criteria as described above.

The charter of the Governance Committee states that decisions by the committee are only non-binding recommendations to the Board. The Committee and members are held to "the same standard of care" as generally applied to the Board.

When I read censuses about women on boards, I wonder if the "advocating" researchers truly have considered how hard directors and trustees work, how high they have set the bar regarding governance standards for themselves in the performance of their duties, and how many women really have prepared themselves to serve, as this woman has, at the helm of a such a substantial financial ship.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Truth Behind Sarah Raiss’ Rise to the Boardroom

Did Sarah E. Raiss "network" and "get mentored" into the boardroom, or was it something else? We should encourage truly, talented and competent women to not understate or "soft-sell" the very impressive skills they developed during their careers. We need them to shine the light on the accomplishments that earned the attention of the business community, the cross-discipline core competency relationships they built during their rise up many paths to leadership, and acknowledge both the entities they built and the times they simply reached for the gold. That is what a Board Diversity Council should do to create opportunities for great women to shine. By the time Ms. Raiss attended the Women on Board™ Mentoring Program (2007) and was mentored by Robert J. Harding, Chair of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. her strong business and industry credentials were obvious to all but the most obtuse.

Sarah Raiss is Executive Vice-President, Corporate Services for TransCanada -- a Canadian company recognized as the leader in the responsible development and reliable operation of North American energy infrastructure including natural gas pipelines, power generation, gas storage facilities, and projects related to oil pipelines. Her breadth of responsibilities at that firm include: human resources, information systems, aviation, corporate services and internal communications. Not exactly your "traditional" industry sector for a woman and not exactly a simple job.

Ms. Raiss currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Business Development Bank of Canada, where she chairs the Human Resources Committee, and on the Shopper’s Drug Mart Board of Directors.

David Williams, Chair of the Shoppers Drug Mart Board, welcomed her to his board in August 2007 saying, "We are very pleased to welcome Sarah to our Board. Her extensive experience and public company background make her an ideal candidate to serve on our Board and Compensation Committee. We look forward to her many contributions as we continue to grow our business."

Ms. Raiss was born and raised in Flint, MI. She received her B.S. in Applied Math (with distinction) form the University of Michigan in 1979 followed by an MBA (with an emphasis on Marketing and Operation Behaviour) in 1987. She holds an ICD.D. (certification granted by the Institute of Corporate Directors, the professional body representing the Director community in Canada. The professional designation is recognized both nationally and internationally.)

She began her career at Michigan Bell Telephone Company as a Trainee and later Engineer in the Transmission Design Department (1979-1982), then became an Engineer in Facilities Planning (1982-1983), served on special assignment to the Divestiture Planning Group (1983-1984), and then was named Manager of Long Range Technical Planning (1984-1986). She became Product Manager for Transport and Information Services (1986-1987).

She joined Richard Meltzer and Associates as a Senior Consultant (1988-1989) then became Director of Corporate Strategy at Ameritech in charge of its Ameritech Publishing Inc. (1989-1993). At Ameritech, she held the positions of:

  • Team Leader, Marketing Team & Launch Team, Special Assignment, Transformation of Ameritech (1992-1993)
  • Vice President, Customer Services & Support, Long Distance Industry Services Unit, Ameritech (1993-1994)

    She was one of 120 top leaders appointed by the Chairman of Ameritech to move the company from a network-based regulated entity to a market-facing competitive enterprise.

    Ms. Raiss left Ameritech in 1994 and formed her own firm, SE Reiss Group Inc., a consultancy specializing in strategy, culture change and merger integration (1994 to 1999). She was invited to join TransCanada PipeLines Limited as Executive Vice President of Human Resources & Public Relations in 1999.

    Along the way, Ms. Raiss gathered together an impressive collection of academic, business, and nonprofit boards, earned recognitions among her peers, spoke and wrote on topical subjects in her area of competence. THESE are all of the reasons Ms. Raiss was invited to become a corporate director. If Ms. Raiss had only a fraction of the credentials, she still would be an asset in the boardroom -- not simply by "networking" and "mentoring."

    Academic boards:
    University of Michigan Business School – director, 1995 to date
    University of Michigan, Women’s Initiative Advisory Committee – director, 2000 to date
    University of Michigan Alumni Club

    Business/nonprofit boards:
    Conference Board of Canada, Executive Women’s Advisory Committee – director, 2000 to date
    Strategic Leadership Forum of Calgary
    Art Institute of Chicago – director, 1998-1999
    United Way of Calgary – volunteer
    United Way of Calgary Cabinet – director, 2000 to date
    Deboarahs’ Place, Human Resident Committee of the Board – 1997-1998
    National Association of Female Executives
    Petroleum Club
    Earl Grey Golf Club

    "Telecommunications Engineering & Operations"
    "Annual Review of Communications, 1998"

    Outstanding Young Women of America, 1985
    Distinguished Leadership Award, 1985
    Leadership America, 1994
    Young Mover’s and Shakers, Chicago – 1998
    Top 100 list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women - 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006
    Inducted into the Top 100 Hall of Fame - 2006

    Public speaker:
    National Communications Forum
    Conference Board of Canada
    University of Alberta, MBA
    Alberta Human Resource Association, facilitator

    Sources: TransCanada, Canada's Who's Who and the Top 100 Hall of Fame biographies.