Calling all CEOs, Chairmen, and Lead Directors!

by TK Kerstetter for The Board Blog, May 18th, 2011.

It’s not often I will get off my virtual soapbox and approach a topic that has a commercial aspect to it but as a former president and director of a public company, this is a topic that I am very passionate about. My favorite subject in the whole world is board leadership, particularly the relationship between the CEO and the non-exec chairman or lead director. As I have stated many times in this blog, on our “This Week in the Boardroom” webshow, and in speeches across the country, I believe the most important but least-discussed CEO skill set is guiding or managing the board. Now I know this will have the hair stand up on the back of the necks of many governance purists, but for me, nirvana is when the CEO and chairman/lead director can blend their board leadership skill sets, each providing the board what it needs to be a great company and build shareholder value. Having said that, I recognize the risk of a CEO becoming too imperial and manipulating the board, and I equally recognize the risk and challenge of making sure you have selected the right CEO to lead the company. But when those duties and skill sets come together and when trust, information flow, and healthy questioning resulting in great products and/or services creates maximum shareholder value, it is quite a sight and feeling to behold.

Two years ago after Corporate Board Member had successfully launched its chairman/lead director peer exchanges as part of its bigger Peer Exchange Program, it came to me that we were missing the opportunity of showcasing how various company boards and executives have accomplished this quest. While not every scenario has turned out perfect , and there are many unique aspects to each companies chairman/CEO relationship, I recognized that there is plenty for CEOs and board chairs to learn from each other about how certain companies and teams have “gotten over this hump.”

Last year this premonition resulted in our first Chairman/CEO Peer Forum, where chief executives, chairs, and lead directors heard from other teams of CEO/Chairmen/Lead Directors. These individuals spoke about their tricks of the trade and then divided into small groups to discuss specific challenges and solutions. I knew when I led our opening discussion with then-Reynolds American CEO Susan Ivey and lead director Thomas Wajnert on the topic of how they had developed as a team that we had something of value for our larger board audience. I couldn’t wait to meet with our education group to help put this year’s event together. And it’s turned into an amazing agenda—one that provides valuable takeaways for every company mover and shaker. (continue reading… )


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