Category Archives: Board Business

A New Gig given the #ImmigrantBan

I had plans to write a totally different post today about the Gig Economy related to some work I had done for my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy.  But the political events of the past weekend changed my thinking.

I had a Board Meeting on Saturday for ReSurge International, where I am the Chair of the Board. (It is one of my gigs, as a member of the Gig Economy myself.)  The Resurge mission is twofold: we provide reconstructive surgery to the poor around the world, but just as importantly, we train developing world surgeons in the latest techniques of plastic surgery.  By doing this we are building medical and surgical capacity in parts of the world that are in dire need. Our patients, whether treated by our volunteer surgeons or the international partners we train, want to undergo a transformation that will improve life for themselves and their families.  And in that desire they are like many immigrants and refugees; they just want to create a better life for their families.

After our meeting we had a Board dinner at my home.  The wife of one of our newer Directors was a bit late, because, as an international law attorney, she had signed up to help represent immigrants, and so had been called to the San Francisco Airport to help out amidst the chaos.  Her description of her day dealing with the concerned and sometimes traumatized families of the immigration ban victims was riveting and led to many discussions of the immigration ban and the confusion  and angst that now surround it.

However, the other thought I had during these discussions was gratitude for the generosity of this lawyer, and hundreds of others like her across the country,  who just jumped in  to help people caught up in this awful mess.  That's the American spirit the resonates with me.  That's the commitment to helping others that I see so regularly in my Board work with ReSurge.

It struck me that for those who do not have the legal skills to help in this  situation, there are other options.  Protests may make a symbolic point, but they don't help those people in need. There are other ways you can help the people in need.  Several companies have taken strong steps:

You can help by patronizing those companies.  I for one, have always been a regular Uber customer.  Somehow I could never get past the weird pink mustaches that Lyft drivers hung on their grills  in the early days.  Now I will become a Lyft customer as well. And, right after I post this I may go out and get myself one of those new  cascara lattes at Starbucks.

You can also support the international humanitarian NGOs that support people who need help around the world.  Speaking as a Board Chair,  the not for profit world always needs donations, so making a donation will help.  But donations are not just financial, though that is always welcome.  Donations , the saying goes, include treasure ( money ),  talent, and time.  You might want to think about the talent and time part of the equation as a potential new gig.  Organizations differ regarding the type of volunteer expertise they need. One option is to join the Board of one of these organizations.  Skilled professionals with financial, marketing, technology and organizational skills who are willing to donate their time and talents can help advance the mission of these organizations dramatically.

As I  read about the chaos, protests, and signs of ill will toward the US around the world from what seems like an action that is counter to everything our country stands for, I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to help people around the world through my Board Service at ReSurge. Even though our government may seem heartless now, I know there are so many caring Americans who do want to help people around the world, whether they are immigrants, refugees, or impoverished families with no access to surgery. These Americans are making a difference, these Americans are inspiring.  You can be one too.

ReSurge – Transforming lives through Reconstructive Surgery and Training


resurgeHere s a great video of our ReSurge Gala last month.  It was a tremendous success and honor to be in a room filled with so many people passionate about our mission to transform the lives of the poor around the world by not just providing reconstructive surgical care, but more importantly, training the next generation of plastic surgeons in the developing world. It is our Global Training Program that makes us unique.  It is our commitment to advocating the need for Global Surgery, a need that the WHO and the Lancet Commission is now recognizing. Our partners, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, translators and donors, share the satisfaction of knowing we are not just helping people now, but we are building a solution for the future.  Please enjoy this wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our work.

The Value of Non-Profit Board Service

As the Chair of ReSurge International I attended a great event this week called Board Match put on by The Volunteer Center. The event brings together not for profit organizations looking to add board members and individuals interested in joining a board.  There was one moment in the evening where I surveyed the scene, looking out on a trade show like assembly replete with animated conversations and thought how lucky we are for the wonderful spirit of service there is in America.

Well...yes and no...We were lucky and spoke to several qualified candidates who had done their homework on our organization and truly wanted to see how they might add value to our Board and help advance our mission.  Although I don't know how many of these folks will follow-up and proceed through our board vetting process, I am confident that our time was well spent.

On the other hand, there were several candidates who responded when asked why they wanted to join a board, that " it was the right move for them in their career". As I used to tell my students at USF, if you only take one thing from  the class, take this -- serving on a non-profit board is not about you. Rather it is about 4 things -- to make it easy to remember, it is about the PEGS.

P  is the fact that you need to be passionate about the mission.  ReSurge transforms lives by providing free reconstructive surgery and medical training, so it is very inspirational, and it was easy for me to feel passionate about the mission.  Alternatively, I served on the Board of the American Liver Foundation, a very laudable organization that funds research for liver disease.   Having no personal connection to liver disease, it was hard to be a great ambassador for the cause.  When I contrast the two Boards,my role and my engagement level,  being passionate about the mission makes all the difference.

E is about extrapolating from your experience.  As I said in a Ted Talk at my Haas Business School reunion, with the great training we get in our MBA program, we can offer so much to the non profit sector. But your expertise could come from other areas beyond business, including your own volunteer activities.  We all have many gifts to offer.

G is for the fact that not only do we offer our expertise, but we gain learnings as well.  My first board role was with an emergency homeless shelter for families. Since I was in the human capital space I volunteered to provide some guidance on HR policies and employee benefits.  Based on my private sector experience, I was quick to point out that their sick leave allowance was way too generous.  I was informed that given all the sicknesses the residents, especially the children, were bringing with them, staff really needed all those sick days.  It was a great learning not just about the different workplace cultures, but also how best to make observations - now I ask why first.

S is for supporting governance.  It is an adjustment for some new board members to understand that a board governs, it does not manage.  The staff runs the place, not the board.  The board provides strategic guidance, fiduciary oversight, and supports, selects and evaluates the CEO.  Good governance is like the lighting in a museum; you couldn't see the art without the lights, and when its bad, you notice.  When it is good it is effective, effortless and elegant.

So if you are considering board service, think of the PEGS and be sure your peg fits the opportunity.

Imagine what the #Xfiles and #Resurge International have in common

Perhaps it was not so surprising to have an "out of body" experience when watching the premiere of the new X Files mini-series.  At one point, Dr. Dana Scully is reviewing  patient photos for an upcoming procedure on a child with microtia, a condition where the external ear does not form.  Given the subject matter of the show, the child's head, devoid of ears, looked  like an alien head, reminiscent of alleged images of aliens who landed in Roswell New Mexico in the 50's.

The plot line and alien innuendo aside, kudo's to the X files for shining a light on a condition that is known to very few outside of the world of reconstructive plastic surgery. Microtia is a very real congenital condition that affects people around the world. In certain cultures, these children born without an external ear structure, are shunned because of this deformity.  In some cases their families are shunned, and some parents may suffer from unfounded emotional guilt, feeling responsible for the disfigurement that plagues their child.

Just before watching the show, I had been at a Board meeting for ReSurge International, where we talked about microtia. At ReSurge International , we not only provide surgeries to remedy the condition, but through our Global Training Program, we  teach surgeons in  developing countries how to handle this type of reconstructive plastic surgery.  In fact, in October of 2015 we  convened our first program to train plastic surgeons in Vietnam on the proper way to handle an ear reconstruction.  At one Board meeting, our Consulting Medical Officer, shared photo's from the session, where the attendees were practicing fashioning external ears from potatoes.  Once they mastered that, they would do the same with cartilage.  The results were amazing.

As a result of that training, these surgeons will be able to provide a surgery that will eliminate this deformity for their patients, and in so doing transform their lives.  No longer will they be shunned, no longer will they look like aliens.  That is the power of reconstructive surgery.

An Exercise in Goal Setting for 2016

I facilitated a peer group meeting today of CEOs  where the topic was personal goals for 2016. Given that they were all running companies, most of the goals focused on  achieving revenue, profit, share price  or fundraising targets for their companies.  There were a number of objectives that involved load balancing the management team, i.e., making sure that the right expertise was in the right role, correcting a mismatch that exists now. Several of these executives also sought to improve their leadership skills either by being able to focus on higher order tasks, like thought leadership, or successfully instilling a common leadership framework and language in the management ranks.

Much to my surprise, all of them offered at least one personal goal as well.  And although there was the obligatory, “get in better shape”, (it is just post New Year’s Resolution time after all…)  there were also some audacious aspirations, everything  from learning acrobatic flying to completing a series of 8 abstract paintings.  I asked each CEO which goal  was the most at risk for the year, and many times it was that personal goal. That was due in part to the fact that the time allocation for the personal goal was totally dependent on the success of achieving the business goal; if product releases don’t happen on time, golf handicaps won’t go down, and if revenue stalls there won’t be a personal best in one of several half marathons.  Common sense  demands the business priorities come first.

On the other hand, my surmise is that for some of these busy folks, setting personal goals may have been a new exercise. We  have all had to live and die by business goals — that is the way of the world.  But how many of us plan to accomplish what some may deem less important or even frivolous goals? There is a power in saying what you want out loud. It gives it import; it makes it real. Years ago I did this exercise and I said I wanted to get on a corporate board.  Within two years I was. In reality, the fact that I said it out loud had nothing to do with my ending up on that Board, but there is the power of  intention.  To me, speaking it helped make it so.

So I am very optimistic about the goals set by my CEO cohort.  Certainly there will be bumps in the road for some, but I am eager to hear not just of the revenue targets achieved, but also about the abstract paintings.


A Reminder of the Primacy of Succession Planning

Valeant Pharmaceuticals appointed an interim CEO today following the hospitalization of the CEO, Michael Pearson, who is suffering from sever pneumonia.  Although a temporary leadership structure had been put in pace at the onset of his illness, as it worsened the Board moved quickly to name an official interim manager.  A current Board Member and prior CFO, Howard Schiller, was tapped  given his key role in the implementation of the company’s current strategy.

This news item should be a lesson for every  public or private company Board, that succession planning is key.  How would your Board handle the sudden medical leave of its CEO?  Are you prepared if you suddenly need to fill his/her  seat?

15 years ago, a Board on which I served faced the same issue, although our situation was more dire, as our CEO lost his battle with pneumonia.  Like Valeant, we had appointed co-Presidents to oversee the organization during the illness.  Once a permanent solution was needed,more challenges arose. As an organization, we learned many lessons during that period, and as a Board we built new muscles to strengthen and constantly flex executive development and succession planning.

Some key thoughts I offer when a CEO takes ill are these:

Recognize that the interim solution may need to be in place for quite a while, so it needs to be workable.

Although no one wanted to think that our CEO would not return at the time, that eventuality should have figured into our calculus. Asking a few direct reports to shoulder more of a burden for a month or so is one thing, asking them to do it for up to a year is quite another.

As a Board, demonstrate support for the interim team.

Unexpectedly losing a CEO is like losing the captain of a ship; the crew and passengers need to know that the course ahead will be safe and sure.  The Board needs to support the interim  team without micromanaging their efforts.  The Board Chair or Lead Director can play a critical role. Board members should recognize there may be a need for more frequent meetings and or conference calls.

Gain consensus on the breadth of the process

In some cases, an unanticipated vacancy can prompt someone to up his/her game and assume a new senior role with vigor.  Alternatively, such a vacancy may provide an opportunity for new eyes and new leadership from outside the organization.  The Board needs to agree about whether there is a bias for  internal or external candidates.  There also needs to be agreement on the nature of the process; if external candidates are considered, will existing firms be used or will firms be interviewed; who will comprise the search team; will the job specification remain the same as for the prior incumbent or will it change.

Know that communications to all stakeholders for the next 12 – 18 months  is key,

The Board needs to communicate regularly to shareholders, management and staff about both the current business  and the succession process ahead. Over communicating is not possible in this situation.   To ensure we were capturing as much feedback from the rank and file as possible, the Board  instituted a 360 degree employee survey, assessing sentiment 6 months into the interim structure and then 6 months after the permanent successor. We wanted to make sure that certain shifts to the organization had not created unforeseen problems.

Develop your succession plan to include sudden events

Most people consider succession in a more deliberate way, noting the development needs of key  managers and the steps they needs to take to grow into a new, more senior role.  A sudden illness or death precludes that deliberation.  As such, you need the “hit by the bus” section that outlines what happens if the unthinkable does.  For those of you who have that already in place, Bravo!  For those of you who don’t, add it to your Board agenda.

How mentoring strengthens your edge

Most people think of mentoring as a way to share the expertise gained over a long professional life.  That is a true statement, but not nearly comprehensive, since mentoring can expand your horizons in so many ways.

Fr those of us who may be semi retired, or flunking  retirement in my case, being an active mentor keeps you engaged in an ongoing business, like being a board member without the fiduciary obligations.  Moreover, it can keep you current in what is going on in the business segment today.  That currency is so important and so seldom appropriately valued.

Back in the M Squared days, I had a framework for evaluating consulting expertise, the “4 Vs”.  It frustrated me that so many people interviewed consultants as though they were hires, when by definition they are not. As such, it is important to screen for other factors, like the ability of the consultant to work in different environments, i.e., their Versatility.

The Vigor factor, was the idea that to be successful, you need to keep current with your craft.  Various professional disciplines achieve this by having continuing education requirements, whether it be in medicine or the the law .  But how does a marketing consultant keep current, or a CFO, a compensation consultant etc? There are ways, like attending conferences and doing research. When hiring a consultant, it is important to understand this dimension of their expertise.

Being a mentor can add vigor to your experience, because you are staying current with your mentee’s business.  Slack wasn’t around when I stepped down ( the second time) from M Squared, but I understand its power because of my connection with other ongoing businesses.  Similarly, I am getting new insights into how companies must recruit and manage millenials which differs from how I dealt with the gen-xers.  Having those new perspectives arrayed against the depth of experience makes for some very powerful insight to share.  It’s all good.

As for the other Vs, feel free to guess…



Jennifer Lawrence, you are forgiven

Several years ago at my kids' urging, I read The Hunger Games  books and loved them. Not only were they a good read, I saw a wonderful connection for ReSurge.  In the final book, The Mocking Jay, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen is engulfed by flames during a battle. In her world, Panem, they ease her scars and suffering by replacing her skin, because they can

In our world that doesn't happen.  In fact in most of the developing world, there is no acute care for burns.  Burns kill more women in Africa than HIV and malaria combined, but the first world does not know this.  If untreated, a burn scar will contract; a child burned at the elbow, for example, will never be able to move his joint again.  A plastic surgeon is needed to release the contracture and add in a skin graft to enable mobility. The photo below is an untreated contracture.

Similarly, I have seen  a young woman in Vietnam whose face fused to her chest after a cooking burn went up her torso.  When our doctors released that contracture and she could look into her mother's face once again, there wasn't a dry eye in the recovery room.  Burn victims go though so much, but there can be happy endings.  Although it took years of surgeries, a boy in Bangladesh who once could not move his arms is now  a young man en route to a career in healthcare thanks to ReSurge.


I had visions of a great Public Service Announcement (PSA) that would play before the movie.  Jennifer Lawrence could look solemnly into the camera and say "In Panem, they could replace my skin, but in our world we need reconstructive surgery to transform lives. " The challenge was making the connection to Jennifer for her to see the affinity between ReSurge and the climax of the trilogy.

Through WPO, I was able to get to the President of CAA, Jennifer's agents.  He couldn't make it happen, but he agreed to set me up with the CAA Foundation, the channel through which his stars coordinate philanthropic efforts.  There were several conference calls, and after each one the participants seemed increasingly in favor of the idea.   Finally,  the  foundation was willing to intercede for me with Jennifer's agent.  I begged to be able to talk to the agent directly, since I knew I could sell the concept better then the well intentioned foundation staff could, (CEOs are great sales people after all...) but they assured me they were the ones that had to handle those discussions.

Ultimately, it never happened.  It was not clear to me whether the agent passed on it or whether Jennifer did, but I was crestfallen. Yes, I was asking a celebrity to lend her name to something, but the connection was so explicit, the potential reach so global, and the impact it could have had on the visibility of this issue in the world was so profound, I just thought it would happen.  (CEOs are often optimists too...)

So part of me was not enthusiastic about going to the final movie in The Hunger Games saga. Imagine my surprise, when that moment I had envisioned for so long was nearly left out of the movie.  You got a sense that Katniss was injured, but no mention was made of the massive conflagration that incinerated her skin and the subsequent medical procedure to replace it.  To make sure I was not crazy, I went back and reread the ending after the movie, and yes, my recollection was accurate, but artistic license had eliminated this element of the story for moviegoers.

Ironically, the fact that the directors chose to minimize the burn back story is illustrative of the global burn crisis in reality.  It is a grim subject that is neglected in many ways by the global public heath system.  The pictures aren't pretty and in fact can be quite painful to see, as aptly demonstrated by the first photo in this post.  Many foundations are not interested because burns are not "a disease state."  Building awareness of the issue remains a challenge, despite the fact that every 3 seconds someone is severely burned.

So maybe Jennifer and her agent knew the filmmaker's direction nullified my PSA idea. Maybe it wasn't the cause to which she wanted to attach her name. That said, I am hopeful that at some point we will find a celebrity willing to use the power of his/her stardom to help us combat this global health crisis. Did I mention I am an optimist?

You never know why they want you on a Board

I have been on the Board of CPP for 16 years.  CPP Inc., owns the publishing rights to the Meyers Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI), the most widely used personality test in the world. During my tenure the company has expanded internationally, purchased three companies and bought the IP rights to two additional instruments.  The amazing growth has not been without its challenges, the most significant being the untimely death of the incumbent CEO  about 10 years ago.

The experience has been tremendous for me – I have learned so much about governance, publishing and organizational development.  It is no wonder I want to pursue more board roles. That said, I don’t know that I can replicate the process that earned me the CPP role.

When I was approached to join the CPP Board it was 1998.  M Squared had been on the Inc 500  list several times as well as the SF Business Times list of the fastest growing companies in the Bay Area.  I was experiencing that glow of a high growth CEO that was firing on all cylinders.  (Of course 2001 was right around the corner, but who knew that then…)  I presumed that it was my managing growth expertise that prompted the call. In my various interviews at the firm, we discussed future growth plans quite a bit, which further supported my notion as to why this opportunity came to me.

Several years later I discovered the truth. At a board offsite we were all sharing our stories about how we ended up there.  When I provided my rationale, the CEO laughed and said I didn’t quite have it right.

It turned out that he had seen me speak about my entrepreneurial journey  at the Governor’s Conference for Women in 1998.  In my remarks I spoke about the work I had done in the community, specifically my role as on the Board of the Hamilton Family Center, San Francisco’s (then) only homeless shelter for families.  I sheepishly admitted that I had been on that board for six years.  The president mused that if I could put up with all of the drama a homeless shelter had to offer, I could certainly put up with them,  and  since CPP was all about “making people better”, my humanitarian leanings played well.  Plus, what a bonus that my business was in the human capital space.

I was a bit surprised by the discovery of why I had been chosen, but gratified too.  It is wonderful to discover that all of our experiences contribute to our expertise, not just the ones that have the highest profile.  Maybe I will get my next Board role the same way…

%d bloggers like this: