Corporate boards provide a rich resource for companies and their shareholders through wise counsel, strategic advice, risk mitigation and seasoned leadership. Well-run and successful businesses use their boards to complement management, leveraging that talent and team experience to competitive advantage.
Today’s business environment can be challenging to navigate given the pressures of the global marketplace, shareowner demands, and government and media scrutiny weighing heavily on the boardrooms of our public and privately-owned companies. As corporate boards work to maneuver past these hurdles, both inside and outside perspectives and experience can make a big difference in achieving desired results.
Companies traditionally seek board members with experience in related and complementary businesses, emphasizing talented individuals with proven track records of demonstrated high performance. This formula has worked well in the past, but recent well-publicized difficulties involving board oversight in some companies, plus the rapidly evolving international operating environment, suggest that it may be time for reconsideration.
Many corporations continue to thrive despite the challenging environment. Hallmarks of their success include diversity of experience, an atmosphere which encourages frank discussion and a willingness to challenge assumptions. Finding the best people with these attributes and an inclination to roll up their sleeves and dig into often vexing issues, while forming a cohesive team with the right chemistry, is no small task.
A resource generally overlooked in the search process for board members is the immensely talented and widely diverse cohort of retired senior military personnel. Some of these former admirals and generals are highly motivated to board service and have a wealth of experience in areas of crucial interest to businesses. These former military commanders are practiced leaders with a deep understanding of risk management and strategy in high-pressure situations.
Consider that many of the skills and experiences of these people have direct application to the boardroom and the increased responsibility of boards today. Crafting strategy, assessing the strategic setting and relating the company strategy to current and future scenarios requires a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the risk environment. Senior military leaders entrusted with the safety and well-being of thousands of uniformed service personnel, in often dangerous conditions, understand full well the relationships between strategy, risk and leadership.
To help introduce retired officers to the boardroom opportunities that might utilize their talents, I recently assisted in a superbly-run program sponsored by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) in Washington, DC. This two-day event exposed retired military flag and general officers to board practices, processes, and people with extensive experience in today’s boardrooms. In an impressive display of the deep talent pool that already exists, this program attracted more than 50 retired military leaders who are ready and willing to address boardroom challenges with their wide-ranging expertise.
The diversity of experience and proven mettle which these immensely talented servicemen and women offer, may be exactly the combination of fresh perspective and highly competent leadership to differentiate board performance. Our retired service flag and general officers are a peerless asset to advance corporate governance, board performance and business success. I am confident corporations and the American public will be pleased when they see their performance and value in the boardroom.
William Joseph Fallon is a retired United States Navy four-star admiral who retired after serving for over 41 years. His last military assignment was as Commander, U.S. Central Command from March 2007 to March 2008