National Association of Corporate Directors Annual Conference – a few highlights

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 10-07-19

I recently attended the National Association of Corporate Directors. I was an early Leadership Fellow through NACD when they launched the program, as I believe in continued learning and personal improvement. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended the conference (it conflicts with my fall soccer coaching schedule), and so this year I registered and booked my hotel in January just to force myself to go. It’s a great opportunity to reflect and learn. I came out of it with a couple dozen action items that I’m working my way through.

In this post, I just wanted to share some interesting notes and highlights. There are a couple of topics that I intend to write a longer post about, such as Theranos, which will follow. These notes are in no particular order and do not compile into a main theme.

  • Admiral James Stravridis (former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, perhaps the coolest job title in the world) gave an incredible keynote address, talking about risk and geopolitics. His belief is that the #1 threat in the world today is cybersecurity and that our biggest weakness is the electrical grid

What can we do better? The Admiral’s list: #1: Listen better. #2: Build intellectual capital (“it is not a war of ideas, it’s a market place of ideas”).

He recommends reading The Economist. Having seen the daily presidential intelligence briefing, he believes The Economist covers 85% of the same information in a non-partisan approach.

  • From General Lester Lyles, former Air Force General and currently Chair of the Board of USAA, on diversity: “diversity without inclusion is just an illusion.” The point is, don’t think you can add some women and minorities to your board (or company, or team, or whatever) and you’ve created diversity. To truly achieve the benefits of diversity, you must also have inclusion, which is a far higher bar.

Global climate change has skyrocketed to the top of surveys as the #1 threat.

90% of the world’s data didn’t exist 2 years ago.

  • Jason Schenker, Chair of The Futurist Institute and author of The Fog of Data, talked about how most “data nightmares” involve things like human error and bad process, not things like computing power.

Schenker also shared some interesting data. Two very interesting nuggets were that China is well ahead of the US in patents related to quantum computing (yes, a buzzword, but backed by real stuff), as well as a nugget that only 10.7% of all purchases are done online, implying that there may be a lot of runway for disruption left.

  • Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair of GE and current Nike board member, talked about diversity in the board room, and the company. “Don’t hire people like yourself”, which she meant in more ways than one, adding “if you’re a CEO, don’t just put other CEOs on the board.” Later, she articulated the benefits: “more diversity brings more differing opinions and conflict, and that’s a good thing.” This last point, on conflict, brought some applause from the audience.

Beth Comstock was asked by the audience, as former head of innovations at GE, what makes for innovative people. She answered: “innovative people ask good questions.” Hear, hear!

And that’s a good note to end on. More commentary will follow!