Ask A Director: What Lessons Have Boards Learned from COVID-19?

Kira Ciccarelli

We assembled a diverse panel of corporate directors to discuss the “lessons learned” in 2020. Here’s what they told us.

The way the COVID-19 pandemic has played out on a global stage has meant that the business climate is evolving at an unrecognizable rate. In order to keep up with these changes and provide effective oversight, directors need to be vigilant, introspective, effective, and agile now more than ever.

As we move into the end of 2020 with no end to the pandemic in sight, director perspectives on effective company guidance are evolving. What many believed would be a temporary crisis has turned into a long-term reality with the potential to permanently alter the way businesses operate. Against this backdrop, Diligent Institute contacted directors to seek their perspectives, advice, and projections about the future as a follow-up to our May 2020 Ask a Director Series: How Are Corporate Boards Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis?

Read on to see answers to these questions and more, and to find out more about our panelists.

About the Panelists

Photo: Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez

Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez joined the Recology Board in January 2014 and has served as Chair of the Innovation Committee. She is currently Chair of the Governance Committee and a member of the Risk Oversight Committee.  She is a strategic and ethical leader with deep expertise in innovation strategy, ESG, DEI, value/resource recovery and environmental ethics. After nine years as President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez founded Seam Innovation in 2013, a strategic advising practice serving boundary spanning leaders committed to doing well and doing good in the world. Deborah has chaired and served on numerous national social sector boards including Pacific School of Religion, Independent Sector, Goodwill Industries International, East Bay Community Foundation, Cordes Foundation, the Harwood Institute, and SF AIDS Foundation.

Photo: Daniele Bergeron

Daniele Bergeron is President and associate of La Société des Leaders de Marques. She has also been President and CEO of Mayrand Ltd, a food trade specialist operating in Montreal and part of the AOF-Alimplus-Mayrand Group. Previously, she held various executive positions at recognized Quebec-based retailers including Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Sail Plein Air Inc. and President of Mobilia. A seasoned director, she serves on the boards of Colabor, Prompt Innovation and Patrick Morin. Ms. Bergeron holds an Executive M.B.A. from McGill – HEC and is a certified Corporate Director.

Photo: Phyllis Campbell

Phyllis Campbell is the Chairman for the Pacific Northwest region for JPMorgan Chase & Co. Previously she served as the president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation – the largest community foundation in Washington. Phyllis has served as an independent director for Alaska Air Group from 2003-2020. She previously served on the Nordstrom board of directors. She currently serves on the Diversity Advisory Board of Toyota and is a board member of SanMar. Phyllis is chair of the board of the US-Japan Council, as well as a member of the global advisory board of Women Corporate Directors. She serves as board member of the Allen Institute.

Photo: Anna Catalano

Anna C. Catalano has over 30 years of corporate experience and manages a diverse board portfolio, serving as member of the Board of Directors for Willis Towers Watson, Kraton Corporation, HollyFrontier Corporation, Frontdoor, Inc., and Appvion.  In the not-for-profit sector, she is a Board Director for the Houston Grand Opera, President of the National Association of Corporate Directors Texas TriCities Chapter, a Co-Founder of The World Innovation Network, and a former national Board Member of the Alzheimer’s Association. Ms. Catalano is an expert on the topics of global business, board governance, strategic branding, and an outspoken champion of women in business.

Photo: Rafael Cerezo

Rafael Cerezo holds a degree in economics from the London School of Economics and an MBA from the University of Columbia. He worked for The Boston Consulting Group from 1977 to 2008, holding various positions including founding Partner and Director of the Madrid office, European Executive Chairman, and member of the BCG Global Executive Committee. He is a member of the Boards of Puig, Flamagas, Aubelia (Uriage), and ISDIN. Advisor in the Advisory Board of Exea as well as a Trustee in the Board of Trustees of the Anti Drug Foundation.

Photo: Karen Clarke-Whistler

Karen Clarke-Whistler serves on the Board of Directors of Enerplus Corporation, a publicly-traded oil and gas company. She is the former Chief Environment Officer of TD Bank Group, and is a Principal in ESG Global Advisors, a strategic advisory consultancy.

Photo: Roy Dunbar

Roy Dunbar is the founder of private renewable-energy and property development companies. Dunbar served as CEO and chair of Network Solutions between 2008 and 2010, and was president of Global Technology and Operations at Mastercard, and prior to that, Chief Information Officer at Eli Lilly where he worked for 14 years. Information Week named him CIO of the year in 2003. Dunbar was named to the NACD Directorship 100 in 2015 and is a NACD Board Leadership Fellow. Dunbar has served on several public company Boards and is presently a Director of Johnson Controls International PLC and SiteOne Landscape Supply. Inc.

Photo: Doris Honold

Doris Honold’s career spans more than 25 years in financial services across Chief Risk Officer and Chief Operating Officer roles in Frankfurt, Tokyo, Singapore and London. Until last year, Doris was Standard Chartered’s Group Chief Operating Officer and a member of its executive committee. She currently serves as a non-executive director of Credit Suisse International, chairing its board risk committee, and is a Trustee of the Climate Bond Initiative.  Doris is also an advisor to a number of pre-IPO fin-tech companies. She is currently a Fellow of Harvard Universities Advanced Leadership Program.

Photo: Tom Hunersen

Tom Hunersen works with financial services and technology firms focusing on Strategy, Governance and Capital. He has had a varied career leading banking, funds management, corporate and nonprofit organizations in Europe, North America and Australasia.  Recent focus has included working with distressed European financial institutions on operational excellence and strategic transformation. Tom holds a MBA from the Katz Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College and is a member of the Independent Directors Council (NY) and the Institute of Directors (London). Currently, Tom serves as Chairman and Non-Executive Director at Macquarie Global Infrastructure TRF (NYSE: MGU), and as an Advisory Board Member at Ad Fontes Media Incorporated.

Photo: Rajive Johri

Rajive Johri has 14+ years of governance experience, having led a variety of Fortune 500, private, and not-for-profit companies at the board level. Currently, he sits on the board at ConAgra Brands, Inc. on the HR & Compensation, Governance, and Audit & Finance Committees. Rajive’s specialties include enterprise risk management, cyber security, global business leadership, and business turnaround.

Photo: Bobbi Kurshan

Dr. Barbara (Bobbi) Kurshan has honed her vision of “what can be” using technology while supporting the growth of new education companies and developing innovative software products. She currently serves as a Senior Fellow and Innovation Advisor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania where she builds and advises education innovation ecosystems for researchers, teaches, investors and entrepreneurs. She currently serves on the Board of several companies including APEI, Tulane University College of Engineering and Science, and many education technology companies. She is the author of several books, articles and regularly blogs for

Photo: Brad Neilley

Brad Neilley is currently a Board Member at Princeton International Technology and a Board Trustee at William Patterson University. Prior to this, Brad was Senior Vice President at Avalon Bay (the largest multifamily REIT) and previously Worldwide Vice President and a member of three company Management Boards at Johnson & Johnson. He also holds an MBA in International Business.

Photo: Mohamed Radwan

Dr. Mohamed Radwan is the Managing Director and Board Member of Platinum Partners, a Corporate Governance Consultant with IFC (International Finance Cooperation) – World Bank, an Adjunct Faculty with American University in Cairo, and a NED on leading organizations in the MEA region.

Photo: Lea Ray

Lea M Ray is a Chartered Professional Accountant, ICD.D certified director and a seasoned board member.  Lea has served in multiple board leadership roles including Chairman, Vice-chairman, Lead Director and Audit Committee Chair on a variety of publicly-listed, public sector and non-profit entities.  She is a former executive, Vice-President Corporate Finance, of Warner Bros. Entertainment Canada Inc. and former member of the Professional Conduct Committee of the Chartered Professional Accountants (Ontario). Currently, Lea is a board director at Patriot One Technologies Inc., Aleafia Health Inc., ProDemnity Insurance Company, and RFA Bank.

Photo: Ted Senko

Ted Senko is an experienced Board member and audit committee leader with strong corporate governance skills, including ESG, compliance and enterprise risk management.  He currently is a member of the Board of Directors of Autoliv, Inc., a Fortune 500 Company, serving as Audit Committee Chairman.  Ted qualifies as an “audit committee financial expert” under SEC rules and serves on the National Association of Corporate Directors Fortune 500 Advisory Council on Risk Oversight.  During an extensive career at KPMG, LLP Ted successfully led several global consulting businesses, developing significant business strategy and operations experience.

Photo: Jim Treadway

Jim Treadway is a founding member of Seattle’s Lodging Roundtable and the Yountville Business Roundtable. He is a past Chairman of the Board of IndeCorp, now known as the Preferred Hotel Group. He currently serves on the board of The Tug McGraw Foundation, which supports and promotes brain health. Hotelier, consultant, and advisor, Jim Treadway most recently served as general manager of the renowned Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley, California, one of Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Hotels & Resorts℠ properties.  Previously vice chairman of Benchmark and founder and chairman of MTM Luxury Lodging, which Benchmark purchased in 2011, he is well known and respected in the hospitality industry for his 23 years with Westin Hotels and Resorts, at which he rose to the position of president of the North American Division.

Photo: Danesh Varma

Danesh Varma is a Chartered Accountant and Director of junior exploration companies like Anglesey Mining plc, Buchans Resources Inc., Canadian Manganese Corporation, Minco Exploration plc., Xtierra Inc. as well as investment vehicles like Brookfield Investment Corporation, Crowd For Angels and Nine Point Senior Credit Fund.

Photo: Sonia Villalobos

Sonia Villalobos, CFA, is a member of the Board of Directors of Telefonica Vivo, LATAM Airlines, and EcoRodovias, with the first two being Latin American companies listed in the NYSE. She is currently the coordinator of EcoRodovias’ Auditing Committee and a former board member and president of the Auditing Committee of Petrobras. Up to the end of 2019, Mrs. Villalobos was also a finance professor in graduate courses at Insper, one of the most prestigious business schools in Brazil. Her 35-year-long professional career in finance encompassed sell-side and buy-side equity research, as well as private and public equity fund management. Mrs. Villalobos was the first person in Latin America to become a CFA charterholder, in 1994.

Photo: Sam Weiss

Sam Weiss (AB, Harvard College; MS, Columbia University Business School, FAICD) is Chairman of Altium Limited and is a highly experienced Company Chairman. He has been instrumental in the growth and leadership of Altium Limited over the past ten years as the Company has generated shareholder value through superior technology and strategy, capital and financial controls, and strong corporate governance. His experience in global markets has helped the Company to become the market leader in electronics design for Printed Circuit Boards. Sam has more than twenty years of Boardroom experience gained at both listed and unlisted  companies as well as with leading arts and social services organizations. Sam has lived and worked in Asia, the United States, Europe as well as Australia with executive roles in large multi-national corporations.

Photo: Donna Wells

Donna Wells has a decade of corporate governance experience and currently serves on two public boards: Mitek Systems (MITK) and Apex Technologies (APXT); and two private boards:  Betterment and Happy Money.  She previously served on the board of Boston Private Bank (BPFH).  From 2010 to 2017, Donna was CEO of Mindflash Technologies, a private, enterprise software company.  Prior to Mindflash, Donna led US marketing for both Fortune 500 companies, including Expedia and Intuit, and for digital disruptors such as, where she was the founding CMO.  She teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and resides in Northern California.

Photo: Dawn Zier

Dawn Zier is an independent board director and accomplished CEO best known for engineering a remarkable turnaround of the iconic brand, Nutrisystem. Throughout her career she has successfully architected and led enterprise-wide transformations propelled by innovative product and marketing breakthroughs. Dawn currently serves on the Board of Directors of Hain Celestial Group (Nasdaq: HAIN) and  Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE), where she chairs the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committees, as well as Prestige Consumer Healthcare (NYSE: PBH).


>>Continue to Part 2 of 7: COVID-19 Changing Governance Behaviors and Roles

>>Return to Diligent Institute.

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Kira Ciccarelli
Kira Ciccarelli is Lead Researcher at the Diligent Institute, the think tank and research arm of Diligent Corporation. Her work focuses on conducting and providing governance research to inform director decision-making and guide best practices. Kira is one of the producers of The Corporate Director Podcast.