Traditionally the GUBERNA Lifelong Learning Team rounds off the "academic year" with a meeting for GUBERNA Directors and Certified Directors. In a pleasant setting - also suitable for networking - we exchange views and reflect on a current governance challenge. After previous editions on digitalization, the human factor, and sustainability from a governance perspective, we now focused on this key question: “Board in transition: What will your next board look like?”
Who is your next CEO?
Professor Thomas Kiel led the morning session with a presentation, workshop, and group discussions on board leadership in a transition project towards more sustainability. He emphasized the importance of the right CEO for such a transition. However, the final responsibility of guiding the company through the transition highly depends on the competencies present in the board. A diversified range of profiles are needed to meet the challenges ahead. The board has to decide on the company direction and drive the transformation process. In separate articles we will return to this topic in more detail.
In the afternoon, this perspective was translated to the Belgian context by a keynote and testimonials of directors, leading entrepreneurs and experts. What can we do here to ensure that boards are prepared for the future? And how can we let the younger generation have their say to inspire us?
Vincent Truyens and Charlotte Saussez are both involved in an interesting Belgian initiative called ‘Corporate Regeneration’. They explained how this nonprofit association aims to give the voice of future generations and nature a place in the decision-making process of boards.
Through various initiatives and in cocreation with businesses CorporateRegeneration develops solutions that are favorable to the regeneration of living ecosystems. This happens through setting up ‘ReGeneration Committees’ or extended ‘Stakeholders Meetings’. Young people are selected for their expertise and systemic view but also for their authenticity and transparency: Freedom of speech is the rule.
These committees challenge, inspire, and help to define the company's strategy and action plans so that they meet the societal challenges more appropriately. They also become a forum for discussion and/or decision-making about concrete issues in relation to planetary boundaries (resources, climate, biodiversity), the company’s mission and prosperity, social foundations, future and common goods.
The afternoon session concluded with a panel discussion with five relatively young but at the same time very diverse profiles, moderated by Rachel Feller, Lifelong Learning Manager GUBERNA.
Ann Cattelain, CEO Federgon and consequently director of various sector organisations in the HR world
Alexandre Helson, co-CEO Maison Dandois and 7th generation of “a 200-year-young family business” renowned for its high crafted biscuits
Laurie Tack, Director Harmony Industries-Clarysse and Tessenderlo, daughter of Luc Tack who merged Tessenderlo and Picanol into one (family) group
Olivier de Cartier, CEO of the innovative SME bakery Copains Group, engaged in sustainability and CSR
Paul Van den Bulck, Partner AKD, lawyer and former independent president of RBFA
During the lively and insightful discussion the panellists shared their own experiences and points of view on the challenges and opportunities of board governance transition in the 21st century. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Boards need to become more diverse and inclusive, in terms of both age and background. Responding adequately to future and perhaps unpredictable challenges means also raising trust in the board and among the board members, however diverse they might be. It means investing in education for (new) board members, sound onboarding, an objective board member selection process as well as an objective assessment process. It means trusting that board members can take up their responsibilities, understanding the liabilities a mandate brings.
Boards should develop a strong focus on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues. In particular, although regulations are not the core of the sustainability transition, boards of the future will need to invest in organizing a sound answer to the growing need of reporting and evidence-providing about their sustainability efforts.
Boards need to be open to new ideas and perspectives, including those from the younger generation.
Boards should be willing to challenge the status quo and make difficult decisions. Before all, preparing for the future means preparing for change and for uncertainty. Understanding the emotions that are there in the board room, amongst the board members, is crucial to know how the board will react in times of crises and disruptions. It's always better to challenge and rechallenge it's own thinking to take the best decision
Last but not least, independence of mind and professionalism remain key behavioural qualities of the director. Leading by example, “walk the talk” - individually and collectively - is a precious tool to support the sustainability of the company
The key message remains: We can indeed prepare for a better future, even if we do not know all the factors and evolutions of the future. Among others by ensuring good diversity and inclusion, appropriate internal training, by making sustainability an integrated priority at all levels, and by listening to the voices of all stakeholders, we can create boards that are fit for (a better) future.
In conclusion, the 2023 GUBERNA Summer School provided the engaged audience a valuable opportunity to discuss the future of board governance: board governance is a complex and ever-evolving issue, but it is one that is essential to ensuring the long-term success of organizations!
Alexandre Helson: It’s all about quality and professionalism: "not getting bigger, but getting better".
Paul Van den Bulck: We had multiple stakeholders and, partly because of that, an important social and educational role.
Olivier de Cartier: CSR is a matter of common sense . Why should we bake bread with grain imported from other countries?
Ann Cattelain: Are we, with all those pressing challenges, really on the right track in making boards ready for future challenges?
Laurie Tack: “The mindset in the family business is also about knowing and recognising your future shareholders and learning to listen to the next generation.