Eileen Odum and I have just wrapped up co-teaching this spring quarter of the CEO and Board Leadership class at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and this session was an especially unique one. Because of the COVID environment, we facilitated everything entirely online via Zoom and had our guest speakers virtually “come in” to talk to the second-year MBA students. It’s been a learning experience all around, but Eileen and I enjoyed the challenge and we’ve appreciated the high level of engagement from the class.
Since April, Eileen and I have led lectures every Thursday to bright, future leaders at the U of W about being effective CEOs and Board members. The main objective of the class was to impart the context, structure, and responsibilities of U.S. corporate governance and share that with the students through real-world experiences to help them gain an understanding of executive roles and how they might one day position themselves in them. We challenged the students to actively participate by asking impactful questions, work in small groups to present key issues to the rest of the class, and think quickly and act decisively about current topics, which at this time, focused quite heavily on crisis management in response to COVID-19.
As with previous quarters, the course goes far beyond textbook learning, as Eileen and I also reference our backgrounds, and we bring in current executives and Board members to share their experiences as well. If you’ve been following along on my LinkedIn page, you’ll see posts of the incredible lineup; we overloaded the class with a lot of valuable information by having so many good speakers.
We had ten guest speakers from major corporations and emerging companies around Silicon Valley, the greater Seattle area, Washington, New York, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, and Canada. They met with us over Zoom in to provide their perspective and views of corporate governance based on their experiences. We deep-dived into questions such as: What are issues that Boards struggle with? How do Boards work to create productive, ethical, high performing cultures when they spend so little time together? How do Boards operate in a crisis? What are the attributes of great Directors? With the vast experiences of our guest speakers, students were exposed to lessons in Board roles and responsibilities; hiring and firing CEOs; the Board’s role in development strategy, financial structure, investments, culture, and M&A; distinctions among board roles for publicly-held corporations vs privately-owned companies vs non-profit organizations; best practices and processes in organization and assessment; and board room challenges, dynamics, and successes and failures.
Even though everything ran online-only, it was clear that the students were engaged and found value in each of our guests’ discussions. Overall, the class hung onto the words that Joe Payne, Alex Shootman, and Ken Denman shared and referenced their quotes many times throughout the quarter. The students in this course fully embraced the Zoom environment, from working together from afar to taking advantage of this opportunity to work closely with top executives. It was different, and we were all learning how to navigate this unprecedented time, but I’m impressed with this group for being so agile in transitioning to learning online.
As always, I’m honored to be teaching at the University of Washington and glad to be collaborating alongside Eileen. UW breeds some of the brightest students, and their MBA program is truly incomparable. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of the professors and visiting speakers in saying that some of our future, world-class leaders are on the rise here. We can’t wait to see you out there!