It was good to be back in person with Eileen Odum teaching this year’s CEO Board Governance class at the University of Washington Foster School of Business!
Year after year, we have had a roster of remarkable CEOs and accomplished board members sharing their words of wisdom with the MBA students, and this year was no different. From discussing leadership and board relationships, activist investors, building a strong culture through diversity, and more topics, this bright, exceptional group of students were hungry for all the lessons and participated in many dynamic conversations.
Here are the first half of our 13 speakers who started the year off on a high note.
Carol Mills is a seasoned CEO and Independent Director, and she currently serves on the boards of Zynga and Entertainment Partners. The students asked about what defined successful boards and best practices for communication, to which Carol shared that the management team needs to know their board well to be effective. The board is there to support, question, vet strategy, motivate through challenging times, and ensure overall accountability, so they must be qualified and diverse in every capacity—opinions, backgrounds, cultures, geographies, etc.
Mike Millegan is the Founder and CEO of Millegan Advisory Group 3 LLC. He spoke about his board experiences throughout his career, including his current roles with Wireless Technology Group, Portland General Electric, and Axis Capital Holding. The class held onto every word of Mike’s story of the unchartered waters of life about how to navigate challenges and take steps to become a part of a public board. It was easy to see why Mike’s skills are in high demand, and the students were happy to hear about boards adding requirements to reduce barriers, especially making it easier for younger people.
Jeff Roe is the President of Premera Blue Cross, and the students were highly interested in his experience working with boards. They asked many questions and participated in healthy discussions, and they were especially eager to play the role of Jeff’s board to walk through resolving a governance issue. Jeff encouraged considering both sides: what would you do as CEO? As a board member? After sharing the importance of establishing trust and credibility between the board and CEO and how to balance multiple dynamics to work harmoniously together, it was unanimous that all the students wanted to work for Jeff.
Ken Denman is a General Partner at Sway Ventures, and he shared his experiences as a CEO and in senior executive roles in large companies. Ken sits on the boards of major organizations such as Costco, VMware, and Motorola Solutions, and he went into detail about board culture, different styles, and their effectiveness. He also spoke about activists and what to do when they approach the CEO and board. Ken shared many valuable nuggets of advice, and his greatest lesson: “Every time you open your mouth in the boardroom, you have to consider who is in the room.”
Katherine Regnier is the Founder and CEO of Coconut Software—having bootstrapped her Canadian-based SW company five years ago and now on her way to $20M in sales this year. The students were greatly invested in her people-first mentality, the culture she has created at Coconut (4-day work weeks), and her path as a first-time female CEO. Katherine’s secret to getting things done and doing them right is her communicative and open relationship with her board and people. She had total control of the class, and her engaging style in answering questions led to all hands in the air.
Joe Payne is CEO of Code42—his fifth company as a successful CEO. On top of that, Joe has been a member of several boards, some of those being Cornerstone, Dealertrack, and Workfront. He firmly believes that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”: building a great company must include building a great culture. Further to that? It is much easier with a great board and the ability to embrace conflicting feedback. Also covering topics like working with activist investors, selling your company, and public versus private boards, Joe is consistently one of the best we have in class each year.
Phyllis Campbell is the Pacific Northwest Chairman for JPMorgan Chase & Co. She holds a wealth of experience, such as former President/CEO of The Seattle Foundation and U.S. Bank of Washington, and has served on the boards of Alaska Air Group and Nordstrom. Phyllis currently serves on the Diversity Advisory Board of Toyota, the board of SanMar and the Allen Institute, and the board of the U.S.-Japan Council. With over 25 years of professional and board experience, she is a pioneer in diversity as an Asian American woman who navigated being the only woman on a board when this was not common. She engaged the class in discussions about DEI demands, the role of various committees within boards, and she highlighted some of the challenges boards face and the accountability that needs to be present to overcome them.
A big thank you goes to these first seven speakers—the students walked away with a ton of great lessons (as well as Eileen and I!). Check out Part Two to learn more about the next six speakers.
These classes aren’t textbook material, so all of the speaker’s words and experiences are invaluable for these future executives and board members.