Alexa, thank my board

By Bill Rock

Like some of you, we at MLR Media have been working remotely for months and consider ourselves fortunate that we are able to do so. A silver lining during this difficult COVID-19 pandemic has been spending additional time with my two daughters during weekdays. Both of them, for better or worse, are becoming increasingly adept with technology.

My youngest, who just turned 4, is enamored with our Amazon Echo and the seemingly infinite power she has to command the virtual assistant, Alexa, to do whatever she wants — although we do have her convinced that she needs to say “Please” and “Thank you” for Alexa’s magic powers to work. Given her fondness for our Echo, while seeing me struggle with the many business challenges resulting from COVID-19, my daughter asked me whether I should “just ask Alexa?”

Alas, even if I said “Please,” I do not think Alexa could help, but my daughter’s question did allow me to reflect on the valuable guidance, support and help provided by boards of directors. Over the past few months, my own companies’ boards, as well as boards on which I serve, have shifted from quarterly meetings to much more frequent calls. In the second quarter, many of these sessions were weekly, coupled with a few executive sessions or one-on-ones with specific board members. These sessions helped us focus on ways to meet the near-term challenges while also forcing us to envision the long-term consequences and any repositioning of products and services required to succeed in the years to come. When describing the goals of surviving the near term and positioning the company to thrive long-term, Don Yee, a board member at Blue Diamond Growers and a member of the editorial advisory board of Private Company Director, a sister publication of Family Business, uses the term “thrival,” which I think is an appropriate depiction of many companies’ objective during this time.

While I’m still weighing the pros and cons of having video board sessions replace in-person meetings once they can be held safely, I have found value in the shorter and more frequent board calls, which I would welcome continuing longer-term. And I’ve found many family business executives and owners feel the same way. During our Family Business Strategy Week webinars in June, Chris Herschend, chairman of Herschend Enterprises, said, “Independent board members are like a breakwater and a huge relief for any family member who’s worried about moving too far too fast or doing something too drastic.”

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of family businesses creating boards, whether advisory or fiduciary. Many of these family businesses will share how they best work with their boards at our Private Company Governance Summit on September 15-17 and Transitions Fall conference on November 4-6, both of which will be held live online this year. While not as simple as merely asking Alexa, boards can provide immense value to all shareholders and stakeholders. And, as my daughter would remind me, as she does with Alexa, you should say “Thank you” to your board members.  

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.    

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Issue: 
September/October 2020

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