INSEAD Participant Interview

Increasing Board Effectiveness

Mary Francia

Founder and Managing Director of Serowires Strategy Consulting

Mary Francia is founder and Managing Director of Serowires Strategy Consulting, providing advisory services to CEOs and boards on business and corporate development, corporate sustainability and corporate governance.

She completed the International Directors Programme in 2013 and is holder of the INSEAD Certificate in Corporate Governance.

Can you please introduce yourself?

I have 23 years of international executive experience in strategy, digital technologies and emerging markets. Today, I run a consultancy and I work with companies in the telecoms, media, consumer electronics and healthcare sectors to provide advisory work to boards and CEOs when they are analysing risk, strategic direction and the global opportunities they encounter.

As a consultant, you must be exposed to a wide variety of situations and challenges that boards face?

Definitely! When I work with CEOs, I am able to see how boards could change things if they took different perspectives. I have worked with CEOs and their teams, to get boards to approve strategy and direction and then to design and implement the changes. 

Do you think the participant mix on the programme provides an enriching experience?

There was a broad mix and this led to a lot of sharing of knowledge during the programme. We had board members with lots of experience, executives who wanted to progress to board level and executives who wanted to become better CEOs by understanding what boards require from them.  It was a balanced group and the mix really helped add value.

Considering the fact you already have considerable senior executive and board experience, why did you choose to come on the International Directors Programme?

Although I did come onto the programme with experience of working with CEOs and boards, I was looking to gain new insights and perspectives. I wanted to learn what could be done better by the board and the CEO. I wanted to understand how a given outcome could be different depending on the process used to reach it, or if executives had contributed in a different manner. After all, it’s hard to get to the bottom lines of a company, oversee and guide if you miss information. Ultimately, I hoped the programme would help me to ask the right questions effectively.

My expectations were to gain that round knowledge to help boards and take a board seat. Be efficient as a board member and enhance guidance for implementations of processes.

What were the highlights of the programme?

The programme was a very holistic one and we covered a lot of topics. The areas of particular interest to me were strategy and risk. It was fun to work on those. The experience of board members on the programme made the case studies educational. They brought different perspectives, just like in real life.

What were your main takeaways?

I came away with many but perhaps the most important was leaving with a different perspective. It was a bit like changing a lens on a camera! I gained much broader and deeper knowledge. It was unexpected.

The discussions and case studies built up a personal databank of what is required for the board: the processes that should be put in place and the tools needed to enhance decision-making.

The programme helped identify what management might not be doing in key areas required by the board. It explored potential gaps and blind spots in the day-to-day operations. We learnt how to drive performance; how to coach and what level of acumen is required to be effective as a board member.

The programme also covered the board culture that is required in order for that board to be effective. What questions should members be asking? It is an oversight role that is very different to be being an executive so there is a learning curve when you are making your first steps into that culture.

Do you think that the programme is a refresher on the fundamentals on how to be an effective board member?

That’s exactly right. The programme helps you find the best fair process for your company and identify your key strengths as a board member to optimise your contribution. It enables you to see how you can best support the board with challenging perspectives and in my case, advise in areas I am familiar with.

Do you feel you came away with more confidence?

Yes. we covered so many topics and such great depth that you can’t help but come away feeling empowered and confident. I also saw this in several of my classmates.

Are there areas in which the programme has been particularly useful for your work?

There were many. The programme really helped me further my understanding of how to advise on governance quality and further understand how to implement processes, evaluate board performance and help board members be more effective and help them to see the gaps in their performance and fill these in.

How did you find the faculty members and their teaching methods?

Tim was an amazing instructor who brought a lot a lot of energy into the classroom.

As for Ludo, I have never met such an inspired and inspiring instructor. He is very smart and has tremendous knowledge. He spends so much time with each student and I don’t know how he manages it. He is also very present during the group discussions and is on hand to provide his insights. He really impressed me with his time management and his ability to handle so many questions. He interacts with the class all the time.

It was thanks largely to the faculty’s knowledge that there were so many great discussions during the programme. They helped delve into all areas relating to governance. Ludo understood all the perspectives and angles and provided a rich perspective of his own. He has gravitas and pulls it all together

With the financial crisis and the rise of emerging markets, governance has been thrown into the limelight. How do you feel the programme helps address these challenges?

There are some trends that affect companies more than others. For example: diversity, technology and emerging markets. These trends are catalysts for key issues like risk, market entry strategy, cyber-attacks, corruption, shareholder activism, reputation and social media. Since the financial crisis, companies are looking to create new sources of revenue and boards are trying to become more relevant and involved in the business. They want to move from being merely an advisory body, to one that is more actively involved in the day-to-day operations.  Some of the skills needed for this are different from the past.

Boards are thrust into the limelight when a company is struggling. There is an association that shareholders and the market make between a company’s fortunes and the board’s performance. In order to help companies navigate crises like those recent and current, boards need to grasp diversity, technology and emerging markets. The programme helps you address what you need to master to become an efficient and effective board member. It may also highlight what your board may not be doing and give you an opportunity to implement change and enrich your contribution.

Want to know more about the International Directors Programme? Start by clicking here for more information and for an application form.

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