INSEAD Participant Interview
Step back and reflect with INSEAD's Corporate Governance programmes
Owner and Chairman of Evaluglobe AG, Co-Founder of CLS Communication AG and member of the Board of Directors of Switzerland Global Enterprise
Doris Albisser, past participant of INSEAD's Leading from the Chair and International Directors Programme, explains how her time at INSEAD allowed her to step back and reflect on her role as Chair and Director.
Can you please introduce yourself?
Up until January 2015 I was co-founder, co-owner and Group Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of CLS Communication AG, a Swiss multinational firm that focuses on translation, editing, writing and providing language technology solutions, primarily for Swiss and international corporates. We have some 600 in-house staff and about 5,000 freelancers. We operate out of 20 locations in 10 countries in Europe, Asia and North America. Previously, I ran the company as Group CEO and Managing Director for 16 years.
CLS Communication was founded in 1997 and since then has gone through multiple growth phases, including a management buyout, the internationalisation of the company as well as on-boarding a private equity firm in order to grow through acquisitions. We have just sold the business to one of the largest language solutions companies, and the combined group is now the global market leader.
In addition to my former role at CLS Communication, I also sit on the Board of Directors of Switzerland Global Enterprise, whose mission is to help Swiss SMEs internationalise and encourage foreign firms to set up business in Switzerland. I’m also owner and Chairman of Evaluglobe AG, a newly founded company providing a range of services for firms with international and global ambitions.
What are the main challenges you face as Director and Chair?
CLS Communication is a global company and one of the chief challenges is managing the markets in which we operate. We see challenges in difficult market conditions but also opportunities for growth. It’s important to catch those opportunities while at same time ensuring that processes are industrialized and the business is technology-enabled to the greatest possible extent.
Why did you choose to enroll on the Leading from the Chair and International Directors Programme?
No matter where you are in your career, learning is important and it needs to be continuous. I wanted to dedicate time to assess how I am performing in my roles and learn something new. It’s lonely at the top so it’s important to take a step back and reflect and share your views with faculty and peers.
With Leading from the Chair, I wanted an update on how best to carry out my role as Chair as this is an area I will be focusing on more in the future.
And with the International Directors Programme, I wanted a refresh on all aspects of directorship. It’s great that the programme is spread over three modules. Being able to mix with the same group over time is a fantastic learning experience - especially as the class is made up of so many different nationalities.
What do you feel you gained from taking part in the Leading from the Chair and International Directors programmes?
Common to both programmes is the fact that they provide you with insights into best practice. They help you see what you are doing right but also what you need to do better. You get to see this surrounded by an international group of peers. You realise that ultimately we are all confronted with similar issues, and you learn to tackle them effectively.
With Leading from the Chair, you obtain a leadership framework for the topics that need to be addressed as Chair. And it provides a roadmap for you to address these topics in a structured way.
From my perspective, looking back at my career, I realise I have witnessed all the multiple stages of growing a company. Both programmes help you lead these phases. They shed light on what needs to be addressed and achieved and how to go about it.
Do they complement each other?
Certainly, they complement each other. Leading from the Chair focuses more on the specific leadership role for a Chair, whereas the International Directors Programme also addresses best practice in the boardroom in a broader sense.
As you take on greater Chair responsibilities, how do you feel Leading from the Chair will help you?
It will help me in a number of ways. Leading CEO succession and fair process leadership are just two that spring to mind. Overall, I believe the programme has provided me with an invaluable framework on how to approach a Chair role. It has been great to learn all this at INSEAD as it facilitates shared learning experience with peers in an intercultural set-up.
How important are soft skills in Chair roles?
Soft skills are as important if not more so than hard facts. And they are the hardest to develop and get right. I spent a lot of time working on them at all stages of my career. If you have no soft skills, your leadership won’t work. At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people. You have to encourage and empower those people if you want them to provide top performance. You need the ability to instil a common understanding and reasoning and inspire them to move in a common direction. As such, soft skills are crucial - nowhere more so than when you’re doing business across different cultures. They enable you to understand and adapt and, above all, to avoid the faux pas and the pitfalls!
Want to know more about the International Directors Programme? Start by clicking here for more information.