Directors do a lot to prepare for board meetings, but what’s better than talking to the CEO?
A week before every board meeting, Broadridge Financial Services director Stuart Levine gets an hour on the phone with the company’s CEO, Richard Daly, to ask questions.
It’s a discussion Daly has with all the firm’s directors, and one Levine sees a lot of value in.
“I think it helps to A) increase board and meeting effectiv
eness, and B) eliminates surprises for good, collegial discussions,” Levine says. “It’s an excellent way of saying, ‘Gee whiz, can you tell me about a particular data point, or a piece of strategy?’”
The powwow with the top manager is just one part of Levine’s board meeting strategy. He also reviews the board book on his iPad, through the board’s secure online portal. He highlights important items and makes notes there. He also has a “little black book” he uses for business. And he’ll jot down what he wants to ask Daly about on their phone call, for instance.
Preparing for board meetings starts weeks in advance.
“Inevitably, I want to go back and review,” he explains. “There will be additional communications and I’ll read books and attachments. It’s never ‘I’m done for three months,’ only four or five meetings a year. That’s yesterday, that’s not the way it works anymore.”
He also keeps up on company happenings and doing committee work year-round. He says he takes advantage of NACD forums and reads industry news.
Luckily most of his board meetings are local so he can bypass any packing or air travel woes.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t spending time thinking about his wardrobe. Levine says he dresses for the board meeting with the company culture in mind. Some board rooms may call for a suit, but whatever the dress code, Levine aims for “functionality.” Broadridge is business casual so he wears a jacket, but no tie.
During the meeting, Levine grabs a couple of bottles of water at the start. He’s mindful of drinking all day long to stay hydrated in a dry meeting room.
He also watches what he eats.
“They always have a lot of food,” Levine says. “It’s very tempting to start knocking down the chocolate chip cookies. I learned this for myself, I can’t do that anymore. It really slows me down.”
So to keep focused, he asks to have fruit on hand to cut down on the carbs. He also isn’t afraid, if he senses flagging energy in the room, to raise his hand and ask for a five-minute break.
Once the meeting is over (he estimates a day and a half, with a board dinner in between), he likes to clear his head.
“I generally walk around my neighborhood to get some air,” he says.
“I recalibrate my brain and cleanse my thinking.”
(Stuart Levine is Director, Chair, governance and nominating committee, Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc.; Chairman, CEO, Stuart Levine & Associates LLC; Chairman, CEO, EduLeader LLC)