GOVERNANCE | Wired – William S. Ayer, Chairman, Alaska Air Group #Society13

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“You need to have short term performance to get to the long term.”

Bill is the leader that makes following easy.  He likes to keep it simple and focus on the alignment of three primary stakeholders: customers, investors and employees.  He brings his interest in people into view with this wisdom “let’s build a company that provide meaningful benefits not at the expense of each other.”

His eye for talent focuses on people who understand priority and bring persistence till they get it right.  As a leader he wants to ensure people who demonstrate these skills are given new opportunities.

It is great to see a self-aware leader who can say “As a CEO I don’t want to overstay my welcome and accept I only have a certain range of capabilities.”  Boards, are you ready to hear this from your CEO?

Business Wisdom

The plan is a lot easier than the execution.  Business is about people and change.   You need the right critical mass of people.  Opinion leaders are not on the formal organization chart.  Find them and bring them in on the vision.

The board’s role is critical and is the most senior level of leadership.  The role they serve for the CEO is holding the team accountable to the plan and being supportive of transformation.  Things get worse before they get better so the board needs to understand the cycle of the strategy.

The right board leader has an agenda that brings out the strengths of the board.  It is structured to:

  • Focus on a few key things
  • Bring balance on compliance and strategy

The board leader is the architect of the agenda.  It is their duty to make sure the board does not spend too much time powerpointing which take time away from engagement.  The way a board chair sets up the agenda builds a board intelligence culture.  The chair should ask themselves “How can the board be most helpful to the CEO.”

When asked about shareholder engagement for management and boards “what is the appropriate role for investor engagement is for the board to be available.”

Succession is important but not urgent in many companies.  It has be bumped up in priority.  The compensation committee at Alaska Air Group has been renamed: Compensation and Leadership Development Committee.  The board succession priority is on assessing cultural intelligence.  It is an art to balance the chemistry of the people in the boardroom along with their expertise.

Corporate Secretary Value – Add

Step in to the role as a sounding board for the CEO.   Another good reason to get engaged with peers in your Corporate Secretary and Governance Professional community.

CEOs value your ability to have your finger on the pulse and being connected in the business community.  Help the CEO build relationships that demonstrates the company’s willingness to listen to their opinion – it matters in building trust.

What’s Next

Keep our focus on profitability and great employees to fuel growth.  Continue to care about the environment.  Watch for social issues like the gap in wealth disparity and education on under-served kids especially in STEM.

Business Thinkers: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison

James D. Sinegal , Costco – a values-based, disciplined leader.

“Tells investors to worry about the what and he’ll work about the how” his response to investors who say he pays his people too much.

Jim Collins

Alan Mulally at Ford:

Thanks to Peter A. Kraus, Senior Attorney, Microsoft Corporation for leading this interview.



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