Date: 16 June 2020, Tuesday
The Council for Board Diversity organised a Leadership-in-Action Conversation with Euleen Goh, non-executive Chairperson of SATS Ltd, non-executive director of DBS Group Holdings Ltd and DBS Bank Ltd, deputy Chairperson and Senior Independent Director of Royal Dutch Shell plc, and non-executive board member of Singapore Health Services Pte Ltd.
The discussion was led by Janet Ang, Independent Director of Singapore Press Holdings Limited and Chairman of NUS Institute of Systems Science.
Ms Goh shared her personal experience and advice on things that boards consider while navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, which encompasses all aspects of the familiar phrase ‘VUCA’ (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world.
Participants of the Leadership-in-Action Conversation with Ms Euleen Goh. Photo by Council for Board Diversity.
Our key takeaways:
1. Covid-19 has created an unprecedented situation for all companies. During this time, boards should be taking into consideration the ‘3S’:
- Survival: Companies are now focused on survival amidst such a prolonged period that has halted almost all business. Companies’ risk management models could would not have anticipated the extent of disruption that has resulted from Covid-19.
- Singular focus on profit can no longer be a business model for long-term survival. Covid-19 has shown that no matter how big a company’s profits were, they have needed help to survive this period. It has also shown that companies that want to be resilient and ‘built to last’ cannot focus on profit alone.
- Societal license to operate: Customers ultimately make the choices that impact the survival of the company. For example, societal pressure will not allow pharmaceutical companies to charge exorbitant prices for drugs and instead would require them to share new discoveries on Covid-19 vaccines with the rest of the world. This forces the companies to become more efficient, proficient, and to think about the society they serve.
2. There are three underlying imperatives for companies’ long-term survival i.e. the ‘ABC’ of Corporate DNA:
- Agility: Do you have a diversified business model where you can pivot as the market changes? There is a need to rethink the agility of your business and the shorter business cycles that come with it.
- Beliefs: Your company’s beliefs must underpin how you operate your business. What differentiates you from others? How are you relevant to the buyer – instead of just answering their directions, can you identify your consumers’ needs? What are the attitudes and strengths you want to foster in your business?
- Connectivity: In current times, connectivity in terms of connecting around the world between your supplier / supply chain and consumer is the most important. Connectivity can also help companies deploy their employees efficiently and ensure that they stay connected to the organisations. Connectivity will lower physical boundaries enormously, which is important for today’s digital age.
3. In boardroom deliberations, international boards are attuned to stakeholders’ sentiments e.g. activist non-governmental organisations, shareholders, governments. These activist pressures are being faced increasingly by Asian boards as well. International boards would also need to increasingly pay considerable attention to cultural differences as they operate in several markets.
4. Some advice:
- The most important value a director can bring to the board are the questions they ask. Read widely, spend time thinking about issues that concern the board, and ask questions. You will get better at asking insightful questions as you gain more experience in doing so.
5. Ms Goh closed with this quote from Marcel Proust:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”