Why the evolution of global companies depends on corporate and non-profit boards


What you'll learn on this podcast episode

How are expectations of global companies changing? How do leaders from the non-profit world contribute to corporate boards—and what can companies learn from directors who come from that sector? In this episode of the Principled Podcast, host and LRN Special Advisor is joined by Helene Gayle, the President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. The two discuss how board directors can continue to evolve and improve their oversight of and engagement in corporate culture. Listen in as David and Helene explore the similarities and differences between corporate and non-profit boards, and how global companies are faring throughout the pandemic.

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Guest: Helene Gayle


Dr. Helene Gayle has been president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, since October 2017. Under her leadership, the Trust has adopted a new strategic focus on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region.

For almost a decade, Dr. Gayle was president and CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organization. An expert on global development, humanitarian and health issues, she spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, working primarily on HIV/AIDS. She worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues.

Dr. Gayle was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. She earned a B.A. in psychology at Barnard College, an M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and an M.P.H. at Johns Hopkins University. She has received 18 honorary degrees and holds faculty appointments at the University of Washington and Emory University. She serves on public company and nonprofit boards, including The Coca-Cola Company, Organon, Palo Alto Networks, Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, ONE Campaign, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Economic Club of Chicago. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Council on Foreign Relations, American Public Health Association, National Academy of Medicine, National Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics. She has authored numerous articles on global and domestic public health issues, poverty alleviation, gender equality, and social justice.

Host: David Greenberg


David Greenberg serves as Chair of the Governance and Risk Assessment Committee and a member of the Audit Committee of International Seaways (NYSE: INSW), one of the largest global crude oil and petroleum tanker companies. Mr. Greenberg’s previous board experience (2006 to 2016) was as the independent director – and member of both the Audit and Compensation Committees --of APCO Worldwide, a private communications and government affairs consultancy and as a director (2013 to 2016) of Clean Tech Group, which creates opportunities for industrial companies to invest in innovative, clean technology. He also served for 5 years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Keystone Center, a Colorado non-profit that brings together oil, chemical and pharmaceutical companies with leading NGOs to find solutions to complex public policy challenges at the federal and state levels.

Greenberg is currently Managing Director of Cortina Partners LLC, a private equity firm that owns companies in the air medical, addiction treatment, bedding, textile and outdoor recreation industries and is CEO of Acqua Recovery, a residential drug and alcohol addiction center. He also advises boards and executive teams on strategy, compliance, leadership and culture as a Special Advisor for LRN Corporation, and from 2008 through the end of 2016 was a member of LRN’s Executive Committee. For 20 years prior to 2008, Mr. Greenberg served in various senior positions overseeing government affairs, corporate affairs, communications and strategy at Altria Group, Inc. – then the parent company of Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International, Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing – culminating in his role as Senior Vice President, Chief Compliance Officer and a member of the Executive Committee.  As one of five senior vice presidents of the corporation, he served on the Management Committee, which oversaw all strategy and company operations. He was also a principal architect of the company’s very successful efforts to end the ‘tobacco wars’ which threatened the company’s very existence. Earlier in his career, Mr. Greenberg was a partner in the Washington D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter and also served as Legislative Director and General Counsel of the Consumer Federation of America. He attended Williams College and has JD/MBA degrees from the University of Chicago. 

Greenberg has testified before the U.S. Congress, the European Union, the Israeli Knesset and other governmental bodies over two dozen times and has appeared on ABC Nightline, the CBS Morning News, BBC Morning, and the PBS News Hour, and has spoken at leading events for CEOs and boards.


Principled Podcast transcription

Intro: Welcome to The Principled Podcast, brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change makers.

David Greenberg: How are expectations of global companies changing? Are corporate boards ready to meet these challenges? How do leaders from the nonprofit world contribute to corporate boards? And what can companies learn from directors who come from that sector? Hello, and welcome to another special episode of the Principled Podcast, where we continue our conversations about the critical role of boards in shaping ethical corporate culture. I'm your host, David Greenberg, LRN's former CEO and now special advisor. I'm also chair of the corporate governance committee of International Seaways, the second largest global oil tanker company.

Today, I'm joined by Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. We're going to discuss the ongoing evolution of boards, and how board directors can improve their oversight and engagement in corporate culture. We'll also talk a bit about the similarities and differences between corporate and nonprofit boards, and how global companies are faring throughout the pandemic. Helene is a real expert in this space. She is an MD, holds a master's in public health, and has worked with organizations like the CDC, and is also a sitting board member of very prominent public companies and nonprofit organizations. Helene, thanks for being with us on the Principled Podcast.

Helene Gayle: My pleasure. Thank you.

David Greenberg: You have an absolutely fascinating background and career. You're a doctor, a master's in public health. You have degrees from Columbia, Penn, and Johns Hopkins. You've been CEO of CARE International, worked at the CDC, McKinsey and the Gates Foundation, and now you're leading The Chicago Community Trust. You're also a member of many for-profit and nonprofit boards, including Coca-Cola, Organon, Palo Alto Networks, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. You've been named by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women. So, Helene, how does all this fit together? What's the role you want in the world today?

Helene Gayle: Well, As you were reading all that, it makes me tired just to hear it, but I guess I would just say, I have always wanted to make sure that I could use the skills that I have to be able to contribute to broader society. And I know that's relatively vague, but that is really what in some ways is the through line on all the different things that I've done. I went into medicine, because I thought it was a very tangible way in which you could make it difference in people's lives. But the more that I looked at the practice of medicine, which focuses on individual care, I realized that I was really much more interested in how does medicine impact populations in a broader way, which led me to getting a master's health public, and then, ultimately, spending 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, focusing on how do you actually look at population health and the issues that impact health.

From there, I really got very interested in how health intersects with society and economies, because we know that if we look at how people's health is impacted, what leads to disproportionate impact and poor health in communities, it's so intertwined with a lot of the social and economic factors of a society, which then led me to the work that I did with care and now here at the Community Trust, looking at economic inequities, and how that's a driver for so many issues. It's hard to think about the economy without also thinking about the role of the private sector. And so as I was in government and in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector, I really got very involved and very intrigued with how we form partnerships with the private sector that has such a huge impact on our everyday lives, jobs, the economy, et cetera.

So I guess the through line for me has been how do I use the skills that I have to be able to make a contribution to society, and particularly around these issues of inequity, and how do we address issues of social justice in our society, and how do we look at that in a multifactorial way, so that government, nonprofit, and the private sector all work together to compliment each other, to be able to drive positive social change in ways that are sustainable?

David Greenberg: So that really is a kind of natural lead-in to this question. Let's focus on corporate boards for a second. What are the most difficult issues you think global companies face? How are expectations of global companies changing?

Helene Gayle: I think we're expecting a lot of companies today, probably very different than even 10 years ago. The issue of how are companies leaning into a sense of purpose. The fact that ESG has become so much more important today than ever. I think as companies recognize that how societies function is going to be a huge driver for whether or not companies are successful. And I think this really for global companies is hugely important. How do global companies make sure that they continue to have their license to operate around the world? How are they being good citizens in the countries that they work in? How are they contributing to society?

Much more is being demanded of our workforce, particularly the millennial workforce is demanding a lot more of their workplace than ever before, wanting to work for a company that they feel good about their values, their ethics, how they're showing up in the world. So I think that whole area of how are companies leaning into their social responsibility, but not doing it as kind of an off to the side, but something that is clearly very linked to how they are doing well by doing good, if you will, in the world. But I think there are lots of issues, and I'm sure we'll talk about this more, the whole issue of culture, and what is the culture that companies are evolving in today's world? What are the risks today that were different than before?

Cyber security, I just joined the board of a cyber security company, and oh my god, it makes me realize this whole world of cyber security, and the dangers. This is now the battleground. It's no longer kind of the traditional warfare that we used to see, but the cyber attacks that are happening, thousands and thousands every day. How are we looking at, again back to the issues of ESG, our environment, those social issues that have become front and center more and more, and how are we looking at governance, including the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion as part of that, and how are we making sure that our workforce is fit for purpose?           

So those are, I guess, some of the issues as we look at how do global companies think about their connectedness to the world, and being ready, and being resilient? I think if the COVID 19 pandemic taught us nothing else, I think the idea of how are we resilient? How can we respond to new threats, new crisis? Whether they're biologic, whether they're cyber, whether they're climate related, but how are we actually making sure that businesses are fit for purpose, that we have the right people, we have the right culture, we have the right risk mitigation tools in place, so that companies can be resilient and fit for purpose for today?

David Greenberg: That is a ton of leadership challenges. So the question is, are boards and board members up to these challenges, and how do they need to evolve to take them on? And do you think backgrounds similar to your background are even more important going forward?

Helene Gayle: Well, I do think that today's board needs to be different than even the boards of 10 years ago. They need to be more diverse, and that is diverse in terms of demographic characteristics, but I think importantly, as your question highlighted, people who have different backgrounds, because the challenges that companies are facing are broad, and so having people who have other experiences to bring to the table I think is going to be more and more valuable. The best boards are boards that have the ability to have open and transparent communication, that invite different thinking and different opinions. We know that the best solutions come when people who see things from different perspectives can bring that to the table, and can bring that to the table in a very open way.

So I think the more diverse boards can be in all sorts of ways of diversity, including having people who don't necessarily have what used to be kind of the traditional board background, a CEO, a CFO, COO, somebody who has a traditional corporate executive background. I think today's challenge really mean that we need to have that kind of diversity at the board, and have the kind of conversations that bring in different perspectives.

David Greenberg: So you mentioned this earlier, you were a participant in some very intense discussions about corporate culture and board oversight sponsored by LRN and Tapestry Networks. What did you take away from those discussions, and what are some of the lessons for boards?

Helene Gayle: Well, I guess the top line that I took away is that culture, and monitoring, and oversight for culture is tough. Everybody says, "You know culture when you see it, or when you feel it," but it's not as easy to describe as some of the traditional financial metrics that we're so used to in the boardroom. So I think it is a tough challenge, but it is increasingly being seen as the differentiator for companies. Companies that have good cultures, that live their values, that have a good way of monitoring and assessing culture, are the companies that also do better financially, and do better in terms of their own bottom line.           

So I think the notion that the fact that we're talking about culture more and more, and looking at that as a key board responsibility, the oversight of culture, I think is incredibly important. But I think it means boards need to dig in beyond what they are often used to, and being able to experience the culture, have good ways of serving the culture, and being able to hear from people outside of the people who traditionally report to or present to the board, I think is an important part of getting a sense of what the culture is. So I'm just happy that it is more and more a topic of discussion, because we've seen what happened when culture goes wrong. And when there isn't a culture that has the kind... or doesn't lean into its values, we see what the result of that is. So I'm just happy that it's more and more on the agenda, but I would admit it is still a challenging and very complicated issue for boards to tackle, but I think it's critical and imperative for future success.

David Greenberg: So, Helene, you have a really deep background in the not-for-profit world. What are some of the similarities and differences in corporate and not-for-profit boards? And do you think service on not-for-profit boards is good preparation for corporate board service?

Helene Gayle: I think there's a lot of similarities, and, of course, there are also differences. I do think that when I say this to people who are interested in going on corporate boards, first place to start is go on a nonprofit. I think just even understanding the difference between governance and management is a huge thing. People who have been operators in the nonprofit arena often don't think about what's that line between management, and board, and governance, and how do you think about that? So I do feel there's a lot of opportunity for people who are in the nonprofit to also contribute.

Where I think oftentimes people who are on nonprofit boards come from for-profit environments, and so I think there's more and more a blending of the nonprofit and the for-profit experience, though, yes, I think there's a lot of analogies, and a lot that can be learned, and more and more of our not-for-profits are taking a page from for-profit, and I think learning a lot from those experiences. So I just think the more we can work together and learn from each other the better.

David Greenberg: So as a doctor and epidemiologist, I've got to ask you this, where do you think we are on the pandemic, and what do we need to do more of and less of?

Helene Gayle: Well, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's not over yet, and I think it will be interesting to see what this next fall and winter season brings. It is not inconceivable that we might see a surge as the temperature drops, and more people are indoor, and we continue to see the impact of Delta, and perhaps even other variants. The main thing that I still think we need to do a better job of is getting people vaccinated. And we still have a large portion of our population, and it's perhaps more in some parts of the country than in others, but still large portions of our population that are not vaccinated. That is really driving the ability for the virus to continue to mutate, and have a real impact on our population.

So first and foremost, I think we need to continue to push to get more and more of our population vaccinated, whether it's employer mandates or other ways in which we can continue to increase vaccination rates. I think that's critical. I think we could also do more in terms of testing. It is important for people to know whether or not they are infected with the coronavirus, and be able to then self quarantine and other things, so that transmission doesn't occur. So I think those two things of getting a higher vaccination rate throughout the population, increasing access to testing, and I think as more data come out around the ability to use the vaccine in younger and younger populations, that will be helpful as well. But the main thing is getting more of our population vaccinated, and then getting the rest of the world vaccinated, because this is a global pandemic.

We are not living in an island. We're not isolated, and so it's important that the rest of the world be vaccinated as well. And so I'm encouraged by the fact that we are starting to increase the donation to other countries around the world, critically important if we're going to really break the back of this pandemic.

David Greenberg: You've had sort of insiders view at least of how some companies have managed their way through this. What are your thoughts on how companies have done and their role in this?

Helene Gayle: Well, I've been incredibly impressed at how well companies, these boards I sit on and other companies here in the Chicago region that I'm aware of, really have transitioned well during this pandemic, and went to work from home, or making sure that manufacturing sites were safe, and all the things that were necessary to make sure that safety was first and foremost while people were continuing to do their jobs. I think the challenge now is how do we come out of that? I think we've gotten very used to a certain way of operating, and everyone who has a workforce realizes that there's the intangible aspects of being together in a workplace that are still really important.

And so I think how we come out of this, how we make sure that we can maintain safety, but how we also bring our workforces back, so that the things that we miss about being together in an office situation don't get neglected for too long, because I think that's a key aspect of it, but I would just say all things being equal, I think it's extraordinary how well we have transitioned. And I think it speaks well to the kind of resilience that I was talking about earlier, that it's so important as we face all kinds of threats. Today it's a pandemic. Tomorrow it could be a major climate related disaster as we saw with Ida, so we've got to be prepared, and we've got to be ready, and we've got to be resilient.

David Greenberg: So Some of our audience may have heard of The Chicago Community Trust, but the not know as much as they might like to. What are some of the key initiatives of the Trust?

Helene Gayle: So the Chicago Community Trust is a community foundation. We've been around for 106 years. We're one of the oldest community foundations, and we really exist to be able to be partners with the Chicago community, and really work to create positive change at the community level. With community foundations, we have a wonderful, generous donor base, people who want to be good citizens and contribute to their community, and so we take in resources from people who want to pool their resources to have an impact on the Chicago region. We have over the last few years developed a strategy that is particularly focused on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap, and really looking at the issue of wealth inequality, because we recognize that underneath so many of the issues that are facing Chicago, just like so many other metropolitan regions, whether it's violence, whether it's health disparities, lack of access to education, et cetera, that so many of those things, the root cause is the economic inequity that we see here in this region.

And so we've really put that as our highest organizational priority, looking at how do we help to increase household wealth, how do we look at investing in neighborhoods that have been disinvested, and how do we actually help residents and community members to lift up their voice, and be able to be actors in a way that contributes to their own community. So that's our highest priority. At the same time, we continue to make sure that we're available for whatever the most pressing needs are here in the Chicago region.

David Greenberg: And how does the Chicago corporate community assist the Trust in its efforts?

Helene Gayle: Well, we work very closely with the corporate community here. I've been in Chicago four years. I came to take the job at the Trust, and I was so impressed with how the corporate community comes together, and really creates a very collaborative ecosystem here. So as an example, we're working with the corporate community around an initiative that we call We Rise Together, that's really looking at how do we make sure that the communities that were most hurt during this pandemic, many of them are communities that never really bounced back financially after the last recession, and have been left behind economically. How do we help those communities regain economic foothold and invest in those neighborhoods?

And we're doing that with the corporate community, and so they're key partners in helping us invest in these neighborhoods, looking at where they can create jobs and create opportunities for communities that have been economically left behind. So in so many ways we have key part partnerships with our corporate community, and I think it's one of the most generous and most civic-minded corporate communities that I've had the opportunity to engage with.

David Greenberg: That's great. We have ranged widely in this discussion, and I think that's a testament to your wide range of capabilities and interests. There's a lot more we could discuss, but we're out of time for today. So thank you, Helene, for being here for this discussion.

Helene Gayle: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

David Greenberg: To our listeners, thank you. I'm David Greenberg, and I want to thank you all for tuning in to the Principled Podcast by LRN.

Outro: We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at lrn.com to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.

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