DOYA 2023
General Business

2023 Director of the Year Awards Honor Governance

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) New Jersey chapter celebrated its 2023 Director of the Year Awards last night. Held at the Pleasantdale Chateau in West Orange, the event recognized directors of public, private, and nonprofit boards who have made valuable contributions to the boards on which they serve.

Fred Hassan, the former CEO of pharmaceutical giants such as Schering-Plough, Pharmacia Corp., and Upjohn Inc. (all of which have been merged into other entities) and who today serves on numerous life sciences company boards of directors, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement in Governance Award.

“Governance is extremely important for the success and health of corporations,” Hassan told the sold-out crowd. “Governance is more about people and culture than procedure and processes. Good people are humble, they are good at what they do, they care for others, they are curious, listen and learn. They are always open to new ways.”

He said that good company culture happens “when good people come together. They root for each other’s successes and there is respect and candor.”

Hassan said there are three top issues that directors need to focus on to improve or enhance their oversight. They include: “helping management deal with an environment of growing uncertainty and torque; sharpening their own insights and foresights so that management feels that they know the business so well that they can become trusted advisors; and maintaining a culture in the boardroom that is respectful, candid and trustworthy so that boards can be relentlessly curious and objective,” he said.

Tim Ring, a director at BD (Becton Dickinson) and Quest Diagnostics and former chairman and CEO at C.R. Bard, received the Leadership in Public Corporate Governance Award. In a pre-recorded video that was shown at the event, Ring explained the importance of a board of directors during times of need: “I often tell the CEOs of the companies of which I am board member of  that they don’t really need the board until they ‘really need them.’ That may sound glib, but … when things get challenging … when the CEO and company need another set of eyes and seasoned judgement from the board of directors to help navigate those obstacles for the company and shareholders’ best interests, that is truly when a board gets tested. The board’s collected years of experience, wisdom and judgement comes to bear on how a company weathers a storm,” he said.

Giving his advice on being a director, Ring said one must stay on top of: regulatory issues within one’s industry; litigation verdicts both within one’s industry as well as board/executive cases; and issues within one’s company vs peers where a soft underbelly may arise regarding activist shareholder activity.

AdvanSix, a chemical company whose products are in a broad range of markets and applications, received the Public Company Board of the Year Award.

President and CEO Erin Kane commented that people remain the greatest asset of any enterprise. “A key board priority, particularly in an industry like ours, will be a continued focus on health, safety and environmental initiatives, as well as organizational health and culture, including career development, retention of critical talent, and employee engagement,” she said.

Kane added that being a responsible corporate citizen is a license to operate. “To that end, trust and transparency with key stakeholders is a top priority – critical to sustaining credibility as well as fostering relationships in the communities in which one operates,” she said.

She added that there is “a new paradigm for sustainability aligned to corporate social responsibility as a holistic concept that represents a commitment to environmental, social and governance principles. Boards not only need to focus their attention on compliance matters, but they also need to enhance their oversight of sustainability strategies, goals, and results.”

Finally, she said that directors also need to embrace continuous learning in a landscape that is rapidly changing with technological advancements – cyber, industry 4.0, AI to name just a few. “It is imperative to stay relevant on these items which, while offering significant business opportunity, present new multi-faceted enterprise risks to mitigate,” she said.

Anne Evans Estabrook, known for her many contributions to the redevelopment of the state, was honored with the Leadership in Nonprofit Governance Award.

The real estate industry icon who has served on numerous nonprofit boards – she was also a past president of New Jersey NAIOP, a director of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, as well as chair of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce – said she was humbled to receive the award and that it was her responsibility to “give back.”

“I have walked that road for more than 50 years and I have wonderful mentors and friends … we helped each other. I have collaborated with many board members in this room, and I thank you all for being here. I am glad to have all of you in my life,” she said.

Turtle received the Private Company Board of the Year Award. The 100-year-old, family-run business is one of the nation’s largest independent electrical and industrial distributors serving the industrial, construction, commercial, electrical contracting, export, and utilities markets.

For three of its four generations, Turtle has been woman-owned and -led. Jayne Millard, executive chairman of the board, has served the company for more than three decades and has grown Turtle on an entrepreneurial platform first inspired by her great-grandfather 100 years ago. The independent board has achieved gender and diversity parity. The company has implemented best-in-class governance practices and is well-regarded by governance professionals.

Jeannie Diefenderfer, Director of the Year Awards event chair and an NACD New Jersey director, said that the night’s honorees demonstrated good governance. “This is an important event in the New Jersey corporate and civic communities. We are proud to celebrate companies and individuals that have set a high standard in governance and leaders who bring a commitment to diversity, sustainability, and purpose,” she said.

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