Rethinking boardrooms: how to build a next gen-board

Written by Rebecca Robins CMgr CCMI Tuesday 08 September 2020
When businesses review the way they organise and mobilise their boardrooms after this crisis, they may look to this example of a next-generation board
A new, modern board room


At the end of 2019, I was asked to comment for a think-piece on the defining words and language of the new decade. The contribution I made was called “The Decade of ‘We’.” In the context of where we now find ourselves, the phrase has taken on a new level of meaning.

Interbrand’s decision in 2019 to establish a “next-generation board” was driven by a belief in what we make happen together. This board – a collective of our rising talent – was designed to take that to another level. As a company with entrepreneurial DNA that had pioneered innovations in modern branding, it was time to make our own entrepreneurial investment in our talent.

We began the process by listening and sparring internally. We also tracked the culture of leading brands and how they were investing in their people. One of the fastest-growing brands in our annual Best Global Brands study, Gucci, accelerated from $8.8bn in 2015 to almost $16bn in 2019. A number of factors have played into that growth, one of which is the commitment that CEO Marco Bizzarri made around a more inclusive culture. Significantly, this included the creation of a Millennial Committee, which Bizzarri refers to as his “Shadow Comex”.

That prompted the question: how would we define our new board? The current standard terminology is “Shadow Committee” or “Shadow Board”, but at Interbrand we want people to shine, and “shadow” didn’t feel right. Ultimately, we launched our next-gen board as “the Horizon Board”. It’s future-facing, horizon-scanning and fresh.

The idea of the board was promoted via an open application process. We called out to next-gen talent who were open to speaking up, to challenging the why and the why not, and to participating in a community that upholds fair and constructive debate. We invited people to submit short videos that spoke to their “super skills”, the areas where they have particular strengths, while outlining what matters most to them and why they believe they can make a difference.

Early this year, after viewing dozens of application videos, the executive leadership team selected ten employees who would represent the young generation of the company for a tenure of 18 months. The Horizon Board was born – a diverse collective of six women and four men, based across three continents, in seven cities – New York, London, Madrid, Cologne, Milan, Tokyo and Seoul. They represent an eclectic range of disciplines across the business, including strategy, design, growth and client services. Cultural diversity and neurodiversity are two of the board’s most precious assets.

Born into a global pandemic

The first board meeting was scheduled for mid-March 2020. At that point, some countries were in lockdown and offices closed, and three members of the board were already working remotely, in Seoul and Milan. As I write, the board members are yet to meet each other in person, but even with time zones spanning 14 hours (GMT -5 to +9), the whole team convenes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. They report to Interbrand’s main board on a monthly basis.

The Horizon Board is already acting as a lens through which the business looks at a number of elements in our strategy. As we live through this period of rapid transformation, the Horizon team is co-creating Interbrand’s ambition and purpose. It’s defining what will inspire and motivate our next generation of talent, as well as identifying the kind of talent that we want to attract in the future. It’s a poignant moment for them to set our new north star.

Learning from each other

We hold a regular open forum, where I act as sparring partner and coach. The Horizon Board members have open access to connect with experts around the Interbrand network to explore and advance their ideas. We’ve also set up some two-way mentoring between the Horizon Board and team leaders across the business. The aim is to find shared value through conversations across generations and skillsets. For both leadership and the Horizon Board, it’s about spending time with people they might not otherwise work with.

Different voices

The leaders of global brands often talk about the importance of keeping a seat open around the boardroom table for the customer. At Interbrand, we have another ten seats around our table.

Each person on the Horizon Board wants to make their mark, and it’s our responsibility to enable and advance that. If leaders and managers embrace ways of working where real change can take place, give a voice to rising talent, open up dialogues and keep listening, just think what we might make happen together.

Meet the next-gen board at Interbrand

Agustina Bolatti – Junior designer, Cologne
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
Experiencing the power of unique and diverse points of view coming together and shaping greater ideas. Having the opportunity to co-create with such talented people is beyond inspiring, and it’s a true reflection of Interbrand’s essence.

Cassie O’Neill – Senior business development manager, London
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
The Horizon Board provides a superb chance to grow as individuals – working with diverse mindsets from around the network, learning from those within our board team, and benefitting from the experience of Interbrand’s senior leadership team. It’s a strong combination, leveraging creative ideas to benefit the future of our business.

Geoff Miller – Associate director, client services, New York
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
Having an opportunity to work with a diverse, motivated and global team to shape the future of our business.

Jaime Asensio – Group analyst, growth, Madrid
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
The best thing about being part of the Horizon Board is the opportunity to work with people all around the globe. It’s great to be part of such a global company where the younger generation’s voices are heard and taken into account.

Jordan Siff – Consultant, verbal identity, InterbrandHealth, New York
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
Working on the Horizon Board has meant getting to know my peers from across the world – an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s all about the people!

Jungwon You – Consultant, Seoul
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
The Horizon Board is the best way to experience an “intellectual democracy” at Interbrand. All the ideas are equally respected, regardless of your background, nationality or position.

Manato Ushiyama – Senior designer, Tokyo
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
The Horizon Board brings everything closer together. We get to have a macro view with the leadership and bring it together with micro perspectives from the local offices.

Margherita Cortesi – Analyst, Milan
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
Being a member of the Horizon Board is an invaluable opportunity to feel part of an international network, and we’re contributing to its growth. We can have our say in the evolution of our company and its culture, and the leadership team is keen to hear that.

Meike Papenfuss – Junior consultant, Cologne
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
We have been given a central platform to challenge the status quo, push brave ideas forward and shape the future of Interbrand. Giving us, the youngest employees, such an impact truly proves Interbrand’s entrepreneurial DNA.

Valentina Suligoj – Consultant, Milan
What’s the best thing about being part of the Horizon Board?
Having the privilege to speak up on topics fundamentally relevant to the future of the company and sharing this privilege with a diverse global network of peers.

This piece was originally published in CMI magazine, which is part of our membership benefit package. Why not check out the other benefits here?

Rebecca Robins CMgr CCMI is global chief learning and culture officer at Interbrand.

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