Street Talk

Street Talk: Tech takes seat at board table

Scenic tour.

May 26, 2017
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While recruiting CEOs remains a priority for public company boards, there are a handful of skill sets gaining prominence in the boardroom thanks to rapidly changing technology and enhanced concern over cyber security

“Given the pace of change, boards are thinking about what new diverse skill sets they need in the boardroom that may not exist in more traditional directors,” said Deb DeHaas, vice chair at Deloitte.

“Chief information officers are being sought after and even more so people with strong leadership in technology-related industries who can bring some of those broad perspectives.”

According to Deloitte’s “2016 Board Report,” cyber security is one of the top three risks boards are grappling with, and 14 percent of boards surveyed had added a board member with cyber experience in the past two years.

DeHaas expects that trend to continue.

She said chief marketing officers also are being recruited more heavily than in the past.

“The chief marketing officer brings knowledge and expertise around digital and consumer trends that boards should be thinking about,” she said.

As boards search for candidates who can navigate rapidly changing technology and its implications, younger recruits are starting to become more desirable, too.

“I do see boards being more proactive in thinking about generational diversity, as well as skills,” DeHaas said. “If you look at the average age of most public boards, they’re in their early 60s. There are not that many boards with members who are younger than that.”

DeHaas said an advantage of adding younger board members is they may be more attuned to some of the implications of new technology and other disruptive factors facing industries.

“Companies are seeing business models get disrupted by things they couldn’t imagine even a year ago,” she said.

Technology also is changing how many companies are classified.

“Fortune did a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs and two-thirds of them described themselves as tech companies, but if you looked at their industry designation, less than 15 percent would be designated that way,” DeHaas said. “Tech is changing dramatically how so many companies operate and impacting their business model.”

DeHaas said that is one reason strategy was cited as one of the top concerns for boards in the survey.

“Eighty percent of the boards we surveyed identified strategy as their primary focus,” she said. “Having that ongoing focus on strategy and thinking about what might disrupt strategy is more integrated and top of mind for boards.”

Celling point

Those Excel spreadsheets can be a real bear.

It seems when the Michigan Business & Professional Association released its rankings as part of its annual 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, the spreadsheet used to compile those rankings had an error in one cell that skewed the final results.

Here’s where West Michigan should have landed in that composite. Significantly above the national benchmark: community initiatives. Slightly above the national benchmark: culture; employee education; employee enrichment, engagement and retention; strategic company performance; and work/life balance. At the national benchmark: the job/work and immediate supervisor.

Quality of life, workplace culture and company performance all are used to “sell” West Michigan to perspective employers and employees, as well as retain the quality workforce already established here.

“Culture has been a significant issue nationally in the past five years,” MBPA President and CEO Jennifer Kluge said. “Companies have been working to drive and define culture and ensure a higher cause or purpose, and West Michigan has done a fantastic job in driving culture and doing something to improve its community.”

Fair catch

A Colorado Brewery is paying tribute to the late Michael Sadler, a native of Forest Hills and former Michigan State University punter who died in a car accident last July.

Denver-based Jagged Mountain Brewery has brewed up a special release of "Hey Diddle Diddle," a wheat ale named for one of Sadler's more memorable on-field moments during his time with the Spartans. The beer is brewed with apricots and oranges with a "touch" of Belgian yeast and rose pedals — Sadler punted in the 2014 Rose Bowl for the Spartans.

A graduate of Forest Hills Northern High School, Sadler earned national recognition for his on-field displays of skill and outgoing personality and sense of humor and was the first four-time Academic All-American in the school's history.

The brew debuts June 1 at a Colorado Spartan Social, and Jagged Mountain is hosting an official release party at the brewery's taproom the next day. Each sale of Hey Diddle Diddle will contribute $1 to the Michael Sadler Foundation, based in Grand Rapids and run by Sadler's mother, Karen Sadler.

But here's the bad news: for now, the brew won't be available outside of the Mile High City. So, anyone looking to toast one of West Michigan's favorite native sons may need to make a road trip — and bring some back for the rest of us.

Road trip

Ferris State University is making it a little easier for students to commute from its Grand Rapids to Big Rapids campuses.

The university has reduced shuttle bus rates and is offering free semester passes for 30 Grand Rapids Public Schools graduates.

Starting in the fall, the Ferris State Express, a 40-seat bus owned and operated by The Rapid, will cost $5 per one-way trip (currently $8) and $480 per semester (currently $700). The university also will offer a one-month pass for $120.

The university will provide free shuttle passes for both fall and spring semesters to the first 30 GRPS students who apply for a Ferris State Express pass and attend Ferris as freshmen this fall.

“There may be students in the Grand Rapids area who want to enroll in a program offered on the Big Rapids campus but are not prepared to relocate for their first year,” said Tony Baker, Ferris’s director of community engagement and treasurer for the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Board of Education.

Gheretta Harris, associate vice president for the university’s department of auxiliary enterprises, which oversees the shuttle service, said the university continues to focus on student access.

“It’s important to us that students who want to attend Ferris State have the opportunity to do so,” Harris said. “We hope these changes will eliminate the transportation barriers that some incoming students face.”

The service is intended primarily for students — who have the option of applying financial aid funds to the cost of passes — but faculty, staff and community members also are welcome to ride.

Ferris State has partnered with The Rapid since 2011 to provide the 55-mile roundtrip shuttle service from The Rapid’s downtown Grand Rapids Central Station and the university’s Big Rapids campus. The route includes a stop in Cedar Springs. The shuttle makes four round-trip runs from 6:20 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday during the academic year.

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