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Success Stories

Ann Harlan

Ann is a 2011 alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Gorman-Rupp Company

2009-present

Lead Director; Chair of the Nominating and Governance Company; Member of the Audit Committee

Eatem Foods Corporation

2010-2015

How did you get involved with the boards you serve (or served) on? Did networking play a role?

I got involved on the private company board I served on through my work as a lawyer. This is interesting from a DirectWomen perspective because often women are told to position themselves as business women with law degrees. However, this opportunity initially came because I had done legal work for the private equity group that purchased Eatem Foods Corporation. Because of our prior connection, they knew of my legal experience as well as how I interacted on a team. Moreover, being the General Counsel at The J.M. Smucker Company at the time gave me some insight into the challenges of running a food company. Despite this, I doubt they would have just cold-called me if we had not known each other from our prior relationship. 

I was introduced to the management team at The Gorman Rupp Company through a business connection at Smucker I worked closely with our audit partner on several complicated acquisitions. He was also the lead partner at Gorman-Rupp, and when they had a need on their board, he suggested me. 

This experience shows that you never know where these opportunities come from, so it is important to always put your best foot forward. Reputation leads, after all. 

Gorman-Rupp's focus is pumps, which is a bit different from the food industry. What has it been like adjusting to work in that environment?

One of the first questions I ask myself when I consider a board opportunity is: How can I add value to this company? With respect to Gorman-Rupp, at the start, I had limited knowledge about the pump business. But Gorman-Rupp was a public company with a very large family ownership interest, which is certainly consistent with my experience at Smucker. 

Additionally, I had compensation and public company governance experience which were both areas where Gorman-Rupp thought it would be helpful to have some additional perspective. Certainly, the knowledge of the business is critical and I continue to work hard to stay on top of industry issues that were new areas for me. Ultimately it was the perspective on compensation, governance, and a public company with family ownership that was my initial contribution. 

You have held quite a few leadership roles with Gorman-Rupp and also with several of the other boards you have served on. How did you get into these roles and what advice would you give to women who are interested in becoming committee chaires

Every woman who is part of the DirectWomen organization has already accomplished a tremendous amount and are already leaders and subject matter experts. For me, stepping into Board leadership roles has required that at transition from being a content and subject matter expert to becoming well versed in the business, business risks and opportunities as well as “being able to see around the corner” to identify what might be the next strategic challenge to face the organization.

If the focus is always on determining how best to contribute as a Board member, it is largely a combination of being willing to work hard and recognizing that businesses are run by people, and people are driven by relationships. It is important to be a team player and still have your own voice and independent perspective.  

Being a team player sometimes has a negative connotation because some people think it means just “going along with the group” and “being one of the guys”. Yet, my perspective of being a team player is a focus on the corporate objectives while at the same time bringing diverse points of view to the conversation. It’s about knowing when to be collaborative and when to step up and speak your mind. The emotional intelligence required to be a leader is something we all must learn. It requires as much hard work as being a subject matter expert. 

What have you learned about what it's like to be a director since becoming a director? How have you grown into the position?

The issues facing companies today are changing at a much faster pace than ever before. As a result, it is so important for directors to constantly be learning and to be willing to acknowledge that we don’t know all the answers. 

In a relatively brief time, you joined several boards, you retired from the J.M. Smucker Company, and you started your own management consulting firm. What was it like going through so much professional transition in such a short time and what advice would you give to women who are also going through many transitions stimultaneously?

I had great support from colleagues and friends. The Gorman-Rupp opportunity came to me shortly before I retired. I was very transparent with Richard Smucker and Tim Smucker (the CEOs of the J.M. Smucker Company regarding my interest in the position, and they were very supportive. They were wonderful mentors and allies, and there are dozens of other people about whom I could say the same thing. 

To be successful in the face of rapid change requires both the nimbleness to shift when things don’t go your way and the willingness to put your nose down and work hard. It means knowing your limits while also being as flexible as possible. 

What are your short and long-term goals moving forward?

Well one goal is certainly to continue to grow the consulting business my business partner and I started, Harlan Peterson Partners, LLC. 

From a board perspective, the public company board service, the private company board service, and the not-for-profit company board service are all very rewarding and very different both in terms of time demands and skill sets. With the recent successful sale of Eatem Foods, one of my goals is to identify another corporate board opportunity where I can make a contribution. In the long term, if the right opportunity comes up, I would be open to adding one more public company board. 

How has DirectWomen helped you to achieve your board-related objectives or goals?

I was on each of these boards prior to my connection to DirectWomen. The connection that I feel with DirectWomen stems from my passion for supporting other professional women who have the desire to do what I’ve been fortunate enough to do. There’s certainly nothing special about my skills--I’ve just been fortunate enough to have a solid group of mentors around me that have supported me through network-building, relationship-building, and skill-building. For me, DirectWomen is about giving back so that ultimately, we have more diversity of age and experiences in the board room. One way that I do that is by getting to know my DirectWomen colleagues and sharing my experiences--both the things that have worked and things that I would do differently. Perhaps most importantly, this is a great group of professionals and I’ve made terrific friends. 

Have you seen any shifts in the corporate world in attitudes towards women in leadership or executive positions since you started your career?

We’ve seen so many changes. We should honor the women who came twenty years before us because they were in the trenches. Every day they worked to create professional reputations and to be viewed as content experts. That sounds so obvious now, but at the time, it was almost the rule that they were the only female lawyer in the room Consequently, these women had to navigate how to give their male-dominated workplaces a frame of reference for seeing them as professionals. 

Those women were pioneers. Today, workplaces have much less blatant discrimination, but unconscious bias is still a significant challenge. Candidly, we all have unconscious bias. And although we have made tremendous progress, we are not there yet. Most people are coming to understand that diversity—whether it be age, experience, race or ethnicity, or gender—leads to better outcomes.

Have you had an experience where diversity on a board led you in one direction versus another direction?

Yes. One example might be University Hospitals Health System. The board has diversity in age, occupation, gender, and ethnicity; we each bring something different to the table.

Because University Hospitals is a healthcare system, our focus on the finances, operations, and management of the system is critical and is all around supporting the mission of excellence in patient care and cutting-edge research. There have been many occasions where our conversations about the patient experience differ based on our backgrounds and perspectives. I have seen our diversity lead us to ask different questions that lead to better answers. 

Do you have any final advice for aspiring women directors?

My advice is simple. Just bring your best authentic self to the Board room. When we do what we believe others expect of us, but in doing so are not authentic, people sense that and we lose trust and credibility. But when we focus less on influencing people and more on being true to our skills and our beliefs, we are much more likely to be successful.

 Secondly, develop your professional reputation. Put your best foot forward every day because you really don’t know where your next opportunity is going to come from. And then take appropriate risks. Try something outside of your comfort zone. You’ve got to work for it, but having the self confidence is half the battle. 

Deborah Golden

Deborah is a 2009 alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Midland States Bancorp, Inc.

2015-present

Compensation Committee Chair; Member of the Governance Committee

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

I was contacted by NACD, an organization I had joined in connection with my active networking for a board seat.  I was networking, but it was focused on particular industries which I thought might be interested in the particular skills and abilities I bring to the board table.   

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

DirectWomen provided a clear path for me to follow on the way to my first director position.  I learned how to craft a board resume, give the "3 minute elevator speech" and consider various means by which to approach the process.  Not only did DirectWomen provide a valuable learning experience, it was great to meet and discuss the challenges surrounding women on boards with tremendously talented class members and the alum.   

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

In short, learning the business and the financial metrics to evaluate performance and successful implementation of strategies.    

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

Frankly, the most instrumental skills/attributes for board service are precisely the same ones that are instrumental to success as a lawyer.  Those include a willingness to ask questions, take a deep dive into the business to evaluate strategies, clearly and persuasively communicate and to simplify otherwise complex matters.   

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

Before every board meeting, I remind myself that I am serving in an oversight role and not "in the trenches" management role.  

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

I continue to learn about banking, complex regulatory schemes and specific business strategies to help me enhance my effectiveness as a director.  

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

In the short term, continue in a board leadership position as Chair of the Comp Committee.  In the coming two years, I would hope to add another board.   

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

Although the pace is slow, more and more boards are seeking women candidates for directors.  Focus in on industries where you have a deep knowledge/experience base or where diversity in the boardroom is a top priority.  Continue to network and use the "playbook" from the DirectWomen Institute.       

Kimberly Ellwanger

Kimberly is a 2011 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Heritage Financial Corporation 

2006-present

Heritage Bank

2006-present

Compensation Committee Chair, Nominating and Governance Committee Chair

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

I was approached by the CEO and Chair of the Board, with whom I served in leadership positions on a non profit board.

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

I was already on a board when I became involved with DirectWomen.  DirectWomen provided excellent advice on how to prepare a board ready resume and steps to take to network for additional board seats. It has also provided director education opportunities.

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

Learning the business of the company and earning the respect of my fellow directors.

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

Analytical abilities; communication skills and interpersonal skills.

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

Deciding to retire from my career.

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

Continued respected service on the board and director education opportunities.

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

Joining one additional board.

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

Find opportunities to prove your skills with existing board members - serving on non-profit boards with other for profit directors is a good way to do this.

Elisa D. Garcia

Elisa is a 2011 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Dollarama, Inc.

2015-present. 

Board Member; Nominating and Governance Committee Member

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

I received a call from a recruiter form a firm I had previously connected with for possible Board roles.

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

The DirectWomen Institute and pre-work taught me what a Board resume needed to stress and helped me view my experience as a set of skills rather than chronological jobs. DirectWomen also helped me to tell my story.

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

I am the first woman on the Board of Dollarama, so I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just a check the box appointment. Making sure that I learned the business and contributed quickly was important.

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

Governance and international experience.

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

The lead director and management have been very welcoming and have helped me learn about the business. Management has welcomed my requests to tour stores and distribution facilities and have given me access to executives to jumpstart my learnings. It takes a year (a full cycle) to really understand the seasonality of the business and how it affects earnings.

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

Deeper understanding of the company's risk profile and tolerance, as well as strategic presentations.

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

Joining another committee (short term). I am still employed full time as a CLO, so I do not foresee adding another board in the medium term, but long-term, I would like a second board.

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

Look at your skill set and understand how you can bring value to a company.

Sheri Edison

Sheri is a 2014 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

AK Steel (NYSE: AKS)

2014-present. 

Board Member; Nominating and Governance Committee Member; Audit and Compensation Committee Member

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

I let my interest in serving on a public company board be known, actively networked, and attended events where I could meet other Directors.

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

DirectWomen helped me to reframe my personal and professional experiences and skills in a way that highlighted the value that I could bring to a Board position.

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

Adjusting to the cadence of Board service (e.g. Board meetings, special meetings, Committee calls, etc) and establishing my calendar around it.

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

My ability to see through complexity, problem solving, broad experience leading critical business functions, and governance expertise. 

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

Wonderful mentors, all of whom have served or currently serve on public company boards; attendance at governance programs; new friendships with others who share my passion for Board service.

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

Ongoing learning about the industry in which the company on whose board I serve operates, annual attendance to at least one governance program to stay on top of current issues and hone my governance skills, mentoring other women and people of color who desire to serve on a Board.

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

Short term: Continue to work toward being the best Board member that I can be on my current Board; Long term: Assume a Board leadership role.

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

Go for it.

Mallun Yen

 Mallun Yen, who was a member of the  2016 Board Institute Class, was elected to the Board of RPX Corporation in April of 2017. RPX Corporation (NASDAQ: RPXC), is a public company that is a leading provider of patent risk and discovery management solutions. Ms. Yen, currently the Company’s Executive Vice President, will continue to serve in that role through September 1, 2017.

“Mallun’s contributions to the Company date back to when she worked with the founding team to launch RPX,” said Marty Roberts, Chief Executive Officer and President of RPX. “From these early days, she has championed the RPX mission to bring transparency, efficiency, and rationality to patent transactions through industry innovation. I am pleased that she will remain engaged with our business through service on our Board.”

“We’re delighted that Mallun has joined the Board of Directors,” said RPX Chairman of the Board, Shelby Bonnie. “She has been integral to the Company’s success from inception. This experience, combined with her leadership in the patent industry and devotion to the organization’s mission are invaluable assets.”

Prior to RPX, Ms. Yen spent eight years at Cisco where, as Vice President of Worldwide Intellectual Property and Deputy General Counsel, she built and led the teams responsible for protection of the intellectual property embedded in Cisco’s technology, products, and innovation globally. She is also a board member of KQED, Northern California’s public media organization, and a board member, co-founder, and chief executive officer of ChIPs, a nonprofit with over 1,500 members dedicated to accelerating innovation in technology, law, and policy by increasing diversity of thought, participation, and engagement.

“I have been a believer in RPX since the very beginning, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come in these nearly 10 years,” Ms. Yen said. “Through the good work of everyone at RPX and the support of our clients, we’ve helped our more than 350 clients avoid more than 4,000 litigations and save nearly $3.5 billion. Now as a board member, I’m pleased to continue to advocate for greater transparency in the patent marketplace and to guide RPX as it leverages its great success through new opportunities.”

Connie Collingsworth

Connie Collingsworth is a 2009 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Banner Corporation (NASDAQ: BANR)

2013-present. Publically traded bank holding company with approximately $10B in assets  

Board Member; Governance Committee Chair; Compensation Committee Member 

PREMERA BLUE CROSS

2013-present. Preeminent Pacific Northwest health care coverage with over 2M members

Board Member; Member of Audit & Compliance, Quality, and Investment Committees 

ATTENEX CORPORATION

2000-2008. Privately held technology company in eDiscovery marketplace

Board Member

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

Yes, active networking was key to obtaining both the Banner and Premera board positions.  The Banner board opportunity arose as a result of participating in an event held at the NYSE called “Moving the Needle.”  The objective of the event was to promote broader board diversity in US public companies.  A short bio of the individuals participating in the event was included in a book, which was distributed to the Board Chairs and Chairs of the Governance and Nominating Committees of all publically traded US companies.  The Chair of Banner’s Governance Committee had been a board member of a prior client when I was practicing law at Preston Gates & Ellis.  I had not had any contact with him for over 13 years, but when he saw my bio in the book he reached out to talk to me about joining the Banner board.

The opportunity to join the Premera board arose as a result of me networking with a former law firm partner who had become the General Counsel of Premera and letting him know that I was interested in serving on corporate boards.  He recommended me to the CEO of the company as a potential board candidate.

The board position at Attenex Corporation arose in connection with working with the company as a client while I was practicing law at Preston Gates & Ellis.

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

Participating in DirectWomen helped me appreciate the importance of being proactive in letting people know I am interested and qualified to serve on a corporate board.  In these conversations, I emphasize my strengths as an experienced strategic advisor, with knowledge and expertise in governance and risk management. Additionally, I talk about my expertise in complex business transactions and sophisticated financing arrangements and that I am viewed as a leader with strong business judgment and exceptional communication and interpersonal skills---all characteristics companies look for in potential board candidates. 

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

I think there is a barrier to improving gender diversity on boards as a result of the preference for   female CEOs as the first choice as a board candidate.  There generally is a lack of appreciation for the qualifications of other C-Suite Executives, and perhaps an even stronger bias against General Counsels.  This is based on the perception that a GC will play the role of “lawyer” versus that of seasoned strategic business advisor.

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

I believe the exposure to a broad range of businesses and complex transactions throughout my career has prepared me well to contribute to the boards’ discussions with management.  Asking insightful questions of management in a constructive fashion is also viewed as a critical skill in fulfilling a board member’s fiduciary obligation.  

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

Being intentional and proactive about networking and making efforts to educate myself to be an excellent board member are both critical.  

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

I served as a board member of the NACD Northwest Chapter and am a member of Women Corporate Directors.  I also participated in a Harvard Business School Leadership Forum in 2014 and attended the Stanford Directors’ College Executive Education Program in 2012.  I also continue to be actively involved in DirectWomen, attending its annual Sandra Day O’Connor luncheons and serving as Chair of the Honoree Committee and Co-Chair of the Class Committee.

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

The two boards on which I currently sit are both highly regarded regional companies based in the Pacific Northwest. My objective is to have an opportunity to serve on the board of a company with a broader geographical footprint where I can add value based on the depth of international experience gained from working at the Bill & Gates Foundation and my understanding regarding markets of emerging economies.  It would also be great to have an opportunity to utilize the unique insights I have regarding corporate social responsibility.    

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

Two critical words—patience and persistence.  Start planting the seeds by telling everyone you talk to that you are interested in serving on a corporate board.  Make an investment in becoming educated regarding the responsibilities of a board member by becoming engaged, such as in the local NACD or a Women Corporate Directors chapter, which also provide good opportunities for networking.

Peggy Heeg

Peggy Heeg is a 2009 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

BOARD SERVICE EXPERIENCE

Columbia Pipeline Partners LP, NYSE (2016 - Present)

Eagle Rock Energy Partners, NASDAQ (2010-2015)

  • Chair of Nominating and Governance Committee
  • Member of Audit Committee and Conflicts Committee

Texas Lottery Commission (2015)

El Paso Tennessee Pipeline Company, NYSE (2001-2003)

  • Member of Board of Directors

DePelchin Children’s Center (2000-2010)

  • Member of Board of Directors, Finance Committee and Executive Committee

United Way of Greater Houston (2008-2011)

  • Member of Board of Directors and Audit Committee

How did you learn about your current board opportunities? Did active networking play a role?

Networking at a director’s conference let to the Eagle Rock opportunity

How has DirectWomen helped you achieve your board service-related objectives?

I believe that if I had not gone through the DirectWomen Institute I would not have obtained my board position.  The Institute helped me by 1) understanding the challenges that female attorneys face in obtaining a board position; 2) provided practical advice on how to obtain a board position, and 3) introducing me to an amazing network of successful women.  

What have been/were the most challenging aspects of establishing yourself as a director?  

It is difficult to establish yourself if you are the first woman on a board.  There is no doubt that having a female on the board changes the board dynamics and interactions.  

Which of your skills/attributes do you believe have been most instrumental in your board role(s)?

My understanding of business, ability to stay composed and knowledge of governance expectations have helped me become an effective board member.   

What specific events, people or tactics (if any) have helped your transition from career woman to board director?

The DirectWomen alumni group has helped me transition to board director.  I also have learned that it is important to have a regular dialogue with fellow board members between board meetings.  

What ongoing activities continue to develop/enhance your effectiveness as a director?

I stay on top of evolving risks and governance expectations.

What are your further short/medium/long-term board service objectives?

I would like to add one board position in the short-term.

What advice would you give to aspiring women directors?

It is easy to get frustrated when you are seeking a board position.  If you want to be on a board, stay focused on your objective and do not give up.  The practical reality is that there are very few board positions and many qualified individuals want to be on a board.  It is important to recognize that it may take time to get your first board position.  Stay focused, use your network and let people know that you are seeking a board position.

Robin Walker-Lee

Robin Walker-Lee is a 2012 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here

Board Service Experience

  • Appointed to Rexnord Corporation (NYSE:RXN) in May 2015
  • Serves on the Nomination & Governance Committee

 

Success Stories

Ann Harlan

Ann joined the board of the Gorman-Rupp Company in 2009. Learn more

Deborah Golden

Deborah Golden joined the board of Midland States Bancorp, Inc. in 2015. Learn more

Kimberly Ellwanger

Kimberly joined the board of Heritage Financial Corporation and Heritage Bank in 2006. Learn more