Professional Director Spotlight

A Monthly Feature Recognizing ACCD Credentialed Directors

Michael Jeans

Mike Jeans is a CEO and director with boardroom experience in the insurance, startup technology, and non-profit sectors. As a Director of AMICA Mutual Insurance Company, he chaired the Nominating & Governance Committee and served on the Compensation and the Investment Committees. He also previously chaired both the Compensation and Audit Committees. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Club of Nashua (NH) and is the Chair of its Charitable Foundation. He serves on the Board of Directors of The Spirit of Adventure Council of the Boy Scouts and also chairs its Advisory Council. He had earlier served as President of the Board of the Boston Minuteman Council of the Boy Scouts. He is an Eagle Scout and recipient of their national Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He is the former Chair of the Board of Maine Media Workshops + College in Rockport, ME and former President of the Board of Habitat for Humanity (North Central MA). Mike previously served as President and then Chairman Emeritus of New Directions, Inc., a nationally-recognized career advisory firm; as the President, CEO and Member of the Board of Directors of Roxy.com, Inc., a start-up on-line retailer of consumer electronics; as CEO of Nashua Photo, Inc.; and as President of Wesson/Peter Pan Foods, Inc. (a Conagra company). Mike is a recipient of the Distinguished Director of the Year Award from the American College of Corporate Directors.

Spotlight Q&A

1. What is the key to being a successful director?

Being curious and having the ability to ask good insightful questions are hallmarks of great directors. Effective directors also keep their dialog at the strategic level and know the line that divides the duties of the board and management. Good directors understand why they were invited to join the board and use their specific skills and background to add value to board discussions while always being collaborative in decision-making.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a director?

Participating on the board’s search committee for selecting our next CEO. It is one of any board’s core responsibilities to oversee the succession process for its CEO. Benchmarking potential internal CEO successors against outside CEO candidates provides an in-depth objective look at the quality of the senior management team while creating the opportunity for a serious strategic discussion of the full board in preparation for this important board decision.

3. What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat?

Craft your “board brand” that is both relevant to what a board needs in a director and crisply conveys – both verbally and in writing – the value that you can uniquely bring to the board. Use your network – particularly those who have seen you in action and are already fans of yours. Let these people know that you are interested in board service, that you have the time, and what your value proposition is. Not all boards are alike – do your due diligence before saying “yes”.

4. What changes to you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years?  

Diversity of boards will only accelerate. By this I mean diversity of gender and ethnicity as well as of age, background, and perspective. There will also be a greater realization by boards that the long-term sustainability of the company will depend on serving a broad array of stakeholders – beyond just shareholders – to include customers, suppliers, and the communities within which the organization operates.

Ms. Ferrante is a strategic and operationally focused Attorney, Risk Management and Talent Leader, bringing more than 35 years of diverse experience to medium and large, public and private organizations. As General Counsel, Chief Administrative Officer and Corporate Secretary, she has demonstrated the ability to develop growth strategies, through both organic and strategic acquisitions, while working collaboratively with a variety of partners and stakeholders. A key part of an Executive Leadership Team, she is recognized as a skilled coach and advisor to the business through vision, strategy, deliberate decision making and execution to deliver on results.

What is the key to being a successful director? Strategic vision, effective communication and collaborative leadership that is focused on the Company’s goals and outcomes. This requires a deep understanding of the company and industry as well as adaptability and ethical leadership that aligns with a company’s Vision, Mission and Values.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a director? Galvanizing a non-profit board on a strategic vision and plan that is contributing to stability, growth in services, and the long term direction and success of a 30 year organization.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat? Networking, building strong professional relationships and participation in professional organizations are key. Showcasing a diverse skillset and a deep knowledge in your area of expertise will get you noticed. Finally, have passion in all that you do!

What changes do you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years? ESG, especially as to climate change, cyber and data security, artificial Intelligence and Board quality and governance will continue to be critical to Board leadership. Economic concerns in some industries will result in essential changes affecting Talent and some business models. A strong focus on proactive Enterprise Risk Management methodologies, will help Boards successfully navigate risks that could threaten outcomes of the organization.

Mike Kelly is an entrepreneur and a board director with broad functional experience in finance, operations, sales, and human resources. Mike is known as an authentic and high-integrity leader who builds trust. He is an effective listener who asks insightful questions and one who inspires and motivates others. Mike is skilled in strategy, in innovation, and in leading organizations through change. He is intellectually curious and has a strong results orientation. He is always focused on doing things the right way.

Mike has broad experience in the board room as well as in leadership positions on multiple boards over the years. He currently serves on the board of Warsaw Federal Savings and Loan, the Warren County Foundation, ChangingGears, and Mars Hill University. He is also an active member of Rotary International in Southwest Ohio and beyond.

Mike is currently Managing Partner of Right Path Enterprises, LLC – a talent and leadership development firm. He is also Founder and Principal of Kelly Financial Planning, LLC – a financial planning and advisory firm.

Prior to starting these businesses, Mike served in multiple corporate executive roles in large complex organizations such as Macy’s and Michelin. Mike’s executive experience at both companies was broad, and he became known as a people-oriented problem-solver.

Mike earned his B.S. degree in Business Administration at Mars Hill University in NC and his M.A. in Business Administration at Webster University in Columbia, SC. He is a Certified Executive Coach, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and a Registered Life Planner®.

Mike is also the author of the book, “Leaderfluence: Secrets of Leadership Essential to Effectively Leading Yourself and Positively Influencing Others.”

1. What is the key to being a successful director? It is to be authentic, relational, strategic, and committed to the organization, its people, and the ultimate customer. A director should also be curious and a lifelong learner.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a director? Serving as chair of a board during the COVID pandemic and helping the board and organization develop a sound plan and act on it. We also created an exceptional board development and succession process. 

3. What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat? Educate yourself and ensure that you’re prepared to assume the responsibility. Couple this with building relationships, sharing your desire, and finding a trusted mentor or advisor. 

4. What changes do you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years? The rise of cybersecurity, AI and other technological advancements will increase complexity and bring additional challenges. Board development and succession will take on even greater importance, and ESG will continue to require focus and attention. 

Spotlight Q&A

Therese M. “Terri” Vaughan

Dr. Vaughan is a seasoned educator, corporate director, and internationally recognized expert in insurance regulation. Over her career, she has served as a director of 7 public companies. She is currently on the boards of AIG, Verisk Analytics, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and WestBank Corporation.

Vaughan split her career between insurance regulation and risk management and insurance education. She served as Iowa Insurance Commissioner for over 10 years and was appointed by governors from both major parties. From 2009 to 2012, she was the CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), where she led the NAIC’s response to the financial crisis, both nationally and internationally. In 2012, she chaired the Joint Forum, a Basel-based committee of banking, insurance and securities regulators that focused on cross-sectoral issues. Between stints in regulation, she was a chaired professor of insurance and actuarial science and Dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at Drake University. Most recently, she served two years as the Professional Director of the Emmett J. Vaughan Institute of Risk Management and Insurance at the University of Iowa.

Vaughan earned a Ph.D. in risk and insurance at the University of Pennsylvania and a B.B.A. in insurance and economics at the University of Iowa. She is a CPCU, Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society, and Associate of the Society of Actuaries. She has received a number of accolades, including recognition as one of the Top 25 Living Legends of Insurance, Distinguished Fellow of the IAIS, and Insurance Woman of the Year. In 2016, Best’s Review named her one of 24 insurance industry’s key influencers – “innovators, leaders and creative thinkers” who have shaped the insurance industry.

1. What is the key to being a successful director?

An ability to listen, see the forest for the trees, and challenge respectfully. Constant curiosity and desire to learn. Willingness to admit what you don’t know.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a director?

Being part of a successful CEO transition from beginning to end. When the new CEO is is the right person, is prepared to take the helm, and hits the ground running, great things happen. The organization has a new energy. It is immensely rewarding to be part of that journey with the other directors.

3. What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat?

Have a clear understanding of what you have to offer, gain board leadership experience with nonprofits, and network, network, network.

4. What changes do you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years?  

Expectations for boards have increased dramatically since my first experience as a director. Shareholders are more vocal, and the focus on ESG/Sustainability and broader stakeholder interests have tended to increase the scope of a board’s oversight responsibility. For example, compensation committees have expanded their focus to human capital management. Audit committees have greater responsibility for a variety of risks, leading some companies to establish separate risk or technology committees. The world is becoming more complex, and boards will have to figure out how to best partner with management in the face of this increased complexity and constant change. This will force boards to become more agile. It will impact the way information is delivered to directors, how directors engage with the CEO and other members of management, and the process of board refreshment, with more frequent turnover to ensure the board encompasses the right expertise as the business and environment change.

Spotlight Q&A

Adina Storch

Adina is a seasoned corporate director and legal advisor to global corporations. She currently serves on the board of Medical Facilities Corporation (TSX: DR), a publicly-traded Canadian company with a portfolio of hospitals and surgery centers across the U.S., and serves on its Audit, and Nominating/Corporate Governance and Compensation Committees. Adina is also the Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary of Global Industrial Company (NYSE: GIC), an industrial distribution company, and prior to that, was Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary of Cedar Realty Trust (NYSE: CDR), a commercial REIT.

Adina’s areas of expertise include corporate stewardship, having been the primary architect of ESG platforms at two public companies, commercial transactions, crisis management, M&A, and employment and executive compensation. Prior to her in-house roles, Adina was an international capital markets lawyer in Paris, France and a litigation partner at a large NY-based firm.

Adina was recently honored by Corporate Counsel with the prestigious 2023 Women, Influence and Power in Law Award in the category of “Innovative Leadership.” Last year, Adina was recognized with the “Fuel Her Fire” Award by Girls, Inc., a national organization promoting leadership skills for young women in underserved communities, for her trailblazing role as a strong woman leader and role model. Adina has twice won the Top General Counsel Award by the First Chair organization, a peer-nominated award recognizing in-house counsel for their innovation and significant contributions to the legal community. Earlier in her career, Adina was named by Thomson Reuters as a NY Super Lawyer and one of the Top Women Attorneys in New York in her field.

A respected authority on corporate governance, Adina has frequently contributed to the press on a variety of compliance and legal topics including as a guest on “Inside America’s Boardrooms,” an educational broadcast for public company directors.

Ms. Storch received her law degree from The Yale Law School, where she was a senior editor of The Yale Law Journal and received her undergraduate degree from Yale College, where she graduated summa cum laude with distinction in the English major, was President of Phi Beta Kappa for her class, and was awarded the prestigious Warren Prize as the top-ranking graduate in her Yale class majoring in the Humanities.

1. What is the key to being a successful director?

The same attributes that elevate you as a professional make for success as a director.  You need to be able to conceive of good strategies based on your training and experience, effectively sell ideas into a room, listen well enough to identify wisdom when you hear it, and be vigilant enough to call out risk when you see it.  Being a corporate steward is a weighty mantle to bear.  You need to keenly understand your role as a fiduciary, and practice with proficiency the twin arts of consensus building and respectful dissent.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a director?

From time to time, I have had senior peers call me to battle test ideas before pitching them into the larger meeting forum.  I consider it the ultimate sign of trust and respect to be invited into someone’s confidence to explore possibilities and identify vulnerabilities related to various corporate strategies.  My colleagues know that as an experienced litigator, I’ve lived through trainwrecks, which makes me that much better at anticipating them before they happen, and positioning the company to proactively risk manage to avoid them.  And, of course, these strategy sessions are great learning opportunities for me.

3. What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat?

No one is good at everything – and certainly not at the level of expertise required to be a corporate director.  Do the introspection to figure out where your value-add contributions and interests lie, and you will emerge from that exercise with the themes of your candidacy.  Hone your expertise such that yours is the missing voice people want in the room.  And, finally, believe in yourself and have the courage to express interest.

4. What changes do you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years?  

I anticipate a flattening of the global regulatory environment such that it will matter less where  your company operates to determine the imperatives for your governance infrastructure.  ESG will continue to be a driving ethos, although it may evolve in nomenclature and form.  I also anticipate an evolution in fiduciary responsibility, with a broadening of the perimeter of stakeholders that boards serve.

Sonja Strzoda

Sonja is an active and effective board director and financial services expert steeped in governance best practices. She currently serves as Vice Chair of NuVision Federal Credit Union, one of the top 25 largest credit unions in California with assets totaling over $3B. She has served on six boards of directors, including private, financial cooperative and non-profit organizations and has extensive committee experience including Audit Chair. She is an expert advisor for the asset management and financial services industries, and is proficient in global settings holding American-German dual nationalities. Sonja’s corporate experience included senior positions with global asset management and financial services firms working with boards, senior executives and major investors. She is particularly well versed in guiding organizations through brand/reputation transformations, strategic growth, product development, risk management and working within regulated industries. Sonja received her MBA with an emphasis in finance from California State University, Long Beach, where she was the first woman portfolio manager on the University’s Student Managed Investment Fund, and earned her BS in economics from University of California, Irvine. Sonja is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and held FINRA Series 7 and 63 licenses.

Spotlight Q&A

1. What is the key to being a successful director?

It’s key to be a strategic thinker, anticipate possible “what ifs”, have good governance and ethics, applicable experience, be an effective communicator (especially listener), know how to build and manage relationships, and be collaborative. I believe it’s also key to continually learn, be committed to your role and the company, and always be well prepared.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a director?

On all boards where I’ve served, I’ve made a positive impact and have proven my ability to be a strong contributor. As such, I’ve taken on roles with increasing responsibility, worked on strategic projects, and participated on expanded committees. Having earned the trust and respect of my colleagues and senior executives has been extremely rewarding for me, and motivates me to expand my board portfolio.  

3. What piece of advice would you give to those looking to land their first board seat?

Have patience, persistence, confidence and humility. Devote yourself to the profession of board service by continually learning and studying the business of board work. There is a lot to know beyond your area of functional expertise and it’s fascinating!  Know there are boards that need your skills and talents, but be honest with yourself about finding the right culture and mutual fit.

4. What changes do you anticipate seeing in the boardroom in the next five years?  

I expect that the speed of change in the boardroom will rapidly increase, accompanied by a rise in business complexity. There will be an expanded focus on diversity of thought and background within board compositions, and I anticipate ESG considerations to become integral to corporate strategy and the decision-making processes. Boards will need to adapt to the rapid pace of technological advancements as well and their impact on business operations. Moreover, I foresee boards increasingly engaging with a broader range of stakeholders encompassing employees, customers, communities, and investors. There will be a heightened emphasis on crisis preparedness (the what ifs) and robust risk management practices including the protection of brand and reputation.