Professional Director Spotlight

A Monthly Feature Recognizing ACCD Credentialed Directors

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.

Mr. Yoshihiro Suzuki

Mr. Suzuki served as the Chairman and a member of Allegro Board since 2018 and previously served on the Board from 2001. Since June 2013, he served as a director and Senior Vice President at Sanken. He retired from his positions with Sanken in June, 2022. Mr. Suzuki previously served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Polar Semiconductor, LLC from July 2005 until his retirement in May 2022. He served on the board of directors of a variety of other Sanken affiliates and has over 40 years of experience with Sanken and its affiliates. Mr. Suzuki received his B.S. in Physics and Engineering Science from Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan in 1982.

Spotlight Q&A

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

Strong passion on the company and wide range of the knowledge. Being a great team builder and always seeking the next altitude with the team.

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

Always striving to improve the company to its greatest potential.

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

Have a passion the business and be very honest. You also need to believe all are seeing the common goal of good things.

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

The board will have more direct responsibility to the company obligations, and we will see more independent and diverse directors there.

Roberta Sydney

Roberta is a seasoned board director and former CEO serving on private and public boards. She currently chairs the Nom/Gov Committee for ARIS (public REIT), and is board chair of HEI Civil. Among prior boards, her previous service includes sitting on the board of Tiedemann Advisors, a global wealth advisory firm that went public in early 2023, and Plaxall, the New York based manufacturing and real estate company that secured Amazon for their HQ2 before Amazon withdrew. Roberta’s corporate experience includes senior roles with financial services and money management institutions, including State Street Global Advisors, BayBank, and the Boston Company, before founding, growing, developing, and managing 9 million square feet and successfully exiting her own commercial real estate development company. Roberta is engaged in philanthropy serving on the Trustee Advisory Board of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard teaching hospital. She has also mentored dozens of entrepreneurs through StartUp Partners, an initiative she co-founded through Harvard Business School Alumni. Roberta received a Bachelor’s from Wellesley College, a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School, and a Master’s in Real Estate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was named a Private Company Director to Watch in 2020.

Spotlight Q&A

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

Being a successful director is recognizing that it’s a team effort with superstars that do not act like superstars. 

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

In a recent board meeting, I asked a question about the company’s strategy that opened up a critical conversation around key performance indicators.  That conversation honed the strategic focus and communication among management and the board. 

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

Do a deep dive on your particular mixture of functional and industry expertise and experience to zero in on the company size, business models and industries where your skills would allow you to contribute at the governance level. With that understanding, seek out conversations with senior management and board members in those types of companies to let them know you have room for one more board. 

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

In the next five years, I anticipate that more diverse boardrooms will be even more focused on technology, business continuity and data privacy along with an emphasis on stakeholder priorities.

Fletcher Washington (Brig. Gen., U.S. Army, Retired)

Fletcher Washington recently retired from the U.S. Army and now resides in Ponte Vedra, Florida. His 34-year Army career was nothing less than impressive, as he joined Enlisted as a Private, for the college money, and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. During his last four months of military service, he completed the Director Fundamentals Program and all requirements, through ACCD, and is qualified to serve on the Board of Directors for public and private corporations. In the last six months since his retirement, he has maintained the same level of excellence, by writing and publishing his autobiography on Amazon, which is now an Amazon #1 bestseller titled: Fletcher Washington A Generational View On Wealth. He is actively seeking a board seat and also exploring living abroad, in Panama, for one or two years.

Spotlight Q&A

1. What has been one of your most valuable leadership lessons from your past experience that you will take into a corporate board setting?

The ability to view an issue not only from the “manager’s/employer’s viewpoint,” but from the “employee’s viewpoint” as well. As a General Officer, I’m very comfortable operating at the strategic, senior managerial level. However, having been raised from humble beginnings, and starting out as a Private, before receiving my commission and becoming an Officer, this insight has served me well over the years to step outside the shoes of senior management to more clearly understand an issue from the lower level “Soldier’s viewpoint” (or rather the “employee’s viewpoint”). 

2. What sparked your interest in joining a public company board?

I was both lucky and blessed to begin investing at the young age of 22. Because of this good fortune, coupled with a general’s retirement, there’s no need to work a normal 9-5. However, at only 52, I’m too young and filled with too much energy to sit idle. The roles and duties of a board member appear ideal for someone with my skillsets of providing oversight, mentorship, and leadership as appropriate, etc., to C-suite leadership.  

3. What can corporate boards learn from the military when it comes to risk oversight and leading through uncertainty?

Great question. The fact that the Department of Defense is the largest employer in the U.S., with 1.3 million on active-duty, and nearly another million in the reserves, speaks to the vast diversity gained by working closely with former military personnel. Additionally, the military members who had the high honor and privilege of serving at the General Officer level, responsible for several thousands, both military and civilian, may be able to bring a level of strategic insight, and other experiences, not readily available in the corporate world; unless the corporation is worldwide and the corporate leader is at the VP or CEO levels in comparison to the vast levels of responsibility of a general. 

4. How can boards capitalize on the value of veterans?

By giving them the opportunity – they will surprise you. They have lived their entire life with the mentality that you must do more with less; you must achieve mission accomplishment because failure is not an option; and when you pass on what you received, it must be better than when you received it. 

5. Tell us about your new book: Fletcher Washington: A Generational View on Wealth.

Thanks for asking. It’s many things in one: 1) It’s an autobiography, as I discuss my rise to General. 2) It’s a rags-to-riches story, as I show (unashamedly) how I grew up on welfare from humble beginnings, but managed to fully retire at 51, as a multi-millionaire. 3) It’s somewhat of a love story, both between my wife and I, as well as my son and I, as I started it decades ago for him to appreciate my life and remain humble in his. 4) It’s a book on how to achieve success (in either the military or civilian life). I’ve had the privilege to sit on 12 different promotion boards and share tips on what it takes to climb the ladder. 5) It’s a book on finance and investing – somewhat of a ‘blueprint’ anyone can use. So, it’s much more than an autobiography. I hope you enjoy the read.  

Interested in reading Fletcher Washington: A Generational View on Wealth? Check it out on Amazon here!

Chris Elshaw

Chris Elshaw is an accomplished advisor and board director with decades of global business experience from a career in General Management around the world for consumer products companies. As an advisor, Mr. Elshaw provides guidance on strategy and execution as well as leadership coaching and M&A advice, resulting in improved performance and value creation. Mr. Elshaw also formulates strategic assessments for private equity firms and assists in due diligence. As a board director, Mr. Elshaw gives leadership and seasoned advice as well as being practiced in overseeing company performance and holding management to account, in addition to fulfilling regulatory compliance and governance duties. Prior to this, Mr. Elshaw amassed an impressive track record as a business leader in large and complex organizations. Mr. Elshaw is also a CultureTalk certified partner, a certified Board Leadership Fellow at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), and a certified Executive Masters Professional Director at the American College of Corporate Directors (ACCD).

Spotlight Q&A

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

Listening and understanding situations before jumping to conclusions. In particular, understanding the nuances between the situation you are hearing about, versus seemingly similar prior situations, so as not to be misled in what may be required. In addition to that, ensuring the board is using a strategic lens for all discussions. Finally, balancing a supportive attitude toward management while not absolving them of their accountabilities.

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

I wouldn’t say there is one, but I think that helping businesses transform, or make acquisitions, or even position them for sale to others is very interesting and involving.

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

Firstly, get yourself educated on how to be an effective board member. Management doesn’t need another management view in the boardroom. Be capable of participating usefully in all topics. While you might have a strong functional background in a particular area, if you are only able to participate in those topics, you will not be a good board director. Secondly, make sure you understand how to look at everything through the lens of your fiduciary duties to make sure you are capable of representing the right interests.

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

I hope and expect to see much more diversity in the boardroom, and while there are some obvious indicators of that, what I really mean is a diversity of thought because that’s one of the very tangible benefits of diversity, which can only make for stronger boards. I also wish that the role of the Chair was always separated from that of the CEO. There is too much conflict of interest in those being combined, and it can make the board’s role harder to fulfil.

Robyn Davis

Robyn is a seasoned corporate director, strategy leader, and executive advisor to global corporations. She has extensive experience guiding high-performing executives across a wide range of industries. Currently, Robyn serves on the public boards of Azenta Life Sciences and Psychemedics and a private board, Akston BioScience.  Robyn's expertise includes value-creation, growth strategies, mergers and acquisitions, cost reduction, and leadership development.  Robyn holds an Executive Silver Masters Professional Director Certification from the American College of Corporate Directors.  Robyn was named one of the "Top 100 Most Influential" women corporate directors by WomenInc in 2019. 

Spotlight Q&A

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

Board refreshment will continue to be a critical responsibility for all boards.   How to expand and refresh the board with new skills, diverse backgrounds and points of view, and increasingly qualified and ‘ready’ candidates is an important agenda item.  There are tangibles that can identify a rich pipeline of individuals for consideration.  However, in my experience, the intangibles are what differentiates those that will be the most successful, contributing members.   First, an innate curious inquiry where someone is confident and comfortable asking questions and building insights and perspectives beyond their core expertise.    Listening, asking, discussing, and reflecting upon multiple stakeholder views and working toward a best outcome requires intellect and humility.    Second, constancy in the face of many changes, surprises, and successes that occur well beyond the purview of the board room.  Being able to stay focused on the overall potential of the company while calmly, patiently navigating the many unforeseen challenges has become more important today than ever.   Third, character-a board member wears many hats and engages with board colleagues, management, advisors, investors, employees, and other stakeholders.   But the consistency of character, building trust, and acting authentically in all relationships is paramount to being effective.

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

Transforming a global leader in the semiconductor equipment industry to a global life sciences leader in sample management solutions and analytics.  It was a ten -year journey that required unwavering commitment to the vision, leadership from the Chair, CEO, and Directors, incredible innovation and operational excellence by the entire organization, and continuous incorporation of information and insights to successfully guide the transformative process with a myriad of important stakeholders in mind.

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

It is incredibly important to understand what it means to be a public company director and how that differs from being a successful business executive or functional expert.   It is a professional commitment that requires an investment in governance and compliance knowledge across a wide range of disciplines: human capital, finance, capital markets, geopolitics, environment, and more.  Topical courses, readings, and peer exchanges like those offered by ACCD can be very helpful for an aspiring director to understand the range of responsibilities and expectations of excellence in the boardroom.   By learning, participating, volunteering, and active peer engagement, opportunities will arise from colleagues or recruiters who can identify the holistic value a highly-qualified individual can bring to a board dynamic.  Preparing for such serendipitous opportunities is the right start.

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

The world has become increasingly complex and uncertain.  Committed board members will be required to continuously learn and build on their expertise and experience to lead companies through unchartered waters.   Today, board members are contributing more time to committees, special initiatives, governmental and SEC changes, as well as the array of important ESG matters and investor engagement.   I believe this will increase and successful directors will rise to the challenge, commit their time and efforts to the companies where they serve, and expand their board’s use of technology and new methods to ensure the highest level of communication and collaboration.  The value of an extraordinary board requires excellence from individuals but a greater impact from the combined talents and guidance of the whole board.  The next five years will certainly be exciting.

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