The Corporate Secretary’s Role In Onboarding New Board Members

Onboarding new directors—particularly younger, first-time directors—has become a challenge for many public companies. Today’s newest board members vary widely in background, experience, and age, which requires a more tailored approach to the onboarding process. However, many boards/companies have failed to answer an important question: Who owns the onboarding process—and what are their responsibilities?

In this episode, host TK Kerstetter and Paul Washington, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel & Corporate Secretary of the Warner Media Group, break down the onboarding responsibilities of the company, the board members, and the new directors themselves.

“The company’s [onboarding] responsibility is to make sure that the director becomes a fully-effective contributing member of the board over time, because it does take a while,” said Washington. “I think it’s a team effort…to make sure that the director not only feels welcome and informed, but is also given the opportunities to contribute.”

The corporate secretary, explains Washington, has a truly unique vantage point between the board and the management team–and the potential to be a powerful asset during the onboarding process.

“I think the corporate secretary is in a terrific position to give the new director a sense of what it’s like to be on the board. The new director should have gathered some of that [information] through meeting with the other board members. But [the corporate secretary] can probably be a little more candid about how the meetings actually unfold. If you become someone that the new director turns to for advice, you can help guide them, because they will wonder: Did I overstep? Did I talk too much?

— Paul Washington, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel & Corporate Secretary of the Warner Media Group

Kerstetter and Washington also discuss the importance of mentorship, something new directors consistently rank as the most valuable aspect of their onboarding. Washington also shares a critical piece of advice to new board members seeking to make their onboarding as smooth as possible.

Click here to view the full episode.