The CEO’s Playbook: Building an IPO-Ready Board

In a striking rebound, the IPO landscape in the Americas has surged this year by over 20% compared to the same timeframe in 2023, with the proceeds from these offerings more than doubling due to the larger size of the deals[1]. This resurgence is led by the healthcare and technology sectors, particularly biotechnology, which alone launched nine deals raising a collective US$1.5 billion. Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to capture the market’s imagination, but investors are increasingly demanding tangible proof of its potential impact. Despite the looming challenges of global geopolitical tensions and the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the robust start to the market and growing investor confidence suggests a promising horizon for public listings, extending beyond large-cap entities to a broader spectrum of companies into 2024-2025.

Drawing on three decades of experience  advising boards and CEOs through complex leadership challenges, we have observed the speed bumps investor-led boards face when transitioning to become more independent. A critical juncture often arrives when financial sponsors perceive a viable route to an IPO. The significance of a board’s capabilities and composition in maximizing a public listing cannot be overstated, yet one of the greatest barriers is often the reluctance of directors to relinquish their positions when it becomes clear that change is necessary. While some boards hesitantly skirt around these issues, the most successful ones embrace a proven pathway to prepare their governance structures for the public markets.

To navigate this transition and effectively prepare for a future IPO, chief executive officers and boards should consider three governance best practices:

1. Board Architecture

The axiom in real estate that “the taller the building, the stronger the foundation needs to be” equally applies to board structure. Recent shifts in corporate governance have redefined board construction to better weather potential challenges. In advance of any public listing, it is essential for boards to address these fundamental governance tenets.

2. Board Leadership

Determining the leadership structure of the board is perhaps the most critical decision post-architecture finalization, influencing the board’s capabilities, effectiveness, and culture:

3. Board Recruiting

The current environment for board recruitment is fiercely competitive, with a pressing need for directors who bring diversity of thought, background, and expertise. When adding additional independent directors to the board, we have found it is important to keep the following concepts forefront when building out the rest of the board.

By adhering to these best practices, companies who are on the path to an IPO can assemble a board that not only meets today’s challenges but also positions the company for sustained success in the public domain.

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Brett Stephens is the CEO of RSR Partners and helps lead the firm’s Board & CEO Services

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1993 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.


[1] Data provided by EY Private.

Expect 2024 to Reveal Who is Ready to Lead

Dear Clients and Friends,

2023 was a dynamic and transformative year across the corporate landscape, and so far, we expect this trend to continue in 2024. Leadership in the boardroom and C-Suite has never been more indispensable. From our beginnings as a boutique board advisory firm, to our evolution into a “boardroom-centric” search firm, we are incredibly proud to work with so many companies that believe that great leadership is a competitive advantage, and with candidates who have a genuine and positive impact on the world around them.

One of the ways we celebrate great leadership is with the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award. The Chair of the Year Award was established in 2023 to celebrate the legacy of Russ Reynolds, an icon of the executive search and board recruiting industry. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. As featured in Fortune magazine, the inaugural award was presented to Sarah Nash, Chair of Bath & Body Works, at our annual Directors Dinner in New York in October. We were delighted to recognize Sarah’s extraordinary leadership and character. We hope that many of you will nominate a Chair for the award this year and join us at our Directors Dinner in October.

Our Board practice continues to anchor the firm’s activities and provide enhanced insights and connectivity to assist our executive searches across our core practice areas (Asset ManagementConsumer, and Industrial Technology). Our collaborative approach – a hallmark of our firm – helped bring to light some of the trends we expect to be explored by boards and C-Suite leadership teams in 2024:

We look forward to continuing to assist our clients with their most important, complex, and sensitive leadership and governance concerns in 2024. We believe that RSR Partners is uniquely situated in the industry to provide unparalleled access and insight into top-performing business leaders. In addition to our board recruiting capabilities, we offer our clients a broad set of other Board and CEO services. Should you have any important board or C-Suite leadership needs in the coming year, we would be delighted to share our capabilities and expertise to help you. More importantly, we look forward to our continued friendship with you all. 

With gratitude,

Barrett J. Stephens
Chief Executive Officer
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A Small Firm with Big Results

When Russ Reynolds founded our firm back in 1994, he knew that “bigger isn’t always better.” And so, he purposely created a boutique firm with a truly collaborative and client first culture, and with a goal of providing our clients with “high touch” service and unbiased advice. We started out in the boardroom, focusing our efforts on recruiting directors. As would later be the case with all of our practices, senior members of our board practice would lead and execute every engagement and handle all candidate interface, assessments, references, and client interaction. Russ anticipated that staying small would prove to have a big and lasting positive impact on our clients and help preserve our client service culture as the firm evolved. He was right. For the past 30 years and still today, we have consistently achieved, and often exceeded, our clients’ recruiting objectives, and have successfully maintained long-lasting and meaningful relationships with them. While we have expanded our offerings to include executive search and a variety of advisory services, board recruiting continues to be at the core of what we do.

The demand for outstanding director talent is as high as ever. This is especially the case when considering corporate boards’ ongoing efforts to maintain the right mix of skills and experience and the right balance of gender and ethnic diversity in their ranks in order to enable them to stay ahead of an everchanging world in which their respective companies compete. Often, boards encounter supply and demand imbalances for certain types of candidates they seek. That’s why it is very important that the board recruiting firm can guarantee access to any and all relevant candidates without any exceptions. That is a promise that we have continued to keep with our clients since our firm’s founding. Given our firm’s size and structure, we purposely conduct a limited and distinct number of search assignments at any given time, and our engagement review and acceptance process ensures that at RSR Partners, there is no competition for candidates amongst our clients.

Our extensive candidate sourcing network continues to expand and advance. We utilize our own database, social networking tools, and other internet-based candidate search technologies (e.g., LinkedIn, BoardEx, etc.) that have leveled the playing field between boutiques and large firms when it comes to candidate identification. All partners from all practices are engaged as well for candidate ideas. As such, we have the ability to identify most any candidate who aligns well with a given profile.

The benefits associated with partnering with us to achieve our clients’ most important recruiting objectives are no better reflected than in the continued success we have had in achieving our clients’ diversity objectives. Since 2021, 86% of our board placements were either gender and/or ethnically diverse (it’s important to point out that diversity was one of a number of criteria each of these placements met).

As a small and agile team, we are also known for our thorough and rapid kick-starts to board recruiting assignments. We have always strived to complete our board searches within four to five months. There have been times when searches have taken longer than anticipated, but we have always completed our assignments and have amassed a 100% placed candidate “stick rate” along the way.

If I had to point to one step in the board search process that we have learned goes a long way toward ensuring a successful outcome, it would be to put a great deal of thought and effort at the beginning of the process into creating the candidate profile. This candidate profile development process should be a collaborative undertaking between the board and their search firm, and it can be completed in a short period of time. It starts with reviewing the director skills and experience matrix in the proxy and interviewing each member of the client’s Board, their Chairman, CEO and, depending on the nature of the search, certain members of the executive leadership team. Interviews focus on what skills and experience are needed in the next director and why, as well as the characteristics that make for a great cultural and chemistry fit on the board. Then, we undertake a comparison of what criteria the board currently possesses and identify gaps, which in turn, helps to refine the candidate profile. It is important to note that the matrix in proxies does not always provide an accurate picture of the degree to which skills and experience reside on the board (i.e., checking the box versus specifying the strength of a particular skill or experience each director indicates they possess using a 1,2 or 3 rating.) The interview process is therefore helpful on several fronts – it provides a deeper understanding of skills and experience that all the directors contribute, determines what the board is looking for in its next director, and creates alignment amongst the board members around the candidate profile.

Before finalizing the candidate profile, we typically review five to ten candidate ideas with our client to get their feedback and confirm we are in agreement. Sometimes adjustments are made after the client has the opportunity to see how the profile on paper materializes in viable candidates. The goal being to create a profile that is both on target and realistic. So, when clients commit to undertaking our candidate profile development process, it almost always leads to a more successful outcome.

As the leader of RSR’s Board Practice for almost two decades, I am proud of our track record in assisting a wide variety of clients – from start-ups and private companies to Fortune 50 corporations – in achieving their board recruiting objectives. We look forward to continuing to partner with existing and new clients and staying true to the principles that Russ established in the early days of our firm:

We continue to be a small firm with big results.

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Carter Burgess is head of the firm’s Board Recruiting practice and a senior member of the Board & CEO Services team. As practice leader, he focuses on director searches, the build-out of entire boards, comprehensive board composition analyses, multi-year succession planning strategies, and board performance assessments for companies in a broad array of industries.

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1994 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare.

Boardroom Trends & Outlook for 2024

Dear Clients and Friends,

As we reflect on 2023 and consider the possibilities for 2024, our Board Practice extends our heartfelt gratitude for your ongoing trust and support. It has been a dynamic and transformative year for the corporate landscape, and we are delighted to have navigated it alongside you. Leadership in the boardroom and C-Suite is simply indispensable.

In 2023 we initiated the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chairman of the Year Award. The Chair of the Year Award was established to celebrate the legacy of one of the search industry’s greatest leaders and icons, Russ Reynolds, who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a public company Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. As featured in Fortune magazine, the inaugural award was presented to Sarah Nash, Chair of Bath & Body Works, at our annual Directors Dinner in New York in October. Sarah demonstrated remarkable leadership juggling a spin-out of Victoria’s Secret, managing a CEO succession, handling activists as well as other business challenges all seemingly simultaneously. We were delighted to recognize her extraordinary governance and business guidance. We hope that many of you will join us for next year’s Directors Dinner and Chair of the Year Award.

Throughout 2023, the RSR Board Practice continued to act as the heart of our firm, not only assisting a wide range of clients with their critical governance related needs, but also informing and distinguishing our executive recruiting efforts. As we reflect on the coming year, we have several thoughts on governance issues that we expect to be at top of mind in boardrooms in 2024:

We look forward to continuing to assist our clients with their most important, complex, and sensitive leadership and governance concerns in 2024. We believe that RSR Partners is uniquely situated in the industry to provide unparalleled access to and insight into top-performing business leaders. In addition to our board recruiting capabilities, we offer our clients a broad set of other Board and CEO services. Should you have any important board or C-Suite leadership needs in the coming year, we would be delighted to share our insight and expertise to help you. More importantly, we look forward to our continued friendship with you all. 

Boardroom Imperative: The Search for More Board Leaders

‘Tis the season for public companies to approach prospective director candidates about joining their boards at next year’s annual meetings. Over the past several years, companies have done a good job at identifying what board member capabilities they need to address the challenges they foresee ahead. The constructive tension and pressure from stakeholder capitalism has made sure boards prioritize diversifying their composition and expertise. But like sports teams that try to build a team around a collection of star talent, boards are only as strong as their culture.

From our 30 years of working with Fortune 10 to pre-IPO boards, their effectiveness is predicated on how—and how well—their board leaders lead. The best can harness the individual talents of their fellow directors to create the necessary decision-making aperture and constructive tension that allows for the best possible decisions.  While admittedly there are individuals who have the unique and innate ability to lead other leaders, many of the most impactful board and committee chairs have developed their approach through hard work, agility, accessibility, courage, humility, and integrity.

As corporate boards continue to evaluate and add new directors, it is important for nominating committees to prioritize how candidates learn, adapt, and overcome as much as focusing on their past accomplishments. From our recent survey of public company directors, we highlight the best practices of great board leaders. We hope this will serve as a guidepost to build and enhance your own boardroom culture.

1. Establishing a Culture of Trust and Embracing Diversity of Viewpoints: The most impactful and revered board members can foster a board culture where trust and constructive discourse are paramount. This involves creating an environment where diverse opinions are valued and where challenging discussions can occur without fear of retribution. It’s about harnessing the collective wisdom of the board to make the best decisions possible. In today’s globalized business environment, embracing diversity of thought is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one.

2. Engaging Deeply in Strategy and Providing an ‘Outside View’: Successful boards are deeply engaged in various aspects such as strategy, digital integration, M&A, risk management, talent development, IT, and marketing. They contribute significantly by providing an ‘outside view’ to strategy and challenging the strategic alternatives presented by management. This requires directors to offer guidance and constructive feedback, ensuring that the company’s strategic direction benefits from diverse perspectives.  This is only possible if board members are avid and continuous learners who can connect the lessons of the past with the current trends and issues facing companies today. 

3. Objectivity and Big-Picture Mindset: A director must be objective and possess a big-picture mindset. It’s essential for board members to be future-ready and have the courage and decisiveness to make high-quality decisions on pressing strategic issues. A great director steers the board’s attention to these critical strategic issues and potential risks, balancing short-term and long-term perspectives.

The role of a director as a leader on the board is multi-dimensional and requires a blend of strategic insight, objective decision-making, courage, and the ability to foster a culture of trust and inclusivity. By embodying these qualities, directors can significantly contribute to the success and resilience of their organizations, steering them towards a sustainable and prosperous future. Boards looking to enhance their effectiveness would do well to cultivate these traits or prioritize them during the selection process, ensuring their directors are equipped to navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of our business world.

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Brett Stephens is the CEO of RSR Partners and helps lead the firm’s Board & CEO Services

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1993 by industry icon Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity-backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.

Sarah E. Nash Receives Inaugural Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award

Greenwich, Conn., October 26, 2023 RSR Partners, a leading board and executive search firm, presented the inaugural Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award to Sarah E. Nash, Chair of the board of Bath & Body Works. The award was presented to Sarah at the firm’s annual Directors Dinner in New York City on October 25, 2023.

The Chair of the Year Award was established to celebrate the legacy of one of the search industry’s greatest leaders and icons, Russ Reynolds, who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership. The award recognizes a Chair who successfully led a public company Board of Directors through significant business or governance challenges. The winner of this year’s award was chosen from more than 30 nominations by an independent selection committee comprised of renowned experts in their fields, including Mikaela Boyd, Nik Deogun, Ed Kangas, Kim Lew, Christie Smith, and Brett Stephens.

“Sarah led the Bath & Body Works board through an incredible governance and business transformation,” said Kim Lew, a member of the selection committee. “Her accomplishments include leading the spin-off of Victoria’s Secret; collaborating with the nominating and governance committee on the recruitment of exceptional and highly diverse talent to the board of Bath & Body Works and the new board of Victoria’s Secret; navigating a successful CEO transition and selection process; and building a constructive path forward after an activist campaign. The leadership and integrity exhibited by Sarah is an example of how important board leadership is during times of turbulence. She is very worthy of this award.”

“This award recognizes Sarah’s extraordinary leadership, dedication and service to Bath & Body Works over the past few years,” said Steve Steinour, Chair of the Bath & Body Works Audit Committee. “Sarah served as Bath & Body Works’ Interim CEO with very short notice, where she played a pivotal role in the company’s transformation with its spin-off of Victoria’s Secret. During her tenure, Sarah has exemplified strong business acumen including leading a successful shareholder derivative settlement and navigating a complex supply chain reset with partners. She has exemplary people management skills such as overseeing multiple chief executive officer transitions, recruitment efforts for eight board members, and leading the company during the onset of COVID. We are grateful for her contributions and leadership since her assumption of the role of chair in May 2020.”   

“I’m incredibly proud of my fellow directors and the leadership team at Bath & Body Works,” stated Sarah. “They have shown irrefutable dedication to the vision we all share for this company. Their input and support throughout this past year was invaluable, and we have much to look forward to. I am also grateful to be recognized by an award that pays tribute to Russ, his legacy, and his impact on how board leadership is viewed and valued.”

“Sarah’s terrific,” commented Russ. “She possesses the characteristics of a great leader. She is objective, open to advice, decisive, and a good communicator. She operates with integrity and puts the company’s and others’ needs ahead of her own. I also started my career at JP Morgan, so I was particularly thrilled to see we share a fondness for finance and banking. I look forward to seeing how Sarah develops as a board leader and continuing to celebrate her achievements.”

About Russell S. Reynolds, Jr.

Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. (“Russ”) is an American business executive, author, and founder of two of the search industry’s most prominent firms. Considered one of the pioneers of the executive search and board recruiting profession, Russ has counseled the boards and CEOs of many of the world’s leading companies over the past 50 years. In 1969, he founded Russell Reynolds Associates, which soon became one of the world’s foremost international executive recruiting firms. Russ sold his interest in the firm in 1993. In 1994, Russ founded the Directorship Group, later named RSR Partners, where he served as Founder and Chairman until 2022.

About Sarah E. Nash

Sarah E. Nash has served as Chair of the board of Bath & Body Works, Inc. since January 28, 2023. She served as Executive Chair of Bath & Body Works, Inc. from February 2022 to January 2023 and as the Interim Chief Executive Officer from May to November 2022. Prior to being appointed Executive Chair, she served as Chair of the board between May 2020 and February 2022 after having joined the board as an independent director in May 2019. Sarah is also Chief Executive Officer and owner of privately held Novagard Solutions, an innovator and manufacturer of silicone sealants and coatings and hybrid and foam solutions for the Building Systems, Electronics, EV and Battery and Industrial and Transportation markets.

Sarah spent nearly 30 years in investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (and predecessor companies), a financial services firm, retiring as Vice Chairman of Global Investment Banking in July 2005. She served on the board of directors of Knoll, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of lifestyle and workplace furnishing, textiles and fine leathers, from 2006 through its acquisition by Herman Miller, Inc. in 2021 and privately held Irving Oil Company through March 2022.

Sarah currently serves on the boards of directors of Blackbaud, Inc., a software company providing technology solutions for the not-for-profit industry, and privately held HBD Industries, Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of general purpose and application-engineered industrial products. Sarah is Trustee of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Panama and the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She also served as a member of the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution through 2022. Sarah holds a BA in political science from Vassar College.

About the Chair of the Year Award

RSR Partners announced the establishment of the Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. Chair of the Year Award in October of 2022. The award will annually recognize the Chair of a public company’s Board of Directors that has successfully led the board through significant business or governance challenges. The award celebrates the legacy of Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. (“Russ”), who has spent more than 50 years advising boards and CEOs on leadership and governance.

To be eligible for the award, a nominee must serve as a Chair of a board of directors at a U.S. public company with revenue or market cap greater than $1 billion. The nomination period takes place from August through September. The winner of the award will be chosen by an independent committee comprised of renowned experts in the areas of strategy, finance, strategic communications, shareholder activism defense, investment management, human capital consulting, and corporate governance. This year’s committee included:

More information about the award can be found at: www.chairoftheyearaward.com.

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Contacts
Lindsay Griesmeyer
+1 (203) 618-7076
media@rsrpartners.com