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.

Asset Management Year-End Newsletter

Grateful. Thankful. Optimistic.

Given the turmoil in the world around us, we can’t help but be more reflective and thankful at this time of year. We are grateful for family and the relationships in our lives. We are thankful for our wonderful clients and those candidates with whom we have partnered. We are optimistic about the new year ahead of us.

As another successful year in search concludes and we look back on 2023, we are sharing below some observations made during the course of our work. We always welcome a conversation with you whether it’s a quick hello or to discuss any specific needs of your organization. Our team looks forward to staying in touch in 2024!

ENDOWMENTS, FOUNDATIONS, AND OCIOs

FAMILY OFFICES

MUTUAL FUND BOARDS

OPERATIONS

INVESTMENT/WEALTH MANAGEMENT

REPRESENTATIVE SEARCH WORK

Independent Trustees
for $150B Mutual Fund Board
Executive Chairman
for $30B OCIO
CIO
for $1B Endowment
COO
for $14B Endowment
President
for Family Office for a Technology Billionaire
Managing Director, Public Investments
for $3.5B Foundation
Director of Portfolio Analytics
for $8B Endowment
CIO
for a $3B Foundation
Senior Investment Manager, Private Investments
for $25B Endowment
Managing Director, Private Investments
for $4B Foundation
Independent Trustees
for $450B Mutual Fund Board
Managing Director of Public Investments
for a Private Investment Fund/Family Office
CFO
for Family Office for a Technology Billionaire
Director of Healthcare Investing
for $8B Endowment
Head of Client Portfolio Management
for $50B Private Bank/wealth manager
Director of Finance
for Family Office for a Private Equity Firm Founder
Investment Officer
for $50B Wealth Manager
Independent Trustee
for $100B Mutual Fund Board
Investment Director – Operations
for $8B Foundation
Co-Head of Research
for $50B Wealth Manager
Director of Operational Due Diligence
for $20B Foundation
Heads of Marketing and of National Accounts
for a $1T+ Global Asset Manager
Principal
for a $11B Secondary Private Equity Firm
CIO
for Multi-Billion-Dollar Family Office

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.

The Evolving Boardroom: Finding the Right Diverse Candidates

A continual challenge we have helped our clients address over the years is how best to populate boards with diverse directors. In fact, 86% of all of our board placements over the past two years have either been gender or ethnically diverse. Data shows that diverse boards with the right combination of relevant skills and experience outperform more homogenous ones. As such, boards often overlay their diversity objectives on top of the more traditional objectives, such as requiring that the director possess the relevant skills, experiences, perspectives, and judgment needed to be successful. Achieving all these objectives simultaneously can often prove difficult and is a short-term solution that, if not managed correctly, can have a devasting impact on board performance in the long-term. Instead, identifying and cultivating relationships with potential candidates that may not be ready to join a board in the immediate term, but have the potential to serve in several years, can increase a board’s ability to achieve these objectives, ensure culture, and remain viable for many years to come. Yet, it requires discipline and a commitment to a strategic, long-term vision.

Varying Viewpoints on Diversity

As a starting place, it is helpful for directors to ascertain what they should take into account when considering how to add diversity to their ranks. A common request from boards is to find the “best candidate,” which often means the candidate that checks all the boxes at the same time – diversity and the specific skills and experiences needed – even if there is a paucity of that candidate type in their target companies and industries. Boards can broaden their definition of diversity by considering and understanding the culture and effectiveness of the current board. In addition, diversity should also reflect the board’s customers, employees, and communities. Best practice is for boards to consider what the “best candidate” is right now and also give significant thought to what the “best candidate” is in the future – for the board and the organization. Perhaps one of the criteria that seems critical right now can be postponed until another board seat becomes available. Lastly, some directors harbor concerns that they won’t have a place under a more DEI-focused paradigm, especially those with socially advantaged identities. This can create additional hurdles, however, exploring the data that demonstrates that diversity of identity leads to diversity of thought, and in turn leads to productive discussions and better outcomes, can help expand viewpoints on the importance of diversity in the boardroom.

Board Diversity and Results

According to ISS, there has been continued improvement in racial and ethnic board diversity. Approximately 86% of Russell 3000 Index companies, excluding the S&P 500, and 99% of S&P 500 companies have at least one racially/ethnically diverse board member. Additionally, nearly all industry sectors showed increased racial/ethnic board diversity year-over-year.

A new study from KPMG specifically referencing African Americans (AA) on boards states while they are still underrepresented in the boardrooms of public Fortune 1000 companies, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of these companies with at least one AA in the boardroom. Just over three-quarters (76%) of the companies studied had at least one AA director as of September 2022, compared to only 61% in 2020. However, it is still uncommon for public F1000 companies to have multiple AA directors; less than a quarter (22%) of these companies had more than one AA serving on their board. Larger companies are likely to have more AA directors than smaller companies. For the first time, all of the largest US public companies on the F100 list have at least one AA director. In fact, nearly one in ten (9%) of these companies have three or more AA on the board.

Age diversity is another factor to consider. In 2021, BoardReady released a report showing companies whose median director age was 55 or less had 10.1% YoY revenue growth compared to companies whose median director age was 65 or more which had -7.7% YoY revenue growth. That same report showed companies with over 30% of board seats held by women outperformed their less gender-diverse counterparts in 11 out of the top 15 S&P500 sectors. In addition, companies should look at geographic diversity as well as global experience.

2023 Diversity Voting Policies

ISS and Glass Lewis will generally recommend a vote against the nominating committee chair unless the following guidelines are met:

Universal Proxy Card

With the UPC, shareholders will have a greater say on the board’s composition as they can more readily compare the board’s nominees with the activist slate and focus on existing director performance, skills, experience, and diversity gaps. See this link to an RSR article on the UPC.

Succession Planning Process

There are multiple ways to address a lack of diversity in the boardroom, but all of them require continuous attention – a board should not stop seeking diversity once they have achieved their immediate “target.” Ideally, boards should seek to surpass the minimum requirement and help set the stage for the future, both within their own organization and to be a leader in the industry. Some possible approaches to improve boardroom diversity include:

How RSR Can Help with Director Searches

Our Board and CEO Services team partners with CEOs and boards to understand issues, assess opportunities, and strategically advise to ensure sustainable growth strategies are optimized. We continue to complete diversity assignments for a wide variety of companies, from small private family companies to Fortune 500s. Again, in 2021 and 2022, 86% of our board placements were either gender and/or ethnically diverse. We are proud to play a role in this important imperative, and excited for our clients who are making progress in diversity.

Our team leverages RSR Partners’ renowned experience in corporate governance with our industry and human capital consulting expertise to locate the best candidates. RSR Partners can assist your board with:

We would love to hear your perspective on the evolution of board diversity and assist you in achieving your board’s diversity goals. 

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Greg Lau leads RSR’s Board Advisory practice, Carter Burgess leads the Board Recruiting practice, and Eric Douglas Keene is a Managing Director in the firm’s Board & CEO Services practice at RSR Partners.

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. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.