Hi everyone. A few weeks ago I had the honor of receiving a very prestigious Corporate Director’s Forum award for Board Director of the Year. The award is given each year to Board Directors who are nominated in 6 categories (corporate governance, enhancement of economic value, companies in transition, corporate citizenship, not for profit governance and lifetime achievement). The awards are presented at a gala dinner; I received my award at a lovely event in San Diego on September 14th attended by more than 500 people. I have been asked by multiple people to send them a copy of my speech as it seemed to be pretty popular. Thus, I decided to publish it below.
The Corporate Directors Forum event is quite a big production and it has a theme every year. This year’s theme was The Right Stuff, the 1983 movie about the original US Mercury 7 astronauts. It’s a great movie that covers the history of the U.S. Space program and the wild and crazy pilots that became the first astronauts. The event had all sorts of movie and NASA footage and cool space gear in the room to bring the theme alive. Very Hollywood.
As I was re-familiarizing myself with The Right Stuff as I wrote my speech, I came across a great exchange in the movie between two of the astronauts that is quite appropriate to my field of venture capital:
Anyway, what became the quotable line of the night at the awards dinner ended up coming from my speech, which was entertaining for me and apparently others (it is now the title of this post). I have heard it echoed back to me 100 times since that night, so I guess I have coined a phrase right up there with “Where’s the Beef?” and “Dy-No-Mite!” My 15 minutes of fame…check! In response to popular demand, here is the text of the speech below. _______________________________________
Hi, I’m Lisa Suennen. I want to thank the Corporate Directors Forum for this award. I am honored to be in such esteemed company with the other honorees.
As you know, I spend all my time working with emerging companies that are much smaller than those run by the other honorees tonight. The fact that my award is for a Director of a “company in transition” is somewhat amusing to me, as I have yet to find a young private company that is not in transition 24-7.
I especially like the theme of this event: The Right Stuff. It brings to mind how being on the Board of a young company can rapidly veer from shooting skyward like a rocket to “Houston we have a problem.” Every young company, in its drive towards success, finds out at one time or another that gravity is a bitch.
A board is very much like a team of astronauts. The mission’s success and the life or death of each board members’ career depends on each of them doing their part and staying on task.
You can’t be rattled by the asteroids that threaten the ship and you always have to be ready to take one more orbit, even when you think you should be landing already.
You have to constantly check in to ensure that your original route to success is good and true and that you are not simply following the stars in your eyes.
What I know for sure is that every company will veer off course at one time or another and face into a black hole. Not one company that has been a great success in Psilos’ portfolio has gotten there without embarking on a suicide mission at least once. It is in those times, when companies need to take a step back and re-set their course, that the quality of the Board is most important.
When it works well, Board members are those who can set aside their personal interests, think about what’s best for the company, sublimate their (often expansive) egos to pick the best ideas regardless of their source, and appreciate each others’ strengths while keeping a good sense of humor in the face of adversity.
When a Board comes together and perseveres through trying times, great partnerships and friendships are forged. I have been lucky to be on the positive end of that journey several times. I am confident that Patient Safe Solutions will offer me another such opportunity.
Exiting a company well is a wonderful experience, but it is equally wonderful to feel appreciated by colleagues you respect and admire, as in this circumstance, and to know you were a part of a crew that got the ship flying in the right direction. So thanks to all you guys at Patient Safe Solutions, especially CEO Jim Sweeney, for being great colleagues and for nominating me for this award.
I also want to thank my family for always supporting me in my career and for being here for me tonight.
Thank you again for the honor of this award.
FYI to readers: Below is a photo from the event; the other awardees (from left to right) were Jay Flatley, President & CEO of Illumina; Darlene Shiley, Director UC San Diego; Gary Pace, Lead Director of ResMed; Me; Alexis Lukianov, Chairman & CEO of Nuvasive; and Adam Jacobs, (who accepted for his grandfather, Irwin Jacobs, Founder and Chairman, Qualcomm); you can read all of their backgrounds by clicking HERE