June 17, 2024

Canada’s director community comes together at the annual ICD National Director Conference

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By Jeff Buckstein

Early in June, more than 500 directors gathered in Toronto to hear how board confidence is a key element for success when faced with an unprecedented degree of uncertainty, change and risk.

Major changes, including a series of threatening ‘existential crises’ involving political risk, climate change and artificial intelligence, have impacted every part of business, and society globally. "We are in a time of poly-crises on all three of those fronts,” said Rahul Bhardwaj, President, and CEO of the ICD, in his opening remarks. The goal of the Conference was to provide directors with insight and perspectives to help them navigate these fronts.

“AI certainly has the power to spell extinction for companies that don’t get on board with it in the context of their culture, strategy and risk,” warned Bhardwaj.

Moreover, he added, the rate of change has shifted into warp speed, where the negative consequences emanating from boards acting too slowly or making the wrong choice can become brutally clear. And while it is logical to ask what directors can do to navigate a future that can’t be foreseen, with risks that are difficult to understand, directors need in to lean in and guide their organizations with confidence.

“Let’s build on the trust the world has in Canada’s corporate leaders and let’s use our confidence not only as a skill but a national strategy,” stressed Bhardwaj. Throughout the Conference, attendees heard from more than 35 speakers covering critical issues confronting today’s boards, including:

Stephen Poloz delivered a keynote address on how boards can adapt and lead in turbulent, uncertain times. Poloz, author of the 2022 book The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the world can adapt to a riskier future, talked about how the board has a pivotal leadership role in meeting the challenges presented by today’s volatile times, and turning them into opportunities for value creation.

Gerald Butts, the Vice Chair, and senior advisor with Eurasia Group provided a challenge to the audience on how prepared boards are-or are not, amidst growing and complex geopolitical risk.

A new feature of the 2024 Conference was breakout sessions that allowed members to network and meet other directors and listen to and participate in discussions covering a broad range of topics of importance and personal interest.

Key topics covered in morning and afternoon breakout sessions gave attendees insight from a director's lens:

  • Canada’s Competitive Landscape: Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Opportunities
  • The Board Management Nexus - Working Together for Success
  • The Power of Transparency and Trust in a Multi-Stakeholder and Rights Holder Systems
  • International Sustainability Standards Board- Your Questions Answered
  • Culture, Performance and Compensation- A Subtle Balancing Act
  • How are the Essentials of Talent Management and CEO Succession Planning Changing?
A highly anticipated session focused on how boards can address the AI impact providing new insights on how directors can harness AI to improve their corporate governance and decision-making, as well as to leverage their efficiency and data management for strategic advantage.

The closing plenary tackled the topic of what defines a high-performing board in the next decade, where agility is vital in the face of increasing competitiveness across sectors.

In addition to the complex technical issues faced by directors, panelists at the various sessions addressed some of the key personal skills that directors need to make strategic decisions in a fast-changing world. These include self-discipline, humility, empathy, the ability to function as a team and to have a strong two-way dialogue with management.

Attendees of the 2024 ICD National Director Conference benefited from the breadth and depth of the topics of interest and importance to contemporary directors, and left the Conference better equipped and, in line with this year’s theme, more confident than ever that they will be able to meet the challenges of the role today and into the future.

It was announced that the 2025 ICD National Director Conference will be in Edmonton, on June 3.

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