ARCHIVE: DIRECTORS COLLEGE INTERVIEW . . .
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A Leading Voice for Strong Governance: Andy Poprawa
May 1, 2009
Andy Poprawa is the 2009 winner of the Gil Bennett Gold Standard Award presented by The Directors College, Canada’s university-accredited director education program. The award is presented annually to a graduate of The Directors College who demonstrates dedication to raising the bar for professional standards in corporate governance.
Mr. Poprawa has 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. Since 1993, he has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Ontario, the provincial agency whose mandate is to protect funds placed on deposit with Ontario’s 200 credit unions and caisses populaires.
InsideEdge: At this point in your very successful career, what made you decide to take a course in director education?
Andy Poprawa: There were a number of reasons. First, I have always had a keen interest in governance. I have come to believe over the years that education is the key to continuous improvement in governance in all organizations. Throughout my career, I have seen a number of examples of poor governance, which ultimately led to all kinds of negative outcomes for various entities. In my experience, the number one reason for poor governance was that directors did not know what they should be doing and how they should do it. Sitting on a number of boards over the years, I have sometimes asked myself these same questions: Do I know what I’m doing? Am I doing it well? So to improve my own knowledge in this area, taking a director education program seemed like the right thing to do.
Second, timing is important. To be a valuable director, I think most people would agree, you need to have a certain level of experience. That experience usually, but not always, comes in the middle of or perhaps later in your career. When I started the program, I had been in the business world for about 30 years, and it seemed to me that it was a good time to complement that experience with some formal training.
I have come to believe over the years that education is the key to continuous improvement in governance in all organizations.
Third, one of the key responsibilities of our corporation is setting the governance standards for the cooperative financial institutions that we insure and regulate. An important element of those standards requires institutions to establish policies that prescribe director training and education. So it seems to me that if one has that kind of responsibility, it falls to one to practise what one preaches. When a director of one of our institutions complains that taking director training is onerous, I tell them that if I can do it, they can too.
Finally, I thought taking the program was a great way to rejuvenate myself and experience new learnings. Many people in my age group have not taken a serious program since our professional training or post-graduate studies, so it is a great way to challenge ourselves.
InsideEdge: Why did you select The Directors College? Based on your personal experience, would you recommend this program to other CEOs and senior leaders?
Andy Poprawa: I was very lucky because I had the opportunity to become involved in The Directors College as a role player in the Board Simulation Module. Participating in the simulation provided me with an opportunity to meet almost all of the program’s participants over the past few years. I was very impressed with the quality of the participants and the excellent faculty, and with their approach to learning and their commitment to the program. It led me to enrol in the program as soon as there was a vacancy.
The behaviour of directors in the boardroom can significantly impact the quality of an organization’s governance.
I would definitely recommend this program to anyone in a senior leadership role in any type of organization, be it private, public, not-for-profit, or public sector. As a CEO, I now understand better what boards need to function well: the types of policies, board and committee mandates, various types of information, and so on. There is no question that taking the program has helped our corporation operate more effectively.
InsideEdge: As you worked through the program modules, what was your most significant learning, and what lessons have you already applied in your day-to-day business?
Andy Poprawa: One of the things that I love about the program is that there is a well-designed and intellectually sound framework that neatly fits everything you wanted to know about governance into a series of self-contained modules. Each one is unique, but all they fit together nicely in a package.
The most significant learning for me was that the behaviour of directors in the boardroom can significantly impact the quality of an organization’s governance. Examples of such behaviour include ensuring that all directors have the opportunity to speak on an issue; asking probing questions without offending management; having the courage to disagree on an issue or with a point of view without being aggressive or difficult; encouraging dialogue rather than debate; and supporting another director’s position on an issue. I have applied all these lessons on a regular basis since completing the program, and I know my fellow directors would agree that our board meetings and other activities have benefited from these learnings.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Deposit Insurance Corporation of Ontario