Directors and Boards interviews one of our favorite directors, Betsy Atkins, about joining the board with two other women following pervasive sexual harassment accusations that led to replacing the CEO.
D&B: What are the “fresh and valuable perspectives” — as Wynn’s chairman D. Boone Wayson stated — you think you can bring to the board?
Atkins: I would really hope that my background as a tech entrepreneur and experience with digital transformation, AI, machine learning, mobile enablement, marketing automation, branding and advanced technology such as AR/VR would be a complimentary perspective to others around the table. Additionally, having served as governance chair at the largest food and beverage company, Darden, where we took them from worst in class to best in class (according to ISS) in a year might also be a useful perspective. The other viewpoint I hope to bring comes from having been governance chair at Chico’s where we focused on ecommerce and seamless Omni channel consumer experience. The full breadth of my corporate governance learnings come from having served on 25 public boards.
D&B: Do you see this as a “new era” for Wynn? How so?
Atkins: I truly believe Wynn is committed at all levels from the board through top management to building on their strong service culture and refreshing it with a focus on diversity, gender sensitivity (including training and equal pay), and maximization of the female talent pool. The reason I believe this is more than lip service is that Wynn has taken the step of establishing a culture and community department which will encompass and further the company’s efforts on leadership and development, diversity and inclusion, community engagement and gender equality. This effort includes a women’s leadership forum where the four Wynn female directors, along with the Wynn leadership team, will have regular town halls, events, and fireside chats to promote engagement and advancement of the female employee base. Lastly, CEO Matt Maddox, within 60 days of assuming his role, completed a comprehensive learning and listening tour to meet with employees to get their views and communicate the commitment to enhancing the culture to build on the talent of the 25k employees with a renaissance of cultural renewal and sensitivity.
D&B: What needs to happen at Wynn to change the culture and what will be the board’s role in the transformation? Do you have a plan? If so, can you share some details?
Atkins: The first step from the board perspective is for special committee chair, Pat Mulroy, to complete the incredibly thorough and comprehensive investigation that she is leading with Gibson Dunn. The scope, the breadth and the depth of this investigation is to identify areas in the company’s culture for focus, retraining, and augmentation, if needed. However, the cultural tone at the top set by the board is fully supportive of all of the programs that are already being rolled out — the CEO listening tour, the efforts of the culture, and community department to begin specialized training, and the woman’s leadership forum, to name a few.
D&B: Whenever sexual harassment issues surface at companies, there is often a move to bring women in. Some see it as no more than tokenism. How do you fight that perception?
Atkins: I think bringing in three directors voluntarily and doing almost a 30% board refresh is a pretty remarkable testament that this is not tokenism. Very few boards that I am aware of have done a 30% refreshment voluntarily. That is a very large amount of new people to onboard, train and get productively into committees, etc.
D&B: Are there particular challenges for a board when the CEO of a company steps down as a result of sexual misconduct allegations? How do you build trust in leadership at an organization on the heels of that?
Atkins: Organizations are rattled when they have an abrupt change of leadership for any reason and certainly sexual harassment is emotionally charged. The way to stabilize an organization is for the CEO to be very visible and fortunately Matt had been well known and esteemed throughout the company and has been the identified CEO successor for a long time. CEO Maddox’s reaction demonstrates how seriously he considered the criticality of company culture and tone at the top. His in-person, front-and-center engagement with all of the employees, meeting all of them in small- and medium-sized groups to hear their concerns and share the vision for the company as a continued leader in the premium experiential hospitality and gaming sector has gone a long way to stabilizing, energizing and reinvigorating the organization worldwide.
We highly recommend Atkins’ book, Behind Boardroom Doors: Lessons of a Corporate Director, published by Miniver Press, the publishing company founded by VEA Vice Chair Nell Minow.