How to Talk to the Board of Directors
Experts show how to sharpen six key skills for the future CSO
By Todd Datz
June 01, 2004 — CSO — Some of today's CSOs never stand before their boards of directors. But, hey, that could change after your next external audit. And while addressing the board may not quite be like arguing a case before the Supreme Court, you'll still want to make the most of your access. So hearken to David Burrill, head of group security at British American Tobacco (BAT). Burrill has been reporting to the BAT board since he joined the company in 1992.
Burrill speaks to his company's board about four times a year. He also meets with different members of the board (for example, Chief Executive Paul Adams) on an as-needed basis. He generally provides overall security status updates from BAT's operations around the world. If there's a crisis, he might appear before the board once a week for as long as the crisis lasts (Burrill chairs the company's crisis management committee).
If he chooses to submit preliminary paperwork, it's usually a page, never more than three, stating the topic and background information. But Burrill won't simply turn in a written report. "I give an oral brief. If I stick to the written one, it means I'm not getting formal exposure to the board and I'm not likely to pick up questions they raise in person. I need that interface with them as a corporate body," he says, pointing out the importance of interpersonal connection. Effectively communicating with the board also reinforces the image of the head of security as an important player in the business. "I tend to talk to them as if I'm one of them," he says, adding that he doesn't do a lot of PowerPoint presentations.
Burrill speaks proudly of a presentation he gave to the board last year. In 2003, he undertook a megatask
Read more about executive communication in CSOonline's Executive Communication section.
Other stories by Todd Datz