Presented in partnership with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Utah Chapter, the annual Outstanding Directors Awards celebrates our state’s most engaged and effective board members—individuals who exemplify excellence in corporate governance while guiding companies to develop long-term strategies, enhance their performance and mitigate risk.
This year’s slate of honorees are shining examples of NACD’s Standards of Director Professionalism, exhibiting integrity, informed judgment and high performance standards. In publicly held companies, privately owned companies and nonprofit organizations alike, corporate directors contribute a unique perspective and wisdom based on experience to the organizations they serve.
– Lifetime Achievement –
Andersen Alumni Professor of Accounting and a Wheatley Fellow at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University
Director, SkyWest, Inc. | Director, Red Hat, Inc. | Chair, Cypress SemiConductor | Director, DMBA | Director, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies
After a decades-long career as a professor at the likes of Brigham Young University, Stanford University and the University of Illinois, Steve Albrecht knows a thing or two about teaching. But it’s his love of learning that has helped him most in the nine boards he has served on during his career.
“Every board I’m on, it’s like being in a room with the smartest people I’ve ever met and learning from them. I’m a consummate learner. I don’t think I know all the answers—I definitely don’t know all the answers,” he says. “But for me that opportunity to sit with really smart people … it’s like being in the most engaging class I’ve ever sat in.”
Albrecht has no shortage of expertise of his own. In addition to his teaching, he has consulted with roughly 200 companies and served as an expert witness in 37 of the biggest fraud cases in the country, including Enron. He is a founder of the Austin-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, which now boasts more than 80,000 members and a headquarters building named after him. An anonymous donor was so impressed with Albrecht’s teaching that they gave an endowment to BYU for the W. Steve Albrecht Professorship, as well as the LeAnn Albrecht Fellowship, named after his wife.
While expertise is important, the culture of a board can be as important as that of the company as a whole, he says, and boards do better when every member is willing to listen, learn and collaborate.
“It’s about culture and groupwork and certain personal skills, but it’s also about knowledge and staying current,” says Albrecht. “You just have to be a good businessperson and be willing to listen. Too many people have to be the smartest person in the room, and that doesn’t make a good board member.”
Two other vital qualities are integrity and courage, he says. Early into his service on one board, those two qualities were needed when he felt strongly the way the company was accounting for revenue should be changed. Seventeen lawsuits were filed against the business, including some that named him personally. But when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approached the company and said they had been watching them because of their revenue accounting practices, Albrecht’s decision was shown to have saved the company some trouble down the line.
In his first meeting with another board, Albrecht noted the CEO’s salary was far too high, and moved to cut it in half. He and the CEO later became close friends, he says, because of the way he was able to manage the conflict. “You can disagree but not be disagreeable, and still try to have the right influence,” Albrecht says.
His wealth of knowledge and experience and the measured, respectful way he approaches problems makes him valuable on the board, says Chip Childs, president and CEO of SkyWest Inc., one of the companies on whose board Albrecht currently sits.
“He’s extremely thorough and has a sense of wide-ranging wisdom … that he brings to our board,” Childs says. “And that leadership style he has is not only caring for the stakeholders we have but making sure we have a tremendous amount of integrity in everything that we do—that we’re completely transparent, that we’re acting in the best interest and very forthright with all the stakeholders. Having that and knowing that’s Steve’s main quality on our board helps set a very fundamental baseline for everything we do.”
– Large Public Company –
When you make a mistake, use it to learn and get better. Keep on learning, in every way you can, no matter what you’ve already accomplished. Using that strategy might help you accomplish as much as Nolan Karras has in his career thus far—and that’s a great deal.
“I probably learn more by my mistakes than I learn by my successes,” says Karras with a smile. “In a board, you’re supposed to have your nose in and your fingers out. That distinction is tough to keep sometimes. I think my contribution can be because I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve learned from them.”
And if Karras, the chairman and CEO of The Karras Company, Inc., has learned from his mistakes, he’s certainly learned well. Karras served on the boards of Utah Power and Light, Beneficial Life, Pacificorp and Scottish Power, along with the University of Utah Hospital board and as board of trustees chair for Weber State University. Karras was elected to the Utah Legislature in 1981, where he served until 1990, and became majority leader and speaker. He served as Gov. Michael Leavitt’s representative on the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for seven years.
In addition to his service on the Merit Medical board, Karras is currently a Weber State University trustee and is on the board of WSU’s Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service.
Even with such a storied career, Karras has not rested on his laurels, nor does he feel he has learned enough. He says being effective on a board depends on knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet, but that role is harder to learn than one might expect. Fred Lampropoulos, founder, chairman and CEO of Merit Medical Systems, says there is an honest give-and-take with Karras that makes others trust his advice.
“He really is the smartest guy in the room, but he never acts that way. If he doesn’t know something, he’ll say ‘I’ll look into it.’ And he’ll do the research. He’ll come back,” says Lampropoulos. “He’s humble. He’s bright. He’s committed. You can do all those other things, but if you’re not committed and you don’t show up … what good is it? It’s not just the talk. He does the walk.”
Lampropoulos says Karras is always dialed in, bringing intellect, compassion and even humor (which Lampropoulos classifies as “very accountant”) to his role. For Karras, it’s the opportunity to learn from others and to bring that knowledge back to help other businesses succeed that keeps him engaged.
“It’s been a tremendous experience to be able to observe other people running their business. It’s been very helpful to me then to be able to take that back into my own business, or to be able to be assisting clients,” he says. “I like interaction with people. That’s the highlight. Getting to know people and serving with them and learning their strengths and trying to utilize their strengths. It’s an intellectual challenge.”
– Small Public Company –
When Todd Heiner graduated from Utah State University in 1985, there were only 350,000 people in the whole United States with some kind of portable mobile device. That was the fledgling industry Heiner decided to make his career in 31 years ago. And while Heiner may not have foreseen that 95 percent of Americans would own a cell phone today, he dove into the wireless industry and learned all he could from it.
After 20 years of working on the corporate side of the industry, Heiner decided to strike out on his own. Eleven years ago, he founded Express Locations, a branded partner for T-Mobile. His company now has 140 locations in 10 western states, with nearly 1,400 employees. Just last year, Express Locations hit the milestone of $100 million in revenue.
Nearly five years ago, Heiner joined ZAGG Inc’s board of directors—a move that has greatly enriched the company and helped guide it through its rapid growth phase, according to ZAGG CEO Randy Hales. Heiner’s experience, along with his “humility and calm demeanor,” has been invaluable, he says.
“Todd is the board member who has the greatest amount of industry experience. He is able to bring perspective into the boardroom that nobody else has or can bring,” says Hales. “He also is a very entrepreneurial-minded individual. As the company has grown rapidly over the last several years, that entrepreneurial perspective has paid big dividends to us on the board. Todd is a great strategic thinker. He has had the ability to see around corners that we wouldn’t have.”
For Heiner, serving on a board has become more absorbing than the position might have been in the past. Whereas once board members would meet quarterly to meet with executives, these days the role is far more active, he says.
“You take a more active role in terms of spending time outside of board meetings at events, or at the office, with the executives. You’re asking questions and becoming more familiar with the business rather than coming in as a figurehead once a quarter and having a little input in that point,” says Heiner.
It’s that active role, though, that Heiner enjoys. Listening to the diverse opinions of the other board members allows him to return to his own business and make his own changes.
“I’ve learned that high-performing companies view dissent and debate as necessary and, really, an obligation. It’s better that you’re challenging the status quo than to accept what’s going on within the business,” says Heiner. “There should be no topic that’s taboo or un-discussable. You should take every topic during the board meeting and meet it head on and not avoid it. You’re not there to just support everything that’s going on. You certainly want to be an advocate and helping, but I think a board member is the most effective when they can challenge the status quo and bring some value added to the discussion.”
– Private Company –
One reason Lane Summerhays is such an effective board member for WCF Insurance is that he served as its CEO for roughly 16 years. He joined the company in 1992 and retired in 2008 to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon his return, he was quickly invited to join the WCF board.
“For me, having Lane on the board has been great, because Lane’s been the CEO. Lane knows what kind of challenges a CEO can have,” says Ray Pickup, president and CEO of WCF Insurance. “Lane really knows our business in the kind of detail that you could only know it if you had been CEO.”
Serving as a board member is a distinctly different role from CEO, however, and Summerhays says the task requires integrity, specific expertise and the ability to work with people to find consensus. Corporate governance and risk management have become deeply important for boards, which have seen a growing role for audit committees. He adds that succession planning is also top of mind for boards.
“One of the unique challenges, particularly in Utah, is it seems that most of our companies have aged at kind of the same time. And there are a lot of executives who are over 55 throughout Utah, and so succession planning, and trying to drive a culture of success into a new generation of management, is a significant challenge for a lot of companies today,” says Summerhays. “You’ve got to make sure you keep a management team in place that values culture and will perpetuate it.”
Pickup says Summerhays has been instrumental in developing WCF’s culture and working to ensure it lasts. “Lane has a lot of empathy and compassion for people and the difficulties they have in their lives. And in the business we’re in, where we’re taking care of people, we’re serving people—we’re an insurance company, but we’re really in the people business. … Lane has always encouraged our employees to do the right thing. Whether it’s for a policy holder or an injured worker, we do the right thing. And that permeates our company,” says Pickup. “It’s a culture that Lane created, and I’ve just tried to perpetuate it and not mess it up.”
Pickup notes that WCF Insurance is owned by its policy holders, and “acting in the best interest in our policyholders is totally consistent with us being successful as a company.”
By that measure, Summerhays has overseen tremendous success for WCF Insurance. “A company that was pretty broken [when I became CEO] has generated $1.2 billion in profits that have generated $800 million of surplus to the company, and we’ve been able to return $400 million back to our policy holders in dividends while driving the price of workers compensation insurance down for all Utah employers,” he says.
In addition to his board service with WCF Insurance, Summerhays serves on the boards of Continental Bank and MedOne Capital. He is also president of the Days of ’47. Summerhays says he enjoys tackling the new business challenges that board service puts on his plate—and seeing the results of the decisions that are made at the board level. “When you bring a group of people together with different backgrounds and different strengths, and you blend those strengths together with the management team and you’re all on the same page, it’s amazing what can be done.”
– Nonprofit –
Paula Green Johnson
Executive Committee and Board Member, United Way of Salt Lake | Chair, Community Advisory Board, YWCA Utah | Chair, YWCA USA | Executive Committee and Board Member, Ronald McDonald House of the Intermountain Area
Paula Green Johnson says she is drawn to organizations that work to empower women, eliminate racism and fight for social justice. “That’s what draws me first and foremost, is those ideas,” she says. “They’re very important in my life; they have been since I was a young girl.”
Johnson learned those values at the side of her parents while she worked with them in the family grocery store. “In addition to learning a very strong work ethic and business principles, they also taught me that all people deserve respect and sometimes people need help, and I was in a position where I could begin to help others,” she says.
Johnson has been on the board of United Way of Salt Lake since 2008. She first became involved with the organization through its Women United initiative, which brings together female philanthropists to strategize and advocate around specific causes. From there, she was drawn into board service for the organization, where she is currently a member of the executive committee and chairs the governance and ethics committee. Johnson has also played a role at the national level, serving on United Way Worldwide’s National Women’s Leadership Council from 2010 through 2016.
Johnson is also deeply involved in the YWCA at both the local and national level, and is currently chair of YWCA USA. “The YWCA USA is responsible to ensure that the 222 associations that we have in the United States are successful in their communities,” she explains.
As a board member, Johnson is notable for her courage, compassion and authenticity, says Bill Crim, president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake. “United Way of Salt Lake has been through this 10-year transformation of our organization, where we’ve really had to make some difficult, I think, and visionary choices to position ourselves to really work with the rest of the community to solve problems. And all along the way, Paula was a clear voice of direction, a clear voice of courage; she keeps the end goal in mind always and then helps our board and our staff stay on that path.”
He adds, “Around public policy issues, Paula’s courage in saying and doing the right thing has been unwavering, but always with an air of respect for people with differing points of view, and Paula sets an example for everyone on our board about how to be passionate and effective and a leader of real, true substance and compassion.”
Johnson chairs the governance and ethics committee for United Way of Salt Lake and also chairs the governance committee for Ronald McDonald House. She says governance is what she enjoys most in board service. “I like it because it allows the organization to live their mission; it allows them to become very responsive to the people they serve, to become fiscally strong and to be good stewards of public and private resources.”
But in the end, the thing she finds most rewarding about serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations is the opportunity to make the world better. “The most exciting thing for me is you really can change a person’s life and you actually can make a difference in the world,” she says.