”When Howard Schultz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, asked us to work with his board’s nominating committee to help recruit a new director for one of the world’s most innovative and admired companies, he outlined what started as a normal mandate but then evolved into a nearly impossible task. Our task was to find a young director who was a digital expert to bring two perspectives into the Starbucks board room: 1) the native views of millennials, one of the company’s most important customer segments, and 2) deep social media expertise, to help accelerate the company’s market leading engagement through sophisticated apps, targeted marketing, and mobile payments.
That was all well enough. In 2015 nearly one in six S&P 500 companies had a “digital director” on their wish list and over 40% sought technology expertise. But then he added to the criteria. Given the demands on her time, Sheryl Sandberg was not going to be able to run for reelection to the Starbucks board, so it had to be a woman. Also, fair enough. Whereas only 20% of S&P 500 company board directors are now comprised of women (up from only 15% in 2005), 31% of new directors were women on S&P 500 boards in the past year. Then when he then said the board wanted a native view of millennials, he meant it. The candidate had to be under 30 years old! In the S&P 500, the average age of directors as of 2015 is 63 years old (up from 61 years old 10 years ago). And the person had to be a sitting CEO. Another challenge. Whereas 65% of S&P 500 boards say they want an active CEO or COO, because of the competition for directors, only 20% of new director appointments in 2015 were indeed active CEOs or COOs. And then came the piece de resistance. Because China was one of the company’s most important markets, Howard wanted a new director with significant exposure to China.
Never daunted from a challenge, we went about our research and found the perfect candidate (and perhaps the only person in the world to meet all of these criteria!), Clara Shih. Just 29 years old at the time, Clara was the founder and CEO of Hearsay Social, a San Francisco based software company that develops social CRM applications to help (primarily B2C) companies find and engage customers across social media sites. Clara was the author of The Facebook Eraand a true expert on marketing through social media. Having graduated at the top of her class from Stanford in computer science and economics in 2005, she went on to win a Marshall Scholarship and get master’s degrees in computer science at Stanford and Oxford (she was obviously an academic under-achiever). She then went onto work at Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce.com, before founding Hearsay Social in 2009. And the piece de resistance, Clara and her family emigrated from China when she was four years old. She spoke Chinese and still had an excellent feel for the market. 。。。”
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