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Feb 06, 2017

Corporate Governance Awards 2016: Governance professional of the year (small to mid-cap) - Adam Kokas, Atlas Air

Proactive governance 

Adam Kokas’ broad range of responsibilities at Atlas Air includes management of governance, compliance and ethics operations, board and committee structures, shareholder communication, and oversight of regulatory and HR compliance.

With such a wide reach across the firm’s management and employee base, it is inevitable Kokas would be visible and actively engaged with Atlas Air’s board.

One of his specific duties is advising the board on best practices for tenure, rotation, refreshment and diversity. In the last year the board has elected two new independent directors, specifically focusing on diversity of skills during the identification process.

‘We managed the whole process using internal resources,’ Kokas says. ‘The board primarily identified candidates, particularly focusing on diversity. We created a skills and characteristics matrix of the existing board, then looked at what we have and thought about where we could improve.’

In his role as general counsel, Kokas attends all of Atlas Air’s board meetings. This has enabled him to propose that his entire board join the National Association of Corporate Directors to stay up to date with best practice and governance trends, something the board was supportive of.

‘Our board is very open and proactive when it comes to governance,’ Kokas says. ‘When we reviewed its composition, it was driven by the board itself, rather than by any shareholder feedback.’

He enjoys working with a board that is so engaged in governance, explaining that while it regularly assesses its own composition and effectiveness, it also prioritizes succession planning for Atlas Air’s executive roles. ‘One of the most important functions of the board is CEO succession, which our board takes very seriously,’ Kokas says. ‘It does an annual session on succession that goes beyond the CEO to look at the C-suite and our vice presidents.’

By focusing on governance, compliance and HR, Kokas is well placed to act as a trusted adviser to the board on conversations around succession planning and executive compensation, while ensuring continuity of messaging to the broader employee base.

As a global provider of outsourced aircraft and aviation solutions, Atlas Air is subject to a broad range of regulations and compliance issues. For many firms this could pose the risk of functional or geographic silos forming, but Kokas’ broad reach enables continuity.

‘The governance, compliance and HR areas all complement each other,’ he says. ‘We spend a lot of time thinking about policies that interact with one another. For example, if a call comes in to our employee whistleblower hotline, it comes to both HR and legal. There’s a lot going on in each of these different areas, but it pays significant dividends.’