The Society also appointed Darla Stuckey executive vice president and general counsel
Stephen Brown has been appointed president and chief executive of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals, effective April 7, the Society’s board of directors announced on March 17. That role has been vacant since Ken Bertsch’s resignation last fall.
Brown was selected from an initial list of 68 governance professionals whose experience and qualifications were considered by a Succession Committee appointed by the Board after Bertsch stepped down.
A securities lawyer by training, Brown is senior director of corporate governance and associate general counsel for TIAA-CREF, where he has served as in-house legal counsel since 2005. In addition to leading many of the corporate governance and social responsibility initiatives related to the pension fund's $500 billion-plus investment portfolio, Brown advised management and the boards of the TIAA-CREF group of companies on internal corporate governance matters.
A recognized thought leader in corporate governance, Brown was named as one of ten global Rising Stars of Corporate Governance by the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance in 2009. For three consecutive years, starting in 2011, the National Association of Corporate Directors named him as one of the 100 most influential people in corporate governance and the boardroom. Brown is also an adjunct professor at Yale University and the Skadden Legal Honors program at City College of New York.
In a news release, the Board said it ‘is extremely enthusiastic about having a highly skilled and respected lawyer and corporate governance professional lead the Society.’
The Society’s board also appointed Darla Stuckey executive vice president and general counsel, effective immediately. She has served as senior vice president for policy and advocacy since joining the National Office staff in 2009, and previously served as a member of the Society's board of directors and as president, vice president of programming, treasurer, secretary and membership chair of the Society's New York chapter.
Corporate Secretary spoke with Stuckey about her new responsibilities and the Society's mission.
Stuckey will be the Society’s first general counsel since Robert Pyle, who served in the role in the 1980s. She regards the position more as special recognition of her achievements and responsibility within the Society than a reflection of any increased need the Society has for legal expertise in the future. Currently, she is the resident contract negotiator.
As executive vice president, Stuckey says she looks forward to continuing in her policy and advocacy role, which has been focused on helping to get companies’ views heard by regulators and members of Congress. She sees advocacy around hot governance issues as an additional essential role because not all of the Society’s members are able to do that on their own.
Elevating the role of the corporate governance profession is a critical function of the Society. ‘To the extent we can [do that], we can help all our member do better at all their own respective companies.’
A key aspect of that is professional development, which the Society provides through conferences and other programs that members attend, as well as online education opportunities. Among the latter, the Huddle, which members can find by clicking on the Society Connect tab on the homepage, is the most exciting, says Stuckey.
‘The Huddle is an online community, and anyone can post a question there. Members end up having a dialogue with people they don’t know across the country. The dialogue can be about nuts and bolts issues, as well as more conceptual ones,’ she says. The Huddle also allows various kinds of filtering so that particularly sensitive questions or responses can be seen only by certain designated users.
The Huddle is an extension of what Stuckey sees as the most significant service the Society offers members, providing opportunities to network with and learn from each other. Online opportunities such as The Huddle become even more important the harder it is for corporate secretaries and other governances professionals to travel and meet with each other in person, she notes.
Although she doesn’t believe 2014 represents a turning point in the Society’s development, she says she hasn’t had an opportunity to speak with Brown yet and hear what he may be envisioning for the future.
‘I really believe we’re in a great spot, Ken [Bertsch] did amazing things when he was here. We needed to fill the CEO role. Now that Stephen will be here, I’m thrilled,’ she says. ‘We’ve had great conferences with record numbers of attendees. And we’re always trying to extend that further.’
Building out its membership is another of the Society’s strategic priorities. It currently has members from 55 percent of the companies in the Russell 1000 Index and its immediate goal is to recruit members from the companies in the top 100 companies it doesn’t already have.
‘We’d like to have more West Coast members, from newer companies and startups, both private and recently IPO’d.’ she says. Of the 21 local chapters listed on the Society’s website, seven are on the East Coast, another seven are in the Midwest, four are in the South or Southwest and three are on the West Coast.
Helping the regional chapters become stronger is another priority. ‘The chapters are the lifeblood [of the Society]. They’re the first line of networking. It’s where they meet on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis, and we’re trying to do more logistical support for their meetings,’ she says.