To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

BY JOHN R. ENGEN VISION/ALAMY The world today is filled with more wild cards than ever before. Whether it’s geopolitical or economic turmoil, a disruptive new competitor, a rival’s misstep, an emerging cyber threat, or any one of a thousand other things, there’s always an external jolt lurking in the weeds, waiting to shred a board’s best-laid strategic plans. When these challenges emerge, boards that make the right moves quickly often gain a competitive advantage for their companies. More than ever, strategic agility is emerging as a crucial skill for boards to master. “The world is moving at a much higher velocity than it has in the past, and that’s not going to abate,” says Leslie Brun, 64, chairman and chief executive of Sarr Group, an investment holding company, and a member of four public company boards. “Agility is the name of the game today,” adds Brun, who is nonexecutive chairman for two companies: Broadridge Financial Solutions, a Lake Success, New York-based investor communications firm, and CDK Global, a Hoffman Estates, Illinois, company that provides technology and marketing services to the auto industry. “As a board, you’ve got to be on your toes all the time, ready to zig or zag at a moment’s notice.” The stakes are high. For all the talk about good governance, boards are still judged primarily on performance. At its best, a board can help management get ahead of the latest change in the playing field, and perhaps even take advantage of it. The board of United Technologies Corp.—a group that includes two military generals, a former state governor, and nine former or sitting chairmen—gained both $7 million in state subsidies and a load of free publicity when it reversed a plan, less than a month after Donald Trump’s election as president, to move two of its Carrier subsidiary’s plants to Mexico from Indiana. The move kept the plant in Indiana, though the number of jobs it saved remains an open question. (Technological efficiency, more than trade agreements, is driving job losses in the Rust Belt, economists say.) At its worst, responding too sluggishly (or aggressively) to an external threat can expose the company to bankruptcy or a takeover. More than one board has been felled by an activist with a better idea for running the company in a changing environment— and a rival slate of directors to implement it. Boards are getting plenty of practice responding on a dime to external events. Every company and industry faces its own unique set of challenges, and each has its own best response to the more universal ones. CO R P O R AT E B OA R D M E M B E R S E CO N D Q UA RT E R 2 0 1 7 15