Athena Coach Andrea Bonime-Blanc, JD/PhD, is the founder and CEO of GEC Risk Advisory and a strategic governance, risk, ESG, tech, ethics, and cyber advisor to businesses, NGOs, and governments. She’s a former senior global executive currently serving on several boards and advisory boards (including Crisp, WireX, Cyber Future Foundation, and the NACD NJ Chapter). In 2022, Andrea was named to the NACD Directorship 100 by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
Andrea is a sought-after global keynote speaker, visiting professor at several international universities, and author of many articles and several books, most recently Gloom to Boom: How Leaders Transform Risk into Resilience and Value (Routledge 2020) and the annual edition of The ESGT Megatrends Manual 2022-2023 (Diplomatic Courier 2022).
At Athena, Andrea leads our executive learning community in topics related to ESGT and risk oversight. From the complex interconnected risks board directors need to keep top-of-mind to best practices in climate disclosures and ESG reporting, Andrea empowers the women in Athena to become more informed and impactful leaders. As an Athena Coach, she helps members:
Below, read how Andrea is pioneering technology as a core ESG issue, what members can expect working with her as their coach, and what boards often get wrong when it comes to risk and resilience.
I started my professional career as a lawyer. For a time, I was an executive at several different companies, starting as general counsel and then moving into other areas like risk officer, ethics and compliance, corporate social responsibility, audit, and cybersecurity. When I started my own business almost 10 years ago, I wanted to focus on providing strategic, intangible risk, and opportunity services to boards and executive teams who weren’t thinking sufficiently about these issues as part of their business strategy. It’s all about helping open the eyes of boards and of executive teams to what we’re calling ESG. These days, I call it ESG + T (for technology). It’s about bringing their awareness to these issues as they affect their business, then factoring that into how they develop a successful strategy and long-term resilience.
I wrote about this originally back in 2018 and 2019 as I was writing my book, Gloom to Boom. The subtitle of the book is “how leaders transform risk into resilience and value”. I was trying to get leaders to focus on ESG, yet there are also all these T issues. Technology is suffusing everything we do every day, every second of the day. How can we not be thinking about T issues when we’re thinking about environmental, social, and governance?
My perspective is not the one of the investor or the asset manager. It’s not the perspective of someone doing analysis from the outside-in to see the ESG metrics. I’m coming from the perspective of the person inside the company, the person who’s leading a function or an operation or business and is trying to figure out how to create a better business strategy that incorporates the ESG+T issues that are most important to our business. For me, ESG without the T is incomplete. As long as you’re thinking about the most important technology issues, risks, and opportunities that are important to your business, to your competitive landscape, to your business planning – that’s incorporating the T.
As far back as the 70s, we had the ethical investing lens. Then it evolved into more of a sustainability lens and the corporate social responsibility nomenclature came about. In the early 2000s, we had this explosion – there were the stock exchange indices, like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. And then the UN came up with the ESG nomenclature around 2003-2004. It was a bit slow to be taken up, but it’s been in Europe for a long time. Then Larry Fink of BlackRock started issuing his CEO letters, telling CEOs they have to think about purpose, stakeholders, and the environment. When Covid came, it turbocharged all these issues. And now we have Ukraine. These issues are not going away because we’re living in a world of huge strategic risk.
I think it’s a reflection of a couple of different things converging with everything else. One is communication. Things move at the speed of light, we have social media, we have news media, we have the democratization of investment where people can invest in ESG funds. And of course, we have all the potential greenwashing and fraud that regulators are going to start looking at.
There’s a real movement partly because of communication, but also because climate issues are everywhere. Look at what’s happening in London – it’s having its hottest day in history. Fires are starting from the heat. And, in Australia’s recent summer, they had so many fires it destroyed one billion animals. How do we get our heads around that stuff? This is not going away. If we have bad behaviors by humans and fail to recognize this ordo short term things that will hurt the environment, shame on us.
The other thing that’s converging very forcefully is the younger generations who are putting ESG front row center. They will live longer than us older people. They want a world where they can live, their children can live, and their grandchildren can live in relative peace and safety. Until people feel it themselves, they often don’t have the empathy. And that’s really too bad. Because we all need to have empathy. Look at the beautiful blue globe that the Earth is. We don’t know of any other globe anywhere remotely close to us where we could go to be saved. This is it. It’s the only home we have, and we need to do something about it.
Boards have to reflect the societies they live in or serve and the stakeholders they serve. For example, if you’re a global company that does 40% of your business in Europe, 30% of your business in India, and 20% of your business in Latin America – you better have board members who have either lived there, or are from there, or understand those markets, the cultures, the challenges, and the opportunities. Until boards take that seriously, we’re going to continue to have a lack of diversity and lack of ability to understand risk and resilience and long-term planning, which is something every single company needs.
I don’t care how tiny you are, how public or private you are, everybody needs to work on long-term resilience building. That means having good risk management and having the right people on the board who are going to hold the CEO accountable.
I have been associated with Athena for about two and a half years now and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. I’ve enjoyed making so many connections with members where I can share my experiences and hear theirs. I’ve made a lot of friends that way. I love mentoring people.
I’ve maintained my integrity and reputation throughout these years, despite very serious challenges along the way. Especially at a couple of the companies where I was a senior executive, it was either my integrity or the street. So, I took to the street. I’ve made the tough decisions.
For me, that’s one of the things that keeps me ticking and is really important to share with others. There are a lot of situations where people’s integrity and their moral compass are put to test. Being able to share some of my experiences and help people think through their challenges is important to me.
I also love helping people navigate the politics inside their companies and find ways to achieve their goals, especially when it’s areas I’m familiar with like risk management and ethics. There are ways to make progress, even in the most challenging environments.
There’s an organization in Puerto Rico called the Platform for Social Impact. It’s a transformative organization. The CEO is one of the most visionary, amazing human beings I’ve ever met. His vision is to eradicate childhood poverty in Puerto Rico and in the process, create a whole different model of how you do business – whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit. This is going to amplify the eradication of poverty in Puerto Rico.
I’ve been their governance, ethics, and transparency strategic adviser for the last two years and will continue to do this work with them. We want to become the model for this kind of high-integrity, non-corrupt social impact organization for Puerto Rico, inspire other parts of Puerto Rico, and potentially be a model for other places. For me, something like this multiplies my impact by a thousand. I love the work of being on an advisory board of a startup because I can help really change things and create greater impact. I want to be doing more of that kind of stuff.
Athena members can schedule time with Andrea here. Athena Alliance is the proven executive development community for women leaders. Athena provides coaching, live and on-demand learning, networking, and access to career opportunities to accelerate women’s careers. Every membership includes two hours of coaching with experts like Andrea, helping you master the topics needed to thrive as a modern leader.
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