A Path for Diversity on America’s Corporate Boards

with Roosevelt Giles of the Herndon Directors Institute

In 1905, Alonzo Franklin Herndon — who was formerly enslaved — founded what would become the Atlanta Life Insurance Company.

Roosevelt Giles, Founder of the Herndon Directors Institute, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how today, Herndon’s legacy serves as an inspiration to many — and how it’s helping to shape efforts to increase diversity on America’s corporate boards.

Posted on:

November 30, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: In 1905, former slave Alonzo Franklin Herndon founded what would become the Atlanta Life Insurance Company with a $140 investment. Herndon's company not only offered insurance to Black Americans, but new career opportunities, as well. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. More than a century after the founding of Atlanta Life, those continuing the legacy of Alonzo Herndon are focused on increasing the ranks of diversity in America's corporate boards through the Herndon Directors Institute. Currently, only 3% of directors on the boards of S&P 500 companies are Black. Roosevelt Giles is the institute's founder, and he joins me to talk about the legacy of Atlanta Life and the Directors Institute. And, Mr. Giles, thanks for being here.

Giles: Thank you.

Anderson: So, Atlanta Life has historically had a vested interest in and a track record of representing underserved communities, and it's seemingly been ahead of the curve. I believe it was the only insurance company that would underwrite, for example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So, the question is how is the Directors Institute carrying on that legacy?

Giles: Well, basically, you know, when you look at the -- when the company was founded, it was founded under the principle of not stakeholder capitalism that we're speaking about today, because those words was not around, you know, during that era. So basically, the company's culture was that to whom much is given, much is expected. And so, that culture and philosophy still prevails today. And out of that, what has transpired was the Herndon Foundation that was established by Norris Herndon, the only offspring of Alonzo Herndon. And in establishing that foundation, he put in place the mechanism to be able to keep the company and to be able to create this double bottom line where you have the profit and you also have the community investment. And so, and that's how that -- and that's how the Herndon Directors Institute came about as a program under the Herndon Foundation itself.

Anderson: And what kinds of things are the fellows learning? Where are they being placed after the program? How does it all work?

Giles: The fellows are being taught by some of the leading Fortune 100 and 500 CEOs and board members, and the fellows are coming from all across America, from various corporations, from different vertical markets. And the fellows are going through a six-month, very intense program that takes them through all the different phases of corporate governance. That's what it takes them through. And what we do also is that we assign them a mentor to one of the Fortune 100 and 500 CEOs and board members to mentor them. And we also have a program where we assist them in getting on corporate boards.

Anderson: So, I know that the institute got started in 2020, but I know that this is something that you've been thinking about for some time. So, what was sort of going on in society as you were thinking about this that led you to say, "You know what, we need to do this, and we need to do this now"?

Giles: Well, it's an offshoot from the program we started for inner city youth and teaching them entrepreneurship. And when I was in South Africa visiting some friends and talk about economic equality, one of the things that I stated to them was the fact that capitalism started the problem that we have in this world, and capitalism has to fix this problem. And the boardroom represents the supreme court of economic equality and justice. So, unless you have a seat at the table, there is no way that we can achieve economic equality without it.

Anderson: And you mentioned the idea of a seat at the table, and NASDAQ recently got approval from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to require that companies that are listed on that exchange have diverse boards. So --

Giles: Right.

Anderson: ...how does your program align with NASDAQ's mandate?

Giles: We are. We are completely aligned. And one of the things that we're doing, the output from the Herndon Directors Institute will be the NASDAQ initiative that has now been adopted by the SEC, we'll provide qualified candidates to those companies that now are seeking to have diverse talent on their boards.

Anderson: So, you're training candidates, you're placing candidates on corporate boards to serve and sort of represent ideas that might not have been represented without their presence. So, what is the domino effect of all this and what do you want to see happen on a larger scale as a result of what you're doing?

Giles: The domino effect is tremendous because the board is responsible for setting strategy and hiring the senior leader, i.e. the CEO, and the CEO is responsible for building out their team. So having representation at the board level now allow underrepresented communities to now have a voice. Because now, these communities are voiceless when it comes down to the boardroom. And so now those candidates that sit on the board can now have a direct impact on the hiring, alright, and investments in communities and in the opportunities for small business in order to have procurement opportunities and upward mobility for the associates that work for the company.

Anderson: That is a domino effect. And, Mr. Giles, if people want to know more about the Herndon Directors Institute. What is the website? Where should they go?

Giles: The website is the herndondirectorsinstitute.org.

Anderson: Mr. Roosevelt Giles with the Herndon Directors Institute, thank you for being here.

Giles: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and around the nation. just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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