Meet Dr. Donna Hamlin, the CEO of BoardWise, who had a goal and followed a path to reach it. The oldest amongst seven children, she became a ‘little mom’ at the tender age of 11 when her mother fell ill for five years. Someone had to take care of the home and children, while Donna’s father worked two jobs to pay for all of them and hospital and medical costs. After coming back from school, Donna used to clean, wash clothes, prepare dinner and made sure her siblings did their homework.
After she turned 16, Donna’s father explained to her that he had dreams for her to go to college but had no way to pay for school. So, she worked three jobs in the last two years of high school, saved some money for college, and secured a student loan to cover her education. She completed her B.A, M.S. and Ph.D. before she turned 26, all while working full-time.
Soon, she developed her interest in business and organizations and built a career in human resources and marketing. With the benefit of two special mentors, opportunities opened to build her competencies. Spanning time, working in more than 50 countries with executives, teams, and boards of companies across industries and cultures continues to teach Donna every day. She is grateful for the amazing adventures, experiences, learning, and friends made over time.
Before her role at BoardWise, Donna founded Hamlin Harkins, Ltd., where she developed a successful track record in strategic change management, and human performance management, serving clients from Fortune 500 global enterprises to start-up companies in more than 30 countries.
BoardWise serves both board directors and management teams. Donna’s management consulting firm, Hamlin Harkins, Ltd., started in 1982 and will be 40 years old on April 30, 2022. The organization expanded with governance services in 2010 by creating Boardwise as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Donna recognized many clients were struggling with governance issues and many regulatory changes happening all across the planet. Helping both management and boards, the brand promise is; “Fresh Solutions to manage and govern well.”
Currently, the organization aims to look at the imminent challenges with creativity and wisdom to find uniquely better ways to resolve issues or take advantage of opportunities for long-term value. The company has received awards for its proprietary tool, Cascade®, which determines the most powerful message strategy for company brands and product positioning.
It has never failed a client in the last 40 years. BoardWise also received an award for its psychometric tool – Board Bona Fide® – which determines both one’s orientation to problem-solving and board readiness. This helps improve board group dynamics, which is the key variable for board effectiveness.
Donna has four leadership principles:
Creativity: Donna believes creativity is all about combining unrelated ideas to create a useful solution or direction. The word useful is key. If the combination is not useful, it is just original.
She says, “While building creative capability in organizations, leaders need to understand and institute practices that increase it.“
Wisdom: It is the ability to know what is true or right based on the collection of one’s knowledge. According to Donna, intelligence and wisdom are two sides of a similar coin, namely our mental ability to succeed and live in the world. Intelligence is an individual’s capacity to store information while wisdom is more practical knowledge gained through experience and knowledge beyond one’s personal experience. Wisdom helps one to exercise good judgment, based on a deep ability to discern the inner qualities and relationships among factors.
Encouragement: One of the most vital parts of leadership is to encourage others. It takes two qualities; believing in yourself and showing your belief in others. When people are sure about your intentions and confidence in them, you inspire them to do their best.
We before I: Donna believes, thinking from “We” is more potent than “I”. Leaders who think with and about “Us” create inclusion, engagement, and more high-quality ideation and solutions to challenges. The world is complex and needs many “We” teams to take on the challenges we face. Lead team with a vow: Together, we will be undaunted by the challenge and solve it.”
The challenge for governance is how to evolve and improve at a global level. Nothing sits above the nation-states to adjudicate when governance practices differ across countries. If your business has operations in multiple regions, there is no one “right answer” for setting a governance standard for a company.
While there is talk of bringing parties together on this topic, the pace is slow. BoardWise advocates to build a think tank coalition to research, evaluate and share global results to truly make informed improvements in governance.
Picture of the Future
Under Donna’s leadership, BoardWise’s work includes global research on best practices in governance and leadership, providing independent evaluations of boards with recommendations for improvement. Lastly, the organization also works to educate and certify candidates for board roles to arm them for success.
Donna believes that Boardwise’s future outlook is tied to;
Director Pipeline Development: According to Donna, more talent is needed for board roles shortly. The organization is expanding its board certification offerings to help increase the pipeline of board-ready professionals
Best Practices: Governance practices across the planet differ considerably. BoardWise aims to offer more board evaluations to expand the value of its research insights with more boards.
Transformation: Inventing breakthroughs by staying current on changes happening daily while seeing well into the future at the same time.