By Maria Saporta
If only more male CEOs were as supportive of women as is John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises.
Brock spoke at last week’s annual dinner meeting of the Board of Directors Network, an organization that promotes more women on corporate boards and more woman as executive officers on Georgia’s public companies.
CCE’s Brock was invited because that out of its 12 directors, four are women. It is the first year where there’s been some increases in the percentage of women on public company boards.
“The numbers are encouraging,” Brock said of the numbers showing that “there are more women on boards, more women of color and more women in the C-suite.”
But he also recognized that less than 50 percent of Georgia’s public companies have no women on their board.
“That’s not a good thing,” Brock said. “The total percentage of (women) directors is less than 9 percent and less than 2 percent of women of color. It says the journey has really just started. We have got to figure out how to work together to get there. We are on a journey, and we are not even remotely close to the destination.”
Brock said one of CCE’s three strategic policies is to have “the best people working in a truly diverse and inclusive culture. That’s the secret ingredient. At the end of the day, the ingredient that really counts is people.”
Brock then said that it is not just CCE board that is diverse. Two of its six member executive team also are women.
“We have a diverse board, and it’s not by accident that that’s the case,” Brock said. “We get, at the end of the day, substantially better decisions because of the discussions that we have that are so far-ranging because of the diversity of our board. For us, it is a business imperative. It’s not a nice thing to do.”
At BDN’s dinner, the 8th annual Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans award also was given. And it was a total coincidence that the winner was CCE’s director Donna James. The award is named after one of the first women to serve on a major corporate board. Evans was appointed to the board of the Coca-Cola Co. in 1934, and served as a director until her death in 1953.
James is a similar courageous figure. She was a teen mother at age 16. Her determination ended up taking her career to becoming president of Nationwide Strategic Investments, a division of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. She now has her own consulting firm.
An executive search consultant matched James with CCE, and she came to Atlanta for interviews — excited with the possibility of serving on the bottling company’s board.
“That next morning, I had a mini stroke,” James told the BDN audience. “I was paralyzed and I need to stop and reassess my life. That great opportunity with CCE? I had to tell them no; I had to step away from my job.”
Then James got a call from then CCE CEO Lowry Kline. Kline told her: “We want you to take your time, get well, and we will wait for you.”
James said that call was “incredible.” Now James said she will do all she can to help BDN in its efforts to make public boards and executive suites more diverse.
Coincidentally, James recently was asked by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women Business Council.