Ep. 26: Experience Across the Board

with Mindy Mount

September 9, 2021

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Mindy Mount
Board Member and Advisor

Melinda J. Mount has been a member of the Cerner Board of Directors since April 2019.

She most recently served as the president of AliphCom, Inc. (d/b/a Jawbone), a consumer technology and wearable products company. Previously, she held various senior level positions at Microsoft Corporation, including corporate vice president and chief financial officer of the online services division and corporate vice president of operations and finance and chief financial officer of the entertainment and device division. Prior to joining Microsoft, Mount served as the vice president of strategy and development at Time Warner, Inc., and executive vice president and co-managing director of the United Kingdom division of AOL Inc. She also previously served as vice president of mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley.

She is vice chairman of the board of directors of Technicolor SA and a member of the board of directors of the Learning Care Group, Inc.

Mount has an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School and a BBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

The real legacy of your career is about the people. It's about the people that you grew and developed and helped along the way.

Transcript

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Gary Bisbee  0:06

Washington, D.C., is my home away from home. I’ve worked here for the better part of three decades as a founder, entrepreneur, policy expert and author.

Don Rucker 0:10

Probably the longest title. Everybody sort of shortened it to ONC for sanity’s sake.

Gary Bisbee 0:15

Mercifully.

I’ve learned leadership secrets from many health care executives who understand that Washington is the largest payer and regulator of health care.

Nancy-Ann DeParle 0:25

She said, well, because you’ll never get a husband if you do that.

Gary Bisbee 0:29

I began interviewing health care leaders many years ago because what better way to learn how they think, why they make it to the top and how they remain there?

Think about, what was your most challenging engagement.

Greg Carpenter 0:40

Health care has been the most difficult problem, as you said.

Gary Bisbee 0:43

We’ll talk about that later.

 

From a small town in Wisconsin to big company board rooms, Mindy shares her multifaceted experiences in business. She tells the story of her analytical background and how that guided and aided her career. She describes her passion for business and interest in making businesses better.

 

We gain a better understanding of the expectations of board members, finding the right balance between governance and management. We discuss what qualities are necessary to be a good board member and the role of the audit committee.

 

Mindy pulls from her diverse experience on five different boards including Cerner Corporation, Technicolor, The Learning Care Group, Group 9 Acquisition Corp., and Zayo, representing both public and private companies. Mindy dives into the unique challenges COVID-19 created for the companies of which she is a director and how the boards related to management.

 

For early career listeners, if you want to become a member of a board, Mindy recommends emphasizing building an industry or tactical expertise and develop and expanding networks

Good morning, Mindy, and welcome.

 

Mindy Mount  2:17  

Good morning, Gary. It’s a pleasure to be here.

 

Gary Bisbee  2:21  

We’re pleased to have you at the microphone. You have such a rich background. You spent time on Wall Street, operating companies, Times Warner, Microsoft, Jawbone, and you sit on at least five boards. We’d like to spend a lot of time on the boards aspect of your life, since there’s a question about leading from a board seat that I’d love to have you comment on, but let’s get to know you a bit better and that’ll help us get your views of leadership. What was life like growing up for you?

 

Mindy Mount  2:57  

I grew up in a fairly small town in Wisconsin. We had four kids in the family. I was 34 with brothers on either side of me, who were merciless in teasing me, which actually later ended up being super helpful when I got to Wall Street, having already endured that through my youth. I was quite a tomboy. I loved being outdoors, climbing trees, riding my bike, very athletic, and I also was a big reader. When I look back at my life, I realize one of my biggest role models was Nancy Drew. I read all those books. I really admired her sense of adventure and independence. In a way, I later modeled a lot of that.

 

Gary Bisbee  3:40  

What did the young Mindy think about leadership?

 

Mindy Mount  3:43  

When I was young, I didn’t really think much about leadership. My family had a business and my dad was running that business with a cousin of his, so I certainly had the opportunity to hear a lot about business growing up. My brother was in sports. I didn’t do team sports. That was very much in the sort of early days of Title Nine. There weren’t as many team sports. I did a lot of individual things, so my sense of leadership was a lot more about being the leader myself. How do I work harder? How do I try to do better? How do I study harder? I was very competitive and pretty ambitious as a kid, so a lot of my thoughts about leadership were more around how I could be better at the things that I did. I was a competitive horseback rider. I went sailing. I grew up in a lake and did gymnastics, so I was always trying to be better at the sports I did and, at the same time, try to be a better student and try to overcome the tendency to not want to do that homework. Ironically, in my early years of school, I was very good at English. I loved reading. I was actually not that great in math. It was only once I did very badly in math that I realized I had to get my act together and I started working very hard to try to improve my math abilities. Much to my surprise, I found out that I loved it by the time I was a senior in high school.

 

Gary Bisbee  5:13  

With your major and actuarial sciences in college, you really did take numbers and statistics and so on. What about your parents? You mentioned your father. Do you think your leadership style came at all from your parents?

 

Mindy Mount  5:28  

In some respects, certainly. Both my parents were quite patient and dealt with whatever family challenges came along with a sense of optimism in how they were going to deal with it. My younger brother had a very severe accident and the farm family just marched through it. My family had this business that canned produce vegetables, a very cyclical business. We had some years that were really good weed some years that were really bad crops were bad, weather was bad, pricing would be bad. I had the chance to see how you fare through the ups and downs, and then the downs, certainly they were very good role models, and just you just tighten your belt, you have the optimism that next year is going to be better. In many respects, I learned from that. And I think they were also very good in terms of just being patient. Neither of them were people who had big tempers around things. They tended to laugh off difficult people and I think I learned some of those skills about how to deal with people in a way that helps make them feel better, but yet, at the same time works through the challenges that you may have with a particular individual.

 

Gary Bisbee  6:42  

Let’s go on to actuarial science. Out of all the interviews I’ve done, you’re the very first person that has a degree in actuarial science. What caused you to pursue that?

 

Mindy Mount  6:58  

It is a little unusual. I went to the University of Wisconsin, and first of all, they offered that as a major. There were only a handful of universities in the Midwest at that time that did that typically. They were founded by local insurance, the mathematics of insurance. I went to college thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals, but Wisconsin did not have a vet school at that time so it was very hard to be a vet. I was going to have to be admitted to an out-of-state school, so I started my freshman year taking chemistry and biology and all these science-related courses. I was a disaster in biology and in chemistry, I was really good on the chemistry exam. So I was getting a 98, 100 on all the chemistry exams, I was a disaster in the lab. I was failing almost every lab, I just wasn’t careful. I used to love to cook a lot. And when you cook, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And I tried to carry that over to my lab work, which didn’t really work. So by the end of the first semester of college, I realized, “I’m going to have to regroup here. I’m never going to make this. I can’t get through a semester, much less multiple years. So what am I going to do?” I thought back to what I really enjoyed about chemistry. Why was I doing so well on those exams? I realized it was the mathematics of chemistry that I really loved, so I said, “Okay, that’s interesting. Why don’t I look at business and maybe some kinds of business fields that would use mathematics?” I grew up around business. My dad always brought business home. It was something I was very comfortable with and had an interest in, so I went to the business school and they had a little booklet that had all of the majors in it. I started reading through the booklet and of course, one of the first majors was actuarial science. It required supplied statistics—which was an A, so there we go—and business of insurance. I thought that could be interesting, so I called my dad and said, “What do you think about this?” He said, “Well, I don’t know anything about it, but I know some people who work at Northwestern Mutual. Let me call them and see if I can find someone who could tell you a little bit more about it.” Turned out he was able to get me a day to go into the offices of Northwestern Mutual and actually meet some actuaries during Christmas break my first year of college, so I went into Northwestern Mutual and I met some of the young actuaries they had on staff. They explained what actuarial science was, that you have to take a lot of exams. The most impressive thing to me is the chief actuary of Northwestern Mutual took me to lunch in the executive dining room. In the early 90s, it was a very tough economic climate. It was not necessarily easy to get a job. I was so impressed. I thought, if they have such a need for actuaries that they’re going to take someone who’s vaguely thinking about this out to lunch in the Executive Room, this must be a great profession. This is the profession for me, so the next semester I was very pragmatic. I said, “I’m going to take the classes I need to take, and as long as I like it, I’ll stay in the major. If I don’t like it, then we’ll see what’s next.” So the next semester, I started taking calculus in computer science and I really enjoyed both of those classes and I just kept with it. Part of the fun of the major when I was at Madison is that I was at this huge university, but the actuarial science major was quite small. There were about 10 of us in the major, so it also gave me the fun of being in a huge University but yet having this very intimate group of people and professors. There were two or three professors that you had almost all your classes with in the last two years of business school, so it ended up being quite a fun experience.

 

Gary Bisbee  10:50  

It sounds like a small group and your actuarial sciences major, and maybe a small group in your newly formed sororities, so you were able to have a couple of small groups and inside this larger university. Off to Harvard Business School, then actually working in actuarial sciences for a while, and then to investment banking. What caused that shift to pull you into Wall Street?

 

Mindy Mount  11:14  

I went to New York after graduating school, probably one of the most significant decisions I made in my career, which is not a common thing for Wisconsin people to do. In part, my dad kind of pushed me to go to New York. I wanted to work for Northwestern Mutual. I liked Wisconsin, I liked the country, and he very strongly said, “There’s just not great opportunities for women in Wisconsin. I think you’re going to be better off in New York.” I was not a rebellious youth. I listened to them. I thought that there’s some logic to that and, at the end of the day, Wisconsin’s not going anywhere. I can always come back, so I went to New York, and I really enjoyed being in New York. I enjoyed my job as an actuary but, what I found after a few years was that it was very repetitive. I was doing pension Employee Benefits consulting. You’d have 20 customers and you would often be telling them the same things. There’s a new law, and then you tell them how that law impacted them. I found it repetitious but, by being in New York, I started meeting other people and seeing other things. I met some people who were investment bankers. I’d never even heard of such a thing in Wisconsin, so I started paying attention, and that was in the 80s with the rise of Wall Street and the merger and acquisition environment. It all seemed so exciting. From what I talked about when I was a kid, I was a little bit of a daredevil, so when I heard about this exciting world of Wall Street, that looked like fun. It looked like maybe a little bit more fun than being an actuary, so I asked people, “How do you get to be an investment banker?” They said, “Well, you want to work for one of the big firms. You’re going to have to go to business school to work for one of the big firms.” So that’s what I did. I packed myself up to Harvard for two years. When I graduated, I ended up working for Morgan Stanley.

 

Gary Bisbee  13:08  

Then you went on to operating businesses, but what did you take away from your time at Morgan Stanley that was useful to you as an executive and now in your board roles?

 

Mindy Mount  13:20  

Quite a bit. First of all, at a very fundamental level, you get excellent training in sort of finance and technical finance, you’re running models, you’re working around very smart people, you’re analyzing financials, you’re looking at companies, so you get a very, very good grounding. You develop excellent presentation skills because you are constantly presenting to companies. You’re learning how to put together a compelling discussion and sales pitch and how to talk to senior management at companies when you’re an investment banker doing M&A. You’re dealing with the board of directors, you’re dealing with the CEO and the CFO, and you really have to learn how to tailor your message, tailor your presentation, so I learned a lot from that and a lot about networking. The best bankers develop tremendous networks of people and you come to appreciate the value of the networks that they build and the relationships that they build over time. Finally, being a banker also gives you the ability to take a very big picture, look at things because you look at companies from a global perspective. Often when you’re in a company, you can get a very micro look at your company, you’re looking at very specific things. But as an investment banker, you’re looking at whole industries, you’re looking at players within industries, so it helps give you that broader picture focus that sometimes is hard to develop when you’re working within a company.

 

Gary Bisbee  14:44  

In your operating roles, you were at Times Warner, Microsoft, CEO of Jawbone. Quite an interesting set of businesses. Thinking about all of that, how do you compare the learnings in these various companies you were involved in? Did each one give you a separate, unique set of learnings about leadership?

 

Mindy Mount  15:07  

Yes, most definitely. Every company had a very different culture. Time Warner was a great way for me to move from investment banking into the corporate world, it probably eased some of the culture shock because, in a way, media companies really are very transaction-oriented companies. They’re all about deals, they buy and sell companies very often, they do deals with artists, they do deals for films. They’re a very deal-driven business. So it was a business that I could come into. And my background as a person who did deals in negotiations fit quite well within the culture there. At the same time, it was a tremendous opportunity to learn how much impact you can have in a business. When I first joined Time Warner, it was shortly after the merger of Time Warner Communications, and there was very little in the corporate center. And I was brought in to head up sort of an m&a and a Strategy Group, nothing existed. And so I had the opportunity to build that group from the ground floor, the opportunity to do the very first long-term business plan that the company did, the very first board strategy off-site, the very first time that the company was pulling together all the divisions in strategy. And so it was a good chance, it’s rare that you have a company that is that big in the world. And that’s significant, but yet doesn’t have some of these fundamental things, and you get the opportunity to put them in place. So that from a learning perspective was tremendous. And I had the opportunity to see what a real difference it made to the company and to the company’s stock price. Because when they developed a plan that was a lot more focused on the returns on capital, they had a huge increase in their stock price in reaction to that. And so it was very rewarding. And then the other big lesson I have from Time Warner is how do you deal in a corporate environment where you have a lot of different cultures and personalities, the media business full of personalities. And at that time, they had six divisions, and the divisions had extremely different personalities. And as someone in the corporate center, I had to work with each of them. Over time, I learned about the most effective way to work with each of these businesses. And those skills, learning about how do I adapt the way that I deal with people so that I can try to have the most impact and try to encourage them and influence them to do what they need to do ended up being super useful learning for later on in my career when you often encounter people who have either a different approach or a different culture. You have to figure out how to impact and influence those people.

 

Gary Bisbee  17:44  

There’s another interesting question here, which is the whole gender diversity issue. At the time you were there, I suspect it wasn’t like it is today where many more women are involved in leadership roles. You picked technology and finance and media. They were probably, in some ways, not as advanced as other industries. How did you deal with that personally?

 

Mindy Mount  18:14  

Being good at mathematics was a help and advantage. Through high school, there were hardly any women in the math classes. There might only be 10-15% of women in the advanced math classes, so I learned to live in a world where, when I look at my classes, like, “Hey, nothing’s wrong. They’re all men. Nothing seems out of place. It’s probably a lot harder for them to see me in the class than it is for me to see all of them in the class.” The other advantage of mathematics is that there are right and wrong answers. If you’re right, you’re gonna get an A in the class, no one can hold you back from that. And so coming out into Wall Street, I think it was helpful to go into professions that were very analytically based, at least in my early days, because I was an excellent actuary, I got to have all these exams, I got the exams done faster than almost anyone. I was an excellent modeler. You wanted me to begin associate on your merger deal because I built amazing models. And so in the early days of my career, that technical background really helped me as I got further in my career, then yes, the challenges of being a woman started becoming more apparent more when your success depends on other people wanting you on their team, but you have to work with companies. And again, you have to learn how to kind of work with the system. Now, fortunately, financial service businesses were among the first both insurance companies and Wall Street in the early 70s and early 80s. They were amongst some of the first that were taking very proactive stances in hiring women and trying to encourage women so when I was at Morgan Stanley, for example, they had events for the women investment bankers to teach leadership and Some of those things were. So they were really quite a bit ahead of the curve of other industries. We didn’t talk about my time at Microsoft. But the same thing Microsoft was a company that was working very hard to improve and encourage diversity in its ranks. And so I certainly was a beneficiary of a lot of those programs and really appreciate the efforts that those companies made.

 

Gary Bisbee  20:23  

Let’s move on to your board roles. You have this fabulous background as you come into sitting on boards of directors, and just the flexibility and learnings that you have from the various businesses make you quite a valuable board member. You sit on five boards now, three public, two private. The first test of the day, Mindy, can you name them?

 

Mindy Mount  20:52  

Yes. Yes, I can. Well, Gary, we work together on Cerner. I’m on Technicolor, which is based out of Paris. Then I’m on the board of a special purpose acquisition vehicle called Group Nine Acquisition Corp. Those are my three public companies and my two private ones are (1) Zeo, which is an infrastructure company in dark fiber. I literally just joined that board within the last month. Then (2) for about six years, I’ve been on the board of the Learning Care Group, which is one of the largest early childhood education programs, daycare centers in the United States.

 

Gary Bisbee  21:31  

Sitting on five boards seems like a lot of your time is spent on board matters. What do you think about the time you spend?

 

Mindy Mount  21:39  

I’m unemployed. I left the full-time workforce a few years ago. I’m someone who enjoys working and doing things. I knew I wanted to do board work. My significant other is working full time and quite busy, so it’s not as if we’re going to get up and go travel the world for two months. The nice thing about board work is that it comes and goes every day. I certainly have something I have to do related to some board either directly on a board or some kind of supplementary education. I’m trying to do some reading. But on the other hand, I still have big chunks of time that are free during the day. And I spent most of my career working in crisis-type industries, where you’re working 60 hours a week, 80 hours in crazy times. And so I was working weekends. So the idea that I could keep myself busy, but yet I still have a good half a day free and generally free on the weekends feels like a great deal. I feel like I have a lot of capacity. I can do the board work, but at the same time, spend time with friends and work out and do some of the fun activities that I knew I wanted to do when I left the full-time workforce.

 

Gary Bisbee  22:54  

How do you connect with boards?

 

Mindy Mount  23:03  

I’ve connected in a variety of ways. Probably the most common way is through people I know. The first board I went on was with someone I went to business school with. He knew he wanted to bring a technology person and we’ve always talked about how we liked each other. In business school it was like, “Hey, let’s try to work together,” so this was that opportunity. Two other boards came through connections. One came through one of the friends in my business school section, an investor in a company, so they were trying to come up with names for people. My name kind of got thrown in the hat. It turned out I’d worked with a couple of other people on the board and they knew me. They said, “Oh, great idea.” It’s that idea of connections and networks that people know they’re comfortable with you. Another board I just joined I got connected to through someone else who’s joining, someone I used to work with back in my Time Warner days. They were looking for someone for the Audit Committee and she thought of me. Same thing: we’d been looking for an opportunity to sit together. Technicolor, my first public company board, came through a recruiter in a very traditional way. My background was very well suited to the business of the company so I knew quite a bit about that business. With Cerner, I came on as a recommended candidate from starboard and activist investor, which is probably more unusual. I don’t know Starboard, but over my career, one of the things I became known for is that I helped improve the operating performance of businesses. I did it at Time Warner. I did it at AOL. I did it with Xbox and Microsoft, so somewhere along the line, I guess they heard about that and through a recruiter reached out to me and I chatted with them, and I guess I got put on a list. I hate to say it but, through all of my boards, there is a focus on getting women on boards and so it helps people thinking that the activists want to have women they put on their sleeves. Audit committees want to have women. That’s been another element that has helped my name get on some of these slates.

 

Gary Bisbee  25:10  

It’s much needed. You’ve got a terrific Cerner board member from my observation, so well done there. What do you think of as the main responsibilities of a board?

 

Mindy Mount  25:26  

At a very high level, they always talk about a board as your primary responsibilities are kind of advising certain things, advising the management team, using your expertise to help them be better, there are certain things that you have to you literally have to decide on right, hiring and firing the CEO executive compensation, setting the tone for compliance of the organization. And then there’s a whole set of roles that are around monitoring, is the company doing what it’s saying? How are they doing against risk and compliance activities? So I think it kind of easily splits into those buckets.

 

Gary Bisbee  26:04  

What thoughts do you have about the qualities of a good board member? We look at your background. It’s very rich, very diverse, which seems to me to be a terrific background for a board member. Most people don’t have that diversity of background as you do. What are the main qualities of a good board member?

 

Mindy Mount  26:25  

At a very high level, you need to have good judgment or wisdom, typically gathered through years of experience, because, at the end of the day, you’re offering your opinions about things, and the company is going to benefit by having someone who has high-quality opinions, high-quality judgments, you really, certainly want board members who are going to be very actively engaged, very motivated to be on the board who are going to read the materials understand the business, certainly, the most valuable board members are the type who have deep expertise in the business who have had the opportunity to understand the industry from a variety of ways of looking at it. There are other board members who can add value to the extent that they have some kind of expertise that could be comforting, helpful to the company. That could be industry experts. A lot of it could be functional expertise, whether that’s finance or technology, but that you have something meaningful that you can contribute, that’s going to help the company, you need to have worked in environments. Typically, I do think of comparable size, at least to the company that you’re dealing with, because you need to have a good understanding of the scale and scope of the company. What that really involves, in terms of dealing with employees in terms of the complexity of issues that that company’s going to overcome. If you only worked in small businesses, you’d be hard-pressed to make a real contribution to a company like Walmart, their issues are all different. But I think when you’re around that same level of size, sometimes it can be helpful if a company is trying to innovate and grow. For example, if you’ve had the opportunity to be in innovation-type businesses, again, that goes back to the types of experiences that you may have, you really need to have courage and be independently minded. There aren’t that many people on a board and everyone’s thoughts and best ideas matter. And so you want people who are going to do the work and form judgments and aren’t just going to go along with the crowd. Because that’s what everybody’s doing. You hope everyone has the right thing. But if someone has a different opinion, you have to have the confidence to voice that opinion and express what your issues are. And then the final thing is really being respectful to other board members to the management team, really listening. The best dynamics in a board is one where everyone has the opportunity to speak, no one dominates a conversation, everyone listens, and really tries to hear what each of the board members is saying so that you are getting the benefit of their deep pool of knowledge.

 

Gary Bisbee  29:07  

You’ve developed an expertise in audit committees. Given your background, you kind of see how that would develop, but how do you think about it? Why have you developed this expertise in audit committees?

 

Mindy Mount  29:22  

I’m a finance person by background, so it’s natural. I’ve spent all of my career in one form or fashion, looking over p&l thinking about how do you make companies more valuable? I will say at a very practical level when I left the full-time workforce, and I knew that I wanted to be on boards. I knew that I was going to be on an audit committee because of my background. And so I specifically set out to really educate myself about the parts of that work that I didn’t understand. I took accounting classes in college, but it was 40 years ago or whatever. I took courses out of Berkeley A business school program in Intermediate Accounting, Advanced Accounting audit, to try to kind of really refresh my skills, and then that then started reading a lot of things online networking with people, I just enjoy it. At the end of the day, the audit committee is the group that ensures the financial integrity of the company, of its financial statements. It’s a very deep responsibility to the company and the shareholders. And I enjoy being a part of making sure that the market can rely on those financial statements and that the company is keeping aware of the risks that could happen and is prepared for how to deal with those risks.

 

Gary Bisbee  30:49  

You’ve led into the next question. What are the special responsibilities of a chair of the audit committee?

 

Mindy Mount  30:58  

At a high level, the chair sets the agenda for the year, the calendar. The chair works with the CFO to kind of set the calendar for what are the things that the audit committee needs to look at? The chair certainly sets the tone for what’s the expectation of internal, what’s the expectation for internal audit for an external audit, they ensure that the members of the audit committee are engaged. And I think it’s really the chair who takes that little bit of extra time with the company with the external accountants, with the internal members of management to understand what’s really happening at the company, what are some of the issues and make sure that the key issues or the key things that the audit committee members should be aware of getting highlighted and brought forward where people can see it and talk about it?

 

Gary Bisbee  31:53  

Another topic that is frequently discussed is the swimlanes of the board relative to management and how “governance is governance” and “management is management.” How do you think about that balance between governance and management?

 

Mindy Mount  32:12  

That can be a very hard line. From my experience on boards, what I’ve seen is that when everything is working really well, it’s quite easy to oversee, right to look at management, where that line becomes harder and harder is when something’s going a little sideways. When the board starts losing a little confidence, when the board is feeling that they’re not getting the right level of transparency. There’s that saying about what noses in and fingers out, which a lot of boards like to quote, and it’s a good reminder that we’re there to advise and monitor, we’re not really there to run the business. But that thing does get challenged when you’re having difficulties. And what if you don’t like the strategy that the CEO has come up with? What if you don’t like the results that you’re seeing from the business? How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that as a board? That’s where the challenges and the teamwork at the board level in terms of how you go through hard times. How do you set the bar high enough for management and push them to do the things that you want them to do? Or then you have to make the decision to ultimately you’re not going to run the company, you’re going to change the management team. It is a very long journey that can be very challenging at a board level to make those decisions.

 

Gary Bisbee  33:41  

Let’s look at three of your companies. One is Technicolor. Can you just tell us about Technicolor and what the business model is?

 

Mindy Mount  33:51  

Technicolor right now has three main businesses. They have one I would call a declining business cash cow, which is they print DVDs, they do all the DVDs for all the effects all in the United States and in most places around the world, sort of the last standing company, then they have a business that does then they about half the business is one that sets top boxes and network gateways for cable and satellite companies around the world. I would say the setup box business is declining and the network gateway business is growing slowly, kind of at a maturity level, but there’s definitely growth as the internet continues to grow around the world. And then they have a third part of the business which is a high growth part of the business which has special effects for movies, TV shows, and advertising.

 

Gary Bisbee  34:47  

On the latter part of the business, did COVID, particularly last year, affect that business?

 

Mindy Mount  34:52  

Yeah, COVID was very hard. Ironically, the DVD business and the network gateway business were doing really quite well because People were at home. They wanted things to do. It was very, very difficult to stop making films. And so you had an entire company, which is largely people, it’s largely artists based around the world. And there were no films. So it was a very challenging time for that part of the business.

 

Gary Bisbee  35:18 

For sure. Let’s cover the second company, which is Cerner. You had some experience on healthcare when you were running Fitbit, but Cerner’s kind of deep into healthcare. How did you go about learning about health care? What have you learned about health care during your time there?

 

Mindy Mount  35:38  

It’s been fun. We have some super knowledgeable people on board, so it’s been an opportunity to learn a lot. First of all, focus group one. I go to doctors, I go to places. Since I joined Cerner, I’m always watching what they’re entering, how they’re entering it, which is fun. Healthcare is an interesting industry. I’m not an expert in healthcare, but it has become such a large part of GDP that almost everyone knows something about health care or someone who works in healthcare, you have your local town, a big part of employment is the local health care system. Probably the most challenging part of healthcare is the whole government relationship in it, the whole payer relationship, how that makes things harder, or, or more challenging. I had never really focused a lot on the actual financials of the various hospitals and their own financial challenges and what that means about what they can and cannot do. So I think that I’ve gotten a much better understanding of those things. I have gotten a little bit better understanding I was the president of Jawbone. That was wearable, and a big part of that vision was using your data to make your health better. It was a great part of the data. But being in the company, I also saw the challenge of how do you actually do what you do with all this data that you gather? There’s the promise, and the frustration of data in the healthcare world, because it’s very hard to take this data and turn it into something meaningful, that can really move the dial. And that could really be a business. That was a struggle with Jawbone. We had all this data and yet telling people what time they worked up, or gee, when there was an earthquake, everybody woke up. These weren’t really huge insights. And I’ve had the opportunity to see at Cerner as they’ve continued that work. There’s this great benefit. Now Cerner has a ton more data. And it’s been a huge area of their focus and how they’ve taken some of those ideas and started putting them into some very particular practices that really are benefiting people and helping make improving outcomes, improving. Population health has been tremendous to learn a little bit more about because that’s what’s going to have a tremendous impact on the health of people in the coming decades.

 

Gary Bisbee  38:16  

I fully agree with that for sure. The third company you’re involved in is the Learning Care Group. Can you share some information about them? What kind of business are they in and so on?

 

Mindy Mount  38:28  

The Learning Care Group is in early childhood education. It’s what people call daycare, they’re changing it to “early childhood education” because that’s really what it is. They’re not babysitters, but they are working with kids to try to help in particular help kids prepare better for school. It is a large organization, they have over 900 centers around the United States they have over 100,000 children in their care regularly. And so that’s been a tremendous opportunity being part of that company, because first of all, they’re doing just very good work. It’s just a huge help to parents to help them with their childcare needs. They have a big piece of their program is government’s government-sponsored kids who are getting supplements from local governments. So it’s helping out some children with early childhood education. My role on that board is about technology. How can technology help both the outcomes for children, as well as the administration keep doing a better job with compliance? How can you do a better job maintaining? How do you do a better job training teachers, and it’s been really, really rewarding to watch the advances that they’ve been able to make in those areas over the six years I’ve been on the board.

 

Gary Bisbee  39:49 

I imagine COVID hit them pretty hard last year.

 

Mindy Mount  39:53 

2020 was a busy year for me. That was another company that needed to do an additional capital raise when you run into the issue, and you have to take some very dramatic issues in the short term to manage your cost base against that, on the other hand, is provided some great opportunities, because part of that business is acquiring other businesses. And there are a lot of smaller operators who are finding in this environment, it’s very hard for them to sustain. It’s created some opportunities for buying some nice additions to the business, so some challenges but on the other hand, some opportunities also.

 

Gary Bisbee  40:32  

Do you see some overlap in terms of learning? Technology is one you mentioned. Obviously, in all three of these companies technology’s big. I would think compliance and regulations might be somewhat similar between the Learning Company and Cerner. Is that something that you expected, or is that a useful part of sitting on boards?

 

Mindy Mount  40:53  

I love technology and I have a solid understanding. I’m not a super technical person, but I have a pretty solid understanding. And it’s been quite a bit of fun to see all the different ways that technology can help a business, improve a business, whether that’s in special effects—clearly special effects are digital—but now with some of the new technologies, you can have people all around the world working on the same, working on the same section of the movie, or you can pass a movie around the world, right work on it in the US during the day, and then pass it off to India at night for people to work on, which wasn’t really possible 10 years ago, you how technology can improve both the administration of the business, the compliance elements of a business, as well as how you relate to your customers. So it’s been fun to see the variety of ways that technology can be useful to a business and help make businesses better and enable them more.

 

Gary Bisbee  41:57  

Thinking about difficult decisions as a board member, and without going deeper than you should go, what do you think is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a board member to this point?

 

Mindy Mount  42:12  

Much like work, the most difficult decisions are always around people when you need a new CEO. It’s always very difficult because typically, you start having those discussions before your hell in a handbasket at work. In other words, part of the board is to see that there’s a problem coming in to deal with it before it has a major impact. But that also means that when you start introducing the discussion, maybe not everybody on the board agrees that you need to do this, and there are always going to be people who want to wait. It also gets very emotional as you can imagine. The CEO job is a very difficult one and the people who do it, they’re putting their heart and soul into this. Sometimes they’re not bad people, they’re just not the right people for what the company needs at that time. And it’s, it’s much like at work, it’s always very difficult when you have to change out people and the discussions that you have around that and it’s very emotional, certainly but at the end of the day, this isn’t These aren’t judgments about whether it’s a good person or a bad person. It’s just simply there. They don’t have the right skill set for what we need right now. Maybe they didn’t have the right strategy and it’s our job to make these hard decisions.

 

Gary Bisbee  43:28  

This has been a terrific interview. Mindy, we thank you for your time. As we wrap up, two questions. One is, what advice would you have for people that haven’t yet sat on boards that are thinking about it? What advice would you have for how to think about being a good board member and preparing for that?

 

Mindy Mount  43:52  

First of all, certainly, while you’re still active in your career, I would encourage you to go on the boards of nonprofits, it’s not exactly the same as a corporate board. But you do learn a lot of good lessons about just general governance, I was very active on a lot of nonprofits and had leadership positions on various nonprofit boards during the time that I was working full time. Part of it is really thinking about what you can bring to a board. What’s your expertise? You need to have enough expertise either in a particular subject matter or in an industry, where you’re going to make a meaningful impact. And so if you want to be on a board, part of that is, then take a career path that’s going to give you those experiences, if you if you’re a finance person, certainly it would be helpful to be a CFO of a public company, but certainly is very helpful to have leadership positions in businesses and aggressively start looking for how you can get the experiences that put you into those positions, which will then sort of set you up for the boards. The third one is about networking. The best board opportunities are going to come from people who know you and are comfortable with you, so always keep up your network. Keep in touch with folks. Make sure they know and when you’re at that point in your career where you have the qualifications to be on a board. It is important to be out there and let people know you’re looking for those opportunities.

 

Gary Bisbee  45:18  

The final question is another advice question. This would be for the earlier stage leaders in our audience. What advice do you have for them about leadership and how to develop as a better leader?

 

Mindy Mount  45:37 

First of all, for anyone working, just be great at what you do. Just understand the basics, understand your material, don’t make silly mistakes, because one is it’s great grounding. And you need that credibility that not only do you get stuff done but it gets done well. And build that as part of your brand. In organization, be very “front footed.” Embrace challenges, look for opportunities, be proactive. Don’t wait for assignments to come your way, look for opportunities you can exploit or problems you see needing to be fixed to be the solution-oriented person who tries to fix things. Not the person who sits in the hallway and throws stones at weeds or likes to gossip about the latest problems in the company. Be the solution-oriented person who’s trying to fix things and make things better. As hard as it is to embrace feedback, if you want to be a leader, you have to be great, and the way you get great— It’s like if you were in a sport: you need coaching. You need people to tell you that you didn’t do something quite well, and you need to do it better. Don’t take it personally, it’s no more personal than when you did gymnastics and you forgot to point your toes. Just try to be better, even if you think that the feedback is wrong. There’s a saying, “perception is reality whether it’s right or wrong.” That was the other person’s perception and you have to recognize that and try to try to make that better. When things go wrong, even if it didn’t involve you, take a moment and think about how you contributed. What did you do that might have contributed to that issue that you could do differently? It’s that sense of personal accountability. But if you really want to get better, you just have to embrace these things. Take risks, don’t be afraid. I’m not sure you need to take as many risks as I did in my career, I took a lot of left turns, I was an actuary. And then I decided to go to Wall Street. And then I went to New York, and then I went to Microsoft, it all paid off. But I think that sometimes going off the path can be useful. If something seems like a good idea to you sometimes just take a right turn and go do it. But that’s how you learn new things, how you develop and you meet people. Finally, never forget that people are the center of everything. It’s the reason for everything. If you want to be a leader, you need to be an attractor of talent, you want the best people to work for you. And the way that they’re going to want to work for you is that you’re going to make them better. They’re going to learn from you. So really growing and developing people is going to make you a great leader, you’re going to have a great team. I’m always connecting with people I know. Keep in touch with the people you know. You never know. The world is amazingly small and they’re going to come around again. I’m a very task-focused person. Give me the project, get me that. I would have such pride in the great projects I did, but with the passage of time in my career, I came to learn that these projects, these accomplishments, they fade in time. They fade so fast. Nobody remembers them in the collective memory five years after you did something. The real legacy of your career is about the people. It’s about the people that you grew and developed and helped along the way. The people who worked for me are going to remember the advice I gave them, the way I helped them. They’re going to remember that for 40 years. No one’s going to remember the first business plan that I did for Time Warner. I’m sure there’s nobody who remembers that anymore. I’ve touched so many people that I’ve worked with, and they’re gonna remember the good things that I did to help them grow and in their careers. At the end of the day, that is the legacy of my career, and it could be the legacy of your career.

 

Gary Bisbee  49:17 

Mindy, thanks for sharing your wisdom with us. We appreciate your time.

 

Mindy Mount  49:21  

Oh, thank you so much. It was such a privilege to be here. I appreciate it. Thank you, Gary.

 

Gary Bisbee  49:26  

New episodes will debut every Thursday. Join me in conversations to gain advice and wisdom from CEOs, presidents, and healthcare experts. Health care leadership is hard work, but it becomes more manageable as we learn from the remarkable lives and careers of our guests. I’ll see you there.

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