Episode 81

What Does Good Board Leadership Look Like?

with William D. Zollars

October 13, 2022

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William D. Zollars
former Chairman, President, & CEO, YRC Worldwide

William D. Zollars is the former Chairman, President, and CEO of YRC Worldwide. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Cerner Corporation, ProLogis Inc., C2FO, Restone Logistics, and Main Street Data, an Agtech company. William received a bachelor’s in Economics from the University of Minnesota.


I think that ability to take a step back and just think about how you want to spend your time going forward is worth a lot.



[00:00:00] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Well, good afternoon, Bill and welcome.

[00:00:04] Bill Zollars: Thanks Gary.

[00:00:05] Dr. Gary Bisbee: We’re pleased to have you at this microphone. You’ve handled retirement, if I can use that word as well as, or better than anyone I know. How did you prepare for retirement, Bill?

[00:00:18] Bill Zollars: Well, I guess the short answer, Gary, is I didn’t you always think that retirement is on the horizon, but it’s a little bit like a mirage and. The closer you get to it, the more it tends to move away. So I really didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. My day job kept me pretty busy, but in a way, I think that’s an advantage. I think you, you need to deal with the end of your day job as it occurs. And fortunately for me, I think things went pretty well in the transit.

[00:00:48] Dr. Gary Bisbee: So what did you, what have you learned so far that you might not have been expecting?

[00:00:53] Bill Zollars: Well, I, yeah, I find found out, Gary, that that my golf game wasn’t gonna get better. I assumed it would get better when I retired, and in fact it didn’t. So that turned me in a different direction because I realized that I wasn’t gonna be spending time on the PGA tour. So I had to find some other things to. Other than that, I think, as a as a former ceo, one of the things you get used to is looking at numbers. Every morning. People bring you numbers to look at, and then all of a sudden, after you retire, nobody brings you numbers. And it’s a little bit disconcerting when that happens because you have spent most of your life. Kinda looking at numbers and trying to do the things you’re doing well better and trying to fix the things that aren’t going well. So that’s the biggest change that I that I ran into. And that in addition to the fact that you lose your assistant, which probably was even more important.

[00:01:48] Dr. Gary Bisbee: So looking back on it, what would you say are the keys to a successful retirement bill?

[00:01:56] Bill Zollars: I’m not exactly sure I’ve been successful, but I can tell you a couple of things I think to keep in mind for anybody that’s approaching that stage in the transition. One is not to do anything for about six months. . What tends to happen, I think to most people when they’re used to working as hard as most of us do, is they tend to feel like they should be doing something right away after they retire. And I think if you fall into that trap, you have a tendency to jump at the first thing that looks good to you and then maybe have second thoughts down the road. The kind of advice I’ve given to most people that are approaching retirement is just give it some time to, to settle out. Give yourself some time to decide what you want to do. Don’t go after the first thing that comes at you. And I think that ability to take a step back and just think about how you wanna spend your time going forward is worth.

[00:02:51] Dr. Gary Bisbee: You sit on a number of boards. Bill, how have boards sitting on boards of directors played into your retire?

[00:02:59] Bill Zollars: Well, I think it was a great transition for me, Gary. As I was on several corporate boards for a long time, and so it softens the blow of not having a day job. When you’ve got that to serve as a. As a transition. And so my time on the corporate boards and even the private boards that I was serving on when I did retire gave me a soft landing.

[00:03:23] Dr. Gary Bisbee: So you mentioned corporate boards, private boards. You also sit on US Postal. How is your role as a director changed or varied depending on the type of company structure?

[00:03:36] Bill Zollars: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. It’s really very organizational specific would be the way I would describe that. Being on the C board with you is certainly very different than being a small startup private company board member, and then very different from being a member of the Board of governors of the postal service. So it’s, it really does depend a lot on the type of organization just to give. An example. Public company boards are very straightforward in terms of the rules and regulations and responsibilities and the things that, that you really need to focus on. And obviously the number one focus is the shareholder. When you’re on a board like the postal service board, there are political implications for everything you do because the board is really serving. Both political parties and has oversight from Congress as well as oversight from the administration. So the decisions you make are impacted by more constituencies than they would be on a public company board. So there are some very organizations specific attributes to be in a director of different organizations.

[00:04:44] Dr. Gary Bisbee: What do you think are the top characteristics most important characteristics of a good, of a topnotch board member? Bill?

[00:04:53] Bill Zollars: Well, I think there are a couple things I always ask myself, Gary. The first is, can I make a contribution? And the second is, can I learn? And so I think you, you really need to ask yourselves, ask yourself those two questions before you join a board. Obviously your skills To boards in a very unique way. So for example, on a logistics company board, my background in logistics is very helpful and it has been for the postal service board. Some boards need more financial orientation, some boards need directors with some experience running big organizations. Your different skill set, it really varies depending on the board you’re joining and what , what they’re in need of as an organization. I think the kind of consistent qualities that are required is you have to really be able to engage. You don’t want board members that aren’t engaged. I think high level of integrity is really important and the ability to work well with teams is important. Boards are teams, as and. Some people work better with teams than others. I, so I think your experience working within teams and leading teams is also a really important attribute to have for any director.

[00:06:07] Dr. Gary Bisbee: So you’ve been the chairman of several boards, certainly the chair of the Cerner board. What does it take to be a good chairman, Bill?

[00:06:16] Bill Zollars: Well, it goes back to what I just said. The ability to lead teams and work effectively within a team, I think is really important. . Interpersonal skills are really important for a chairman, and I think also the importance of being able to separate your role from the role of a CEO and the role of other board members is also important. So those lines have to be respected and you have to feel like there’s accountability in the chairman’s role because there.

[00:06:44] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Yep. You were the chair of the Cerner board during the acquisition by Oracle. $30 billion acquisition. So it was pretty important. Pretty important acquisition for both sides, both Cerner shareholders and Oracle shareholders. What special responsibilities did you have as the chair to guide that acquisition process?

[00:07:07] Bill Zollars: We had a special committee set up to really be the interface between Oracle and Cerner. And as the chair, I’m responsible for leading that special committee. The first thing that needs to be done is to make sure you understand. , how the board feels about the acquisition and what the requirements are gonna be to make it a successful successful acquisition. So spend some time trying to make sure the board is in alignment and then you make sure that you be, you’re able to communicate that set a priorities to, to the Oracle team. And so that, that was really the primary focus. It’s an iterative process, so it’s not a one time deal. They’re back and forth between the acquirer and the other company. That really has to happen in a timely way, and it has to happen in a way that reflects the desires of, in our case Cerner. So it’s, it’s a leadership role of a different kind. With kind of the bottom line being, you’ve gotta keep in the front of your mind that the shareholders of Cerner are, are really who you’re working for in that kind of a situation.

[00:08:16] Dr. Gary Bisbee: If there were just one or two key. Issues that had to be addressed during this whole acquisition process. What were they just in thinking about? What are just sequencing? What were the one or two things that just had to happen well, in order to get this deal done?

[00:08:34] Bill Zollars: Well, I think there are a couple things I’ve learned from previous acquisitions. One is that there’s no substitute for. , you’ve gotta make sure that you’re not talking past each other. So the specificity of what you talk about is extremely important. So the other side doesn’t come away with a misconception. And that that’s probably the number one thing is just clarity. Along with that, I think the other side needs to know what your walk away issues are because it doesn’t do. Either side much good to be talking about a deal that’s never gonna happen. That, that speaks to the clarity and it also speaks to understanding what your company is gonna require to make the deal come through.

[00:09:16] Dr. Gary Bisbee: Bill, thanks a lot. Terrific. Interview as we expected it would be, and we appreciate your time today.

[00:09:23] Bill Zollars: It’s my pleasure, Gary. Thank you.

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