Journey to the Boardroom Q&A with Lauren C. Anderson, former FBI Executive | Women in the Boardroom

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Journey to the Boardroom Q&A with Lauren C. Anderson, former FBI Executive

Journey to the Boardroom Q&A with Lauren C. Anderson, former FBI Executive

A distinguished former FBI Executive, and a non-resident Fellow with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Anderson builds upon her geopolitical, international security, and crisis management expertise to work as a consultant on preventing conflict, advocating for social justice, and challenging economic inequalities. She has worked on six continents with governments, international organizations, NGOs, institutes, academic institutions, corporations, small businesses, and civil society, and she has provided programming and keynote speeches in countries as diverse as Qatar, Switzerland, Australia, Turkey, Argentina, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Egypt.

Anderson is an advisor to the U.S. Comptroller General at the Government Accountability Office on international security, intelligence,  criminal justice, and women’s leadership, and she is a Global Ambassador with Vital Voices. In 2019, Anderson delivered the keynote commencement address for LIM College, at Lincoln Center in NYC, and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and a Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of her contributions to global gender equality. She was previously a recipient of Legal Momentum’s Annual Public Service Award, dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy, and Muhlenberg College’s Alumni Achievement Award.

During an FBI career which encompassed many “firsts”, including being one of the first women on an FBI SWAT team, Anderson led FBI Legal Attaché offices in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and spearheaded the FBI’s participation in the US Government/African Union Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative in Africa. She led the FBI’s New York Counterterrorism Division/Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and its Intelligence Division as the interim Special Agent in Charge. Anderson and her teams received numerous awards and commendations, including from the Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Attorney General, Director of the National Security Agency, the Director of the FBI, the Respect for Law Alliance, and the Federal Executive Board.

Why are you interested in board service?

I’ve always been someone who seeks out challenges – to learn and to share knowledge. I’ve also never taken the easy or obvious path. Service is an integral part of who I am. I would say the same for learning and curiosity. It’s always been one of my mantras that the day I stop being curious and wanting to learn will be the day I’m dead. As I’ve talked with friends and colleagues in the business world, post government service, I was delighted to discover that I have a great deal to offer; part of the journey has been figuring out how to articulate that. As my post-FBI consulting experiences and my global network expanded, so did my interest in finding other ways to continue to learn, share my own knowledge, and find new avenues to have an impact.

What inspired your corporate board journey? 

I’ve given thought to corporate board services over the past six or seven years. The whole notion of board service was completely novel to me coming out of the U.S. government, but just before I retired from the FBI, I was nominated by one of my mentors to serve on a non-profit board with the Women’s Forum of NY, the founding chapter of the International Women’s Forum (IWF). I was a bit intimidated having no prior board experience. What I found is that I liked, and was challenged by, feeling uncomfortable in learning a new process. I was welcomed and encouraged to share my ideas and expertise, the latter of which is admittedly, unique. I was also anxious to learn as much as possible, to grow professionally and personally, and to serve with an organization that had given so much to me earlier in my career. It was thanks to two friends, one of them, Phyllis Newhouse, the Founder and CEO of her own cyber business, Xtreme Solutions, and EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and fellow IWF (and WIB) member, Deborah Peacock, that periodic thoughts about board service moved from a possibility to a commitment to work toward board service as a reality.

What is your biggest fear when it came to corporate board service?

Determining where I would best fit in and effectively articulating that. Specifically, I worked on identifying the skillset needed to serve on a corporate board and evaluated my own skills to pinpoint the overlap. I also had to move away from the unique manner of speaking and writing in government to corporate sector language.

How do you feel your professional experience will lend itself to corporate board service?

I’ve been blessed to have a unique career and interesting life, and I thrive in challenging environments. I’m a recognized global expert and leader in U.S. national security, including counterterrorism, with more than 30 years of experience. I’ve worked and lived outside the United States for many years, in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, leading U.S. government responses to terrorist attacks in Africa and the U.S. Because of that experience, I know that I can manage any crisis.

I have extensive experience working with women-owned startups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. In particular, companies that are expanding their physical footprint abroad would benefit from my knowledge on how business gets done in over 40 countries around the world, whether negotiating best practices, or employing my vast experience in working with government agencies, including the defense sector. I’ve also been a “fixer” throughout my professional life. I would add tremendous value to companies that need an expert in crisis or risk management, governmental compliance, continuity of operations and special situations. For instance, during my time in the FBI I led teams that dealt with SARS-CoV and the H5N1 bird flu, resulting in knowledge and preparation in understanding how to manage pandemic-like situations.

How are you preparing – in every sense: emotionally, intellectually, practically – for your board service

My first step was to have a conversation with myself (and certain others) to determine if board service was really something I wanted to do. Once I make a commitment, I’m all in; there is no halfway for me. I sought opportunities to talk with others who have served on corporate boards to find out why they like board service, what they don’t like about it, and how it fits in with their lives. I also made the commitment to join Women in the Boardroom to further learn about how to become board ready. The pandemic, which has caused so much chaos, has also presented me with superb opportunities to take webinars from WIB and given me more time to read – I subscribe to numerous national and international publications. Part of that is a desire to understand different perspectives, which was pivotal to the years I’ve lived and worked outside the U.S. I also pay greater attention to the markets and the business sector globally, and I’ve given considerable thought to the interface with my other work. Finally, I have the privilege of being invited to quarterly trends summits with The Future Hunters, one of the foremost futurist consulting firms in the world, based in NYC. Thinking about and talking about potential trends in the future across all sectors is complete “brain candy” and it presents an opportunity to think very differently about what the future may hold – which I believe is critical to a good board member.

What’s one thing that surprised you about the process of working toward a corporate board seat?

There are several things – first and foremost, recognizing it’s a journey and not simply an event or series of events. Further, I have memberships in several international organizations, and this allows me to interface with many individuals. So, when I attended the Annual Board Assembly this year, I anticipated I would see many familiar faces. That wasn’t the case – there were only two other people I knew. Women in the Boardroom created a new environment for me with women and men whose paths I might never crossed.

What one piece of advice would you offer to women interested in corporate board service?

I would offer this – do your research and give it some serious thought. Have that conversation with yourself. Don’t seek corporate board service simply because you think that’s the direction you should move in or because others tell you that. Be sure it’s the right path for you at this time in your life.

What knowledge and/or practice specific to WIB has helped to prepare you for corporate board service?

I find the individual board strategy sessions with Sheila, and I call them “thought sessions”, to be excellent as have been the webinars. And having just experienced my first Annual Board Assembly, I loved it! Sharing experiences, practicing pitches, and learning from people at all stages of this journey was exceptional. I’m also someone who always goes the extra mile, so I’ve read a lot of books and articles about Board service and digested a lot of the Women in the Boardroom resources on the website.

Why should women be interested in serving on a corporate board?

Women have a unique set of valuable skills from all aspects of our lives. Let’s face it. We have to negotiate every day! I see things from a global perspective. I’ve learned to function in multiples sectors and negotiate with foreign governments in crisis situations, as have many women. We offer our unique experiences, expertise, and perspectives in a particularly useful way in the corporate boardroom. For me, it’s never been about aspiring to be the sole woman in the room. It’s about learning something new and bringing a different perspective to these spaces.

Why have you chosen WIB to help you in your corporate board search?

Earlier, I mentioned Deborah Peacock, who is a friend and someone for whom I have great personal respect. Deborah has served on numerous boards and she has tremendous experience and wisdom. When she reached out to me last year because of a specific board opening which she believed “had my name all over it”, she shared her views on WIB as well as several other organizations that focus on women and corporate boards. Deborah said, that in her view, WIB offered the best opportunities for learning with individualized coaching, webinars, and access to an extraordinary network of professionals. And barely a year into my own journey, I concur!

About Women in the Boardroom™

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