Governing a company is different from running one, notes Alaska Air Group board member Phyllis J. Campbell. An effective board asks the right questions, and one that’s diverse makes that possibility more likely. “It’s sometimes messier,” Campbell says of the gender and racial mix of Alaska’s board. “We don’t always agree, by definition. That’s what diversity brings to the table. Innovation is linked to different points of view.” The regional operator of Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and Virgin America stands out for having five women on its 11-member board, with ethnicities in the varied markets it serves strongly represented. This special mix helped Alaska Air Group receive a top ISS QualityScore in governance from Institutional Shareholder Services. Achieving that score required looking harder for board candidates, Campbell notes. “We all know who we know,” she explains, “but you have to really go in and work at finding maybe not the first people in your network.” Reaching outside comfort zones helped Alaska recruit people like Eric Yeaman, a telecom CEO of Hawaiian ancestry, and Helvi Sandvik, a development company president who is Alaska Native. Also boosting the board’s ISS score is a commitment to being at the forefront of progressive practices. Alaska was among the first companies to adopt term limits, easier proxy access and majority voting for uncontested elections. All board members other than the company’s CEO are independent directors, elected annually. Prohibitions on employee hedging of company stock as well as robust guidelines and disclosure of director-owned shares and executive incentives contributed to the good score. Such practices are meant to reduce risk, but Campbell notes they also communicate an openness and transparency. “We’re always looking for ways to signal that we’re accessible,” she says.
Is there a Tom Kundig Life Statement?
I put a quote in my first book: “Only common things happen when common sense prevails.” I don’t know who came up with it, but it always makes me smile and it’s kind of true. If you’re looking for adventure, or something new or something worth living for, you’re looking for the edge, whatever that might be.
How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind?
I think a creative mind is a business mind because business is creative. You’re dealing with a set of issues and you’re trying to find a pathway, trying to resolve the issues, into a success.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just starting out?
Be more secure about your abilities and less insecure about your existence so that you can do things with a well-placed confidence.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
(Laughs) I don’t know! I won’t be hearing it so I don’t really care.
You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record, one food and one person.
My wife, Jeannie. Beethoven’s Ninth. A hamburger. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Who or what is your worst enemy?
Noncritical thinking. People who don’t think about what they’re saying.
Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Beatles. I share a birthday with John Lennon and sympathy with his larger musical and political agendas.
What four guests would make for the perfect dinner party?
Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Feynman, Indira Gandhi, Muhammad Ali.
Do you have a spiritual practice and if yes, how does that practice manifest?
I was raised a Unitarian, so it is a very personal spiritual practice and certainly influenced by both Buddhist teachings and Jesuit friends.
› For more on artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Aone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).