September 2022

Chris Clark conducts interviews with leading corporate directors and subject matter experts for Stuart Levine & Associates, a global consulting and leadership development company. The Planet Governance™ interview series features the views of corporate directors and chief executives on critical issues from ESG and cyber-resiliency to succession planning and board composition.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Sandra Beach Lin, Director, American Electric Power, Avient, Trinseo, and Ripple Therapeutics, to discuss everything from the governance topic of the century to the inflection points of her illustrious career.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sandra-beach-lin.jpg

Sandra Beach Lin

Chris: Governance for sustainability has a set of written & unwritten rules that link ecological citizenship with institutions and norms of governance. 

Given the complexity of the topic, what are your most important unwritten rules?

Sandy: At the heart of sustainability governance is culture, where unwritten rules abound, and where you see what a company is truly about. I have the good fortune of serving on public boards where each CEO has a north-star-like commitment to sustainability. These three leaders have committed the time and resources to ensuring that their companies are part of the solution to climate change. Part of this commitment includes focusing on multiple stakeholders. For board members, the unwritten rules here include following what the CEO says he or she will do, and then seeing what they – and the company – do. This includes listening to what the CEO says in their public comments about sustainability, such as earnings calls, and it includes simple things like following the company’s posts on social media. LinkedIn is a good way to see how the company discusses its sustainability efforts & progress. The companies I’m involved with are making great strides on their sustainability commitments and I’m proud of the progress they are making.

How do you best measure the results of your governance for sustainability efforts?

Two ways – first, by ensuring that the governance for sustainability is clearly delineated with board committees, and with the board itself, and second, through the board evaluation process. 

Oversight responsibility for the components of sustainability have been clearly established by the boards on which I serve. For example, at one company, the overall responsibility for ESG oversight rests with the Nominating & Governance Committee, the progress on goals for specific sustainability metrics from manufacturing is overseen by the Environmental, Health & Safety Committee, and the validation of sustainability progress data is overseen by the Audit Committee. 

The second way to measure the results of sustainability governance is through the board evaluation process. In the process we use at one board I’m on, we have a trusted, outside lawyer interview each board member to ask about the overall board performance, the committee performance and then commentary on each director. We can tweak the interview questions each year to add/subtract focus areas and can add sustainability oversight questions to measure the results of our governance efforts. 

Who was the single most positive influence in your career?

Mine is not so much a who, as it is an organization – Junior Achievement. I was in the JA Company program in high school and my deep involvement there set me on the path to my business career. They taught me all about P&L statements, sales, manufacturing, and most importantly, leadership, all at a young age. I have stayed involved in JA for most of my career, serving as an advisor to JA companies, as an instructor for in-class JA programs at the high school level and serving on the board of JA USA. Like they did for me, JA ignites interest in business careers with 2,500,000 students every year. 

What is a strategic move that you are proud of?

The recommendation to divest a business I was leading. I was working at Honeywell leading the Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems business, one of the world leaders in truck brake systems for Class 6, 7 & 8 vehicles. It was a partnership between Honeywell and Knorr-Bremse, a strong player in the global automotive market. It became clear to me within 6 months of taking the President role at Bendix, that the division was quickly becoming less attractive to keep in the Honeywell portfolio as the company was shifting its focus more toward aerospace and building controls. I recommended that the division be sold to Knorr-Bremse. This turned out to be a very good financial move for Honeywell, and even better, a great move for the Bendix employees, as the business is thriving today. 

Sandy, thank you.

Sandra Beach Lin is a member of the Board of Directors of American Electric Power, Avient, Trinseo, and Ripple Therapeutics. She previously served as a board member of WESCO International from 2002-2019. She is the retired President & CEO of Calisolar, Inc. (now Silicor Materials). She previously served as Corporate Executive Vice President of Celanese Corporation, where she led a group of businesses with more than $2 billion in revenue.

Christopher York Clark joined Stuart Levine & Associates as a senior consultant after a long career at the National Association of Corporate Directors. He has over 30 years of entrepreneurial and corporate business experience. His expertise ranges across a broad variety of disciplines including corporate governance (with board assessments as a cornerstone), strategic communications, and digital content creation.