Boards are our business


Wishing John Jennings Well in Retirement and WATSON’s Ongoing Commitment to Board Director and Executive Search

November 30, 2023

Posted in: WATSON Views

At the end of this year, WATSON will bid farewell to John Jennings. As Partner, Board Director and Executive Search, John helped scores of organizations find their board directors and senior executives, and helped shape the future of WATSON as the firm has grown.

But before we let him go, we had a few last questions for John about his time at WATSON…


WATSON: It’s been six years since you first joined the WATSON team. How have things changed in that time?

John Jennings: Well, there are certainly a lot more of us! I still have the “Welcome John” sign I received on my first day in October 2017 with everyone’s signatures on it – all twelve of them. Today, that sign would need space for three times as many signatures, and trips to Toronto and Ottawa, to get everyone’s name on it.


W: What do you consider your most memorable moment during your tenure at WATSON?

JJ: There are many to choose from, but those that stand out most revolve around how the leadership team responded to the pandemic, initially taking action to ensure everyone’s health and safety, next reassuring the team about job and financial security, and then engaging in initiatives to preserve morale and our strong culture. I was proud to see our people-first principles really shine through in those first weeks of uncertainty.


W: You’ve advised so many organizations in recruiting their board directors and senior executives. Do you have any parting words to share with them?

JJ: I want to say “thank you” for the trust placed in our team to recruit your leaders. There are a lot of important positions in an organization, but none that will affect the future as much as the board directors and C-suite executives. It’s been a privilege to partner with search committees and CEOs in building ever-stronger leadership teams.


W: As you embark on an exciting new chapter, what are you most looking forward to?

JJ: The pursuit of a single-digit handicap. That, and allaying my wife’s concerns that I’ll drive her crazy being around so much.


W: Is there one message you’d like to share before you set your permanent Out of Office notification?

JJ: I was attracted to this career by the opportunity, challenge, and responsibility to recruit the right leaders with the right skills at the right time for Canadian organizations. As I reflect on that body of work, particularly the last six years with WATSON, and the impact those leaders have made in their respective organizations, our team has successfully achieved that mission. Further, I’m more confident than ever that my WATSON colleagues will continue to deliver outstanding results for clients across all the services we provide.


Thank you, John, for your leadership and invaluable contributions over the past six years. Here’s to a retirement that’s better than a hole-in-one – filled with joy, great company, and endless adventures!

WATSON’s Board Director and Executive Search team, led by Barb Schimnowsky and Sharon Rudy, look forward to continuing John’s legacy of excellence in helping organizations across Canada recruit their leaders.


Emergency Succession: Beyond Names to a Playbook for Preparedness

Posted in: WATSON Views

We’ve seen so many complex succession stories in the news recently about boards that are seemingly unprepared for emergency succession; stories from organizations like Traynor Ridge Capital, Rogers, Indigo, and more unfolding in ways that their boards did not expect. Even the twists and turns at OpenAI are partially about emergency succession. So how can boards avoid their succession stories becoming front-page news? For many, there are relatively quick and targeted actions that can reduce this area of risk.

It’s easy to criticize from the outside, but when WATSON is brought in to help with a succession challenge, we usually find deeply committed and skilled boards trying to navigate difficult things and working hard at them. And yet, gaps still happen; gaps that can put the survival of the business at extreme risk.

So, what could be done differently? The unthinkable sometimes happens; how can we prepare for a range of potential scenarios with many unknowns? We can’t know how the future will unfold, but we can still prepare.

Here are some reflections for consideration:

  • Succession plans need to be more than names. The more a board is ready with a playbook, the more it will be able to act quickly and with confidence should the unexpected occur.
    The playbook should include “the keys to the vault”. In other words, it is essential to consider whether the leader in question (CEO or other key executive) has unique powers or authorities. (e.g. signing authorities, licences, etc.), passwords and codes, or other forms of critical knowledge, access or power. It is essential that the board knows what those are, and how business continuity will work.
  • Further, the playbook should include key contacts and communication plans, with an emphasis on business continuity and maintaining calm, order and control through a time of instability and shock.
  • More broadly, boards need to have multi-faceted conversations about a wide range of risks and prepare themselves for the unexpected through tabletop or scenario exercises. The more a board practices responding to a crisis, the more muscle it has when the time comes – whatever the crisis turns out to be. Those conversations also help deepen directors’ understanding of the business model and ecosystem. They are the antidote to the complacency that can sometimes sneak in when a business appears to be in good hands.

Beyond the playbook, succession is about so much more than having a list of names or even a written plan. If you want a happy ending for your organization’s next succession story, the board must pair future thinking with supportive and enabling behaviours today.


Does your board need help putting together an emergency succession playbook? Email to start the conversation.


Organizations Deserve Diverse Boards

October 25, 2023

Posted in: WATSON Views


By now, we’ve all seen plenty of evidence that diverse, inclusive boardrooms are good for organizations. So why aren’t Canadian boards measuring their own diversity? 

Earlier this year, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) released their 2022 annual report on the Diversity of Boards of Directors and Senior Management of Federal Distributing Corporations.  One of the striking observations from the report was that 1 in 5 boards don’t consider the level of representation of designated groups on their board. When asked why, two of the most common responses were: “It prevents the selection of the most qualified candidates” and “It is not in the best interest of the corporation or shareholders”.  

Corporate Canada, we can do better.  

There is a large and continually growing body of evidence showing diversity correlates with improved outcomes, including higher stock returns, decreased turnover, increased reputation, and higher innovation levels. We’ve seen it ourselves, repeatedly, across the 500+ boards and thousands of directors we’ve worked with across Canada. A diverse and inclusive boardroom generates positive friction and encourages directors to challenge assumptions, leading to healthier discussions that consider a broader range of perspectives and solutions. The result:  better outcomes and more resilient organizations.  

Boards today are tackling increasingly high-stakes issues and material decisions on behalf of their stakeholders to shape a stronger future for their organizations. Those organizations deserve the advantages that come from a diverse and inclusive board. 

So let’s do better because our boards will be better for it. We know implementing the changes that support diversity and inclusion remains a common challenge for many boards, but don’t let that become a barrier to improvement.  Consider this  practical advice from our own experience helping boards navigate these changes: 

  1. Invest in education. Directors often have differing opinions on what diversity means and looks like in practice. Creating a shared understanding can clarify assumptions and bring perspectives much closer together, creating better alignment on the path forward.    
  2. Use the organization’s existing context. Boards today need to consider a greater breadth of stakeholders than ever before. When considering the board’s own diversity, a helpful place to start is the organization’s stakeholder groups. The composition of an organization’s workforce, for example, offers a meaningful point of reference on the diversity of perspectives that need to be considered in the board’s discussions and decision-making processes. A board’s approach to diversity shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all; leveraging the context that the organization operates in will create a better business case for improving the diversity of its directors. 
  3. Make it a policy. Of the boards that disclosed they do consider the level of representation on their board (about two-thirds, according to the same 2022 ISED report), only 1 in 3 have adopted a written policy on the identification and nomination of designated groups. Why does having a policy matter? It signifies a plan from the board to take action. More importantly, not having one raises legitimate questions about the board’s level of commitment and alignment on how it intends to improve. 
  4. Don’t shy away from tough conversations. With a plan to improve diversity outcomes, it is inevitable that difficult conversations impacting existing directors will need to happen. It’s common for boards to rely on term renewal limits to drive composition changes, and while these mechanisms may help evolve composition over time, the reality is that board composition should reflect the needs of the organization as it is now, irrespective of term limits. That means tough conversations may need to happen today to help the organization thrive in the future. But hey, that’s what the board is there for, right? 

Introducing Kayleigh Donahue and Jessica Katul

Posted in: WATSON Views

Get to know Jessica Katul (left) and Kayleigh Donahue (right), two of the newer members of our team. They both bring a wealth of experience and expertise, and we are thrilled to have them on board!

Jessica Katul

Jessica Katul joined WATSON as a Consultant in September. Jess has over a decade of experience in policy, law, and governance, working with boards and leaders from professional associations, government agencies, for-profit and non-profit organizations alike.

At WATSON, Jess leverages her legal background and experience working with boards, committees and senior management teams in complex governance structures on a broad range of projects including board and director evaluations and developing governance frameworks

Jess lives in Oakville with her husband and five children. When she’s not working, you can find her cooking, exercising, spending time in the sun, or curled up with a book.


Kayleigh Donahue

Kayleigh Donahue joined WATSON as an Associate in September. An economist drawn to new challenges, Kayleigh has broad corporate and public sector experience, from provincial finance departments to start-ups.

At WATSON, Kayleigh supports the delivery of a diverse range of governance advisory projects including CEO evaluations, governance diagnostics, board and director evaluations, and board education.

Outside of her work, Kayleigh loves reading, doing yoga, dancing, learning new recipes, and going on family walks in North Vancouver with her husband, son, and fluffy white husky.



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