Dr. Dambisa Moyo
Co-Principal of Versaca Investments – a family office, Global Economist, Author & Board Member
Dambisa Moyo is a co-principal of Versaca Investments – a family office focused on growth investing globally. She serves on a number of global corporate boards including: 3M Corporation, Chevron, and Conde Nast, as well as, the Oxford University Endowment investment committee.
Her areas of interest are in capital allocation, risk, and ESG matters. She is the author of four New York Times bestselling books. Her new book is “How Boards Work – And How They Can Work Better in a Chaotic World”. Dambisa holds a PhD in economics from Oxford University and a Master’s degree from Harvard University.
Dambisa Moyo is truly multi-faced talent. Her conversation with our membership was fast-paced and wide-ranging, with equally deep and thoughtful perspectives on topics from the Chair-CEO relationship to climate change targets and emerging markets.
Of all the questions she answered from Women on Boards members at our Member Check-In, ‘why boards?’ was perhaps the most revealing. Dambisa has had a successful career in finance, is a best-selling author on multiple topics and more, yet has chosen to steer her career into governance as a non-executive. Moreover, in her most recent book ‘How boards work: and how they can work better’ she has developed her extensive practical experience to another level of insight.
“I love complex problems,” Dambisa explains. “Macro-economics, geo-politics, political systems – it’s fascinating. Even in my personal time, I choose to run marathons so it’s fair to say I like a challenge.”
Boards are where this complexity is perhaps most focused. “I always remember a quote from President Obama,” Dambisa recounts, “He said, ‘If it gets to my inbox, it’s because it’s difficult. The easy stuff gets solved before it comes to me.’ It’s the same with boards. They are only asked to make judgements on the tough issues, and they are one of the very few entities that can do so without being ideological.”
Dambisa might not be a Chartered Accountant but she is a financial expert, which is just one of her many value adds to a board. “I do tend to work most closely with the CFO on my boards,” she explains, “What I bring is an exposure to conversations and perspectives the CFO can’t be a part of personally. For example, I can add insights from the regulator and their direction of travel, or perhaps update on emerging issues or practices globally.”
Dambisa was generous enough to explain how she has learnt to translate her knowledge and analysis into corporate value, pointing out that an interest in the issues does not necessarily lead to adding value in the boardroom.
“Very early in my board career, I would just contribute my insights. This got framed as ‘Dambisa is very opinionated on the rise of China’, for example, but it wasn’t clear to others why I was making that contribution.”
“I realised quickly I needed to be more specific about what I was saying. To give my view, but crucially to apply it to that company.”
“That way people can take what my view is, why I have come to that conclusion and how it adds value in a board setting.”
This analytical approach becomes apparent in the numerous issues she addressed.
We asked Dambisa her view on of having employee representatives on company boards. “I agree boards need a better way to address staff issues,” Dambisa responds. “But at the moment I remain unconvinced that employees on boards is the right way to address these problems. There should be some division between management and staff, and workers often do not have the right perspective for oversight. That said, I continue to be open minded on this topic.
What I do observe is that boards have audits on numerous issues – cyber, finance etc. Yet there is usually no worker or people audit. These issues have taken a backseat and we’ve seen some high-profile problems arising for certain firms. Boards could do far more in bringing together the data on worker issues. I’m thinking both from inside the company and from employee sites like GlassDoor, and others, to enhance our understanding at board level of the front-line.”
This ability to cut straight to the deeper issue and re-frame a solution outside those posed was apparent in Dambisa’s responses on the many and varied topics she addressed. It is easy to see how deeply suited her analytical mind is to board work and why her latest book on it has been so well received.