What in heaven’s name could I expect from a 2.5-day conference on board governance?

How could the fine folks at public accounting and consulting firm Crowe LLP possibly keep the attention of a room full of non-accountants on such an impossibly dry topic?

In fact, I would wager I lost many readers just this far into this week’s column. For those who are still here, I’ll make this as painless as possible. Perhaps even interesting,

This first thing Crowe did to attract people to the event was to hold it in the River Cree Resort and Casino, on Edmonton’s western fringe. This spectacular facility rivals casinos found on the Vegas Strip (I’ve been to both, so I am qualified to judge, LOL).

“We, the Enoch Cree Nation, proud member of Treaty 6, actively seek to preserve and promote our culture, language, history and spirituality while advancing our economic, education, health, and social well-being of our people,” states informational materials. “Enoch Cree Nation believes that a strong economy leads a stronger nation, and its efforts to promote the economic interests of the nation have effectively brought it closer to its goal of self-sufficiency.”

Cree history and culture was featured in subtle and interesting ways throughout the casino and hotel. It was inspiring for me to see this thoroughly successful Indigenous-owned business development and also to interact with the many First Nations people employed there.

Oh, wait… I’m supposed to be writing about board governance, not my consistent bad luck at some of the 1,400 slick new slot machines and handful of old-school VLT poker machines (that latter I found in the smoking/vaping section of the casino).

Organizers at Crowe were thrilled with the attendance, even opening up additional spots after the first spaces filled up.

Who was there? Well, Canarctic Graphics general manager Sean Crowell — a vice-president with NWT Chamber of Commerce — was there with myself. We were joined by a selection of groups representing a variety of board structures — private companies, membership organizations such as the NWT Chamber and many from governmental boards and Indigenous governments. For example, Sean and myself sat at a table with a leadership group from the Tłıicho community of Gameti — 237 kms northwest of Yellowknife — and there were many others from as far away as Nunavut.

Humour injected

The presenters at the conference were clearly experts in their fields and also very comfortable answering a variety of questions. They kept things moving along and peppered their presentations with appropriate jokes and quips.

This type of conference is to provide board members with the skills and confidence needed to fully engage with each other, their staff and the public. So we were taught the basics of effective governance, board structures, legal responsibilities and fiduciary duties.

I was interested in some of the record-keeping and task tracking tips, as well as how an effective board is structured and the types of committees it should have.

Bottom line: board members jointly supervise and oversee the activities of an organization. Directors owe a fiduciary duty to the corporation and must always act in the best interests of the corporation. There are rules to follow and best practices to consider, adapt and implement. The better the board, the better the organization.

One of the PowerPoint slides contained this phrase: “Control what you can, influence what you can’t control.” Some of you will see the similarity of that risk management mantra with the serenity prayer found in 12-step programs: “… to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can…”

The prayer goes one-step further than the biz mantra: “And wisdom to know the difference.” That, for me, is the key.

At this point in my career, I’m lucky to have buckets of wisdom — from all those good and (woe is me!) several bad decisions so far in my life — to draw from in my relatively new role as executive director for the NWT Chamber.

That, along with the current board members — who have a passion for the NWT Chamber and now boast a vice-president with a whole lot of new training to weigh — should go a long way to provide excellent service to our members as the NWT Chamber heads into its 50th anniversary year in 2023.

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