Home » Creating a Legacy in Professional Director Development: A Founding Faculty Perspective (Part 1)

Creating a Legacy in Professional Director Development: A Founding Faculty Perspective (Part 1)

May 15, 2023

Quote from founding faculty on the behavioral aspects of the Chartered Director Program

Where Are the Directors Now briefly explored the history of corporate governance education in Canada and the 2003 launch of two national governance accreditation programs. Reflecting on the early days of the Chartered Directors Program (C.Dir) with the Program’s Founding Principal, Chris Bart, and founding module 1 to 3 faculty members, Chris Chen, Peter Gardiner-Harding and Archie Thomas, it soon becomes clear that the Program’s remarkable 20-year legacy is closely tied to its original 5-module design with its emphasis on relevant content, engaging delivery, and the need for “open space” to take an occasional risk or two.

Following the governance implosion of the early 2000s, Dr. Chris Bart, a lifelong researcher, and educator working at McMaster University decided to research why the collapse had happened. He concluded that the board members involved lacked (or had forgotten) the skills necessary to provide effective governance to their organizations. “The conclusion I reached was that there was a need for a special education program aimed at board directors,” Dr. Bart recounts. “One that would give them the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed in order to raise their competency to 21st century standards.”

He designed a 5-module program that would go beyond teaching rules-based compliance issues and explore what he believed were the core behavioral principles for successful governance – competence, curiosity, courage, and collaboration. Program participants would learn about each concept in depth, particularly on the final day of their opening module. The proceeding modules would also tackle the various roles and responsibilities of board directors in the areas of strategy, leadership, finance, risk, and organizational culture. The program was designed to emphasize what Dr. Bart saw as the key behavior for directors, humility. Directors must always seek to learn more and ask questions in order to make thoroughly informed decisions. “You ask questions with one purpose in mind and that is to gain reasonable
assurance that what you are hearing and being asked to approve makes sense,” Dr. Bart says.

Dr. Bart took his idea to the McMaster administration and the DeGroote School of Business Dean and they agreed it was a great concept but told him McMaster, at that time, lacked the internal resources to pull it off alone. As luck would have it, The Conference Board was also looking for an educational partner so when the two sides eventually came together and they quickly aligned around Dr. Bart’s curriculum plan. “After an hour of conversation, we all stood up, shook hands, and decided. Launch the torpedoes,” Dr. Bart recounts. Dr. Bart was named the Principal of the program and his first task was to assemble an accomplished team of educators who could deliver the syllabus engagingly and compellingly.

The Founding Faculty

Twenty years ago, Peter Gardiner-Harding was starting a theatre-based learning company called Plays That Work when he was asked to join the inaugural Chartered Director program faculty. He recalls being excited by the program and its approach to education that encouraged emergent learning, allowing participants to integrate core lessons into their personal experiences in governance. He soon put his acting and facilitation skills into practice designing an immersive simulation for the program’s opening module reminiscent of a boardroom version of the film 12 Angry Men.

For Gardiner-Harding, the last two decades spent teaching the program have been a source of pride, witnessing the uniqueness of every module shaped by its cohort and their differing experiences and backgrounds. “The last 20 years we’ve been creating and recreating stories that may appear to be similar but are different every time people show up,” says Gardiner-Harding. “Emergent learning needs surface all the time with participants and they’re different, unique, but they’re also urgently needed for people to integrate what they’re learning and make it usable in their practice.”

While much of the C.Dir program’s initial structure remains the same today, the changing demographics within the cohorts have led to countless unique learning experiences. “I think the questions are getting better because the perspectives coming in are different,” says Chris Chen while reflecting on how the program has changed since he started teaching.

Chen first got involved with the C.Dir. program through his job at the Hay Group who were assessing an opportunity to sign on as one of The Director College’s founding sponsors. Chen attended a module and evaluated the Program on behalf of the firm. He immediately saw the Program’s inherent value and brought his finding back to his colleagues. Chen, now Managing Director at Compensation Governance Partners (CGP), has facilitated sessions in executive and director compensation for almost two decades.

For Chen, the most fascinating aspect of his faculty role has always been watching the growth in the students as they progress through the program. “I’m most proud of going from module 2 to module 5 and seeing the progression in some of the board members,” he says. “The light goes on, and I can see in their eyes (they’re thinking), ‘this is what executive comp is about…it’s me making this tough call on how to deal with the human aspect of my board members.”

Lecturer Archie Thomas’s first involvement with the Program was as a representative for The Institute of Internal Auditors Canada. Having heard about the Program, the IIA approached The Directors College and inquired whether the course would address internal auditing and its importance to successful corporate governance. The Directors College responded favorably, and a partnership was formed where the IIA would provide the instructors and material for a module and would become a founding sponsor.

The Program’s emphasis on internal auditing was one of many aspects that set it apart from the competition. Traditionally seen as a lesser role by board directors, internal audit can play a significant part in raising the performance of an organization. The Chartered Directors Program gave internal audit the attention it deserved. “(We) were very proud of the Director’s College because of the way it respected internal audit,” Thomas says.

During Module 3, board members learn the importance of the internal audit and they are encouraged to actively engage with management instead of, for example, rubberstamping a strategic plan. Thomas says the program has made a major impact, “I think we’ve begun to see the difference in the awareness and level of internal auditing in Canada where there are Chartered Director graduates on the board.”


The Director College, Chartered Directors Program has helped redefine what is expected of a board director. Reflecting on the program and its overall impact, the founding faculty all share immense pride. “We were revolutionaries in corporate governance,” Dr. Bart says, recounting the program’s launch. “We were trying to reset the framework that directors need to adopt if they were going to understand 21st-century best practices. Offering a very unique, ahead of its time program, was something that was extremely exciting.”

Two decades later, that initial excitement has yet to fade, with each semester bringing a new diverse cohort and leading to fascinating new learning experiences. For the faculty, the course is as exciting as ever. Chris Chen sums up this shared feeling of satisfaction succinctly, “The questions remain the same, but the answers are different every time we teach. So, I still find it fascinating.”

In our next post, we will continue our discussion with founding faculty from modules 4 and 5 to get their reflections on the 20-year legacy of the C.Dir program and its ongoing impact on advancing good governance in Canada.

Our thanks to:

Chris Bart

Dr. Chris Bart, FCPA, FCIoD, RCC, HRCCC, C.Dir. is the Co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Caribbean Governance Training Institute, and the Caribbean Institute of Directors. He is also the Founder of The Directors College of Canada where from its inception in 2003 to 2013, he served as its inaugural Principal and Lead Professor.



Chris Chen Christopher Chen has worked extensively with private and public sector clients across Canada in all aspects of executive pay and governance including compensation strategy, competitive benchmarking, and incentive design. As a former lawyer and in-house advisor, he brings deep technical and industry expertise to his clients.



Peter Gardiner-Harding Peter Gardiner-Harding is a corporate actor and learning facilitator. Originally trained as a Chartered Accountant, his diverse vocations bring a balance to his artistic exploration within client companies. He co-founded playsthatwork inc. in 1989 and produces experiential-based training products which bring the spirit of theatrical discipline to business.



Archie Thomas Archie R. Thomas, CIA, FCPA, FCMA, CFE, C.Dir is a Consulting Internal Auditor in risk, control, governance, quality, and training. He has worked in over a dozen countries in a wide variety of industries. He is an IIA Distinguished Faculty Member, a qualified Internal Audit Quality Assessor, and
frequent speaker. Archie is a past board member of both the Global Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), where he chaired the Audit Committee, and of IIA Canada.