Home » Creating a Legacy in Professional Director Development: A Founding Faculty Perspective (Part 2)

Creating a Legacy in Professional Director Development: A Founding Faculty Perspective (Part 2)

May 29, 2023

quote from founding faculty on the impact of the Chartered Director Program

In Part 1 of our reflections with some founding faculty members we looked at the early days of the Chartered Directors Program, – and discussed the Program’s first three modules. Taking a deeper look at modules 4 and 5 and their truly unique blend of lectures, case studies and business simulations that allow participant to put their leaning into practice are John Dalla Costa and Bob Willard, along with board simulators Marvin Ryder and Isabel Meharry and facilitator Peter Gardiner-Harding.

Module 4 – Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast (if you let it!)

In 1998, John Dalla Costa released his book “The Ethical Imperative,” a response to the globalization of the 1990s arguing that moral leadership was good for business. David Brown, one of the founders of The Directors College, was aware of John’s work and approached him to co-design a session for the C.Dir program’s fourth module.

Whereas modules 1 – 3 would examine the “job” of the director, module 4 would focus on director and board “behaviour” channelling an oft quoted Jeffrey Sonnenfeld statement: “What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems.” The module would begin with an EQI workshop to help participants define the behaviours they associated with both effective and ineffective directors and the faculty would use these insights to help guide the class through a series of complex governance topics including John Dalla Costa’s session on ethics.

For John, any governance discussion on “behaviour” needed to start with an understanding of a director’s “fiduciary” duty in its truest sense – to serve as the ethical conscience of their organization. His session was designed to get C.Dir. participants invested in the ethical values of their company. To quote John, “The idea was not to set up a separate ethics department or a compliance check list but to have ethics permeate an organization from top to bottom.”

Over the past 20 years, Dalla Costa has witnessed a shift in how module 4 participants react to his material. He recalls that “in the first five to seven years, there was a lot of resistance to the conversation. We were trying to convince people of the value of having ethical filters and the capacity to ask tough questions. Coming out of the 2008-2010 financial crisis there was a noticeable shift in mindsets and an understanding that it is a critical competency to bring to the boardroom.”

The last 10-15 years have also witnessed a growing commitment by directors to take meaningful action on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) issues. However, in 2003, when The Directors College launched its inaugural program, topics like corporate social responsibility and climate change were still not top of mind for many corporate boards.

Bob Willard, an expert on corporate sustainability strategies, was involved with the Chartered Directors program from the very start but his early lectures were usually delivered over a short lunch break. Including a topic like sustainability on the agenda was deemed forward thinking at the time. However, by 2014, Bob’s lectures became a permanent and substantive part of the module 4 curriculum.

Over the course of his involvement with the program, Willard says he gained a new understanding of how governance can stimulate change. “I started to realize purpose drives governance and governance drives everything,” Willard explains. “If we don’t pay attention to governance for sustainability, it’s not going to work. Sustainability governance leads to a culture that is validating attention to ESG/sustainability, its not going to work.” As a regular module 4 lecturer, Willard has worked to further legitimize the topic of sustainability as an important part of board deliberation, a fact he is immensely proud of.

The module 4 curriculum has continued to evolve over the past decade adding or refining governance topics on innovation, reputation and crisis management, director liability, corporate purpose, and a session on why directors need to adopt an “activist” mindset. The module’s 3-days of content prepares participants to tackle the complex behavioral challenges they will encounter in their final capstone module.

Module 5 – The Hollister Simulation

During Module 5, the cohort participates in a series of simulated board and committee meetings, acting as Hollister board directors. Students both participate in a simulation and watch one: it allows them to experience a board meeting from various perspectives, leading to them developing invaluable insights on how to approach future board meetings. Through the first C.Dir four modules, students develop invaluable insights on how to govern effectively – in the final module, they go one step further – they apply everything they have learned to govern in the best long-term interest of Hollister, its shareholders and its many associated stakeholders.

Marvin Ryder, a marketing and entrepreneurship professor at McMaster University, has been involved with the C.Dir program since the very beginning; but his first involvement was as an understudy. In the fall of 2003, Ryder was recruited at the last minute to play the role of board chair of Hollister Inc. whose job was to set the stage for a series of simulated committee and board meetings. For Ryder, the inaugural “Hollister” simulation was a nonstop headache-inducing haze, filled with constant learning on the fly that ended with the cohort voting to fire the company CEO! “It was the most stressful two days of my life,” he says, reflecting on the various issues faced during the trial run and which needed to be addressed in future offerings.

Module 5 has changed substantially over the years thanks in part to the work of Marvin Ryder, and in large part, to the work of Peter Gardiner Harding and his team of Hollister faculty and simulators. The key was adjusting expectations. As Peter recently noted: “It took a while for us to let go of the notion that a good simulation was going to provoke or prompt participants to come to the perfect solution. We quickly learned that we couldn’t predict the engagement level or the abilities of any given group of 20 to 30 people, so the mix was always going to be different. Our best approach is to find everyone where they are and help them move forward form there.”

The C.Dir Legacy

The Chartered Directors Program has had a tremendous positive impact on the state of corporate governance in Canada since it launched 20 years ago. In particular, modules 4 and 5 were ahead of their time with their forward-thinking, behavioural based curriculum. For the educators involved, the continued success of these two modules is a huge point of pride. “It is absolutely amazing,” Ryder says, reflecting on the lessons of the module 5 simulation: “I could argue it’s more relevant today than it has ever been.”

Isabel Meharry, a long-time module 5 simulator who plays the role of Hollister CFO, sums up the feelings of many of her C.Dir. colleagues when she says that being part of the program has made her a better board member. “I learn something new every session. Sometimes, it is factual knowledge, other times it is a new perspective on an issue, and often it is something behavioural.”

Our thanks to:

John Dalla CostaJohn Dalla Costa is the founding director of the Centre for Ethical Orientation providing ethics and trust consulting to private and public sector organizations around the world. John has published six books and numerous articles on issues relating to the human, social, and environmental obligations confronting managers and executives.



Peter Gardiner-HardingPeter 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.



Isabelle Meharry

Isabel Meharry, MBA, FCPA, FCA, C. Dir, GCB.D, CCB.D has a 30 year career as a performance-driven senior executive and board advisor. She is a financial, audit, and risk management expert. She currently sits on the boards of Dundee Corporation, Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation, Aprio Inc., and the Ideal Canadian Pension Plan.



Marvin RyderMarvin Ryder has been part of the McMaster University and DeGroote School of Business faculty for more than 35 years, specializing in marketing, entrepreneurship and business strategy. He has served on numerous boards, and is currently Chair of the Hamilton Health Sciences Research Institute.



Bob WillardBob Willard is a leading expert on quantifying the business value of sustainability strategies, founder of Sustainability Advantage offering free, open-source toolkits, presentations and white papers, and author of six sustainability-related books, including The New Sustainability Advantage.