Faces of Modern Leadership: Will Clarke

Kira Ciccarelli
6 min read

The Faces of Modern Leadership series spotlights rising directors who are part of Diligent’s Modern Leadership initiative. The goal of Modern Leadership is to impact diversity, equity and inclusion from the top at organizations around the world, including Diligent’s 25,000 customers.

Will Clarke is an experienced public company board director and Founder and President of Clarke Growth and Sustainment Strategies, a business and leadership advisory firm specializing in guiding companies’ business expansion. He currently serves as an Independent Director for Ascent Solar Technologies. He is also on the Advisory Board for the private company, Glass Inc; the Board of Directors for US Naval Academy Alumni Association, New York; and on the Advisory Council for Posse Foundation, in New York. Previously, he served on the boards of Pillsbury United Communities and Hennepin Technical College Foundation in Minnesota. Before starting Clarke Growth and Sustainment Strategies in 2020, Will led the global supply chain business unit for Atlas Air Worldwide and directed turnaround initiatives for Best Buy.

Background: Experience with Global Talent, Supply Chain, and Business Turnaround

Will brings to the table a 25-year military career as an officer in the US Navy, where he had assignments as a business management professional in finance, supply chain and acquisition/procurement across the continental US, Hawaii, Japan and East Africa. He has extensive experience budgeting for, acquiring, operating and maintaining advanced systems and equipment on ships, submarines, aircraft and aircraft carriers across the world. And of course, adds Will, “I cherished the privilege of working with the fine men and women of the United States Armed Forces.”

After retiring in 2015, Will accepted a position at the Best Buy Headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the height of its storied business turnaround: “I was fortunate to work with a team of folks in upgrading and sustaining the 1,400 Best Buy stores and facilities across the United States to improve the customer experience. We turned negative sales into positive yearly growth. In this capacity, I learned a lot from many notable leaders.”

Following his work at Best Buy, Will then accepted a position at Atlas Airlines, a $3B organization that operates and maintains large cargo and passenger aircraft flying across 74 countries and 314 destinations: “Until that point, a missing piece in my growth and development was that, although I had tremendous finance and budgeting experience from the military, I lacked the hands on P&L management responsibility in the corporate sector.” At Atlas Airlines, he led the global supply chain business unit dispersed across Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America in support of its global operation.

The Secret Sauce for Success

For Will, having lived in 11 states and in Asia and Africa gives him a unique ability to connect with others despite differences in backgrounds. In particular, Will emphasizes the importance of moving from the commonly known standard of the “Golden Rule,” to a new, higher standard called “The Platinum Rule.” He explains, “We need to make the particularly important transition of treating everyone the way we want to be treated to treating others the way they would like to be treated. Making that switch requires intentional and deliberate efforts to really get to know the people around you: Stakeholders, colleagues, direct reports, or indirect reports. It isn’t all about you, it’s about them. What do they want? What do they bring to the table? And How can we treat them with the respect they seek?”

Will explains this generational shift: “The thought that it’s all about us is so far outdated. I often wonder why that revelation has taken so long. When you think about it, things like sharing and collaborating with others are taught in kindergarten. But I think as we get older, we sometimes forget to think about others when focusing on the task at hand.”

He grounds this lack of motivation to change one’s approach in recent events: “Look at what’s happened within the pandemic and what’s come to light with the lack of supply chain resiliency in the United States. This is an issue that, going forward, will fall under enterprise risk management (ERM). For so long, we had become lean with single sourcing or getting things from China looking to cut costs. We know why it happened, but as a result, if you lose something in one area of the world, you’re stuck. Now, we’re going to be moving towards alternate sourcing. Even if we decide that it’s too cost prohibitive, we will have elevated that risk. This is not news. But there was never really an appetite to do this among broader business leaders until the pandemic struck.”

Getting Back to Fundamentals

Will believes that in an increasingly complex world, we need to ground our innovation and learning in fundamentals: “When we think about how we do work, the context may have changed, but the fundamental principles haven’t necessarily changed much. Across the board, I think there’s going to be more focus on general principles.”

And this feeds back into systems and process: “So many people work in complex environments and think that solutions and behaviors need to be complex as well. The ability to explain things in a way that makes sense to others is invaluable here. When you simplify, you can do so in a way that raises the level of what’s important. You aren’t dumbing anything down, but you’re making solutions more accessible. We often don’t want to talk about that process.”

A Passion for New Perspectives

For Will, embracing diverse perspectives is the key to success in the boardroom: “As board members, we aren’t solving the problems, but we are tasked with figuring out if there is a problem, asking the right questions that bring certain issues to the table, and having robust dialogue to help the organization see around the corners.  When you have people with similar perspectives and backgrounds, that tends to foster groupthink, which limits the solution set – and is bad for business.”

Cognitive diversity leading to better outcomes is the ultimate goal: “Thriving despite all the known and foreseeable issues requires diverse ways of looking at things. There will be blind spots that the board does not even recognize. We say ‘diversity,’ but it’s really about cognitive diversity and the way people think and what the ideas they offer. Does the rest of the boardroom recognize, respect and include new ways of thinking?”

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Kira Ciccarelli
Kira Ciccarelli is the Lead Researcher at the Diligent Institute. Diligent Institute is the modern governance think tank and research arm of Diligent Corporation, the leading provider in board collaboration software. In her role, Kira works to conduct and provide high-level modern governance research to inform director decision-making and identify best practices.