Anne Sempowski Ward

Anne Sempowski Ward

For board service to SPS Commerce (2020-present) and Vanda Pharmaceuticals (2019-present)

Other board service

CURiO Brands 2012-present

Duke Fuqua School of Business 2020-present

Spectrum Brands 2020-2021

Duke Fuqua Minority Alumni Advisory Board 2011-2019

Procter & Gamble Fund trustee 2000-2006

Anne Sempowski ward lives by this personal motto: Take a leap. She did it early in her career, when she persuaded Procter & Gamble to create a multicultural marketing position specifically for her. She did it again when she became assistant vice president of Coca-Cola Co. at 34 years old. So taking on three board director positions while also running a company is on par for her forward momentum.

“From her thought leadership and governance experience to her knowledge about developing strategies and scaling companies, Anne is the best-prepared person I have ever worked with,” says Dick Dugan, board director of Washington, D.C.-based Vanda Pharmaceuticals, where Ward serves on the audit and compensation, governance, and nominating committees.

Organization is key, considering the many responsibilities on Ward’s plate. Today, she is the CEO and executive board leader of Minneapolis-based CURiO Brands, parent company to Thymes and Capri Blue bath and home brands.

Bringing a sitting CEO’s perspective to boards offers timely perspective, Ward believes. Particularly in a year like 2020, Ward knew firsthand the urgent challenges each company’s leadership team faced. Managing through supply chain disruptions, remote work, and renewed focus on diversity and inclusion were big topics on the boards she serves, as well as for her own company.

“I bring that sensibility of being able to think about what the management team is going through on a day-to-day basis,” Ward says. “It helps me be a better board member.”

That CEO perspective was important to SPS Commerce CEO and board director Archie Black when he went looking to fill a board seat last year at SPS Commerce. “The leadership piece is really important to us,” he says.

The advantages work both ways. Corporate board service “gives me a broader way to look at the business landscape,” Ward says, revealing “things I may not be thinking about.”

Ward carefully chose to serve on boards in technology and pharmaceuticals—fields that could benefit from her consumer experience and broaden her own thinking. In the case of SPS Commerce, Black says Ward’s extensive retail brand experience gives her an edge.

Since joining CURiO Brands as CEO in 2012, Ward has transformed the nearly 40-year-old bath, body, and home fragrance company into a high-growth, vertically integrated portfolio of brands with high shareholder returns. She’s also doubled the company’s total value through acquisitions.

Ward has a reputation for growing consumer brands. During her time at P&G, she led the integration of Clairol, the company’s largest acquisition up to that point. She then increased the beauty brand’s sales by 17 percent in the first six months as part of the P&G portfolio. At Coca-Cola, she developed a plan to increase the company’s African American share of the non-alcoholic beverage market from 27 to 50 percent. After Coca-Cola, she moved from Atlanta to Chicago to lead Johnson Publishing, parent company to Ebony magazine.

But board service had been a goal since her days at P&G, when a mentor encouraged her to serve on the P&G Fund board, the nonprofit that allocates P&G’s philanthropic giving. The experience opened her eyes to the important role boards play in guiding companies, setting goals, and making change. And as a Black woman, Ward recognized that her point of view was missing from many boardrooms.

“Most of the rooms I walk into, I’m maybe the only, the first, or one of a very small population. I think that provides a degree of opportunity and a door to help educate others about how I see the world,” Ward says. “My lived experience plus my work experience brings a cultural competency that many [boards] are looking for as they try to navigate the diversity and inclusion path or, more generally, think about how to embrace different stakeholders and people.”

Ward is also working to get more women of color into board positions around the state and country. After the murder of George Floyd, Ward led an initiative through the Women Corporate Directors organization to help women of color in Minnesota prepare for and secure board seats and positions of impact. “I like to tell people I’m a woman on a mission looking to change the complexion and voices of boardrooms,” Ward says.

She also serves on the Women Corporate Directors Diversity Steering Committee, a nationwide initiative. “I love having the opportunity to share things I’ve been through and help companies and individuals continue to be successful,” Ward says. “It’s why I run a company every day, and it’s why I sit on boards.”