If you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, it can be extremely useful to have another Fortune 500 CEO on your board—someone who knows very intimately the management challenges you face.
Providing those distinctive kinds of insight is one of the ways that Chris Policinski, CEO and president of Arden Hills-based Land O’Lakes, contributes to the boards of Xcel Energy and Hormel Foods.
“Frankly, we all face similar challenges,” Policinski says of his fellow CEOs. For any chief executive, it’s always valuable, he says, “to see how another organization works, how another leader leads, how your peers on a board of directors think about issues,” he adds. “Sometimes it’s the same. Sometimes it has the same objective but a different way of thinking about getting there. Sometimes they approach the same problem with the same path and reach a different conclusion, which really causes you to think and broaden your mindset.”
Other Board Service
University of Minnesota Foundation 2011-present
The University of Minnesota Carlson School 2010-present
Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy 2008-present
Minnesota Business Partnership 2005-present
Grocery Manufacturers Association 2000-present
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives2005-present
Greater Twin Cities United Way (past chair)2005-14
As a public company director, Policinski works with two Minnesota-based companies. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, “continues to provide great service to its customers in its territories,” he says, working on a “public stage of great visibility.” Policinski joined the Xcel board in 2009. He joined Austin-based Hormel Foods’ board in 2012. Though Hormel has been around a long time, Policinski says, it’s “an amazing growth company” that constantly introduces new products and innovations to market.
Since a company board should represent the shareholders, “it needs to keep one eye on short-term performance and make sure the business is performing in a manner that reflects the marketplace, delivering on your plans and your commitments to your shareholders,” Policinski says. “But the board also needs to be thinking about 10 years out—where the company’s positioned and where it’s going for that long haul. I think that is [a perspective] I have brought back to Land O’Lakes and our board.”
Jeffrey Ettinger, Hormel’s chairman, CEO and president, praises Policinski’s “keen skills of diplomacy and determined way of addressing industry challenges.” Policinski, he adds, asks insightful questions and is, “without question, viewed as a respected, knowledgeable contributor.” Ben Fowke, Xcel Energy’s chairman, CEO and president, echoes many of Ettinger’s sentiments. “Chris is an easy guy to work with,” Fowke says, “but don’t misunderstand that as someone who doesn’t hold you accountable.” At the same time, Fowke adds, Policinski builds trust. “It’s very important that board members work together and very important that you trust one another. Chris’ style and manner and track record lend themselves to a very good team relationship.”
Both Xcel Energy and Land O’Lakes, Fowke notes, “have multiple stakeholders. And Chris in his [director] role is excellent in understanding how to communicate across a broad array of stakeholders. He shared some of that knowledge and those skills with us.”
In addition, Fowke observes, Land O’Lakes and Xcel both provide “essential services to society,” and have multiple stakeholders. Policinski has had experience at Land O’Lakes homing in on a company’s core businesses and shedding unnecessary ones. “He’s very disciplined about the areas you don’t want to invest in,” Fowke says. “And it’s his questions and his commentary around our own business plans that I’ve found very useful.”
Policinski describes his directorial style as “pleasantly but assertively speaking my mind at board meetings on all issues,” he says.
At the same time, Policinski sees part of his job as a director to be “a good listener to other points of view.” From there, he adds, “the wisdom of the board takes over. I’m less concerned at that point that my point of view be accepted, but rather that it was heard by my peers whom I respect.” All told, Policinski sees his role as director as making good organizations stronger—by working with the organizations. “I think the power of a great board is to work as a full board as a collective, in conjunction with management,” he says.
Besides the two public company boards, Policinski also has served on several nonprofit boards, notably the Greater Twin Cities United Way, where he was a chairman. To Policinski, nonprofit board service is part of what a business CEO should contribute to his or her community. “You want to contribute,” he says of board service. “You want to work with people that you like. But I get as much back in terms of learning about how other people think. Maybe even more.”