In Surfside Ruins, Stark Reminders of Board Duties.

AuthorLevine, Stuart R.

* The tragic collapse of a 13-story condominium in the Surfside neighborhood of Miami that claimed the lives of at least 98 people underscores the need for board members to be both reflective and proactive. Bearing witness to tragedy is part of the human experience yet memory dissipates quickly unless, of course, you endure the unforgettable loss of a loved one, are a first responder, or are now among those anxiously living in a multistory building in south Florida.

In the grand scheme of such unthinkable catastrophe the work of a governing board is hardly top of mind, but for those directors serving on nonprofit or condo association boards, the events of June 24 must have been jarring. As a corporate director viewing the circumstances from the outside, I and many of my peers asked ourselves while scanning media coverage for mention of the board, "What if I were on that board?"

Such tragedies rivet our attention. They should also prompt reflection on our responsibilities as board members. Each of us who have the privilege of serving on boards should commit to having frank discussions about risk in light of what we learn from the experiences of others. What may seem unimaginable must be examined as if we were indeed in that board's shoes: what are our responsibilities, what could we have done differently, and how could we have protected ourselves from risk?


Reflecting on the Surfside tragedy and applying that to governance more generally on each of our own boards, let's be thoughtful about the responsibilities we owe to the stakeholders we serve. The board should regularly and constructively engage in intelligent and forthright conversations on what-if scenarios, confronting the most egregious physical, intellectual, and human failures possible.

There are many reasons that businesspeople decide to serve on boards. There is social and community recognition, linkage to the organization's mission, association with other accomplished individuals, intellectual stimulation, and money. The responsibility of serving on a board today, however, is filled with significantly greater personal and professional risk than in the past. The Surfside tragedy is a grim reminder of those risks--and the likely and severe consequences of inadequate risk oversight for board members and their families. The scope of the Surfside tragedy raises immediate questions about what could have been done to prevent it. Legal proceedings have...

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