Marisa Drew is Credit Suisse’s CEO Impact Advisory and Finance. Prior to this role, from 2013 to 2017, Marisa was the Co-Head of the EMEA Investment Banking and Capital Markets (IBCM) Division. She has been in the investment banking business for over 30 years and joined Credit Suisse in 2003, to establish the Leveraged Finance Origination Group. Prior to joining Credit Suisse, Marisa worked for Merrill Lynch for eleven years and was instrumental in the formation of Merrill Lynch’s European Leveraged Finance Group. Marisa is also active in recruitment, diversity and philanthropic initiatives in the industry. She sits on the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board and is a Trustee of the Credit Suisse Foundation. She also sits on the European boards of Room-to-Read and the Wharton School.


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What boards, private and third sector, do you currently sit on, and which have you sat on in the past?

Because I have held senior positions in a bank, I have historically been prohibited from serving on public company boards to prevent any conflict of interest. The kinds of boards that I have sat on have been largely non-profit or private company advisory boards. In respect of non-profits, I serve on the UK advisory board of the Room to Read charity, the EMEA advisory board of the Wharton School, the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board (part of the Kennedy School of Government), and I am a Trustee of Credit Suisse’s UK Foundation, which is a grant-making organisation focused on the UK with an EMEA presence as well. On the business side, I sit on the FCA Markets Practitioners panel, which functions as an advisory group to help inform UK regulatory policy. In connection with my new role at Credit Suisse, I am also sitting on a number of high-level working groups sponsored by civil society organisations like the World Economic Forum, the UN and the EU Commission that advise policy-makers, on the way the financial markets can help attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals and accelerate the corporate sustainable transition. Similarly, I am involved with the Blended Finance Taskforce, which looks at how to bring the public and private sectors together in a blended way to facilitate private capital to invest in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Why did you choose to join the board of a cultural organisation?

Although it is not a formal board role, I was the patron of Credit Suisse’s relationship with the National Gallery, and through that partnership I became exposed to what an amazing organisation it is, in terms of history, reach, and their mission to democratise access to art for people in the UK and globally. So when I was offered the opportunity to steward that relationship, I was delighted to take on that position.

At the beginning of my career, I was often asked to join the boards of charities. I am a ‘numbers person’, and in those early days I had a hard time reconciling the fact that most of the non-profit organisations I looked at did not have the types of quantifiable, measurable KPIs, cost control targets or analytics that I was used to seeing in the business world that drive companies to effective outcomes – so when I found Room to Read over a decade ago, it was an easy decision to accept an advisory board role because the founder, John Wood was clear on applying business principles to his charity which I found to be a refreshing example within the charitable sector. He was clear about top-line goals and maniacal about expenses, and I appreciated this as a business person and believe it is why they have been so successful in delivering extraordinary results touching millions of children.

What are the key differences between your experiences on the private sector and charitable boards?

Without question, the biggest difference is that charitable boards are nearly always looking for funding – it is different for a professional organisation that is self-funding or a government-sponsored initiative that has a budget funding allocation. While everyone in the charitable sector aspires to multi-year grants or a big endowment, typically the funding cycle is on an annual basis, so every year most charities start from zero – thus a large portion of the efforts of the board through the year is dedicated to securing sources of fresh capital. On both business and charitable boards, you are constantly thinking about value drivers – in business, it is about the drivers that lead to financial and shareholder returns, whereas for charities it is about the impact you are making on the community or on the other beneficiaries you serve. Therefore in comparison, the two types of boards may have different fundamental targets – impact over profit, and funding over balance sheet optimisation – but the quest for determining and delivering value is the same.

What is the most unexpected lesson you have learned from your experience on third sector boards that you have then used for your NED/similar positions?

We are currently in a societal paradigm shift, and in a funny way it is probably rooted in the non-profit sector, i.e. the concept of being driven by purpose. The charitable sector is by definition driven by ‘the mission’ over profits. What I find intellectually provocative today is the emerging notion that corporate purpose and profit not only do not have to be in separate buckets but that they are mutually reinforcing rather than being mutually exclusive. We’re seeing this concept resonating, particularly in the psyche of the talent of the future - Millennials and GenX - who believe corporate purpose needs to include a positive contribution to society. For these generations, it is more important for them to work for a business that is doing something positive for the world than to receive a few extra dollars in their paycheck. But they also are expressing these beliefs in the companies they patronise. Looking at the recent IPO of Beyond Meat, for which Credit Suisse was a lead underwriter, it has been the best performing IPO globally in twenty years. This company, whose fundamental mission is to help the environment by reducing our reliance on eating beef, just demonstrates that a purpose-driven company targeted at the Millennial consumer can capture both the zeitgeist and the consumer wallet while also delivering an extraordinary return for shareholders.

What is the biggest challenge your arts/culture/charitable organisations are facing right now?

Funding is a challenge, but another point I would make is that whether one is a charity or a for-profit enterprise, there is the constant threat of disruption and technology is only accelerating the disruption phenomenon. On my Wharton board for example, we are constantly evaluating the profound change that online education is forcing in the sector.

Technology is also disrupting fundraising models – the concept of crowdfunding for charitable causes has democratised charitable giving and has given broad access through mobile connectivity to those who may not have been the typical donor, but it also means that the Millennial demographic, who are just entering their peak earning years, may not be as keen to participate in the old fundraising models such as annual black-tie galas and auctions. If an organisation is not nimble enough to respond to these trends it will be disrupted by those who are. Looking at lessons I take from the impact investing arena, I think the charitable sector needs to be attuned to this new way of thinking – in philanthropy, donors of course give their capital and do not ask for a return, but the whole idea underpinning the ethos of impact investing is that one can invest capital and achieve positive environmental or social outcomes while also making a financial return – the investor can then take those returns and invest them to do more good, thereby achieving a ‘double’ or even ‘triple bottom line’. Impact investing is now a $500bn market and it would be wise for charitable organisations to be thinking about this new breed of ‘philanthropist/investor’ and how to cater to their ambitions.

One final point is a lesson learned from the financial crisis. Post-crisis, following the market shock that took place, many charities saw their government and private funding dry up overnight leaving them in crisis. Even today, so many charities I see do not run contingency planning for the ‘what if’ disaster case and they have no Plan B in place; scenario risk modelling is something any thoughtful board should demand. Building in resilience plans is arguably an even more critical issue for the charitable sector than it is for the corporate world which often has more funding relief valves in times of stress.

When have you gotten it wrong, and what did you learn?

Not enough diversity in our corporates and governing our philanthropic organisations is a long-standing issue of mine, whether on boards or in executive/operating management and it has taken too long to see change implemented and have diversity embedded deeply within and across organisations. Speaking just about gender, today it can still be lonely place for women in charitable board leadership ranks, and yet most people intuitively understand that it is a mistake from the attraction of talent point of view (always an issue for non-profits) and from the perspective of missing out on those that can bring a lens that understands half of the population and a key target demographic. An example which is more about getting it right than wrong because of our diverse leadership is one that came up very recently. We were evaluating a grant for an organisation that was focussed on disadvantaged young men and the barriers and challenges they face. The organisation was doing great work but as a diverse governance group, we ultimately concluded that we should only proceed if the organisation would expand its activities to include women - and that part of the equation for serving these young men effectively is to deal with their relationships with women. In this case for our board, diversity was as important a topic across our governance group as it was for the beneficiaries of the charity we were looking to fund.

An example of where I have gotten it wrong probably on more than one occasion is hanging on and funding an organisation for too long because we fell in love with the founder/champion when the business model was just not working or when the agreed goals were not being achieved. Sometimes a clinical, dispassionate view is required and is ultimately the best outcome for all parties.

What is your advice to someone joining their first board in any sector?

I would make sure there is no mismatch in expectations. I would be very introspective about identifying where your skills can and should fit within the organisation, and rigorously test if there is something you can genuinely bring to the table and if that is what the board will really value. In the charitable sector for instance, often boards say they want a certain skill set or value proposition and that can be flattering, but they really desire is your rolodex or your fundraising capability. Further still, charity boards frequently expect their members to be donors of a certain threshold. If expectations are not clear on both sides, it can be uncomfortable farther down the road so I would advise teasing out whether there’s a price of entry before joining a board and ensuring you know what they really want from you ahead of time.

Susan Boster is the Founder and CEO of Boster Group Ltd. an independent marketing consultancy that creates innovative brand partnerships for global corporations and cultural institutions to achieve business and social impact goals. Current and recent clients include BNP Paribas, Montblanc, Insight Investment, Moët Hennessy, AMEX, Gap Inc., Credit Suisse, Bacardi, EY and Disney. Boster Group shapes partnerships on the basis of shared values, untapped assets and complementary capabilities. Distinctly, Boster Group measures return on investment for its clients and is focused on the impact of the creative campaigns it develops. Previously a CMO for News International, Susan is currently on the boards of English National Ballet, Donmar Warehouse, The Representation Project, and serves on the Enterprise Committee at The Design Museum.


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