https://static.theceomagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/28202034/Brian-Stafford_Diligent-410x330.png Brian Stafford, CEO of Diligent
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A Trusted Partner: Brian Stafford

As the business world’s partner in modern governance, CEO Brian Stafford explains why Diligent is the name big and small companies trust as they navigate an ever-changing global landscape.

When companies big and small need a partner in modern governance that they can trust, Diligent is the name they turn to.

"We are the world’s largest governance, risk and compliance SaaS company," CEO Brian Stafford explains. "We help our clients address issues around anything risk, compliance, or ESG-related and help the organization better manage how it is governed."

Over one million users – including over 700,000 leaders and board members – are currently connected to its proprietary platform, a tool that "empowers them with the technology, insights and connections they need to drive greater impact and accountability – to lead with purpose".

The New York-headquartered business counts more than 75 per cent of the Fortune 500, 85 per cent of the FTSE 100 and 85 per cent of the ASX 200 among its clients.

I thought it was rare in the software world to find a company who cared as much about its clients as diligent did. And I saw that as an awesome base to be able to build off.

For Stafford, "the desire to hopefully, through our company at Diligent, make the world a little bit better of a place" is the purpose that drives him in the role that he has held since 2015.

Prior to his current position, he was a partner at McKinsey and Company, where he founded and co-led the consulting business’s Growth Stage Technology practice to help companies scale faster, while concurrently overseeing its software as a service (SaaS) practice.

Growth objectives

At a time when Diligent was undergoing a founder-to-CEO transition, in Stafford, the business identified a leader who could deliver on its desired objectives: an acceleration of global growth using scale to ensure that the evolution was a seamless one.

For Stafford, the attraction lay in Diligent’s "unbelievably high level of customer service".

"An ex-colleague of mine had become a board member at Diligent and introduced me to the business," he explains. "I thought it was rare in the software world to find a company who cared as much about its clients as Diligent did. And I saw that as an awesome base to be able to build off."

Diligent, he continues, has "long been known for having an extremely proactive, concierge-level, service support for its clients".

"If you have any issue with our software at any period of time, 24 hours a day, anywhere in the globe, you can call the Diligent support line and talk to a real person in one of our offices who will solve your problem," he explains.

Such a high level of service, he continues, is truly unique. "Given our clients, in their hundreds of thousands, are board members, CEOs and CFOs around the globe, I totally understood that delivering that high level of service to those individuals was incredibly valuable and important."

Nearly eight years ago, when Stafford accepted the offer to join the company, a relentless quest to deliver the best client service and support was what set Diligent apart in the marketplace – and this unique selling proposition continues to distinguish the company from the competition today.

"It was unique at the time and is still true today," he enthuses. "We have incredibly high Net Promoter Scores that we use to measure how we support, invest in and dedicate ourselves to the success of our clients."

Scale the team

Stafford is talking to The CEO Magazine on the phone from London, where he’s spending the week meeting his team members in the United Kingdom in their new office and speaking to clients about new areas of risk, ethics and compliance and good governance at the company’s The Inside Track on Modern Governance event.

After swapping in-person meetings for Zoom calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stafford’s had a busy few months reconnecting with his global team; prior to the United Kingdom, he was in Ireland celebrating the opening of Diligent’s European hub in Galway.

In total, a team of more than 1,500 people serve over 25,000 customers from offices that – aside from the United Kingdom and Ireland – also include the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Switzerland, Spain, France, Germany, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

If we invest appropriately in our team and support their development, they, in turn, will invest in and spend time helping to make sure that we can support and grow our clients.

And it’s a footprint that is only growing as he focuses on scaling the team to better support the company’s growth – and to invest, in turn, in fostering the team’s development and growth as well.

"We have recruited a tonne of new team members and I want to make sure that, for all the people that we have hired over the course of the last few years, we’re able to be there to best support them," he says.

With such a strategy in place, it looks like Stafford is set to be on the road for much of the next 12-to-18 months as well. But, while it may keep him away from Yankee Stadium for more of his beloved New York Yankees baseball team’s home games than he’d like, he also knows the rewards are worth it.

"If we invest appropriately in our team and support their development, they, in turn, will invest in and spend time helping to make sure that we can support and grow our clients," he explains.

Acquisition strategy

Along with scaling the team, Stafford has also overseen a number of acquisitions, designed "to better support the needs of our clients and to help us be responsive to the areas that our clients want to invest in", he says.

This includes the February 2021 purchase of Galvanize, a global leader in SaaS governance, risk, and compliance software, for a reported sum of US$1 billion, followed by, a day later, the completion of a deal to buy Steele Compliance Solutions, a leading name in ethics and compliance management with a client roster including over a quarter of the Fortune 250.

"Together with Galvanize and Steele, we are excited to drive even greater impact for our clients through a completely integrated GRC [governance, risk and compliance] platform so they can run more effective, equitable, sustainable, and successful organizations," Stafford said, commenting at the time of the announcement.

Earlier this year, Diligent also announced the acquisition of Insightia, a SaaS platform providing listed businesses with insights and analysis, particularly in the domains of shareholder activism, proxy voting and corporate governance.

In a statement at the time, the company spoke of how the combination of Diligent’s leading governance, analytics and ESG solutions and Insightia’s vital intelligence across a variety of public company data "will provide clients with even more meaningful insights to power their board and organizations’ governance practices".

Diligent Beginnings

Diligent was founded in 1994 by partners in life and business, Brian Henry and Kiri Borg. Originally called Manhattan Creative Partners (MCP), they worked with its clients to incorporate the internet into their everyday business.
The model evolved with the launch of Diligent Boardbooks, which Henry describes on his website as "a corporate governance software solution delivered via a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model". In December 2007, the company’s IPO on the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) saw the company valued at NZ$140 million (US$82.5).

Growing importance of governance

This acquisition strategy is a reflection of the shifting mentality towards governance, something he says has been particularly noticeable during his time with the company.

"Over the seven years I have been at Diligent, the business has grown more than five times in size," he explains, adding that this has been driven by an increase in demand around cybersecurity-related issues, compliance, ethical supply chains and how to better address and solve questions around ESG.

"As governance has continued to become more important as organizations are impacted by all the issues that have happened and continue to happen in the world around us, people increasingly are turning to Diligent for software and tools to help them function more effectively," he says.

By staying close to its clients, Stafford knows that the business will continue to stay at the forefront of innovation in an ever-changing governance landscape. "All the innovation that we have and the areas that we invest in are focused on our clients’ needs," he explains.

Over the seven years i have been at diligent, the business has grown more than five times in size.

"The closer we stay to our clients and to understanding what their challenges are, the more nimble and agile we can be to invest and stay ahead of their needs and the market’s needs."

And, in the current global climate of political, environmental and social volatility, he understands that his client’s needs are higher than ever.

"The world has changed so dynamically over the course of the last three-plus years that it has put incredible stress and pressure on organizations around how they respond to the new risks that are out there, how they meet the ever-increasing needs around compliance, how they address issues like sustainability and ESG, and how they provide the right infrastructure to set the right governance and steward the company forward through the myriad of risks that they face."

He expands, adding that along with cyber risks that are "increasing almost by the day", its clients must address new or more present risks associated with the employment of their team, whether that’s diversity, equity or inclusion.

"With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and associated sanctions, there is a new set of risks that our clients need to be vigilant about and manage," he explains. "It seems like every month or every quarter, there’s a new set of risks that our clients encounter and they need to be able to manage and adapt to these changing circumstances."

Leadership Next

Speaking with Fortune’s Leadership Next podcast in April 2022, Stafford discussed the shifting role of board members in the modern age.
"The role of the board has changed pretty materially over the last 10 years," he told hosts Alan Murray and Ellen McGirt.

"The board’s primary role is still hiring and firing the CEO, ultimately, but the reality is, as the specter of what a company is responsible for, what the role of leaders are responsible for, the role of the board has changed materially.

"What used to be a relatively cushy job 10 years ago, where you show up four times a year… if you fast forward to where we are today, the boards are at some level accountable for the increasing specter of activity, whether it’s DE&I [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion], whether it’s anything across your broader set of stakeholders, whether it is issues around compliance issues around sustainability, the climate, your employees," he continues.

"The era of stakeholder capitalism has really exposed boards or asked the boards to extend far beyond what they used to be responsible for and [take responsibility] for all the issues that touch on the broader set of stakeholders."

ESG at the core

Arguably, none are more important in the long term than the risks around the environment – "and the impact our clients have on the environment", he says. Among the ESG solutions Diligent is investing in innovating for its clients are the creation of frameworks and data tracking capabilities which can be shared with all stakeholders.

The business is also a partner with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and is committed to enacting the WEF International Business Council’s ‘Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism’ ESG metrics.

With ESG increasingly at the core of its business as Stafford and his team guide other businesses towards meaningful environmental, social and governance goals, it’s little surprise that Diligent has some important sustainability targets of its own.

"As a broader business, we have made a net zero commitment and are actively working and investing in making our business more sustainable than ever," he explains.

For our clients, the world is changing so quickly that companies and organizations need real partners to help them adapt to that change.

The company is working towards a 2040 date to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its operations, although Stafford hopes the goal will be reached before that deadline.

"We think we can beat the net zero commitment we made for 2040 and bring it forward as we invest in the long-term sustainability of how we operate as a business," he says. "I’m excited to make that happen sooner, hopefully by 2030."

ESG efforts include its Modern Leadership initiative, the largest and most diverse network of leaders and executives in the world, Diligent Global Day of Service, volunteering events in local communities, and the Diligent Institute, a think tank for undertaking and publishing free research on key topics across ESG, executive compensation and corporate governance.

His is a role where no two days are ever the same, but there are certain responsibilities that remain constant. "For our clients, the world is changing so quickly that companies and organizations need real partners to help them adapt to that change," he says.

"We’ve been fortunate to stay at the forefront of investing behind our client’s needs to better support them. And that’s allowed us to stay close to them to aid them to address these ever-changing risks and needs."

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