AAPI Month Boardroom Insights — Interview with Anisa Kamadoli Costa

AAPI Month Boardroom Insights — Interview with Anisa Kamadoli Costa, the first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer at Rivian

AAPI Month Boardroom Insights — Interview with Anisa Kamadoli Costa

For Asian American and Pacific Islanders Month, we’re sharing highlights from interviews with accomplished AAPI leaders making an impact in the boardroom and the world.  

Here, we're honored to introduce, Anisa Kamadoli Costa, and share how she leveraged her sustainability expertise and philanthropic experience to land her extensive list of board roles.

Anisa is currently the first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer at Rivian, an electric vehicle automaker and automotive technology company based in Irvine, CA that recently made TIME’s List of 100 Most Influential Companies of the year 2022. Prior to Rivian, Anisa spent almost 20 years at the prestigious Tiffany & Co. (NYSE: TIF), as their Chief Sustainability Officer, where she drove the company’s global sustainability and corporate responsibility agenda, connecting it to brand and shareholder value through marketing and communications, merchandising, investor relations, risk management, and internal culture.

At Tiffany & Co., Anisa was also the Chairman and President of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation which implements the company’s philanthropic strategy supporting nonprofit organizations dedicated to the stewardship of natural resources. In this dual role, Anisa led the agenda and interfaced regularly with the ESG Committee of the board prior to Tiffany & Co’s acquisition by LVMH last summer.

Anisa is a seasoned board director having previously served on the boards of the Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge Foundation, American Swiss Foundation, Environmental Grantmakers Association and Conservation International’s Leadership Council. In addition, she currently serves as a board of directors for Columbia SIPA and on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Human Rights, having previously served on its Mining and Metals Council.

1. Please share your perspective on the process of landing your first corporate board. Did it come from your personal network?  

My board interviews to date have come from both my professional network as well as recruiting firms. After drafting, seeking input, and finalizing my board bio, I let my network know of my interest in joining a board, and shared my bio and personal value proposition with recruiters with whom I have a trusted relationship and who specialize in both executive hires and placing board candidates.    

2. Did you already have board experience or exposure and if so, what type of governance experience did you already bring to the table?

My experience as a philanthropy and ESG executive has afforded me the opportunity to work closely with nonprofit boards as well as public company boards. As Chief Sustainability Officer and Chairman and President of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, I led the agenda and interfaced regularly with the ESG Committee of the board prior to Tiffany & Co’s acquisition by LVMH last summer. I recently became the first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer for Rivian, the electric vehicle company, and expect to play a similar role.

3. What was your personal value proposition and how was it uniquely suited for that board?

With more than two decades of experience serving as the architect of sustainability strategies and navigating the many environmental, social, and governance challenges embedded across global supply chains, my personal value proposition centers on my deep understanding of how to connect ESG issues to business performance, corporate reputation, marketing and communications, and shareholder value.

4. How do you clarify your potential interest in public vs private board opportunities?

Given my experience working closely with public company boards, I have focused my efforts on identifying public companies that could benefit from a sustainability/ESG voice at the board level. Increasingly, many boards are called upon to address sustainability issues but may lack real-world experience navigating complex issues and diverse constituencies. This is what I can bring to the table.

5. What is the onboarding experience like when joining a board?

No two boards are alike, but excellent onboarding requires existing directors to invest the time to bring a new board recruit up to speed, filling in gaps and providing the necessary context to understand the background information, prior meeting notes, etc. At the same time, it’s incumbent upon a new board member to supplement formal onboarding sessions by doing a great deal of homework and preparation.

6. What was your biggest personal learning from your first board director appointment?

My biggest personal learning was around holding my own voice. While it’s important to be an active listener and bring strong facilitation skills to the table, it’s equally important to trust your expertise and share your views and respectfully disagreeing or offering an alternative perspective.

7. Was there anything that surprised you about governance that you hadn’t originally expected or anticipated?

The necessity of stretching one’s understanding in new directions is essential, and sometimes you have to do this very quickly given the range of governance issues a board must address these days. On the ESG front alone, the complexity of the portfolio can be overwhelming as it spans environmental issues, human rights, activism, supply chain integrity, the list goes on.

8. Can you share any advice to aspiring board directors relative to the Committee selection process?

There are some committee assignments you will naturally gravitate to as a candidate, not least because directors are typically brought onto a board given the need for a specific type of expertise. My advice is to be open to expanding your horizons. Thought not a natural fit for me, I have served twice on audit committees and these experiences have broaden my perspective and added to my experience.

9. Did any of your boards already include diverse directors prior to your appointment?

Yes, they did, and I’m very happy about this. I see this at least in part as a confirmation of the trend in recent years of boards taking their responsibilities seriously around recruiting candidates with diverse experiences and perspectives.

10. How, if at all, did the board's existing demographic status affect your perception of the board opportunity? How might that perception have changed over time?

Search committees I have engaged with have been very open about striving to continuously diversify their boards. The conversations have been candid. I recognize that if I were having the same conversations only a few years ago, things would be quite different—and I might not be having these conversations at all. I view this as a positive development.

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Looking for your next board role, or want more information on the board search process? Join theBoardlist today to get your board search process started.

And if you want to connect with Anisa Kamadoli Costaclick here for her theBoardlist profile.

Thank you to Ascend Pinnacle for your partnership on this AAPI series - if you want to learn more about Ascend Pinnacle's platform to support and increase the number of Asian-Americans on U.S. Corporate Boards - you can find them here.