Born in the Boardroom
After 16 years at J.P. Morgan, Laura Born uses lessons learned to create value for shareholders.
When Laura Born walks into the board room, she’s focused on representing shareholders – creating value for them and holding their company’s management team accountable for business performance. These days, she also has two additional things top-of-mind: one, protecting the companies she represents from cyber crime, and two, making sure they’re complying with increased and ever-changing regulations.
“It’s not a passive job at all. If you don’t hold your company accountable, someone else will,” Born says.
Cyber and regulation
Lately, Born has noticed a growing need for boards to oversee efforts to safeguard data, especially as hackers grow more and more cunning. Board members must also play a key role in helping their company comply with regulations, a challenging endeavor as regulations around the world evolve.
In addition to understanding the business and holding management accountable, she points out that “boards are expected to understand all of the issues associated with cyber and regulation.”
“But your classic board member doesn’t necessarily have expertise in those areas,” she says, and educating them in both is a crucial step.
Members of a board must also address talent, retention and compensation. It’s a job to be taken seriously, and, Born says, is best done by individuals who can constructively disagree. Expertise is important, but interpersonal skills even more so. “You have to play well in the sandbox.”
Leading with experience
A Chicago native, Born has brought years of experience from deal making at J.P. Morgan into several boardrooms. She’s chair for the Trustees for the Columbia Acorn Trust and the Wanger Advisors Trust, small and mid-capitalization equity mutual funds. She’s a board member and audit committee chair for Carlson Inc., a hospitality and travel company, and she’s on the board of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston.
In her spare time, she teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she attended business school.
“I’m inspired by creating value for shareholders,” Born says. “And with teaching, I’m able to give back, and get people excited about corporate finance.”
Charting new territory
Born started out at J.P. Morgan in New York in 1991, when Sir Dennis Weatherstone — the first J.P. Morgan employee to be knighted by the Queen of England — was CEO. Her initial assignment as a new associate fresh out of business school was in one of the newest parts of the firm at the time, Equity Research.
“Equities was considered one of the biggest growth areas of the firm,” says Born. “They took high performers from classical banking jobs, asked them to innovate and reengineer themselves into the role, and then they took us newbies too.”
She joined one of the first equity research efforts to be established, Healthcare Equities Research, and helped with the firm’s role with investors as J.P. Morgan served as co-manager on Hospital Corporation of America’s (HCA) initial public offering. “It was the firm’s first IPO, and one of those watershed moments.”
From there, Born worked in Mergers & Acquisitions, and then in Equity/High Yield Capital Markets, where she was one of two associates supporting a team of senior bankers, and was exposed to deals across industries.
“It was a great learning experience,” she says. “At the time, we were nowhere in the league tables, and when we had the opportunity to pitch a deal, we were happy.” The firm now consistently ranks in the top two to three firms in the league tables in ECM.
New opportunities and solid training
After working her way up to vice president, Born and her husband wanted to have children and be closer to family in the Midwest. The firm’s Chicago office had been open for a year when Born moved back home, switching from a product role into a client role.
In Chicago, Born landed new business opportunities, including one for Heller Financial, which led to J.P. Morgan’s first ever convertible preferred stock deal. The combination of J.P. Morgan’s local presence, plus a Financial Institutions Group partner and ECM professional who flew in from New York won over the client, she says. Born also worked with McDonald’s, helping to win the sale of its Latin America operations.
“J.P. Morgan was such a great training ground,” she says, “and it’s been an excellent foundation for me. I grew up there thinking ‘this is all about working as a team, not solo.’”
It’s a culture that’s been extremely helpful for her in the boardroom, she says, where collaborating and prioritizing are essential. It’s helped her to work in a matrix where everyone needs to be successful. “You check your ego at the door, and you do everything you can for the business,” Born says.
Teaching and loving what you do
At Booth, Born teaches two courses, Cases in Financial Management and Corporation Finance. She writes her own case studies and often has former colleagues and past clients visit her class, such as Anu Aiyengar, J.P. Morgan’s head of North America M&A and Joseph Neubauer, former CEO and chair of the board of Aramark.
Born’s biggest advice for those in the business world: maintain and nurture your network, and find your passion. “You have to do what you love,” she says. “I have a patchwork of work now – teaching and board work, and I love it. I also make sure I make time for my kids and for another passion: art."
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