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Merck, illycaffè, REI Co-op and AMN Healthcare CEO Susan Salka Named 2021 Visionary Award Honorees by Women Corporate Directors

Special Member Leadership Award Presented to Susan Remmer Ryzewic

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Recognizing companies and CEOs who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in advancing diversity, inclusion, and other governance best practices, the Women Corporate Directors Foundation (WCD) has announced its 2021 Visionary Award honorees. The recipients include Merck & Co., Inc., led by chairman and CEO Kenneth C. Frazier; outdoor retailer REI Co-op, headed by President and CEO Eric Artz; the family-created global premium coffee brand illycaffè S.p.A, led by CEO Massimiliano Pogliani; and Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare, the largest healthcare staffing company in the United States.

WCD will also be presenting the Susan S. Stautberg WCD Member Leadership Award to Susan Remmer Ryzewic.

The awards will be presented at the WCD Virtual Visionary Awards Celebration on June 9, 2021, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., U.S. EDT. Mellody Hobson – co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments, chair of the board of Ariel Investment Trust, chair of the board of Starbucks Corporation, and a director of JPMorgan Chase – will be interviewed by Becky Quick, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box on advancing diversity and inclusion in boardrooms and corporations globally. The Awards program, in its eleventh year, is part of WCD’s annual Global Institute, which runs June 9-11, 2021. The theme for the Virtual Global Institute is Agile Leadership in the Boardroom: Prioritizing People, Purpose & Profitability.

“What has been required of corporate leaders over the past year has been extraordinary in the face of existential threats and true uncertainty about the future,” said Susan C. Keating, CEO of WCD. “Our Visionary Award honorees leveraged strong governance models that were established prior to the crisis and continued to meet their challenges with a commitment to diversity and the talent necessary to steer them into recovery.”

“There is a growing recognition of the need for inclusive leadership in the board and C-suite in order to make an impact not only in companies but in the communities those companies serve,” said Visionary Awards committee co-chair Deborah E. Kelly.

Izumi Kobayashi, co-chair of the committee with Kelly, remarked: “These honorees clearly stood out through their industry leadership and continuing commitment to ESG – environmental, social and governance. They have also emerged as important leaders more broadly as we have faced challenges in social justice, the environment, and healthcare.”

Visionary Award selection committee members Mary Beth Vitale and Christie Hefner remarked, “We had a much broader range of nominees this year from all over the world, and it was interesting to learn about the outstanding efforts of each of the companies.”

Awards include:

  • Award for Leadership and Governance of a Public Company: One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Merck & Co., Inc. is led by chairman and chief executive officer Kenneth C. Frazier, one of only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500 and the only Black CEO of a major pharmaceutical company. On its 14-person board, six are women, including one woman of color. 43% of senior management roles are held by women.

    Merck is recognized globally for championing diversity with its Economic Inclusion and Supplier Diversity Program, which has been investing in diverse-owned businesses for more than 35 years.

    “Merck’s commitment to population health and to the social, environmental, and economic impact on people around the world reflects the soundness of their governance and a true inclusiveness in their leadership,” said Barbara Bowles, Visionary Awards selection committee member. “Additionally, Ken Frazier has used his influence to take a stand on issues of injustice and inequality, setting an important tone at the top at Merck, in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and among the broader global business community.”

    “We cannot achieve sustainable business success without a diverse workforce that mirrors the patients we serve,” said Ken Frazier, Merck chairman and CEO. “Equity and inclusion for all people are not only moral imperatives, but diversity across a variety of dimensions fosters the innovation that allows Merck to help save and improve lives. We are proud of our company’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion and will continue to stand up for the importance of an equitable society.”
  • Award for Innovation in Shared Value: An Italian family-owned company, founded in Trieste in 1933, the mission of illycaffè has always been to offer the greatest coffee to the world.illycaffè produces a unique 100% Arabica blend, combining nine of the best varieties in the world. Every day 8 million cups of illy coffee are served in over 140 countries around the globe, in the best cafés, restaurants and hotels, in single-brand cafés and shops, and at home. As a result of its innovations, illycaffè contributes to the coffee technology progress at a global level. Today, 40% of illycaffè’s board members are women.

    “While illycaffè is steeped in tradition, it has throughout its history been a very modern business,” said Cristina Finocchi Mahne, Visionary Awards selection committee member. “For decades, illy has used cutting-edge technology to drive improvement across its operations – from creating more sustainable agricultural practices to better HR and hiring initiatives to improve diversity in its workforce.” illy is consistently named one of the “most ethical” companies and receives kudos for its ESG initiatives. In 2021, illycaffè was the first Italian company in the coffee sector to obtain the international certification as a B Corp as a result of its commitment to comply with the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

    “The main driver of our business model is the creation of value for all the stakeholders involved along the entire length of our value chain – explains Massimiliano Pogliani, CEO of illycaffè. We pursue the goal of improving quality of life of our stakeholders by sharing the value we generate, fostering personal growth and respecting the ecosystem. Our supply chain starts upon a system of direct relations with our coffee producers that we select and work with, we transfer them knowledge to produce high-quality products while respecting the environment, we compensate them for the quality they achieve by paying over the market price in order to foster ongoing improvement and ensure sustainable production.”
  • Award for Leadership and Governance of a Private Company: REI Co-op, founded in 1938, is a specialty outdoor retailer headquartered in the Pacific Northwest. It is the nation's largest consumer cooperative, with more than 20 million members and 168 locations in 39 states and Washington, D.C. As a co-op, REI operates differently than other companies, putting purpose before profits and acting in the long-term interests of its employees, members, and community.

    In 2020, Forbes listed REI as the #1 Best Employer for Women. REI’s board of directors is 38% women, and women comprise 47% of the C-suite.

    “REI’s work across a number of areas – from expanding accessibility and diversity in the outdoors to developing product impact standards to fight against climate change and advance equity in the industry – demonstrates its visionary leadership in the field,” said Joan Steel, Visionary Awards selection committee member.

    “REI was founded by individuals coming together for the greater good, and today, the spirit of our founders is engrained in everything we do. We believe we have a responsibility to create positive change both within REI and the communities we serve,” said REI President and CEO Eric Artz. “While we are proud of the work we’ve done to build a more equitable and sustainable future for the planet, we remain deeply committed to continuing this journey with our employees, members, partners and broader community.”
  • Award for Strategic Leadership: Chief Executive Officer of AMN Healthcare, Susan Salka is a visionary leader who is admired, respected, and emulated in the healthcare industry and beyond. She was named by Modern Healthcare as one of 2020’s 100 Most Influential People who shaped the course of healthcare during the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic. Salka led AMN through a strategic evolution from a small travel nursing agency to the largest total talent solutions provider in the nation. The AMN Healthcare board of directors is 50% women.

    “Susan understands that being socially responsible starts from within, by optimizing the corporate culture for AMN team members and empowering them to give back to their communities,” said Lucy Pamboukdjian, Visionary Awards selection committee member. “Serving as a role model for diversity, equality, and inclusion, she has nurtured a company culture where every team member is welcomed, supported, and respected - regardless of gender, race, age, disability, or sexual orientation. Susan is an inspiration to female leaders and WCD members across the globe and empowers them to be Strategic Leaders.”

    “Salka has been recognized nationally for her work to advance the role of women in companies and boardrooms. In 2021, AMN achieved top ranking in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index and Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index.”

    “It’s critically important to honor and encourage progress in women’s representation on corporate boards,” said Susan Salka, President and CEO of AMN Healthcare. “Women’s leadership skills in promoting inclusiveness in decision-making and communication are vital to healing the divisiveness affecting our society today. Corporations can be powerful forces for positive social change, and women leaders on corporate boards can drive that change.”
  • The Susan S. Stautberg WCD Member Leadership Award - Presented to Susan Remmer Ryzewic

    The Susan S. Stautberg WCD Member Leadership Award, named in honor of WCD’s visionary co-founder and chairman emeritus, is given by Susan C. Keating, CEO of Women Corporate Directors to a member who has exhibited extraordinary service and significant contributions on behalf of advancing WCD’s mission.

    “Susan Remmer Ryzewic, co-chair, WCD’s North Florida Chapter, and co-chair, WCD’s Private Company and Family Business Peer Group, has been a true leader within our organization.” said Susan C. Keating, CEO, WCD.

    “The percentage of WCD members serving on the boards of family and private companies have grown over the years, due in part to the innovative and important educational programming delivered during Family Business Institutes, which Susan helped to develop.”

    “My childhood included both traditional and progressive female role models coupled with a parental belief that I could do whatever I pursued. From an early age, it was clear to me that the traditional female roles bestowed relatively little authority and that I would not find them acceptable. I wanted to be making decisions, not have decisions made for me. I was surprised when I encountered a professional world with more limited access and less potential for women. WCD provided a perfect avenue for me to focus on increasing the role of women in corporate decision making,” said Susan Remmer Ryzewic.

“During this virtual celebration, we will be treated to brief interviews with each honoree - providing insights into the strategies that led to their achievements,” said Dr. Cheemin Bo-Linn, Visionary Awards Celebration chair.

2021 WCD Visionary Awards Selection Committee

The honorees were determined by an independent committee comprised of WCD members.

Selection Committee Co-chairs:

  • Deborah E. Kelly, partner, Genesis, Inc.; director, Perdue Farms; WCD member, Colorado
  • Izumi Kobayashi, chair, Mizuho Financial Group, Inc.; director, ANA Holdings, Inc., Mitsui & Co. Ltd, and OMTON Corp; WCD member, Japan

Committee Members:

  • Barbara Bowles, Agenia Clark, Noel Harwerth, Christie Hefner, Ashley Duchossois Joyce, Anastassia Lauterbach, Cristina Finocchi Mahne, Lucy Pamboukdjian, Theo Schwabacher, Susan S. Stautberg, Joan E. Steel, and Mary Beth Vitale.

Visionary Awards Celebration Chair:
Dr. Cheemin Bo-Linn
, CEO, Peritus Partners, Inc.; director, Blackline Safety Corp.

About Women Corporate Directors Education and Development Foundation, Inc.

The Women Corporate Directors Education and Development Foundation, Inc. (WCD) is the only global membership organization and community of women corporate directors. A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, WCD has 76 chapters around the world. In addition to publicly traded company boards, WCD members serve on numerous boards of large private and family-run companies globally. For more information visit or follow us on Twitter @WomenCorpDirs, #WCDboards. #WCDGlobal2021.

For media inquiries, please contact Megan Mollan of the Dalton Agency at 954-600-2473 or A variety of sessions will be open to media planning to attend and cover the event.


Megan Mollan
(954) 600-2473

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Last Updated: 06-May-2021