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So, you want to be "On the Board"?

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Getting Here is a Process Getting Here is a Process

As corporate recruiters, we often hear “How can I get on a Corporate Board?”

If you are a successful CEO, there are likely to be a number of possibilities.  However, for most executives, jumping onto a board for a large public company will be impossible without some important stepping stones.  Here are five suggestions on how to get an interesting board position.

1.     Set objectives.  You must be clear about your objectives and decide on targets.  If your goal is to sit on exciting tech companies headed toward IPOs, your approach will be distinct from a goal of giving back to the community or developing retirement income.  Many executives are looking to gain knowledge in an industry or market that would be helpful to their current business.

2.     Assess Your Strengths.  You must have highly relevant experience.  Many boards are looking for functional expertise and not just former CEO’s.  An experienced public company Financial Officer may be a welcome addition on an Audit Committee.  An experienced consumer products Marketing Officer might be welcome at a company that is looking to enter new consumer markets.  Digital strategy experience could be welcome at a traditional company seeking to expand into digital distribution channels.

3.    Build a Foundation.  Get decision-making experience and build your resume on the board of a regional non-profit or a private company.  It is unlikely you will be put on a public company board as your first opportunity.  Many issues that face small organizations are similar to large companies and experience working on committees, advising CEOs and dealing with inevitable crises is relevant.  This foundation is a critical for bigger things.

4.     Clear Conflicts.  If you are working at a company or already sitting on a board, you need to know if they will have any objections.  No-one will accept you working for a competitor or where there could be a conflict of interest (e.g., vendors).  Many companies do not allow executives to sit on outside boards at all.  Some companies encourage their senior executives to get outside board experience to better prepare them for senior management or to gain insights into markets that they are not in directly.  Finally, check board meeting dates: you can’t be in two places at the same time.  

5.    Network, Network, Network.  Your ability to get a board position will be based on your relevant experience plus someone vouching for your judgement.  Therefore, your first board experience is likely to come through a friend or colleague who knows your work, trusts your judgment and recommends you to the nominating committee.  A nominating committee will never accept a board nominee if there is not someone they trust vouching for the candidate.  Certainly recruiters are worth contacting, but our assignments are usually for very specific criteria and it is likely to be very competitive.   A local non-profit or startup company is very likely to be available for the asking for a qualified candidate with the personal recommendation of a mutual friend.               

There are times when you should turn down a board opportunity.  There is liability with a board position and D&O insurance is never enough protection for a company that you don’t understand.  You can’t protect your own interests (or do a good job for the company) if you don’t understand the business, don’t understand the financials or have the slightest doubt about the integrity of the CEO or the other board members.  Don’t get involved with a financially stressed company unless you have direct professional experience with the issues.

Working on the board of a company you are excited about and where you have relevant insights and skills can be important professional development.  In active retirement, it is a way to stay involved and bring additional income.  Finding the best board opportunities is a networking project and requires planning and foundation building.

 

  

       

 

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Ted Pryor
Ted Pryor
Contributor
Ted Pryor is a Managing Director with Greenwich Harbor Partners and focuses on senior level executive recruiting in Media, Technology and Business Services including general management, sales, marketing and customer service. He has over ten years of experience as a senior executive at GE Capital and over 20 years of experience in corporate finance. Prior to executive recruiting, he served as CFO and CEO of a venture backed start-up company.

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