At Essex Partners, we often work with executives who are interested in serving on the board of a public or private company, either as a desired step in career progression or in retirement. Boards are reshaping, in response to a variety of factors, including industry and digital disruption, increased complexity of risk, changing investor climate, and demand for diversity. Directors are being added with new skills, qualifications, and perspectives, but change remains gradual, due to low boardroom turnover. Accordingly, seats remain elusive and competition significant. Below we offer four strategies to answer the question, “How do I land a corporate board seat?”
Communicate Your Value
Being able to articulate your value proposition and personal brand is of critical importance in seeking a board role. Communicating crisply and clearly your unique experiences and skills which are relevant to boards is necessary in spoken, written and digital form. These experiences may include operating leadership, strategy, functional or governance expertise and need to be communicated differently than if one was seeking a corporate role; e.g., your capabilities vs. your accomplishments, your experiences vs. your companies, your value vs. your titles.
Spoken — Prepare and rehearse a short statement intended to appeal to the particular needs of a board/company, with your value proposition focused on “how I can help this company and its board.” Pay attention to the interpersonal aspect of your conversation. Don’t talk too much, listen well, show business and board acumen and demonstrate your personality. Board work involves many hours of working together. Your emotional intelligence, personality and communication style will be evaluated against the question “do I want to spend time in the board room with this person.”
Written — Prepare a board resume and bio. Adapt your executive resume “profile” section to reflect attributes of your brand that address a board role. Review your resume to emphasize “board-relevant” experiences. Prepare a one-page board bio, again with a lens towards board competencies, and include a photo.
Digital — Review your digital footprint and ensure consistency between your spoken, written and digital messaging.
Use Your Network
Make sure others are aware of your interest in and available time for board service. Target industries and companies that are a match with your experiences, increasing your chances of being considered. Connect with centers of influence for each company and try to get introductions, and ideally, endorsers, to put your name forward.
Keep in mind that 67% of public company directors report that the directors are nominated through personal networks compared to 52% who report using executive recruiters. While a warm introduction to an executive recruiter who specializes in board search can be valuable, it can be difficult to get face-to-face time. A short cover email with your board resume to the appropriate board consultant, and registering on the firm’s website, will ensure that you are in the firm’s database to the extent there is a relevant search in process.
Increase Your Visibility
Make yourself and your credentials visible. Sell yourself as an expert. Serve on panels. Get published and quoted. Blog. Consult. Ensure that you are taking advantage of LinkedIn and other forms of social media that you are comfortable with in order to expand your digital reach.
Be imaginative, Inventive and Opportunistic
While taking deliberate action is important, serendipity can often come into play in obtaining a board role. For example, one should not join a not-for-profit board with the intention of using it as a stepping stone to a corporate board, however influencers often sit on not-for-profit boards and will “see you in action” in the boardroom, broadening your network of potential endorsers. Consulting to a company may lead to a board seat, and certainly investing in a company in a meaningful way is a path to the boardroom. Demonstrating that you can raise capital or being an interim or part-time CEO are other alternative routes. Finally, make your friends and family part of your team. Ask them to speak up for you and leverage their networks.
Due Diligence and the Offer
Once you are offered a board seat, make sure that you do your due diligence. Consider the following three basic questions:
• Can it hurt me?
• Is it worth doing?
• Will it be fun?
Before saying yes, make sure that you understand the company’s business, are comfortable with the management team, and have met the board chair and other members. Ask the single most revealing question – “tell me about your board?” and listen carefully to the response. Dig for public information and ask the company for board agendas and materials. Talk to competitors. Review the D&O insurance and make sure you understand and can meet the time commitment.
Looking for a board seat takes time and energy but, once landed, can be incredibly stimulating and rewarding work. For executives considering board director positions, Essex Partners, a division of Keystone Partners, offers a unique Board Essentials program. This program provides the education and strategic approach to identify the right board opportunities and develop a deeper understanding of boards and corporate governance. Personalized consulting is also available to assist clients with personal branding, messaging, targeting, networking, interviewing and recruiter strategies specifically for board positions.
Career Advice | Leadership