Written by Jilaine Hummel Bauer Tuesday, November 01 2011One of the five focal points at the 2011 National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Board Leadership Conference was board recruitment. And while the good news reported out at one session was that recruitment has moved “beyond the golf club,” and enhancing board diversity was discussed at many sessions, the fact remains that board composition still has to suit a company’s business. Yet, boards that are “in the know” realize that “skills get old and skills get stale.” Analyzing board composition based on future goals and strategic needs of a company is essential.
Smart recruitment strategies are designed around experiences and skill sets required to help companies deal successfully with economic and market conditions, globalization, a multitude of risks, and the power and influence of a rapidly changing technology environment. With a shrinking pool of CEO candidates for various reasons, board candidate pools are being expanded not only to include greater ethnic and gender diversity but also chief operating officers, chief information officers, chief financial officers, and other functional and business unit leaders. Deep industry knowledge is also sought after.
These developments should benefit women who are interested in serving on boards, but getting on a board still does not just happen. Like any other aspect of a career, it’s important to develop and act on a plan. The following are some steps that women can take to make them more informed and stronger board candidates.
- Identify individuals who sit on boards or advise them. Let them know about your interest and ask for their advice about the skills and experiences companies need on their boards. Compare and contrast those skills and experiences with your own, and ask for input on steps you can take to make yourself a stronger candidate. Also ask them about the process boards use to identify and nominate candidates, the roles and responsibilities of directors, the most challenging aspects of the job, and what is required to be effective as a board member. Depending on what they say and whether you think you are “board ready,” consider asking them whether they would be willing to recommend you to search firms and boards looking for candidates with your profile.
- Create a board résumé. A résumé for nomination to a board is different than a résumé for other jobs. While there are no hard and fast rules for what to include or how to format one, it should focus on the skills and experience search firms and nominating committees use to select the strongest candidates. It might include, for example, key leadership experience within for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, profit and loss responsibilities, industry and functional expertise, published works on topics relevant to a company or board, participation in education programs and professional organizations for directors, international business experience or other experience with people from other cultures and countries, and other professional and personal experiences that reflect qualities and attributes desired in board members.
- Seek out opportunities to obtain operational leadership experience. Although boards are expanding their candidate pools beyond individuals with CEO experience, experience running something is still important. Therefore, if you lack operational leadership experience, you will be a stronger candidate if you obtain that experience. Although P&L responsibilities at a senior vice president or executive vice president level are preferred, there still are other ways to gain desirable experience. For example, you might look for opportunities to lead a multidisciplinary task force or a significant project team within your organization – preferably one that affords high visibility and the potential to create economic value or reduce operating risks for the company. Assuming a leadership role in a volunteer or community organization or task force also is a possibility provided it is more than a fund development role and affords the opportunity to develop skills or experiences that are sought after by corporate boards.
- Develop specialized expertise or deep knowledge in a function or industry. Statues, regulations, and listing standards impose requirements on boards that either mandate specialized expertise or make it highly desirable. Financial expertise and expertise in executive compensation, risk management, and corporate governance are some examples. Deep knowledge about functions – such as risk management or technology – and industry knowledge also are desirable. In addition to work experience, other ways to obtain knowledge and expertise include seminars, credentialing and executive education programs, and participation in industry and trade organizations. Reading academic literature, white papers, and trade and professional journals also can be helpful.
- Create and cultivate your personal brand and make it more visible. Boards want star performers who are critical thinkers, strong communicators, and problem solvers. They also want visionaries, thought leaders, and subject matter experts. And they want individuals who are well thought of in their professions, their industries, and their business communities. Attend industry meetings and volunteer or chair industry committees and task forces. Seek out opportunities to speak or write about your areas of expertise. Consider being a guest lecturer or adjunct professor at a college or university. There are many ways to create and cultivate your personal brand – just be sure to be strategic and focus on activities that will strengthen your qualifications and visibility as a board candidate.
- Participate in director education and development programs. Investing time in learning about the roles and responsibilities of directors and corporate governance trends and developments can also pay dividends. In addition to being more knowledgeable about board issues, challenges, expectations, and time commitments, it will help you in the interview process and in conducting your own due diligence about a specific board opportunity. Programs range from board basics to programs designed for directors in specific industries. Formats range from free seminars to multiday programs at venues where you can also network with sitting directors, other candidates, and search executives. If those are difficult to fit into your schedule, check out blogs, professional journals, and electronic newsletters for directors and those interested in corporate governance issues.
- Build a strong network, but also make sure it’s the right network. As important as skills and experience are, personal relationships still matter. Therefore, there is no substitute for building and maintaining a network that includes sitting directors and other individuals who advise and influence boards. Key influencers might include accountants, attorneys, search executives, consultants, and, increasingly, institutional investors. While you might meet these individuals by chance or through a social introduction, other ways are through business programs and organizations in your community and through director education programs and seminars.
- Enter your board profile in director candidate databases. Search firms and academic institutions and other organizations that offer corporate governance programs and director training sometimes maintain databases or lists of individuals interested in serving on corporate boards that they make available to those looking for board candidates. While some may charge a fee or only accept the names of individuals they screen or who attend their programs, there is at least one database that is open to all qualified candidates. The Diverse Director DataSource (3D) is a clearinghouse for potential corporate director candidates with a special emphasis on a more diverse range of skills and experience. Operated and maintained by Governance Metrics International (GMI), an independent provider of corporate governance ratings and research, all potential candidates are invited to register and create a board profile for consideration by nominating committees, search executives, and shareowners interested in recommending or nominating board candidates. More information is available at www.GMI3D.com.
Jilaine Hummel Bauer , founder of Bauer Consulting, specializes in corporate governance, compliance, and business process improvement, and can assist with director searches and board development. She is active in national and local organizations that seek to advance and support women corporate directors through research, education, and programming. She is on the board and chairs the outreach committee of the InterOrganization Network (ION) and is on the steering committee and past program chair of ION member organization, Milwaukee Inc. http://www.linkedin.com/in/bauerconsulting.