My route to board service has been more like a game of hopscotch. In my early 20s I was a nominee director on several of the startup boards our venture capital firm invested in. I had zero training and, in retrospect, provided little value beyond my executive role helping the companies with their operations and strategy.
Eleven years ago, I started the Financial Times Board Director Programme in Asia as one of our internal projects and was captivated by the opportunities board directors have to make a difference when the board, and its members, perform well.
Fast forward to today and I have served on advisory boards, non-profit boards and private company boards. I’ve invited dozens of listed company directors to speak from Tencent, HSBC, Unilever and Wynn Resorts. Those experiences inform the teaching I continue to do for Financial Times, Malaysian and London stock exchanges and for specific companies.
How can I find a good board position? Am I ready for a board?
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“I was out for beers with my buddies and they heard you could make a lot of money on a board.”
This conversation with a prospective candidate when launching the board programme made me realize that there are a lot of misconceptions around board work. In my opinion, this person wasn’t ready for board service.
Anyone who has done board work knows it is not done for the money and that it requires huge commitment and integrity.
So how do you know if you’re ready for the rigors of a modern board?
First, know that “being ready” is often a multi-year process and search for the right role. I often suggest that executives start early to learn about the differences between executive and board service and how you can contribute. Attend a seminar, indicate your interest to sit on an internal or joint venture board or contribute on a non-profit board to fill the gaps in your knowledge and expertise.
Second, be ready to move from an executive to a strategic mindset. Most corporate boards are about oversight, not diving into the details to solve problems and direct people. In fact, executives often find the hardest part of transitioning from exec to board service is the inclination to get involved at an executive level. Below is a Stanford study of ineffective board engagement based on directors reviewing their peers.
Third, you have to be clear on the value you provide on a board and layer over that a commitment to good governance. Strategic, functional or behavior characteristics all contribute to an effective board. Governance is good stewardship of the long term sustainability of the company.
I hope that was helpful and gives you some good food for thought. We have many people in our Future Proof course who are on or pursuing board work as part of their portfolio careers. If there is anything you would like to know about it, let me know!