HBA Central New Jersey Event Summary:
Planning Your Journey to Corporate Boards – Readiness and Recruiting
Author: Sharon List, founder of All Inclusive You
HBA Central New Jersey hosted an event on 20 January 2021 focused on planning your journey to a corporate board seat. The event kicked-off with an extremely experienced and talented panel of speakers followed by smaller networking breakouts for further discussion.
- Jennifer Paine (Moderator) - global head, regulatory affairs, Johnson & Johnson Medical Device
- Jan Campbell - managing partner Korn Ferry
- Peggy Wallace - managing partner Golden Seeds
- Jean Rush - board member of WBL, Little Spurs Pediatric Urgent Care, Eventus WholeHealth, Addus HomeCare and others
Our panelists shared their experiences and discussed the following various topics:
What made you join a board?
Jean shared that as she contemplated retirement, she realized she was ready to retire but not ready to be disconnected from the industry or to stop learning. She also wanted to share her skills and give back to young, growing organizations.
Peggy shared that her role started with wanting to increase female leadership, which led her to Golden Seeds, an angel investment firm resulting in women investing in female-led companies. Being on a board allows for strategy and decision-making, which allows us to help shape the future.
What is different when recruiting for a board role vs. an employee role?
Jan shared that she loves being able to bring in that next board member since they will really make a difference in the future of the organization. There has been a lot of pressure in the system to have more women on boards, including that NASDAQ is asking to see at least two diverse board members, one being a woman.
What does the journey to a board seat look like?
Jean shared that it usually takes three to four years to join a board, which means you need to start thinking about it before you are ready to join. You must get educated on what types of boards are out there, what they do, (WBL has a board program, Harvard and Stanford also have board prep programs) and then create a board bio and elevator pitch you can use to let people know that you are interested in board service. Think about how your skills translate into board governance and then network, network, network – all of Jean’s board roles have come through networking.
Peggy shared that while your experience is definitely very important, there may be accelerated or different ways to join a board, including through disruptive early market companies. The world of innovation and CEOs will want/need the help of your technical/healthcare expertise. Peggy shared information about angel investing and how important it is for us as women to know more about this since this is where the men are. So much is through your network.
What is required to be on a board?
Jan shared that the board positions that she recruits for are almost always looking for c-suite experience, usually a CEO/retired CEO, but some other expertise as well such as CFO. Networking is essential to getting on a board because it is the number one way to get on a board. In fact, companies only come to a search firm after they have exhausted their own network.
What steps can I take to start the process of getting on a board?
Jean shared it is never too early to start. If you aspire to get on a publicly-traded board, you will need to get the appropriate experience and potentially join other smaller boards, such as non-profit organizations or subsidiary boards of larger organizations. While a non-profit board isn’t necessarily a ticket to a company board, it helps to give you the experience of how board governance works.
Peggy mentioned the importance of an operating role in your career, including owning P&L responsibility. Aim for the c-suite and think about how the CEO and others got to where they are as you are charting out your path. Understand the business aspects, such as cap tables, ownership of organizations and how it really works – which can be sought through experience or a course. And be an advisor to a CEO of a smaller organization. If it is the right CEO it may lead to a bigger role in the future.
Jan added that demonstrating interactions with boards is helpful. If you are in Big Pharma, it is difficult to be an employee and serve on a board for multiple reasons including conflict of interest, lack of direct interaction with boards and lack of direct oversight of results. An interesting fact - a survey revealed that the majority of female CEOs didn’t realize that they could be a CEO until someone else told them they could – so female mentorship, sponsorship and networking is so important. Jan stressed that fit is the most important factor for success on a Board, so take your time and pick wisely.
How can someone best present themselves to be on a board?
Jean shared that being on a board is different than being in management, you need to be able to reflect on your skills and see how they match board needs. Put that together in written form and talking points to be able to share that with others.
Peggy stressed staying curious, expanding your network, continuing to tell your story and bringing your entire set of skills to the forefront. Don’t be modest. Ensure you get your story out there in a succinct way that showcases your skills.
Jennifer added that we self-select at times and don’t put ourselves out there even if we are qualified. We need to state that being on a board is our goal and be vocal about it.
Jan highlighted that entrepreneurial opportunities and surrounding yourself with smart, talented people help your chances.
What are the skillsets that will be needed on future boards?
Peggy stated that this pandemic has been one of the most disruptive periods of time in our history, so digital, technology, genomics and energy transition will be part of the future disruption and transformations. Be an innovator and thought leader, take a position and be vocal.
Jean mentioned innovation, government market space and cybersecurity are also in demand.
Jan added diverse perspective is desired and needed, as proven through various studies.
Following the panel discussion, the participants broke out into networking groups with each of the panelists to ask questions of their own and then the event closed.
The two key takeaways from the discussion:
- It is never too early to be thinking about being on a board to chart your path towards your goal.
- Network, network, network. Most board seats are filled through a direct relationship.