So You Want to be on a Board?

What can an aspiring board member do to position themself for success? Wanda Gierhart, CMO of Cinemark, Elisabeth Charles, Board Chair at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and Leela Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer at Checkout.com shared their experiences joining and acting as board members at the 2021 CMO Club Innovation and Inspiration Summit

Being a step removed from the day-to-day operating and being in a boardroom as a board member just gives you a whole different perspective – even in running your own business. – Wanda Gierhart

How do you know you are ready to join a board?

  • Joining a board can be a great next step when you’ve been in leadership positions long enough that things are starting to feel on autopilot and you’re looking for new challenges.
  • Think about what you’re able to offer and what you’ll be able to get out of the experience. In addition, think about how joining a board could benefit your current company (in general, your CEO will have to agree to you taking the position).
  • Being a step removed from day-to-day operations as a board member can give you space to analyze things from a bird’s eye view. The lessons you learn as a board member may help you see your own business in a different light. 
  • You don’t have to be a CFO, but board members do have to be financially literate. If you’re serious about joining a board, lean into the accounting side of your current role and brush up on your financial acumen.

​​Every board has gaps, blind spots, and is looking to round out the collective experience of that board so they have the best possible board of directors steering their trajectory. – Leela Srinivasan

How to land a board position

  • If you’re still a few years away from being ready to join a board, the best move you can make right now is to expand your network. Don’t forget to keep in touch with your existing network too.
  • Consider joining an advisory role first. An advisory position can be a great stepping stone and less committing than a director position.
  • Think about what kind of companies or environments you want to be in, in terms of industry, company life stage, etc. Then, work to expand your network in that direction.
  • Write your board bio. An executive bio tells your broader work history in a narrative form, but your board bio should be more focused. It should give readers an idea of three or four areas where you’ll be able to add deeper value. Ideally, it should give a preview of the types of questions and perspectives you might bring to the board room.
  • Reach out to friends who already are on boards. People already in the loop tend to have more board position offers than they can accept and may pass on leads if they think you’re a good fit.
  • Network with people working in private equity and venture capital. Companies that are growing or ready to go public are often at a phase where they want to diversify their boards – a great opportunity to add a marketer’s voice to the board room.

It’s just like joining a company culture – do I like the culture of the board? Are these people I want to hang out and have a drink with? – Elisabeth Charles

Things to think about when considering an offer

  • Chemistry is key. If you don’t feel like you mesh with the team, or if you don’t enjoy talking to the CEO or other board members, it’s probably not a good fit. Trust your instincts.
  • Compensation comes in different packages depending on the company stage and size. Smaller companies tend to compensate more in equity, whereas public companies usually offer cash or stock.

The recruitment process takes time—often even more time than hiring an executive position. Sometimes a company may interview you and then decide they are looking for a board member with a completely different background. Don’t get discouraged if you have to go through several processes before you find a match.