Jeannine Strandjord, board member for Euronet Worldwide, JE Dunn construction Company, and MGP Ingredients, led the recent CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, How to prepare yourself for board service. Strandjord brought expertise gained from decades serving on boards, dating back to 1994.
“Every board I went on, I was the only woman at that time – that is not true today,” she said. “But it’s still very good to be a woman or a minority.”
Strandjord, who held a number of high-level financial positions over the years and started her career as a CPA in public accounting, got her first board position through a call from a search firm.
“American Century was looking for someone who had financial background, who knew about mutual funds and investing, and they were interested in having a woman – they had never had one on the board,” she said.
She sought the advice of friends, who said obtaining a board position was just like looking for a job. She read a lot of materials, interviewed people who might help her gain knowledge, and eventually interviewed with nine people at American Century prior to receiving her position on their board.
From there, her second board position came just a year later, and Strandjord continues to serve on boards today.
Your role as a board member
Expect a large time commitment as a board member, she said. She’s involved with the National Association for Corporate Directors (NACD) who say it will be a commitment of 200-250 hours to serve on a board.
“It takes a lot of time, and it’s up and down,” Strandjord said.
Board members will need to prepare for meetings, learn the industry, keep abreast of changes in the industry, and be aware of disruptors – of which there are many today. They may also be selected to chair a committee on their board, which is an additional time commitment, she said.
“There are also a lot of extra projects, especially if your board is successful – and a lot of extra projects if it’s not successful,” Strandjord said. “I’ve done things like run an antitrust investigation.”
She’s also helped to find three CEOs and fill many other high level roles within the organizations she’s served.
Paths to board service today
Most boards determine requirements today through a well-defined matrix, run by the nominating and governance committee. They look at both the hard and soft skills needed for a particular board, determine their requirements, look at what roles board members currently fulfill and then determine the gaps there to identify their needs from a new board member.
“You really have to have what they’re looking for at the time of the search,” she said.
In the search for a board role, CMOs can look down a number of paths:
- Search firms: Today, boards are expected to have a number of candidates for the search process, and many use search firms that play a specific role in finding directors, she said. This includes NACD which has a search practice for their members and member companies.
- Lawyers and CPA firms: SEC Lawyers will know when a board is looking for directors, as may the organization’s CPAs.
- Networking: “Networking is absolutely necessary,” Strandjord said. But at the same time, don’t tell everyone you want a board. “Some people have been eliminated from board consideration because they emphasized it too much,” she said. So be discrete but network.
What to do once you have an interview
Once you do obtain an interview for a board, Strandjord said it’s important to:
- Treat it like a job interview, because it is: “I spent a tremendous amount of time getting ready for that interview (on my first board),” she said. “It takes considerable time to do it right.”
- Determine what you have to provide to the board: The board will tell you what they’re looking for in specifics, whether that’s a financial expert, or someone to help with branding, and perhaps they’re seeking someone from a certain size company or certain industry, Strandjord said. It is also your responsibility to think of the other skills and attributes that you can bring to the board that it may also need or want, she said. “What is your elevator speech?” She said.
- The board is also looking for chemistry and you should as well: Boards used to be a lifetime guarantee, however, that is not the case anymore, she said. The board will be looking for you to be a good fit and, as the candidate, you should also make sure it’s the right fit.
What to do after you’ve been selected
Once selected, be ready to add value – maybe not at your very first meeting, but as soon as possible. Have ideas of where they’re going to need help, Strandjord said.
“You’re responsible for oversight of a company’s strategy,” she said. “They expect value back.”