Many Paths Can Lead to the Boardroom

November 9, 2019

Few accomplishments make me as happy as when my clients and colleagues land board seats – and thanks to California Senate Bill 826, that number will continue to increase.

The demand for digital marketing is what led Starbucks to tap Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social, to join their board. Clara is the author of numerous books devoted to the subject – especially around social media. "Clara is a true technology leader and will bring fresh insight to our strong and forward-thinking board,” says Howard Schultz, Chairman Emeritus of Starbucks. “We could not be more pleased about the social-media expertise and ideas Clara will bring to our business as we continue to amplify the online experience and interactions Starbucks has with our customers, partners and communities."

It also helps if you’re making a noticeable, positive impact on the world. Consider my client Kesha Cash, Founder and General Partner of Impact America Fund. Kesha created this venture fund to help entrepreneurs build tech-enabled businesses that better serve traditionally overlooked communities and sectors.

Kesha’s commitment to making a difference caught the attention of Eileen Fisher – yes, that Eileen Fisher. The fashion icon was so impressed that she invited Kesha to join her inaugural board. “I’m thrilled to contribute my insight in support of the company’s exciting future of sustainability, rich culture and growth," Kesha says.

It’s not unusual for the paths to board seats to lead you to an entirely different industry. Take Edna Morris and Cheryl Bachelder, two of my food service industry clients. Edna, former President of Red Lobster and the James Beard Foundation, serves on the board of Tractor Supply. And Cheryl, former CEO of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, serves on the boards of True Value Hardware, Pier 1 and US Foods.

How do these industries relate to restaurants? When you think of their multi-location retail stores, it’s a perfect fit.

Tractor Supply had 400 locations across the United States when a respected compensation consultant recommended Edna for the board. Edna not only landed a board seat, she chairs the Compensation Committee. Her participation has played a key role in Tractor Supply’s expansion to more than 1,800 retail locations and a vibrant e-commerce business.

“It’s always important to think about the value you can bring to a company’s particular stage of evolution,” says Edna, who spent 10 years as a managing director for Axum Capital Partners, a private equity fund. She has also served on both the Cosi and Einstein boards of directors.

“I recommend that you take on assignments within your company that will help develop expertise, perspective and experience at the enterprise level to better position you for a board position later.”

Once you understand your value, it’s time to zero in on the right boards for you.

“Be as diligent in choosing a board as you would be in choosing a new job,” says Cheryl, who also was recommended for board seats by various colleagues. “Networking and building relationships are key in board searches. Reach out to companies where you know a senior executive and ask if they are seeking new board members. If you know other board members, ask them if they would refer board seats that match your profile.”

And remember: It’s never too early to prepare and position yourself for board service. As I always tell my clients: Don't be the world's best-kept secret.

“It’s on the shoulders of each and every woman in business to expand her contacts,” says Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, who, along with numerous volunteers, spearheaded the legislation. “Do your strategic networking, increase your visibility in the business community and join a nonprofit board that you care about and that has members who also serve on public boards. Joining a board depends on your definable business specialty – and on building the right relationships."


Charmaine McClarie

PS: If you’d like to go ahead and schedule an appointment with me, please visit my online calendar and choose an option that works best for you.

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