[7 Tips] What Does It Take To Be a Board Director If You’re Not a CEO?

As corporate boards are opening themselves up to more diverse slates of director candidates, there is a window of opportunity for those seeking to get on a board,” says Susan Stautberg, CEO and co-founder of WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) and a co-author of the new book, Women on Board: Insider Secrets to Getting on a Board and Succeeding as a Director. “CEOs are normally limited to serving on one outside board, so companies are casting a wider net,” says her co-author, Nancy Calderon, Global Lead Partner at KPMG LLP and board member of KPMG’s Global Delivery Center Ltd in India.

Calderon and Stautberg – who interviewed dozens of board chairmen, nominating committee members, and other directors for their book – suggest seven strategies for would-be directors to become attractive candidates for boards:

1. Meeting what the market demands. “Understand the skills most valued by boards, and play these to their fullest,” says Calderon. “Always wanted is experience as a CEO, CFO, or CPA, but other areas currently trending are expertise in CAMS (Cloud, Analytics, Mobility and/or Social Media) and other technology experience, such as data security, that are board hot-button issues.”

2. Highlight your global know-how. “Globalization of customers, supply chains, and employees means that companies are seeking candidates who have a real comfort level and knowledge beyond domestic markets,” says Stautberg. Emphasize any foreign languages you know, and emphasize experience you may have in BRIC or ASEAN countries in particular.

3. Build a more “board-able” CV. “If you have gaps in your expertise, start taking on more projects at work that fill these in,” says Calderon. “Ask for a P&L responsibility, even for a smaller division, which will enhance the perception of you as bringing valuable ‘hard skills’ to boards for their various financial committees.”

4. Leverage a background outside the traditional C-suite. “Board candidates with increasing appeal are those who have served as president of a university, or who hold a relevant leadership position within the federal government, or who have worked as an entrepreneur in a related industry,” says Stautberg. “These types of people bring richness to a board, and these types of places are good recruiting grounds for directors.”

5. Become a visible industry leader. “Serve on association or government boards, speak at conferences, and write articles for high-profile industry publications,” says Stautberg. Nominating committees and search firms want industry leaders who both understand relevant market trends and have key contacts.

6. Find both mentors and sponsors. Mentors can brief you on how to get noticed for a board seat and how to understand a board’s culture – these can help provide guidance and support. “But sponsors are the real key to closing the deal,” says Stautberg. “They are the ones who can influence board placement by being your champion with other directors they know.”

7. Start small. On average, it takes more than two years to be selected as a board director, and the first one is the hardest. Be realistic, says Calderon. “A Fortune 100 company isn’t likely to be your first board, unless you are the CEO of another Fortune 100 company. Small, for-profit companies and advisory boards are great starting places.”

About the authors

Nancy Calderon is a Global Lead Partner at KPMG LLP, board member of KPMG’s Global Delivery Center Ltd in India, and senior advisor to the firm’s Audit Committee Institute. Nancy serves on the WCD Advisory Board and isa Vice-President of the Greater New York YMCA Board, chairing both the Audit and Compensation Committees. She leads a global team of 500 partners and professionals in more than 50 countries providing a wide range of services to a Fortune 20 company and its customers.

Susan Stautberg is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Co-Chair of WCD, the only global membership organization and community of women who serve on public and large family/private company boards. Susan co-founded OnBoard Bootcamp, which provides an insider’s guide on how to be selected to be a corporate, private company, or advisory board director. She is also the president of PartnerCom, which creates and manages advisory boards around the world.

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