3 Steps to Landing a Board Position

Topic:
Job Search
About the author:
George Mazzella Headshot
George C. Mazzella
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, The Suite
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Updated on:
9/7/2021
Finding a board position
Inside the boardroom

Throughout all of 2019, in preparation for our launch, The Suite interviewed over 500 executives in an effort to uncover their top pain points when searching for a job. Second to overall lack of direct access to full-time opportunities, the most common complaint was lack of awareness of how to land a Board Role. After hearing so many of our members express this concern, we decided it was time to do the research and find the answers for them.

In this article:


What is a Board Member?

Before we get into how to find a Board Role, let’s first take a look at how they work:

Investopedia defines Board Members as such: “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors…”.

They also estimate there to be 4,397 public companies in the United States, each with an average of 7 Board Members, meaning there are nearly 31,000 board seats in the United States today (note: this doesn’t take into account private company data – and there are estimated to be over 6 million private companies in the US).

Board structure is fairly consistent: with each board being comprised of a Board Chair, committees, and members. Each committee has a lead who is responsible for the legal duties associated with it. For example, the audit committee will normally be fun by a veteran CFO or Audit executive.

For-Profit Board role

A for-profit Board role is part of the governing body of any corporation, LLC, Partnership, etc. There can be as little as one board member, and as many as a dozen. Board member are typically chosen for their specific expertise, knowledge, and/or relevance to the industry in which the company operates in.

Meetings normally take place once per quarter (four times per year) and usually consist of progress updates on key initiatives, strategic planning, and overall corporate governance. Board members are typically compensated for their work either in the form of cash payments, or equity awards.

Read how to find paid board positions further in this article.

Non-Profit Board role

A non-profit Board member role, similar to a for-profit board member role, serves as the governing body of non-profit organizations: deciding on key business initiatives and overseeing overall budget planning. They are charged with the overall direction of and welfare of the organization.

A key difference between nonprofit and for-profit however is that members of a non-profit board are not typically compensated for their work, and in fact are often required to maintain a minimum monetary contribution to the organization.

What do Board Members do?: Basic responsibilities

Simply put, Board Members are responsible for the major decision making for a company.

Board meetings are typically held once a quarter and must be attended in person (usually). Meetings will typically consists of company updates, followed by important issues that the Board needs to address, which are usually resolved by planned action or a vote.

Now you understand how a Board Role works, let’s look at how you can find one.

3 steps to find your next Board role

Let’s start with the bad news first. Most Board Roles go through a very small pool of Executive Recruiters with the right connections. Others are filled by executives with friends in high places. Just ask Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, who was fortunate enough to scoop up one of Facebook’s coveted Board Seats, how he found his role.

Until now, the rest of us have been forced to sit and wait for opportunity to find us. At The Suite, we examined the backgrounds of nearly 4,000 executives who were able to find board roles themselves and came up with the following tips based on their journeys:

1) Expand your network beyond its current limits.

You can be the best engineer in the world, who has developed countless industry evolving products, but all the achievements in the world mean nothing if no one knows who you are.

You need to be speaking at conferences, giving lectures to universities and industry forums, and building your digital presence. We live in a time where building a platform is as easy as adding connections, use the tools others have built.

2) Build a rolodex of Venture Capital and Private Equity Investors who know how talented you are.

They hold the key to the castle and are the final decision makers in most Board Hirings. Not sure how to do this? Action our first point of advice and they will come to you. Otherwise, use our cold email guide to reach out directly.

Here's a list to get you star

Top PE Firms
Top PE Firms

3) Be proactive!

Just as we would advise if you were looking for a full-time job, you need to be actively doing things. Reach out to established businesses that are struggling and offer advice (should go without saying, but make sure you know what you are talking about). Find young companies and offer them some counsel on growing their business.

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People want advice and if you’re willing to give it, and that advice works, you will build a reputation. Don’t expect an offer after one conversation though. Board members have a significant amount of power in a company, so let them get to know you and build rapport before you expect an offer.

Here are some general tips to maximize your efforts:

Executive network effect
Create a personal network effect

Following these steps will absolutely increase your chances of landing your first Board Role! That said, it will still take the right habits and a lot of effort on your part to run a successful job search.

Do Board Members get paid?

Yes, so long as the company is categorized as a for-profit organization, a Board member can expect to be paid for their work. Payment will usually come in the form of either cash or stock awards; however, larger, more established organizations will typically offer both.

How do Board Members get paid?

Curious about how much board members make? Board Member pay can vary greatly depending on a few factors. The first and probably largest indicator of compensation breakdown is whether the company is Venture Backed or not.

Let’s break down some key differences:

Venture Capital Board Seat vs Public/Private Company Board Seat

Board Seat Type Common Compensation Equity Cash
Venture Capital Equity stake with a varying % of stake Earlier the business stage, higher the % of shares awarded Cash is highly unlikely unless much later stage (Series D+)
Public or Private Company A mix of cash and stock awards As the scale of business increases (Small-Cap to Large-Cap), the size of the stock awards increase. Cash will usually make up an equal share of total compensation, but that will shift as the business size increases.
Nonprofit Organizations Most commonly there is no compensation; however, on rare occasions cash may be awarded. N/A Occasionally a board member will receive a small annual cash retainer for their service.

Where to find Board positions?

Board roles can be very hard to come by so the best way to account for that is to use as many channels as possible. Leverage everything that is available to you in order to uncover these opportunities and don't worry if it takes longer than you would like.

Board roles are very difficult to break into; however, once you get one, more typically follow. Here are the resources you should use for your search:

Tools to help you find executive board positions

Tips to prepare for a Board interview

When you do finally land an interview, you will want to make sure you prepare for it. These opportunities do not come around often so make sure you put in the work and present the best version of yourself to the interviewer. Here are some general tips to keep in mind.

FAQ

Have more questions on Board Roles?

Are board members executives?

Yes, many would classify board members as executives. In fact, having a proven track record as an executive is normally a prerequisite of the role.


What is the role of the executive board?

The board is responsible for leading the overarching business strategy and serving as the leaders of corporate governance. They make all key senior leadership hiring decisions and vote on any major company decisions.


Who is more powerful: CEO or board of directors?

Technically the board holds more power; however, this depends on a few factors such as: the overall corporate structure, outstanding shares, and class of shares. If the CEO is also a member of the Board (and they normally are), they will likely hold equal or greater weight in decision-making than the other board members. It is within the board’s power however, the remove the CEO should enough votes be gathered.


What are the titles of board members?

Board member titles will vary depending on the structure of the corporation and board itself. Some titles are: Executive Director, Non-executive Director, Board Director, Board Chair, Chairperson of the Board.


What is the role of a board president?

Just as it sounds, the Board President, also referred to as the Board Chair is responsible for overseeing the board itself. They are often the leader of all board meetings and serve as the tie-breaking vote whenever a split vote occurs.



Can board members be sued?

Yes, technically a lawsuit can be raised against a board member, however, these cases are almost always dismissed as there is no legal basis to sue a board member personally for the actions they took as a board member on behalf of the company.

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George Mazzella Headshot
George C. Mazzella
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, The Suite

George is the CEO & Co-Founder of The Suite. He founded The Suite in order to fundamentally change the way executives manage their careers.  Prior to founding The Suite in 2019, George spent several years in the executive recruiting space where he was fortunate enough to advise some of the world's leading VC & PE backed businesses on talent.

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