Looking for your first Board Role? Here's how you find one

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George C. Mazzella
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, The Suite
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An executive guide to finding your first board role: what you will need to do, how to go about your search, and what you can expect to get paid once you find one.

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.

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

What is a Board Member?

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).

What do Board Members do?

Simply put, Board Members are responsible for the major decision making for a company. They are the ones behind the scenes lending counsel and advice to the company’s senior most leaders. In addition to that core function, Board Members assist in setting organizational goals, monitoring company resources and supporting broader executive duties. 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.

How do you find your first 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.

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

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.

How do Board Members get paid?

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 this down:

Venture Capital Board Seat:

Equity based with varying % of stake. Earlier the business stage, higher the % of shares awarded. Cash is highly unlikely unless much later stage (Series D+)

Public/Private Company Board Seat:

A mix of cash compensation and stock awards (RSUs) granted annually. As the scale of business increases (Small-Cap to Large-Cap), the size of the awards increase. Some public company board members have reported income north of $1,000,000. Not bad for four meetings a year, right?

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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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