Board Recruitment: What CFOs Need to Know to Gain a Seat

Board Recruitment: What CFOs Need to Know to Gain a Seat

Last week I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion about Corporate Board recruitment and strategies for securing a Board seat put on by the Bay Area HR Executives Council, a SHRM affiliate. The event was well attended and the panel, comprised of two CHROs and an executive search consultant, was lively and informative. Here are some of my takeaways for those CFOs wanting to gain a Board seat and for companies thinking about recruiting Board members.

Considerations for Board Seat Seekers

First off, it was pointed out that there is a great deal of information available in the public domain about corporate governance and educating oneself on what it means to serve on a Board. I meet a lot of CFOs who want to be on Boards, but the panel wisely pointed out that careful consideration should be taken before committing oneself to a Board whether it be public or private. Basic questions to consider: Why do you want to be on a Board? What are the liabilities? What is the time commitment? What do you stand to gain? What do you have to offer? How long of a commitment are you signing up for?

A couple of resources were mentioned by the panel to help address these questions; shoot me an email at moc.srentrapdlonra@evad and I will share them with you.

Trends in Board Composition

One of the interesting trends taking place within public company Board recruitment is not only gender diversification (I wrote about this topic in a previous blog, “Gender Diversity on your Board of Directors and California SB826“), but also the diversification of professional backgrounds making up public Board seats. It used to be that Boards were made up almost entirely of current and former CEOs, but this is no longer the case. According to a report issued by Spencer Stuart, former and current CFOs made up just 12% of Board composition in 2017. The need for gender diversification today is hand-in-hand with the recruitment of more CFOs, CIOs, CMOs, and CHROs on to Boards as the issues public companies face become more complex and nuanced. The need for experts in a variety of subjects is now more important than ever before. One of the most talked about issues at Board meetings was the topic of “financial talent succession planning.”

So, this sounds like good news if you are a CFO wanting to join a Board, right? Well, the truth is, it is not easy. For one, there are only about half the number of public companies in the US today as there were in 1996. (According to the WSJ, in 1996 there were 7,322 domestic public companies and in 2017 there were only 3,671). Also, as the Baby Boomers go from being active C-suite employees to wanting to sit on Boards, the sheer size of that generation has created the largest number of competitors for those fewer seats. People currently sitting on Boards are generally loath to leave them for better or worse, making turnover rare. While some strategic and legislated elements are creating more demand for diversity of Board membership, clearly the demographic winds are not in a first-time Board member’s favor.

Are Companies Seeking a Purple Squirrel?

From the viewpoint of a consultative executive recruiter and Board of Directors recruitment firm, there is also more at play. When we partner with a Board and CEO to help attract a new member, the diligence process is very deep. We really need to understand the Board dynamics and what are the missing pieces to complement existing members. From there we reconcile with the Board and strategize on industry factors, competitors, foreseeable changes in the technical landscape in terms of bringing in fresh perspectives. We collaborate and determine a list of possible target executives on whom we should concentrate our efforts. Many times, this brings into play a “Moonshot” approach to attracting / recruiting Board members. My point is when we conduct a Board search, while there may be many prospective people who “want to be on a Board,” there are typically very few candidates who will meet all the criteria the client and I have laid out for the role. We are not, in the words of one panelist, seeking a “Purple Squirrel” but rather a candidate that meets a bar that is just high, specific, and written with purpose and thought, which limits the number of appropriate candidates.

Suggestions for Board Seekers

I am not trying to douse your dreams of being on a Board. The panel had some very good advice and insights on some practical ways to make yourself more attractive. One thing you can do is to seek an unpaid ‘Board Advisory” role. An incubator would be a good place to look for these roles. If you can land some Advisory roles they may grow into a more full-time Board role if the company is able to get off the ground. Another idea is to be an Angel investor; nascent stage companies might add you as a Board member/investor. Finally, look for those companies that may be a bit damaged or lacking in some key element where your skills and knowledge could help them turn things around. Just like anything in life, one rarely starts their journey at the top. You may need to take the “B” or even “C” role to get your first seat.

Finally, the panelists pointed out some of the qualities they look for when evaluating a potential Board member. First and most important was the ability to receive a tremendous amount of input from management and to be able to sort through it all and ask incisive questions. Second, they agreed that a high degree of business acumen in the domain of the business was key. They left us thinking about the role of the Board when it comes to social responsibility, which is becoming more of a conversation at the top than ever before. That is good news and certainly something for all of us to think about.

If your company is seeking a strategic Board member, particularly someone with a CFO background, Arnold Partners’ network is the one to tap for tech and life science companies. I welcome your comments and questions; contact me at moc.srentrapdlonra@evad.

Reinventing Your Brand For CFOs

Reinventing Your Brand For CFOs

reinventI had breakfast with a fellow sole proprietor professional service provider yesterday. He was down in the dumps because his specialty (M&A Advisory) in a certain industry sector is out of favor in today’s economy. For a half an hour he mused on what used to be and how he used to provide great management advice to this sector. Finally I had enough and stopped him. Loathing and self-pity is really a waste of time. It struck me like lightning what this guy needed to do: he needed to reinvent his brand.

Just as I recently posited in a brief post on LinkedIn about how large recruiting firms are spinning the new hot industry sectors, this is what he needed to do. Case in point: In the early 2000s when the Clean Tech industry came into favor, a team of recruiters at a large retained search firm working in the Semiconductor industry re-branded themselves to take advantage of this market shift. Overnight these same recruiters became the industry leaders for the C-suite in Clean Tech. Guess what ─ these same recruiters are now repositioning themselves once again as the industry leaders in the “Internet of Things”and “Industrial Internet.” Why? Clean Tech is dead and Semiconductors have not returned. These recruiters are doing this with purpose and they are arming themselves with knowledge in these new industries, so I am not criticizing this strategy, I am applauding their moves. The white papers, thought forums and seminars they are creating are helping to build this fledgling industry. This idea of rebranding brings up two thoughts relative to my own retained search clients and CFO candidates.

Arnold Partners: Building on Strengths to Expand Services

The Arnold Partners philosophy has and continues to be a focus on the role of the CFO. We continue to find top talent in a wide variety of industries. In the last six months we have found CFOs for the following industries: SaaS, Enterprise Software, Connected Home Technology, Specialty Chemical, Biotechnology, Medical Device and Gaming. That is about as wide a mix as I can imagine. What is common to these searches is that they all needed strategic CFOs with different skill sets that were right for a certain stage of company. But here is the spin: In speaking with the investors of these companies, I mentioned that I was expanding my brand to include Audit Chair Search. Without missing a beat, EVERY investor told me this was an excellent idea and that they would be happy to work with me when the time came to look for an independent Audit Chairperson for their Board of Directors. We just completed an Audit Chair search for a hot pre-IPO SaaS company and we are now engaged on the Connected Home Technology client. So this spin is not a wholesale change of who Arnold Partners is. It is an iteration and a leveraging of our many years of hard work in building relationships in the CFO community.

CFO Candidates: Take Stock with a Personal Inventory

As a CFO you have the most malleable skill set in the C-suite. If you are a marketing professional or an engineer it is more difficult to change industries. But as a CFO (or aspiring CFO) you have an opportunity to take your core skills and apply them to a wide variety of industries. However, in terms of branding yourself and managing your own personal brand, I highly recommend that you take a personal inventory. What have you added to your skills and experience in the last year? What have you seen in your industry sector that is positive in terms of growth? Are you in a dying industry? What steps do you need to take to get into a hotter sector? All of us professionals need to manage our own brand and we owe it to ourselves and our constituencies to take inventory, perform a gap analysis and do something about it.

My Colleague: Got the Kick in the Butt He Needed

So my breakfast buddy reached out to me later in the day. He said I motivated him to get in gear and he was voraciously reading material about a new industry sector into which he feels he can parley his deep M&A advisory experience. He started to do research into the industry leaders and found one of his old mentors in a key leadership position. Talk about epiphany. What are you doing to manage your brand? Is it time to reinvent or at least iterate?

If you need a CFO or an Audit Chairperson, or have your own story about rebranding yourself, let’s talk. Contact me at moc.srentrapdlonra@evaD or call 408-205-7373.