A very talented attorney stopped me at an event a few days ago and asked if I thought someone “on his level” could really have a chance to sit on a corporate board. I did not have to answer him with a theoretical hypothesis, nor would I stoop to the level of giving him a sales pitch just to get one more participant in my program.
I simply told him my story.
My first corporate board appointment was to a local bank with just one branch. It was so small that a committee of the directors actually made loan decisions twice a month. I was on that committee and learned a lot about banking during that period. In fact, I learned so much that I believe I should have paid a fee for that experience instead of being paid for serving on the board.
I had no prior boardroom experience in a for-profit corporation, and I certainly had no experience in the banking industry. I had just overcome a prolonged period of personal financial irresponsibility with delinquent accounts, poor spending choices, and living above my means. Becoming a director at a bank that would probably not have considered me eligible for a credit card a few years prior had been an unlikely development in my life. But it opened my eyes to corporate governance and it expanded my own vision of myself and the role that I could play in corporate America.
Since then, my work as a corporate director has been some of the most rewarding work that I have done. I plan to continue doing it after I retire from my full-time job as a church pastor. That is why I decided to share information about this opportunity.
I did assure the young attorney that opportunities are in abundance if the goal is not Fortune 500 corporate boards. It is unlikely that major corporations are going to select a novice director for their board. After all, directors represent stockholders’ and stockholders’ needs, and they deserve experienced representatives who understand the business and have the capability of making decisions in their best interest.
Directors of for-profit companies are responsible for setting policies and holding management accountable to execute decisions and strategies that will provide investors with returns on their investments.
Companies would be justifiably criticized for proposing directors who cannot add value to the core purpose of the business, which is to generate profits. Smaller businesses have the very same need, but they can be helped by local leaders and influencers in ways that experienced and high-profile business leaders can help major corporations.
I was able to attract business to my small bank that would have been insignificant to a multi-national bank. Similarly, my attorney friend could add value to a local or regional business in an industry that he was familiar with.
That is what I teach participants in my program. None of us can predict how far we will go or how large of a company we can serve, but we can start at one of the thousands of small to medium-sized public and private companies that need qualified candidates to serve as competent directors on their boards.
And I teach folks how to make that happen.