How to Find the Right Fit on a Corporate Board: UVA Darden Alumni Share Their Insights
By Dave Hendrick
Those interested in joining a corporate board should be prepared for long hours, careful stewardship and a willingness to step in when something goes wrong.
Speaking at a University of Virginia Darden School of Business Reunion Weekend panel devoted to serving on corporate boards, four Darden alumni with extensive experience as both executives and board members — Mastercard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88), veteran investor and former Foundation Medical Partners General Partner Harry Rein (MBA ’73), Instart Logic Chairman and former Citrix CEO Mark Templeton (MBA ’78) and Thompson Hospitality Corp. Chairman and CEO Warren Thompson (MBA ’83) — charted the opportunities and potential headaches that a board position can bring.
Jen Coleman, executive director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, moderated the panel.
Templeton (MBA ’78) said those interested in serving on a board should make sure they mesh with the existing people and culture before committing to a position.
“If you don’t fit, you’re not going to have any fun. And if you’re not having any fun, you’re wasting your time,” said Templeton. “Think of it like an investment, but instead of investing currency, you’re investing your reputation and time, which is very precious.”
Similarly, Rein suggested looking for opportunities where one’s skills would be complementary to existing boardroom expertise.
When significant adversity hits, “you want to make sure you are going into the foxhole with the right set of skills sitting around the table,” Rein said.
Hund-Mejean said one needed to fully understand who was running the company to ensure they were operating with the highest ethical standards before committing to a board seat, and echoed Templeton’s warning on culture.
Hund-Mejean said her personal test for ensuring board rapport is: “Can I sit with these people the whole night in LaGuardia and still want to go for breakfast in the morning?”
The time it takes to effectively serve on a board should also not be underestimated, panelists said.
Thompson said effective preparation for a board meeting often took eight to 10 hours of study — no easy take for a busy executive.
“There’s nothing worse than having a board where someone isn’t prepared,” said Thompson.
For those who can afford the time and take on additional responsibilities, Templeton said there were often unexpected benefits for executives to take off their operator hats and consider problems with a strictly governance mindset.
“It’s the best thing I ever did for self-improvement,” said Templeton.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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