Years ago I started from scratch a corporate interior design and office furnishings dealer in Covington, Ky. I had years of experience growing sales for an $18 million dealer but had never had full CEO responsibility.
While pumped with passion and adrenaline I knew that I needed help to succeed. Fortunately, my father had coached me to listen carefully to those with experience and so I had a natural aptitude to seek those with wisdom in this arena.
A friend suggested I reach out to Richard Siegel, Partner at Keating Muething and Klekamp. Rick was Chief Legal Counsel to one of the largest banks in the region as well as a Board member to Comair, a regional airline out of Cincinnati, Ohio. While humble and a bit intimidated, I met with Rick.
At no expense and with genuine concern he suggested to me that I form an Advisory Board.
“Pick the best and the brightest people you can,” he said. He further explained that “you don’t have to pay them. People are interested in helping.”
That was the beginning of extraordinary insights and guidance that assured my success in the next two business enterprises. So here is my prescription for a killer board.
Recruit the Best
Aim high and reach out to the best possible leadership. Network amongst your business peers and recruit the most respected and successful individuals you can. Seek diversity in experience, culture and thinking. Successful people want to give back and are interested in being involved in emerging businesses.
These are some possible experience areas to seek:
- Finance (Banker or large corporate CFO)
- Merger and Acquisition (Investment Banker, or M&A Attorney)
- Government and Policy (State or Regional Chamber)
- Sales and Marketing (Executive)
- Specialty (Services, Technology)
Organize Productive Meetings
You got the best and the brightest to be a part of your company so you need to respect their time and efforts. Distribute financials and other detailed information in advance of your meeting.
Limit your meetings to 90 minutes with a detailed agenda and theme. Start on time and end on time. Be studied and prepared ON your business. The meetings will force you to examine your business from high level thinking, an added benefit to quarterly board meetings.
While you want to make a good impression, your advisors are there to help solve problems and sieze opportunities. While sharing accomplishments is appropriate, limiting the information to only the good does nothing to advance your business.
Get down to the serious business issues of the business and get all that dirt up front and on the table. These men and women live in reality and are successful because they seek and overcome risk and problems. You will be recognized as a strong leader if you are willing to expose the worst, seek counsel and then act on suggestions for improvement.
You are now surrounded by top business and community leaders that are highly compensated in their fields. They are not on your Advisory Board for the money. They are there to make a difference, giving back to the success of others and gaining satisfaction from being involved.
Be demonstrative in your appreciation. Introduce them to others as “my board member.” Bestow the title of Board of Directors. If you can afford it, offer a stipend of $500 to $1,500 per meeting.
Consider a post meeting dinner. You’ll be surprised at the stream of suggestions and nuggets that flow in a casual setting.
In my third company we achieved a very successful divestiture of our business. My board member Rick Siegel said, “You know David, the smartest thing you ever did was to surround yourself with a strong board.” He’d forgotten that he was the originator of the concept. I did not.