Read this before you accept that board post

April 13, 2022 Share this article:

Read This Before Board Seat

With the focus on DE&I candidates at board level, companies globally are under pressure to diversify their board to satisfy shareholder and investor demands. As flattering as it is to be asked to join a board, not all offers are equal. Here are our AltoPartners board practice experts’ tips on how to interview any prospective board before agreeing to join them around the table.

Ask questions

Lauren Smith, managing director Diversified Search Group /AltoPartners USA, advises aspiring directors to check whether they fit with the board’s people, purpose, and passion. She advises them to ask these questions:

  • Do you connect with leadership and board members, and do you have good chemistry?

  • Does the purpose of the organisation resonate with you, and do you believe in the organisation’s future?

  • Is the organisation fuelled by passion and do you share that passion?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, then it is time to evaluate whether you will be heard.

Find out how much engagement there is around key decisions and how much the voice of each director is sought and whether dissenting viewpoints are tolerated, and if so, whether they can influence decisions?

Be realistic

Julie Garland-McLellan, Board Consultant, AltoPartners Australia, says candidates are expected to make an effort to understand the role and expectations and demonstrate their capability by drawing on their experience and skills. “Given the personal liabilities attached to a board role, candidates are best served by avoiding boards that don’t fully appreciate their skills. Every director must be able to influence the board and, if you can’t, it is probably better to avoid the appointment. There is always a better board for good candidates who understand their worth and are willing to be patient.”

Do your research

Claudia Hardy, Partner / AltoPartners Mexico, advises candidates to learn who the other directors are. What is their professional experience, expertise and reputation? What other boards do they serve on? If possible, meet with them to learn about their experience as directors in this board and as committee members.

Analyse how diverse the board, and the company, really are. It is better not to be the only “diverse” candidate on a board, as it is going to be more challenging to get your voice heard among a homogenous group. It is important to review if there are diverse candidates in the senior leadership team and if the company promotes and lives by DE&I values.

Karen B. Greenbaum, President and CEO, AESC, says research should include reading the company’s financial statements and annual reports. “Understand their business strategies and ensure the firm’s culture is aligned with your own beliefs. For example: What are they doing to ensure a diverse and inclusive organization? Are they committed to environmental sustainability? What is their progress in terms of digital transformation?”

It’s also important to understand the composition of the board, especially in less institutional capital markets. Hardy urges candidates to review how many independent board members there are. In developed markets independent board members constitute more than 80% of the board, while in emerging markets, such as Mexico, independent board members are barely 30% of a public company, which limits a board member’s scope to make a difference.

Probe the selection process

Greenbaum advises candidates to probe the selection process. What are the skills and expertise the board is looking for? What skills do they already have and how can you contribute your own unique skills and expertise? Boards around the world are looking to diversify their board. But make sure this isn’t a token “check off the box” interest. Rather, they should be seeking to diversity the board within an overall framework of skills and competencies aligned with strategies.

Find out how much time you are expected to commit to board and company oversight

Mpho Nkeli, who heads up the Board Practice for Search Partners International (SPI)/AltoPartners South Africa: “Before you accept a non-executive role, make sure you have the time to commit to serving the board and company. Being a non-executive director is hard work – don’t accept it if you are only using it as a career steppingstone.”

Claudia Hardy agrees: “Board work is an important, relevant, and time-consuming venture; you must be able to manage your time well so that you are not stretched too thin in fulfilling your board responsibilities. Crucially, you need to allocate time to prepare for board meetings by reading and interrogating often voluminous board packs.”

Read the other AltoPartners articles in our Board Series: