There are over 20,000 paid board seat openings every year. Executive search firms are retained to fill approximately 15% of them—the rest are filled through word of mouth and networking. Though boards commonly state that they “invite” prospective candidates to be on their boards, as if the position is an honorary appointment, the reality is that these seats are statutorily mandated to be filled. They use terminology related to “invitations” to maintain some semblance of exclusivity and control over the application flow.
“Friends and personal acquaintances tend to define you—and not necessarily in light of the board committees where your governance skills are most relevant”
It’s often said that you must know someone to be invited to be on a board. That may have been true in the distant past when CEOs and chairmen wanted friendly boards to bless their initiatives, compensation and not to vote them out of a job.
This is not the case anymore in the current complex environment of regulation and the Internet. Having a friendly introduction does not guarantee that the decision maker is more likely to want you on their team. Nowadays, boards are looking for diversity in gender, ethnicity, skills, industry experience and age. One only has to look at recent articles of terminated CEOs to see why diversity and relevant functional skills are the new mandate. Diversity is no longer considered filling quotas but rather a powerful tool to create policies and strategies that address customers and social concerns and strengthen internal and external communication.
“Our success derives from our ability to develop an extremely focused list of decision makers in companies where your skills, experience and talents will most likely garner interest”
It must be noted that board seat openings are rarely published, hence one of the greatest advantages of getting your background directly in front of decision makers, in multiple modalities (hard copy, voice, email), is the access you have to the “hidden” market. Hidden board seats are obviously more difficult to uncover. Consequently, there are typically fewer applicants for these opportunities.
Our philosophy is to generate interviews through “attraction” instead of “promotion,” meaning that rather than hunt for open board seats and promote you to the decision maker, we educate decision makers about you in a critical mass of well researched companies with boards and committees where your background would be applicable, then let the decision maker invite you to the discussion, akin to the concept of permission-based marketing. We believe that custom direct mail, supported by a compelling cover note, succinct résumé and a follow-up voice presentation, directly to the decision maker, is the fastest and most effective method of generating interviews.
The “reverse search” methodology produces results. We provide a powerful tool that can be difficult and time-consuming to develop on your own. The rest, however, depends on your motivation, enthusiasm and level of commitment to securing and smoothing your executive transition.