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I’ve presented to the board, but never had been on a board of a publicly traded company, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Even though the company is only about 25 years old, there were some board members who have done more than 15 years of work for the company, so this is a board who has a lot of experience together. I was under the impression, maybe falsely, that the board would function in more of a hierarchy—but it’s much more peer discussion.
What surprised me the most was a lot more reading at first than I expected. I was a little shocked to see how much information I had to absorb. I really did not know how deep I needed to go, and whether I should really read everything. What I realized by the next two meetings is that it becomes more like learning the alphabet. For the first meeting, you have to learn 26 letters, but then at the next meeting it’s just one—the 27th letter. That helps to put things into perspective.
Overall, my advice is to keep learning and be productive. I would say to the people who are invited to be on the board but do not have industry knowledge, try to gain that as early as possible. Go to conferences, get subscriptions to magazines and join associations. The meetings go fast, and you don’t linger on topics, so if you get stalled because you don’t understand an acronym everyone is used to, you’re missing the conversation. And don’t be afraid to ask the executives for help.
Dany St-Pierre is a member of the Board of Directors of Boralex, Inc. She is also President of Cleantech Expansion LLC., advising CEOs, investors, and entrepreneurs considering an increased presence in the renewable energy sector. Dany has years of successful Strategic Marketing, International Sales, Business Development, and Mergers & Acquisitions experience with global publicly traded transportation and energy manufacturing corporations including Bombardier Inc., Siemens AG, Alstom, and Nordex. Dany also volunteers for not-for profit organizations as a member of the Board of Directors of Women of Wind Energy and acts as a business mentor with the Clean Energy Trust and Matter/Chicago Innovation Mentors. She is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors (USA) and the Women Corporate Directors Foundation. She received her MBA from Laval University.
It was serendipitous but not deliberate that I had already met everyone on the board before my first board meeting. I wanted to meet each director individually because I was excited to work with such an accomplished group. What surprised me was how much my having developed personal relationships with the other board members bolstered my interactions during those early board meetings.
Rather than spending the first one or two quarterly meetings getting a feel for the room, I walked into my first board meeting with a keen sense of the issues and concerns the company was facing. What’s more, I had the context necessary to comprehend where each person was coming from, so I wasn’t taken by surprise during more controversial discussions. Most importantly, that familiarity afforded me a unique perspective when raising potentially polarizing ideas myself.
My advice to first-time directors would be to make time to see the other directors outside of your commitments in the boardroom. Aside from enabling you to contribute to the company much more effectively from the beginning, if you build those relationships early and maintain them, you’ll have them for life.
Amy Chang serves on the boards of Cisco and Splunk, served on Informatica’s board from 2012-2015, when it was taken private for $5.1 billion, and sat on Target’s Digital Advisory Council from 2013-2016. She is the founder and CEO of Accompany, prior to which she spent seven years leading GoogleAnalytics. She is an advisor to Hubspot, Optimizely, ClearSlide, BloomReach, Skyhigh Networks, Origami Logic, Kanjoya and Datorama, and holds a BSEE and MSEE in hardware and network systems from Stanford University.
As a financial services executive leading a business that includes more than 5,000 clients across every industry, I have an obligation to stay abreast of current events affecting them so that our company is prepared with comprehensive and innovative solutions. When I was appointed as an independent director to the board of an export financing organization, I felt a similar obligation. I believe that sitting on a board requires a time commitment, a desire to help the CEO and a willingness to offer advice on strategy and other critical issues. And so I now spend time ahead of board meetings staying up to speed on the specific industry issues that concern export financing.
A board appointment is a terrific way to learn more and improve your personal skills at the same time that you contribute your own experience, and offer strategic and meaningful advice that benefits the CEO and your board colleagues. During my first meeting, I was impressed and refreshed by the fact that every board member had unique and interesting perspectives and each brought these to the forefront without hesitation. A board is a wonderful forum to see the value of diverse experiences in action—working together across our respective points of view to advance the growth and influence the strategy of the company. I encourage first-time directors to not only invest in getting to know the industry and company of their new appointment, but also who your colleagues are and what expertise they bring to the conversation. Share your advice with confidence but also be open to learn from those with whom you sit at the board table. Your value as a board is only as good as your collective voice.
Samir Pandiri was recently elected to the board of Private Export Funding Corporation (PEFCO) where he sits on the Audit and Management Compensation Committees. He is also Chairman of the Board of CIBC Mellon, a joint venture between CIBC and BNY Mellon. Samir is an Executive Vice President at BNY Mellon and serves as CEO of Global Asset Servicing with responsibility for the servicing of more than $30 trillion in assets under custody and administration. He is a member of the company’s Operating Committee and Global Diversity & Inclusion Council, as well as Global Chair of IMPACT, BNY Mellon’s multicultural business resource group.