CIO Advice for How to Get on the Board of Directors

CIOs share their tips for joining a board of directors and making the most of the experience

By Martha Heller
Tue, September 04, 2007

CIO — As I spend my days tracking CIOs and their career moves, I am beginning to notice a new trend: An increasing number of IT executives are joining corporate boards. This is no wonder, says Doreen Wright, CIO of Campbell Soup Company, who has sat on various boards for nearly 15 years.

"If you look at the average age of people sitting on boards, you'll find that most are in their 60s," she says. "That generation is not particularly knowledgeable about technology, and these days, you can't do anything without IT."

But before you hurry out to ride this wave right into the boardroom, let's be sure it is worth the time and effort. What are the benefits of joining a board?

Leadership development for C-level executives. "When you get to a certain level in the organization, your own development opportunities narrow a bit," says Elizabeth Hackenson, CIO of Alcatel-Lucent. She joined the corporate board of Serena, an enterprise software company, in June 2006.

"I joined a board because I wanted to expand my abilities by thinking differently about a company. When you sit on a board, you learn to influence strategy without direct control over operations. This is dramatically different from what I do day to day."

John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital and board member of Epocrates, a handheld-software provider for physicians, agrees. "I work in nonprofit environments. Do I know the first thing about venture capital or how underwriting is done in an IPO? There is a whole set of business processes I would never encounter," he says. "Maybe someday my hospital will want to spin out a company; I'll have all of that knowledge."

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Increased visibility for your company. If your own company is not already a household name, your board activity will broaden your brand across a new network of executives, says Moti Vyas, CIO of Viejas Enterprises and currently on the board of the San Diego Data Processing Center, which provides IT services to the city.

"Whenever possible, I host board meetings at my office and ask the chair to present to my CEO," he says. "In addition to saving a little time, it exposes my CEO to the board and to the fact that I am working to further our corporate goals."

New executive networks. Sitting on a board can help expand your circle of potential advisers. "When you're on a board, you get to interact with brilliant academics, engineers and major VCs," says Halamka. "I have access to this wonderful group of executives and can ask them how they would handle a tricky problem in their own industry that I am currently facing in mine."

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