Corporate Boards: What You Need to Know Before Joining One

Four CIOs share tips on how to make sitting on an outside board work for you.

By Carrie Mathews
Tue, December 23, 2008

CIO — CIOs are increasingly eager to put their business strategy and governance knowledge to good use by serving on external boards of directors. Their reasons—personal and professional growth and benefits to their companies—are well founded, according to TK Kerstetter, president and CEO of Board Member, which publishes Corporate Board Member magazine.

For CIOs, "there is probably no better training than board service to understand all of the challenges that a business has to deal with and to learn about other industries," he says. "CIOs can then take this enhanced knowledge back to their current jobs and organizations."

That's how it played out for Jeff Steinhorn, CIO at $31 billion energy company Hess. Steinhorn serves on two university boards, primarily as a give-back opportunity. "Being on these boards has opened up a new personal network for me—my fellow directors are CEOs, CFOs, consulting firm partners and other business leaders," he says. These contacts have been a valuable resource that Steinhorn has tapped with his own business-related questions. His board relationship with the universities has also paid dividends in talent recruitment. "Professors know who I am and often contact me or have their top students reach out for job possibilities," he says.

But board directorships are not always bonanzas for CIOs and their companies. They can be disappointing and draining experiences if you don't go in with clear and realistic expectations. CIO Executive Council members participated in a survey on their board experiences in August 2008, providing several caveats for those seeking a seat in other companies' boardrooms. (Download the results from the Connect box at council.cio.com.)

Gauge Your Commitment

The decision to join a board, and your ultimate satisfaction with the experience, depends on two factors: your passion for the organization's mission and the time you can afford to commit.

Most CIOs aren't prepared for the time and energy their commitment will actually consume. Sixty percent of CEC survey respondents complain that board service is "too draining on their time and energy." Tim Young, vice president of IT at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, made it a priority to understand the time commitment prior to accepting his director position at a private Christian school in New Hampshire. "I take it very seriously and wanted to make sure that I could give 150 percent," says Young.

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