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Want To Join A Board? Three Ways To Beat The Odds

By Kip Knight

One of the most sought-after career goals for executives is joining a board of directors—ideally one publicly traded on the NYSE or Nasdaq.

While that’s a worthy goal, it’s a long shot to join the board of a publicly traded company.

Based on data from CFO.com and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the odds of getting on the board of a publicly traded company if you are a business executive in any given year is 1 out of 630 (if you’re a CEO, it’s dramatically better: 1 out of 10).

For perspective, the odds of a high school athlete getting drafted into the NFL is 1 in 554, according to scholarshipstats.com.

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If you are determined to join a board of directors (keeping in mind there are also plenty of privately held company board positions), what actions can you take now to improve your chances of being selected?

Having served on several boards and based on conversations with various board members, I’d offer three considerations:

1) Ask not what a board position can do for you, ask what you can do for a board.

The key to any successful board is having the right combination of collaboration, diversity and commitment among directors.

What unique talents, skills and perspective do you bring to a board? What are you doing now that will contribute to your ability to add such value to a future board?

2) It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.

At publicly held companies, board members nominate board candidates, who are then voted on by shareholders. Thus, the more board members you know, the greater the odds of getting an opportunity to be nominated.

Worth noting is that the playing field to be nominated is tilted. There is a tendency for board members to invite fellow board members to join other boards they’re already on. I’ve known executives who are directors on seven boards.

Kip Knight of Thomvest Ventures

Networking on a consistent basis through associations and organizations is essential and should be a part of your long-term plan to know the key movers and shakers in your chosen category.

It’s also worthwhile to identify board recruiters in your industry since they are a prime source of board candidates, especially if a company is looking for directors with specific qualifications.

3) Actively work on enhancing your “personal brand” and promote it in the marketplace.

You can be the most qualified board candidate in the world, but that’s not going to help you if you are an unknown. Study the backgrounds of board directors at various companies you’re interested in. What insights can you gain in learning how they got there? What lessons can you apply to your own career? How are you continually letting the world know about your own “personal brand” (via posts, speeches, presentations, books, commentary, etc.)?

What are the rewards of getting on a board?  The financial compensation varies dramatically (the average annual pay is $88,840 according to Indeed.com). The greater reward is the satisfaction a board member gets from helping a management team identify and overcome the many challenges facing businesses today.

Wrapping it up

Getting on a board is hard work, but for the right (and determined) candidate, it can be well worth the effort. Each board director ends up following their own unique path in getting on a board. For most of us, creating your personal unique brand and promoting it in the right business network is your best shot at beating the odds and being invited to join the board of your dreams.


Kip Knight is operating partner at Thomvest Ventures. He is a board member with Netbase Quid (a leading consumer and marketing intelligence company). In addition, he’s the founder of CMO Coaches, working with professionals who aspire to be marketing leaders. Over the past 40 years, he has worked in over 60 countries around the world for P&G, PepsiCo and KFC International, and as CMO of Taco Bell

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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