Many senior executives have ambitions to be a board member at a couple of enterprises once retired from a corporate career spanning 30 plus years. But they don’t do enough to build the foundation work at the beginning of the second-half of their career.
We all tend to perceive a board member as grey-haired with long years of expertise in the corporate world and having some influence in the industry they served. Of late, people tend to see the ‘board wannabe’ as a younger executive who has built a strong CV on his or her way up the corporate ladder, and ready to take the next step into the boardroom.
That may be true, but it overlooks the other group of contenders - the ones looking at a board career post-retirement and who probably bring even more to the - board - table. With a portfolio of solid achievements, strong profit & loss and line management experience, and deep networking, it is natural that a business leader at a career peak views board service as a good glide path into retirement.
These seasoned corporate leaders often face many of the same search woes as the younger wannabes – and a few of their own as well. What goes into making a smart post-retirement board career happen? Here are some grey-hair wisdom for the grey-haired:
• Get really serious about adding board-related experience into your profile and CV. It is a board-wannabe basic to seek governance-related involvements for the CV. But at this point in your career, it is now or never.
Push to sit in on board meetings and presentations at your current company (if you are not yet the CEO), volunteer to serve on committees, joint venture or investment boards, and let the folks involved in all these know of your board interest. Get ‘boardability’ references from people who know about you now, rather than waiting until the retirement day. These immediate opportunities will be lost once you retire, so make the most of them today.
• Organise and focus your board search programme. Up to this point in your career, moving into a boardroom may have been an open-ended, bucket list sort of thing. Move beyond this wishful thinking by laying out a plan.
Even if you have a CV of board experience, update, expand it, and give it a reality check – Is there enough here to really impress a board nominating committee? Also, start your spadework on identifying target companies and opportunities to seek in your area of expertise.
What sectors align with your specific skills (finance, marketing, turnarounds, reorganization, sustainability, etc.)? What companies look interesting in these sectors, and may have forthcoming board gaps? What connections can you work among their current board, top managers, corporate secretary office?
Write up a structure for all this, including timelines.
• In the corporate world, board-seekers on their way out often face a ‘narrow network’ problem. Most of our clients have great careers, but their networks are deep within their own organization, mostly.
You may have great contacts, skills and respect for your savvy – but it’s t bound within your own narrow corporate world. Now, reach outside, seeking more validation with trade groups, industry bodies, professional associations, local non-profits, and investor funds.
Also, have some wider contacts you respect look over your specific board CV for this – those titles and achievements you’ve gained inside the company may mean little to a board recruiter on the outside. This is good advice for all board-seekers, but crucial if your board vitae is made up mostly of ‘insider’ assets.
• Tied to the above, start working on your overall visibility. How widely known are you for your expertise and connections (and as a board prospect)?
Older executives are often laggards on strategic use of social media, so prod yourself to get noticed online, starting with an active LinkedIn presence that positions you as an authority on your chosen area. This is also the time to invest in training opportunities related to governance, such as business school board programmes, women and identity group board support, or with Institute of Directors training. Be the old dog that learns new tricks…