Community service, board membership: what career value?
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On the other hand, he says, ``My experience in industry has probably been more valuable to the civic arena than vice versa.'' As a manager, he has had to deal with budget matters, with setting up ``task teams,'' and so on. ``The reverse is that those organizations let me practice those skills with much less threat to my livelihood. If I try something and it doesn't work, the worst case is that I might lose my Rotary Club membership.''Skip to next paragraph
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The kind of experience Baker is getting is the kind that Mr. Nash at the National Association of Corporate Directors describes as ``very beneficial'' for someone who wants to gain experience to carry over to the corporate world.
``There's going to be a huge shortage of directors in five to 10 years,'' Nash predicts. Board membership is getting to be a tougher job, for a number of reasons. The population of executives in the 50- to 65-year-old group, prime candidates for board slots, will be rather small in the years ahead -- these were the depression babies. The Securities and Exchange Commission is tightening up on directors who don't show up for meetings. Corporations are seeking board members still active in the working world, not retirees; and companies are less interested in having directors serve indefinitely. Thousands of new companies are launched every year, even though lots get swallowed up in mergers or fail to survive.
And over the last few years, increased accountability is being demanded of corporate directors. ``Before the spotlight was turned on corporate governance four or five years ago, there were lots of multiple directorships,'' Nash says. A single executive -- typically a chief executive officer -- would sit on four or five boards. Now, he says, there is somewhat less concern about getting corporate superstars on the board and more of a desire simply for someone ``who can give the time, make the commitment, do his homework.''
Certain kinds of professional expertise tend to be particularly in demand by corporations looking to fill board slots -- notably financial and accounting experience (active employees of Big Eight firms are not allowed to sit on boards, however). Companies that deal with federal and state government may seek former government officials for their boards. Anyone with experience raising money -- through stock offerings or in the venture-capital market -- is likely to be sought after. Demand for other specialties will vary according to industry.
Consulting for a company may be a first step to board membership, suggests Richard H. Wachholz Jr., vice-president at Gilbert Tweed Associates Inc., an executive search firm in Burlington, Mass.
Small companies are not necessarily the place to start as a board member if you're only a mid-level manager yourself, albeit at a large company. ``Comparing big companies with small ones is like comparing apples and oranges,'' says Nash. ``The type of person a small company wants is someone who's done it all, who's been CEO of a company and knows all the problems.'' He notes that the ``whiz kids'' at Apple Computer have brought in older executives to help run the company.
Are there any drawbacks to board membership? Well, having been a director of a company that went bust is probably not going to be the highlight of your r'esum'e. ``If a company fails,'' says Mr. Wachholz, ``the question is, When did you find out there were problems? What did you do to counteract the problems? Not that the board has total responsibility. But were you part of the problem, or part of the solution?''