Winning a corporate board seat
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – "SO BOARD SEATS ARE going begging," writes a reader named Rick, referring to the headline on my May 16 column about the tremendous turnover in corporate boardrooms these days. "Where do I apply?" Ah. For any senior executive who'd like to serve on a board--and judging from my mail, there are lots of you--here's a paradox to ponder: The old way of selecting board members, in which the CEO flipped through his Rolodex and called up his pals, is history. That's backed up by how directors govern, incidentally. A recent survey by headhunters Korn/Ferry International found that 79% of board members say they work far more independently of the CEO than ever before. Yet being invited to join a corporate board is still a matter of whom you know or, perhaps more encouragingly, who notices you.

"Some of the mystique surrounding board membership is left over from the days when you had to have played golf with the 'right' people," muses Ilene Lang, head of a New York City nonprofit called Catalyst ( that trains executive women for board seats. "Now, though, if you are an accomplished senior manager, it's like any other business-development challenge. You can come up with a strategy and get there." Linda Bolliger, who runs Boardroom Bound (, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes boardroom diversity, agrees. "The first step is to analyze what expertise you have to offer," she says. "Then work on becoming visible in your industry." How? Public speaking is one way, and your own company's public relations department may be more than willing to line up gigs for you. Another in-house resource: your CEO, who may recommend you for board seats. (In any event, given the time commitment, it would be unwise to spring a directorship on the boss as a fait accompli.)

Know any executive recruiters? Keep in touch with them. Korn/Ferry estimates that about half of all new board appointments now come through headhunters. Ed Moneypenny, CFO of 7-Eleven, just joined the board of outdoor-gear maker Timberland, thanks to his long acquaintance with a recruiter who acted as matchmaker. "I didn't know anyone at Timberland," says Moneypenny. "I like its products, but I've never even owned the stock." Nonprofit board membership can also get you noticed. Carla Carstens, a former senior manager at BP/Amoco, now runs her own consulting firm. But she credits her experience as head of the finance committee for the Abraham Lincoln Centre, a job-development program in inner-city Chicago, for her new post as chair of the audit committee for mutual fund Lou Holland Trust. Large, complex charities, she notes, "face many of the same issues" that businesses do.

Once you've snagged a seat on a corporate board, be warned: You'll be asked to join more. "Make sure you have time," urges Bonnie Hill, who's currently on several boards, including Home Depot, Albertson's, and Yum Brands. She often spends two full weeks of the month on board business. "The amount of effort and study that goes into it now is enormous. That's why people turn down board seats all the time." Their loss might be your gain.