CIOs who serve on boards sharpen their business skills

Kim S. Nash

It's the same for Hjelm. Board experience makes him more comfortable as a business executive, he says.

For Phillips, being on the board of a much smaller company exposes him to the inner workings of business that he doesn't see in-depth at Avnet. That includes cash management and sales-incentive programs. As a result, he's a stronger part of Avnet's eight-member executive board, he says. He got a big vote of confidence last year from Avnet CEO Rick Hamada, who put Phillips in charge of the company's global operational excellence team. The group runs special projects to improve efficiency at the company. For example, the team recently increased shipping capacity by 15 percent at one warehouse and reduced worker footsteps at another site by 3 million steps per year. "He can see I can take on broader management," Phillips says.

Directors get a broad view of a company, more expansive than that of even the smartest leader of a functional area, Gleason says, even if that functional area that touches every facet of a company, as IT does. As a CIO, you may have helped a business unit use technology to be more efficient, but you probably don't fully understand the competitive problems the unit faces, he says.

As much as Kroger recognizes the benefits of its senior executives holding board seats, the company limits each person to one directorship at a public company, although Kroger execs can serve on private and nonprofit boards, too.

The three boards Goodspeed belongs to are "an insane amount of work," she acknowledges. When she was CIO at ServiceMaster, the company asked her to step down from one, "which was fair," she says. As it happens, other changes were happening at ServiceMaster at the time, so she decided to retire and remain on all three boards.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a first-time director is pulling out of management mode and learning how to ask questions and use influence. Yazdi, the management consultant, remembers the transition as a gradual one for her, recognizing the boundary between management, as a CIO, and governance, as a director. Ultimately, it helped her avoid micromanaging her IT staff, she says.

It isn't easy to make that change, which is why NACD offers a class in it. As a director you must provide perspective, Gleason says, "but you're not making the decisions."

You're also in for some new experiences. Repko learned the nitty-gritty of taking a company private when BioClinica was sold to a private equity firm last year in a $123 million deal. He had gotten his board seat because Covance owned 15 percent of BioClinica and had the right to appoint up to three directors.

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