boardroom-ready-croppedAs corporate boards of directors continue to recognize the role that technology plays in shaping organizational strategy – from creating customized customer experiences to helping the company to differentiate its products and services in the market – board members are increasingly looking to bring technology executives into the mix.

In fact, more than one-third of the next-generation board directors placed on S&P 500 boards in 2018 have backgrounds in the tech/telecommunications sector, according to the 2018 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index Highlights

But it’s not just their tech-savvy that CIOs, CISOs, and other technology executives are being recruited for. “Boards certainly need technology expertise,” says Sheila Jordan, CIO at Symantec who meets with her own company’s board and is also a board member at FactSet Research Systems Inc. “Most companies, whether consumer-oriented or B2B-focused, are striving for a frictionless customer experience and the way to deliver that requires the coordination of marketing, engineering, sales and IT to deliver on the customer journey. IT is horizontally focused and systematic in its thinking. To put together this customer journey, technology executives are needed on boards to help connect all of the pieces,” adds Jordan.

Jordan will be speaking about how technology executives can become boardroom-ready at HMG Strategy’s upcoming Silicon Valley Global Innovation Summit in Menlo Park, CA on February 26. 

Because technology is deeply embedded in the operations of companies across industries, many boards continue to struggle with how best to leverage technology for competitive advantage, says Patty Hatter, former CIO at McAfee who is a former board member at Barick Gold Corporation and a current board member at Qualys. 

Hatter, who will be joining Jordan on the Silicon Valley panel discussion, points to how boards constantly wrestle with how best to utilize technology to help identify how to open up new markets, create new business models and to drive operational efficiencies. “It’s such an applicable skill to have on a board.”

Every organization is moving from `Castle & Moat’ (Analog) to `Platform’ (Digital),” said Tony Leng, Practice Leader and OMP at Diversified Search who will be moderating the boardroom-ready panel discussion. “It is a tough journey (enabled by IT) and the business needs executives who understand this journey – along with a Board team that compliments them.” 

“It goes to the understanding of IT and business being as one,” says Patrick Steele, Chair of the CIO Advisory Board at Blumberg Capital who will also be speaking on the panel. Steele, former CIO at Albertsons, is on the board of directors at Saucey, a liquor delivery company, and CommonSpirit Health (formerly Dignity Health), says that as companies have become more technology-enabled over the past decade “it’s good to have to have people on the boards who understand how technology can be an enabler in moving the business forward. In my opinion, it’s a business perspective strengthened by technology expertise.”

For instance, when Steele first joined the board of Dignity Health in January 2013, the board was interviewing executives with both technology and finance backgrounds for open positions. “The reason we ended up selecting two technology executives was for their business acumen,” notes Steele.

Understanding the Role

Members of a board of directors have a dual mandate – advising on the strategic direction of the company along with their involvement with governance and oversight, says Steele. 

“The time is consequently ripe for CIOs who have experience in this digital transformation to use these skills to help other organizations navigate this path,” said Leng. “It is an amazing time, but the skillset required at the Board level is different than at the management level.”

Boards also look for executives who are effective storytellers and strong collaborators but who know when to sit back and listen, adds Jordan.

“If you have too many mavericks who don’t work well with others, the board gets disrupted,” says Steele.

One of the main reasons that CIOs and technology executives are increasingly being recruited by boards is due to their over-arching view of how the various pieces fit together for the enterprise to execute on its strategy, says Hatter.

“You’re not coming in at the board level because you have the most detailed insights into a particular technology,” says Hatter. “You’re coming to the board in the context of how you think about that in terms of the broader business and the ability to relate to other board members. You’ve got to bring that higher-level view to the table.”

A good starting point for tech executives who aspire to corporate board positions is to start in their own communities by serving on the advisory board of a non-profit, hospital boards or charitable organizations. “It’s a great way to learn how a board works together and the qualities that make a good board member,” says Steele.

Jordan strongly recommends that technology executives who evaluate board opportunities only commit to those organizations or industries that they have a passion for. 

“Board commitment is way more than four meetings per year. When an issue arises, you might spend time with that board that takes away from your vacation or personal time, so you need to have a passion for the work you’re doing,” says Jordan. “You also want to make sure that the board is set up for healthy debate.  Diverse thinking is critical, you want your experiences and opinions to be heard and that you can really add value. Never forget as a CIO we are already living in the `eye of the tornado,’ sharing that with other board members is invaluable.”

To learn more about the Silicon Valley Global Innovation Summit and to register for the event, click here