A Shopping List for Building Your Board
BY Ralph Ward
It's an old story -- the company founder eases out of management and the board hires a savvy new CEO to lead the firm boldly into the future. Usually when we hear about something wrong with this script, it's the founder undercutting the new CEO. But what happens when the new CEO proves not a wonder boy, but a blunder boy, and the founder and chairman must either act or see his brainchild die?
That's the quick take on Washington-based software firm LapLink. Founder and chair Mark Eppley turned over the CEO reins to a proven manager from Compaq in 1996, but tough new competition and development costs led to a run of red ink. By late 1998, LapLink was near bankruptcy, and Eppley returned to the CEO position.
Among his turnaround moves, says Eppley, a high priority was reshaping the board. "We were looking for specific talents for each board position, so the current board is very strong. Looked at historically, this is the first fully functional, effective board we've had," he says, with far tighter emphasis on diversity of background and hands-on experience in business building, IPOs, and technology marketing.
Though LapLink's market sector and turnaround needs are unique (as is every board situation, for that matter), their boardroom overhaul "shopping list" could offer some good hints for any board recruiting plan.
LapLink was getting outflanked in sales, so a director "with strong background in sales" within the software industry was needed. A former vice president of sales and support for Microsoft, Rich MacIntosh, filled this boardroom gap, as well as bringing a retailing background to the mix.
"Consumer marketing and entrepreneurial skill" would prove helpful to a company trying to reinvigorate itself in the market. Tim Choate, founder and chairman of FreeShop International, which he'd recently taken public, filled the bill. Better still, he provided the board with deep background in online retailing.
A pick "outside the computer industry, but with a strong general business background" was Louis Kapcsandy, chair of Baugh Enterprises, one of the region's largest construction companies. Originally from Hungary, Kapcsandy "has an amazing background," and offers the board big-picture business insights. Other board members bring strong background in finance and venture capital.
In sum, says Eppley, the board mix is "well seasoned, likes a challenge, and are very strong." The original board Eppley had helped assemble for the firm, back in the 1980s, "was typical of any venture start-up -- associates or partners of investors in the company." Eppley now "absolutely" wishes that he'd set up the original board along the lines of this new and improved model (a good suggestion to all entrepreneurs out there). "You want to have the strongest board you can get."