The search for boardroom talent continues, with the stakes growing ever higher as we demand more time, effort and specific skills of our directors. Every year I do a roundup of what boards are seeking in their director searches for the coming year, and here are my predictions for 2001:
Financial skills. No surprise in this carryover from last year' s board shopping list. The Securities and Exchange Commission's demand for financial literacy on audit committees is fueling boardroom demand for " former partners at big-five accounting firms," says Susan Shultz, head of SSA Executive Search. " Former and current CFOs are also getting lots more attention, as well as CEOs who came up through the finance side."
" There' s continued interest in technology expertise on the board," notes Roger Kenny, boss of the Boardroom Consultants firm in New York. " A wide spectrum of positions can absorb this technology expertise, and a lot of companies are getting more involved. Boards may go as far as to add consulting people with this background."
More boards are now willing to look beyond the standard " active CEO" job description in their search for talent. Charles King, of the Nordeman Grimm search firm in New York, observes that " a lot of top people' s plates are full now, and I spend a fair amount of time looking for up-and-comers. They may not be on the company' s radar, but they generally have more time available than a CEO, they have intellectual curiosity, and they' re more willing to make a board commitment."
Titles, top profit and loss business experience, and a strong success history continue to be important, but Kenny sees a growing demand that board candidates have a specific boardroom history to contribute. " Boards are much more cognizant now that good businesspeople don' t necessarily make good directors. They want someone with previous board experience, so we can check out how well they handled themselves in the boardroom." Kenny also sees boards making " more requests for a nonexecutive chair. There is a sense that there is now a separate job there, beyond the CEO/chairman duties, and that boards now need an independent leader who can help manage the board."