The Parson Group just came in at #1 on the 2000 Inc. 500 list (see article), and Parson founder and CEO Dan Weinfurter gives much of the credit to an excellent board of directors. The Chicago-based financial consulting firm is America' s fastest-growing private company, with eye-popping revenue growth of 27,992% over the past year.

So how does a firm that doesn' t even require a board of directors not only recruit one with superstar talent (including past Kmart chair Don Perkins and former Zenith chairman Jerry Pearlman), but leverage that talent to spur fantastic growth?

Much credit goes to Chicago-area VCs J. Jeffrey Louis and Samuel Chapman, who provided Parson' s first-tier funding and helped craft a strong governance program from the start. " We laid out the experience we sought [ in directors] and worked the personal relationships of the VCs," Weinfurter tells me. Both he and his VC backers considered shaping a strong start-up board as " a huge event. It allowed us to attract clients who wouldn' t associate with any firm that seemed fly-by-night and also provided a lot of contacts."

How does a start-up convince corporate heavyweights to join its board? " The pitch is that they' ll have a different ability to contribute than they would at a company with 200,000 employees. It boils down to personal satisfaction." Parson Group also helps keep the time commitment manageable for such busy achievers, with board meetings held quarterly for half a day. Board pay is wholly in company equity -- and, though the company is still private, the board has the power to sack the CEO.

If you' re not as well connected to big-league board talent, how do you lure such names to your board? Weinfurter says that any group of businesspeople can discover surprising talent if they just comb their extended network. " If you' re cold calling for director talent, use the people you know. I just joined the advisory board of a tech firm after I got a call from a neighbor." Classmates (a current Parson director knew one of the VCs from Harvard Business School), civic groups, trade associations, and even family connections are a few other unconventional board resources you should tap.

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom Insider